If I have to name one place over all the ones I visited when I was backpacking in Thailand, I don’t need to think twice to put Tonsai Beach right at the top (Make sure not to confuse this climbing paradise spot with Tonsai Bay at Koh Phi Phi)
This little gem near Krabi is well hidden behind the famous neighbouring islands and even it’s neighbour Railay Beach.
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However, Tonsai Beach is well known world-wide as a fantastic climbing spot, with hundreds of routes to suit all tastes and levels.
There’s also a bouldering cave if you find yourself without a rope partner, although this is very unlikely as the hardest bit is not to befriend lots of climbers at this place. This is a wonderful destination for solo travelers!
Its laid-back and unpretentious atmosphere contrasts with the resorts and fancy hotels you will find at Railay (reflecting heavily on the prices for food, accommodation and equipment rental)
How to get there
Even that Tonsai Beach is on the mainland, you can only get there by boat or hiking from Railay.
I arrived on a speedboat from Koh Phi Phi to Railay West and then hiked for just about 15 minutes. It’s an easy path to follow and no problems at all to do it whilst carrying your rucksack.
There’s also an “upper” path through the jungle, mostly flat and just a bit longer, you will find it from Railay East Beach.
Other ways to arrive are by direct boat from Ao Nang. There are boats leaving from the beach at all times from around 9am till 5pm (they depart as soon as they get 8 passengers) and cost 100thb each way.
Even that is less developed, there are many options around when you consider the amount of people that makes it to Tonsai Beach.
I arrived a couple of days before xmas time and had no problem finding rooms without booking anything in advance.
Many of them actually do not take online bookings so don’t be afraid of heading there without one.
I first stayed at Basecamp dormitory room which is the only dorm available at Tonsai, this place is not taking online bookings for the dorms.
In case you arrive and there are no dorm beds. You can team up with another fellow backpacker and “upgrade” yourself to a bungalow, it will cost exactly the same to both of you (Dec ’18 prices: dorm 200thb per person, bungalows 400thb between x2 people)
After two nights at Basecamp, which was ok, but it’s really basic accommodation I moved with another friend to Andaman Nature Resort as two other friends were staying there already.
This was a basic bungalow but felt really good compared to Basecamp, for once, we could shower or go to the toilet without thinking too much of the mosquitoes, and it was the same price!
What to do
Yes, Tonsai is a place for climbing until you cannot take it any longer.
The beach is not the prettiest one in Thailand but I liked it anyway, you can also walk to Railay if you want a “nicer” beach-day, make it a bit of a longer walk and go to Ao Phra Nang Beach for even more beautiful views and awesome caves.
There are also a few hiking trails around and a few reggae bars for a chilled evening. A walk to the Fertility shrine will also be a “different” thing to do in Tonsai.
There’s a fantastic viewpoint if you walk south along West Railay Beach, walk towards the end of the beach and climb a little bit, you will quickly start finding rock-climbers, after about half an hour the trek will become pretty steep, with ropes to assist you.
This can be super dangerous if you’re on flip-flops so make sure to come with shoes. The views will be worth it! from East Railay you will have another viewpoint which is a lot more transited.
If you have never climbed before there are courses available, you can also rent the equipment if you’re not travelling with it.
On my backpacking adventures I need to travel light, so I didn’t have any equipment on me, but the awesome people I met lend me shoes and let me use their equipment, only once I had to rent some spare quickdraws.
MY HIKING ESSENTIALS
I cannot thank them enough for their friendliness as I actually saved a hell of a lot of money because of their generosity.
There’s also an option to try some Deep Water Solo Climbing with the people from Basecamp. I didn’t do it but I got mixed feedback from other travellers, some loving it and some not having great words about it. These day tours are about US$50 (Dec ’18 price)
You could also hike to Khao Ngon Nak National Park as a one-day trip alternative.
Hiking to the Princess Lagoon
Of the hiking options in Tonsai, the very best for sure is going to the Princess Lagoon which is actually on the Railay side.
When we went, there was a sign saying that this trek was closed, however, it’s possible to do it as there’s no one checking.
PLEASE note, the terrain on this trek can be very slippery and very steep, do not attempt to do it on flip-flops as it can be very dangerous.
There will be several parts to climb up and down with the help of ropes, it’s a gorgeous walk in the jungle but do not be reckless and always think safety first.
We were told by another fellow climber to go there at high tide as otherwise the water would be muddy, we followed his advise and when we got to the lagoon it was a beautifully turquoise coloured pool.
You must take a swim here! stay floating in the middle of the lagoon and delight yourself with the views.
The place is surrounded by mountains so it feels as if you were inside a volcano.
Peacefulness is only interrupted by birds singing. It’s hard to describe with words the moment!
Where to eat
As with accommodation, there are plenty of options. Even more of you include all the restaurants at Railay.
In Tonsai there’s one that is not only famous but also conquered our hearts: Mama Chicken!
Don’t be confused by the humble appearance of this place. Service will be slow yes, but no matter what you eat is going to be tasty, with generous portions and possibly the cheapest place in all of Tonsai.
Mama is a lovely woman and incredibly hard worker. The banana-nutella-peanutbutter shake was a favourite of ours to start the day!
I also tried Fruit Thai Pancakes in a couple of places and they were also delicious, with lots and lots of fruits!
As soon as you walk 5 minutes in Tonsai, the thing that shocks you the most is an ugly concrete wall separating the village from the beach.
I’ll not honour the wall or its makers by spilling many lines about it, but I fear the entire essence of the beach will be taken once a big resort is built.
In the meantime, the wall has been used by artists to show their animosity towards itself and to express via different words what Tonsai means and what you could expect there.
As of December ’18, these are some references:
Accommodation from 200thb. Check here for hostels in Tonsai Beach
Food 60-100thb per dish, normally good portions for climbers!
Beers 120thb big bottles
Shakes 40-70thb depending on how many fruits you choose
Boat Ao Nang-Tonsai 100thb each way
Climbing equipment rental (shoes, set of x12 quickdraws, rope, harness) you can expect to pay about 200-300thb for each of them for a full day
What NOT to do
Do not come to Tonsai as a day trip. To really absorb the vibes of this place you need to stay overnight.
I planned to originally stay 2 nights and ended up staying for a week! only moved on because my visa was running out!
It’s a wonderful break from the crowds in all the islands and famous spots in Thailand and you will only find people on the same vibe, pretty chilled place and I can only wish to go back soon!
Feel free to drop any questions if you’re planning to go soon to Tonsai Beach!
Check out the rest of my posts of my time backpacking in Thailand for more ideas on your next adventure!