Tonsai – South Thailand. Climbing Mecca!!

Deep Water Soloing on the Islands Off Tonsai

Just seeing pictures of this place or hearing tales about how great the climbing and beaches are, cannot possibly prepare you for the reality.  It’s almost as if Hollywood cooked it up for the perfect Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Beach movie and then built the set.  I came in by air to the Krabi  airport, which seems to be one of those catch-all monikers a collection of distinct places sometimes get as an easy to digest label. It strikes me that Ao Nang on the actual water is the bigger part of town and crawling with tourists as well as the business that usually come with a lot of them.

Most climbing here is pretty steep

Lunch Break Deep Water Soloing

Bouldery start to an otherwise moderate climb

Rope Ladder Start to gain big Stalactite roof while Deep Water Soloing
Anyway, I stayed a couple of nights just outside Ao Nang proper at a small, super bare bones place with large bathroom towels for bedspreads and monkeys or some other critter trying to get in through the roof for good portions of the night. Given how thin and flimsy the roof seemed to be, I was surprised I didn’t end up fighting something for control of the room before dawn.  Lest you think I am complaining or that I was miserable there; think again. The owner Rick and his uber charming family more than made up for any downside. I loved this family and their owner operated bungalows. Rick would happily ferry you into town proper with no notice, no complaints and no extra charge. He’d pick you up same way and the little Bakery across the street was heaven for breakfast and the restaurant next door served wonderful food. These were about the only businesses for quite a distance so it was perfect they served such terrific fare given the distance into town.
After picking up the climbing gear I had sent ahead to the Ao Nang post office care of Poste Restante, I went down to beach and caught a Long-Tail boat over to Tonsai for 100 Baht (about $3).  By the way, sending stuff to yourself via Poste Restante is a wonderful way of getting mail or packages when you are on the road. So if Mom wants to send you that yummy Christmas Cake or leftover turkey dinner (well, maybe not that) cause you’re still on the road and missing holidays with family, then this might be the way to do it. Hint, hint Mom…. It’s not the fastest way to send stuff, but it does get there and much cheaper than FredEx or DHL etc.
Tonsai, Railay West and Railay East are all little beach communities in very close proximity but separated by the giant cliffs that gird each one. You can hike from one to the other using a combination of beach and short hikes. Tonsai is where most of the climbers hang given its location and slightly cheaper accommodations and costs. However, there are plenty of climbs, climbers and climbing shops/guide services in all three. To me, Tonsai feels a little like a throwback to those hippy days of yesteryear and everyone is very friendly. It’s pretty easy to meet other climbers to partner with, but a lot of us have similar gear issues. Aka – I brought my harness, shoes, 15 quick-draws (slings with carabiners on each end) and chalk but no rope as these are very heavy, occupy a lot of space and quite frankly, I’m already over packed. So today we rented a rope, used my hard-wear and got some wonderful climbing in.
First climbs were moderate 5.10s for me to lead in order to get better feel for the rock, but they all had these pumpy starts on way overhanging rock. The rock can change from uber rough volcanic tuft stuff to overly polished smooth back and forth on a single pitch of climbing. Lots of variety and all good.
Yesterday I joined a Deepwater Soloing Tour where 9 people were taken out to some islands in order to climb out of a boat and then just fall or jump back into the water rather than use ropes. All you need is a pair of beat up old climbing shoes and a bathing suit.  When the tide is out, the base of these crags are very, very overhanging and usually encrusted with barnacles so for these, the climbing tour outfits have set up many rope ladders to get up onto the rock and actually  begin climbing or traversing. Shortest jump to the water is about 10 feet and some are between 50 and 60 feet given our crude estimates. That is long way up, even to land in water.  I did not partake in jumping off the highest ones. I did however get a nasty surprise on one of the longer rope ladders when it broke with me standing on the top rung beginning the transition onto rock. Bamboo rung snapped and smashed the heck out of my shin then caught my other leg in the remaining rungs on the way down so that I ended up partially submerged with my foot wrapped around it. No worries though, I managed to extricate myself okay.  The tour guided did manage to fix it so we continued to climb there.
Part way through the day, we steamed into this perfect little Hollywood cove with Blue Lagoon sand and isolation where they served us a hot lunch of rice and veggies. Then we got to snorkel and boulder in this immense cave at the end. So incredible.  After lunch we picked up climbing again and found this area with a huge Stalactite hanging down. I have pics as well as video so if I can get a decent Internet connection, I will include on the post so you can see one of the longer jumps my friend Ben made. We came back just before dark all happy, tired and sun tanned/burnt. Really a great day.
I really love it here and have just scratched the surface, but I have to confess that I wish it were possible to cool off a little more effectively here. Daytime temps can be over a 100 degrees and the humidity is off the charts. No AC here and electricity runs 6pm to 6am max and sometimes less or not at all depending on where you are staying. Gotta power nap with the fan blowing full tilt on you all night. Even a single sheet is too much most of the night. If you get up after 6am, you’ll be showering and brushing your tooths in however dark your bathroom is with no light. Mostly pretty dark. Shower water is the coolest option, but even that doesn’t fully do it and you’re sweating already before your towel even dries you. Swimming in the Andaman  Sea is wonderful, but the water is warmer than any bathtub I can remember being in so scratch that as a way to cool off too. So you climb, sleep, eat, joke and explore all while being sweaty.  No complaints though, I could be home freezing my nads off. The other cool thing is the almost clockwork lightning and thunderstorms with monsoon rain every night here, making for some very entertaining pyrotechnics.


Gotta run for now, but almost forgot to add a monkey photo or two. Guard your belongings well and don’t leave food out. They are cute, but very aggressive and stronger than we are.  Til next time..