Thailand is a no-brainer destination for tourists who want to venture into Southeast Asia, but so much still remains unexplored in this area. Ton Sai has only been unearthed recently by foreign tourists and as such, it remains very authentic and untouched. But take caution – marvel at Ton Sai at your own risk. Its beauty is something you should prepare for. Convenience is not TonSai’s best bait, but it is certainly worth all the pain and preparation.
It’s not exactly what many digital nomads would expect to be a location independent entrepreneur hub, however if you don’t mind spending your days rock climbing and working from a bungalow (there are no coworking spaces) on your business then you can get back to the basics of simple living, and run your business with one of the greatest sports–rock climbing. Keep in mind, there are no roads in Tonsai and you won’t find any five star hotels or Starbucks on this island. Get ready to semi-rough it and explore this rock climbers paradise. For some it might be more of a weekend getaway or week escape from city life, however there is a reason there is a saying that goes, “I am leaving Tonsai tomorrow..maybe”.Tonsai, like its more popular neighbor Krabi, is well-known among avid climbers as a rock climbing destination, with various routes available for the novice and experienced. Along with Railay, Tonsai is a must-visit destination for any climbing aficionado. But getting to Tonsai is a challenge in itself. So before getting ahead of ourselves, let us locate Tonsai on the map first.
Getting to Tonsai
Tonsai is part of the Railay Peninsula in Southern Thailand. AirAsia offers flights from Bangkok to Krabi. Rates start at 1,580 baht. From Krabi Airport, you can take a taxi or bus to Ao Nang Beach which takes about an hour or so.
Travelling to Tonsai takes a bit of planning because the transport is quite dependent on the tide and weather. From Ao Nang Beach, you can take a long tail boat that will take you directly to Tonsai. There is no fixed departure time because the boats usually leave once there are at least 8 passengers. The boat will drop you off at the shores of Tonsai Bay when it’s high tide but you may have to walk from a distance a bit far from the shore if it’s low-tide. That said, you need to be appropriately dressed for this journey. There are also ferries from Phi Phi, Phuket, and Koh Lanta that will take you directly to Tonsai. Prices are listed here for reference.
Tonsai vs Railay
Tonsai and Railay are usually inseparable in an itinerary because they’re located in one peninsula and both cater to climbers. However, Railay has more resorts lined up and tends to be more touristy. Tonsai is more rustic and rugged. It doesn’t have the amenities that Railay has. There aren’t even cars or roads around the area but that’s the most beautiful thing about it. Tonsai will give you the ultimate respite from the demands of work. We declare to the whole world that we’re going on a vacation to relax and unplug but it never becomes reality because easy access to internet in typical resorts and inns make it difficult to cut the connectivity. Tonsai will strip your lifestyle down to the bare essentials.
Photo via Theresa Cable
Life in Tonsai is tranquil and very community-oriented. Even climbing in Tonsai is a communal way of life. The people are close to nature. It’s not uncommon to see monkeys frolicking nearby. Humans and the flora and fauna co-exist peacefully. Many people are return visitors who get remembered by locals and Tonsai ends up being a place where there is quite a cult following in the climbing community.
Photo via Theresa Cable
If you’re looking for a party scene, the most you’ll get is a throng of small bars and restaurants lined up by the beach with Bob Marley tunes blasting from simple speakers – think “One Love”. Just spend the night in Krabi if you want a more vibrant night life.
Railay is a logical choice if you’re traveling with family and kids. If you’re traveling alone and looking for some unusual adventure and tranquillity, then by all means choose Tonsai. Their minimalistic way of living will de-clutter your mind. Just come prepared with cash because the only ATM is on the Railay side of the peninsula.
Internet is usually spotty in Tonsai but you can try your luck in Dream Valley Resort and Country Side Resort. But if you really need to get serious work done and an uninterrupted connection, head back to Ao Nang and spend a few hours in Phansa.Space for 8 baht per
Getting Around Tonsai
The only way around Tonsai Beach is by foot. It’s a really small, secluded place, which is the biggest charm of Tonsai. You need to charter a longtail boat to visit other places like Railay East, which is blessed with beautiful beaches perfect for lazy strolls.
Southern Thailand isn’t called the mecca of wall climbing for nothing. And there’s no need to be intimidated if you’re a beginner because there are routes for all levels. And there are a lot of climbing schools and willing climbers in the area who will get you up to speed if you’re a beginner. Climbing is something to get giddy about in Tonsai. One of the more popular routes in Tonsai is Humanality. You need to start early to conquer Humanality, around 7 or 8 AM. Otherwise, you’ll suffer the wrath of the scorching sun. You’ll ascend the massive Tonsai wall and go through the Tonsai cave. It will be a challenging (but doable) climb, but the view is worth breaking a sweat. Don’t’ break your bones though. Come well-equipped and well-informed. Check out this link for more information.
