Hidden Gem: Tonsai Beach, Thailand

If you read up on Thai beaches, you are sure to run across Railay Bay.  One of the most beautiful and touristy spots on the Andaman coast.  If you follow the signs to Railay you will find world-class rock climbing, fire shows, nice bungalows and many food options.  And when you get there, you may hear about Ton Sai and wonder what it is you are missing.  Let us lay it out for you.

Ton Sai beach is slightly less accessible, automatically inviting a different breed of tourists.  Here you will find seasoned backpackers, people who aren’t afraid of the unpaved road, travelers of the shoe-string budget.  Foreigners come for a day and stay for a season.  The atmosphere is so very laid back, in true Thai style.  The Thais that are living and working here are rasta pirate types with cool hearts.  They are artists and dancers.  By day the locals are practicing their slackline tricks and coaching tourists for a good laugh.  Come sunset, they are amping up the speakers and dancing with fire.  The Thais here have a knack for fire dancing.  You will be dazed by their dance.  During the high season, free-thinking Thais come to offer tattoos and batik lessons to tourists.  They have experienced visitors from all over the world, and they are interested in what the visitors bring.

While you are at Ton Sai, there is no end to the fun you can create for yourself.  The same offerings available in Railay are available in Ton Sai, but with a crowd that’s much less square.  Let’s start with the climbing, as it is a major draw.  It happens from sunrise to sunset everyday (weather permitting).  There is amazing rock-climbing for all levels of climbers, and it is breathtakingly beautiful.  There are several shops with guides and gear for rent.  There is so much info out there on the Internet from experienced climbers who have come here, and there are guidebooks in Ton Sai written by locals.  There is Basecamp Tonsai and also a shop at Sunset Bar where you can get info when you arrive.  As a novice climber, you can have an amazing experience here, and feel safe with the local guides.

There are day trips for snorkeling and deep-water solo climbing.  Deep water solo means climbing without gear.  You are taken to an island by boat where you can climb as high as your physical and mental strength allow.  Then you let go and fall into a sea of turquoise below.  SPLASH!  While on the tour you’ll be in awe of your fellow tourists.  There always seems to be a highly experienced climber on the trip, who will have your heart racing as you watch him climb a slick wall to the top.  If you are that experienced climber, you will have your own awestruck moment as you witness the locals way of climbing.  These are jungle boys, who have been climbing coconut trees with the monkeys from a young age.  They have been here learning techniques from tourists, but the finesse and speed with which they scale the limestone comes from their jungle ways.  Not to mention, they do it barefoot.

When you return from all the climbing, there are massages and yoga offered.  There are boats that will take you out for an overnight camping and bar-b-que.  There are fishing trips and kayak rentals.  Then there’s lounging by the shore and getting in on some spinny ball action.  At night there is plenty of dancing and jamming.  You are guaranteed to meet amazing folks, locals and travelers alike, in this little hideaway.

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There is a row of food vendors and a couple convenience stores in Ton Sai.  Fruit shakes are par for the course on a Thai morning.  For the most delicious Thai food (and at an affordable price) visit the Boat Man Restaurant.  It’s at the back of the road with all the food vendors.  Ask a local to point you there and have fun exploring the menu.  Another treat is the chai tea at Chill Out Bar.  The recipe was given to them by an Indian traveler, and they grind the spices by hand for every cup.  One hundred times they pound the nutmeg and cinnamon in the mortar and pestle (or ‘crock’, as the Thais call it), and it’s sweetened with honey.  Delightful and cozy, as is Chill Out Bar itself.

The Railay peninsula hosts a lagoon that can be reached  by foot from Ton Sai.  After speaking with several tourists about trips to the lagoon, only one managed to make it all the way there and back.  It is not necessarily the easiest thing to find, and if you are on the right road, it’s a bad one, especially after a rain.  Most people turn around before they get there, one or two break an ankle.  We have never been there, but are convinced it exists.  Take a picture if you arrive, and send it to us here at Teknomadics!

There is a way to walk to Railay if you get the craving for crowds and consumerism.  If it is low tide, you can walk along the rocks on the beach, and at high tide you must take the jungle pass.  If you are going at night, a headlamp is HIGHLY recommended.  Be careful, as the rocks are sharp!

Journey to Ton Sai (not for the faint of heart)

From Krabi town, you can take a song taew (the trucks with 2 rows in the back) to Ao Nang beach, where you will be able to purchase a boat ticket to Ton Sai.  If you arrive before 6pm you get a discount on your ticket.  The water is splashing in the boat as you make your way to the other side of the limestone karsts, with a view of the lower peninsula.  Ton Sai is the first bay before Railay and there are no roads that lead there because of the terrain.  Once the boat drops you off, you’ll have to wade through the water and rocks with your bags on your back to get to shore.  There you can walk along and see several bungalows on the sand or take the mountain road and find one nestled more in the jungle.  The bungalows on the shore are our choice.  The basic bungalow is a thatch roof with four bamboo walls, a mosquito net, and a sleeping pad.  Splurge and find yourself with a cold shower and a toilet–it is definitely worth it!  In the high season (November to March) these rooms can run $10/night, and of course you will get a better deal when things are slow.  Getting out of TonSai takes some planning as well.  The boats won’t run until there are 8 people that have paid.  In the slow times this can take over an hour.  In the high season it happens quickly.  In order to make it back to the Krabi bus station at a reasonable time, we recommend leaving TonSai around 8 am.  If you go to buy your ticket at this time, you may have to wait a bit, but you should get back to Ao Nang at a good time.

The rainy season will definitely hinder your climbing and hiking adventure.  Be sure to take note of the time of year you plan your trip.  It is generally best to travel between November and March.  April is the hottest month of the year, so many travelers find it unbearable.  The ones that can take the heat will find they have the rocks to themselves.  Rain starts in June, and is heaviest August through October.


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