Arriving in Thailand I had two goals; learn about Buddhism and engage in some serious outdoor adventure. Vietnam and Cambodia were breathtaking, but after 3 weeks of temples, museums, and markets I was VERY ready for an adrenaline release. I started in Northern Thailand with some rafting and hiking, but my big plans were for down south.
Tonsai is a little beach community situated just a short hike away from the more popular Railay Beach. You don’t hear much about it in the guidebooks and I sincerely hope it stays that way. For now, it’s a precious secret known by few and well… you. So do me a solid and protect this secret with your life!
Okay, let me get to the point here. Tonsai will rock your world. Here’s why:
Tonsai is rock climbing heaven. I’d say 90% of the people here are climbers and if you don’t climb yet, you will. The beach itself is riddled with hundreds of routes and just a short walk into the jungle you will find a hundred more. Hell, there is even climbing in the middle of the ocean!
With an endless amount of routes, there is something for everyone. If you are a beginner you will have no problem finding a guided top rope class or even just a bouldering wall, while the more advanced climbers can try their hand at lead climbing the numerous multi-pitches, overhangs, and cracks. It’s literally impossible to get bored here.
Base Camp is a highly recommended outfitter on the beach that offers a wide variety of classes and excursions. I did a deep-water soloing trip with them, as well as a half-day intermediate top rope course. The top rope course was super fun and offered all sorts of new challenges, but what I really need to talk about is the deep-water soloing.
Deep-water soloing is exactly what it sounds like. They take you out into the ocean to the giant limestone sea cliffs and you climb as high as you can without any ropes. Essentially you are bouldering in the ocean. Then, when you reach the highest point you are willing to fall from… you JUMP! In my opinion, no matter what skill level you have you will have an absolute blast. Along with the climbing, you get a delicious lunch at a stunning beach
The beach community is like nothing you have ever seen. Tonsai is unique, to say the least. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you come with an open mind I think it’s hard not to fall in love with this rustic rasta town. It’s probably my duty to warn you now that joints and mushrooms are abundant and encouraged… but it is so much more than the drugs. I’ve never felt so welcome and accepted anywhere else in the world. Everyone is incredibly laid back and more than willing to invite you into their lives. There are slack lines, swings and hammocks everywhere you look, and fruit smoothies that will change your life. And goodness, the beach itself is absolutely stunning. You can swim in the crystal blue waters, sunbathe on the white sand beach or simply hang out at one of the beachside restaurants to watch the climbers and base jumpers. If you are feeling rebellious you can even get a traditional bamboo tattoo or dreadlocks!
Just beyond the beach, the village begins. You’ve got a few established resorts and bungalow accommodations, but the heart of Tonsai is the small strip of quirky bars and restaurants. I highly recommend a meal at Mamas Chicken, followed by a few brewskis at The Sunset Bar. Tonsai isn’t easy on your budget but it’s still much cheaper than the surrounding islands like Koh Phi Phi. A hearty curry dinner will cost you about $2.50, while the more elaborate dishes will range from $4-7.
If you have had your fill in Tonsai you can take a short hike to the neighboring beaches. Railay and Phra Nang are easy to get to and offer all sorts of sightseeing and activities. I recommend visiting the Phallus Shrine and also the secret lagoon!
Want to give this adventure a shot? (Logistics)
How to get there: From Krabi, hop on a bus or Songthaew to Au Nang (about 30 min). Once in Au Nang, head to the waterfront and purchase a ticket for a long-tail boat taxi to Tonsai. There are numerous companies selling tickets, but it should cost you about 150 Thai baht. Beware that you will have to walk in the water to get in and out of the boat so wear shorts and flip-flops!
How much to budget: Your daily spending shouldn’t exceed much more than $15-20 per day. But you will likely be dropping some big bucks on climbing courses, which are totally worth it! Expect to pay about $20-$30 per course, depending on duration.
What to bring: You don’t need much here. Just a bathing suit, flip-flops and a couple of comfortable warm-weather outfits. The mosquitos are rampant so bring plenty of bug spray! Also, sunscreen is incredibly expensive to purchase in Tonsai so bring a large bottle with you.
Where to stay and what to eat: Avoid the pricey resorts and head up the steep hill to find the much more affordable bungalows. You can get a bed for $4-10 and some places even offer free breakfast! I recommend eating at the little kitchens rather than the established restaurants. The food is just as good and you will save some big bucks!
Good to know: Tonsai is VERY basic. Electricity is limited and so is wifi, so make sure you are willing to go a few days disconnected from the outside world. Also, bring enough cash to last your stay because there is no ATM. Lastly, you can rent everything you will need for climbing so don’t worry about bringing your own gear unless you really want to!
Leave all your inhibitions at home and have a blast!!