Deep Water Soloing
It’s simply unfortunate if you snubbed the thought of deep water soloing just because it looks terrifying. How often do you come by a place where imposing boulders meet the vivid emerald sea? Deep Water Soloing lets you determine the level and duration of your climb. If you get too tired, simply push off and let go. The cool waters will catch you and you’ll turn out just fine.
Basecamp Tonsai offers regular day trips for 800 baht, as well as other climbing courses.
The Climb & the Jump Photo via Alex in Wanderland
Kayaking and Paddleboarding
The tranquil waters of Tonsai make for a good place for kayaking and paddleboarding. You can pick up a kayak for 500 baht.
Watch the base jumpers
Or, you can go base jumping yourself. But if you don’t have the experience, even watching the base jumpers go at it is already an exciting sight. You can do that while having a drink or two by the beach.
Go to the lagoon
If you’re up for some dirty adventure, you can head to the lagoon over at Railay. The climb and the hike will literally get you dirty and muddy but it will give you a good workout. There will be points in your hike that will give you a great view of the peninsula. The reward is the cool lagoon against the magnificent, albeit sharp, rocks.
Hidden Gem of a Lagoon Photo via Be My Travel Muse
Country Side Resort
Country Side Resort is an affordable, low-key resort in Tonsai with lovely wooden bungalows and balconies. Don’t come here for 5-star luxury but why even come to Tonsai for that? There are no hot showers in this resort but the water temperature will suffice in tropical weather. You get a basic room but the view from the bungalow is priceless. Come here to get the best of the forest and the beach – at a decent rate that starts at 300 baht per night.
Photo via Trip Advisor
The view from the balcony is more than enough to make up for the basic accommodation. You can sit there for hours to admire the tropical sunlight, with the wind occasionally brushing against your face. Play some music if you like (at an acceptable volume to show respect to guests and locals nearby) but take note that the rustling of the leaves is also music to your ears. They have a functioning internet connection. If you do your work from the balcony, you won’t even feel like you’re working at all. Plus, it’s right across Mama’s Chicken.
Photo via Trip Advisor
This place is highly recommended because a really memorable trip to Tonsai means you have to get out of your lodging and explore! Once your basic needs are met, Tonsai is paradise. Leave the luxury behind.
Dream Valley Resort
If you find it hard to separate yourself from convenience and comfort, Dream Valley Resort is your best bet. They have 7 types of accommodations from a Standard Fan Bungalow with only a cold shower to a Deluxe Room with Pool View, AC, hot shower and TV. Dream Valley also has a pool, bar, restaurant, snorkelling and scuba diving apparel, kayak apparatus, and private speed boat rental. You may also arrange climbing activities and longtail boat rentals with the resort management.
Rates for the Standard Fan Bungalow will cost you an average of 1,200 baht per night while the Deluxe Bungalow with Pool View starts at around 2,340 baht per night. Those rates include breakfast already.
Photo via Dream Valley Resort
Dream Valley Resort will perfectly cater to vacationing tourists who want to experience authentic Tonsai but want to come home to standard vacation amenities.
There is a string of nice hotels and resorts along Railey Beach, which is right next to Tonsai. Railay doesn’t have the laidback, backpacker vibe of Tonsai, but this location works for people who want to stay in a typical resort.
Bhu Nga Thani Spa and Resort is the perfect honeymooner’s choice. It is encircled by the mountains, forests, the sea, and mangroves. The rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated, with balconies featuring the signature Thai views and a nice pool. Prices are steep though, starting at 4,700 baht. But remember, this is a resort and spa. As expected of a resort and spa, you’ll find full relaxation with their plethora of head to toe spa treatments.
Photo via Bhu Nga Thani Spa and Resort
But there are other lower-priced options too, like the Diamond Cave Resort. It’s a much simpler resort that offers rooms starting at 1,000 baht. It also has a pool, sauna, massage services, and even babysitting services.
Photos via Diamond Cave Resort
Everyone in Tonsai knows where Mama’s Chicken is. This is the community’s watering hole. People gather here not just for the amazing food but for the vibe too. The grilled chicken is delicious but that’s not the only item in the menu that Mama’s can boast of. There are lots of dishes and drinks, even vegetarian options according to Lonely Planet.
Down-to-earth ambience and food
Photo via Trip Advisor
One Stop Takeaway Stop in Railay beach, barely a kilometre away from Tonsai Bay, also offers filling quick eats.
One Stop Takeaway Shop in Railay Beach
Photo via Trip Advisor
A place to get back to the basics of simple living. Tonsai remains a well-loved, climbing community that merges rugged beauty with a bit of adventure and a lot of uniqueness. Although Tonsai is isn’t really a place that people consider to be a digital nomad hub if you are are looking to master the sport of rock climbing and don’t mind running your business from a bungalow with semi-consistent internet then get ready to feel welcomed and at home here.
Whether it’ a weekend or a month, book that trip to Tonsai and discover why “ I am leaving Tonsai tomorrow…maybe” is a saying that is said over and over again.