Weekend in Tonsai

When I think about it, I can’t even pinpoint when Wayne and I first developed an interest in rock climbing. It was a long time ago. My memory’s taking me back to boulder-strewn Hampi, which we understood to be a bit of a climber’s haven; to Max’s amazing home-bouldering video (seriously, do yourself a favor and click that link); to some outdoorsy, adventurous documentaries I seem to remember getting our hands on in China. Let’s just say it’s been on the brain, on and off, for a few years now.

I returned from Bangkok last week to hear Wayne had spoken to one of our friends here in Thung Song who jets off to a little place called Tonsai fairly frequently. Tonsai’s located in Krabi province– famous for its limestone cliffs and the awesome climbing potential they provide. Not only had Christina, our friend, done a bit of climbing there herself, she knew some of the instructors and climbing regulars and said she’d be happy to introduce us and, no pun intended (okay, pun kind of intended), show us the ropes a little. It was tempting.

Especially when Eugene got worked into the plans and it was to become a bike adventure. And when tents worked themselves into the plans and it was to become a camping adventure. A climbing, biking, camping adventure! But… I’d just gone away the previous weekend. And… there was a going away party in Thung Song I wanted to attend. I said I was going to gracefully bow out. I made plans of my own consisting solely of cuddling the pup, trying out new recipes, and watching Arrested Development reruns. I was actually pretty excited for it.

But temptation became too great when it became more than a boys-hit-the-road-and-meet-Christina affair. Her roommate, Collette, and Collette’s friend from the States would be in attendance, and they were forming a bona fide farang bike convoy. And it was Collette’s birthday on Sunday. And I’d see all the people from the going away party again. And some numbers were getting tossed around and it didn’t seem like it was going to be too pricey. And there was room for just one more on the back of Wayne’s bike. Sorry Ollie… we’ll get our cuddle weekend someday.

this is the face of a puppy scorned...

convoy, ready to depart! (christine, eugene, wayne, myself, riley, and collette)

what's that face all about?!

The drive was 2.5 hours of blue-skied smooth sailing. I tried to capture the moments along the way but only a handful of shots turned out how I’d wanted. And of course, being Thailand, we were always in for a few surprises along the way.

someone walking their cow. standard.

chickens crossing the road.

passing a rubber grove.

haha... wayne was generally leading the way (because he'd looked up the route), but on the uphills we lost some ground.

a coconut monkey! (they climb the trees to harvest the coconuts).

mountains rising... we must be getting closer.

i've become infatuated with the cult of the king in thailand.

not sure what this sign's all about...

i think maybe the best thing we saw on the ride... (yes, those are people sitting inside it).

still smiling, though we'd just added about 20 minutes onto our journey by missing a turn.

The driving portion of the trip brought us to Ao Nang, one of the more common tourist spots in Krabi (where we stayed last April), and where we met Glen for lunch. Satisfied with our yellow curries, pad thais, and som tams, it was time to take the 100 baht/person, 5-minute boat ride to Tonsai. That’s all it took!

orchid-envy at the restaurant.

Though I’ve never been to Railay Beach, a favorite amongst visitors to Thailand, I’m going to make the statement that Tonsai is the cooler, cheaper, more laid back little brother of Railay. They occupy the same accessible only-by-boat bay and I’m sure are comparable in terms of beauty and fun-to-be-had. But I must say that scoping out and taking advantage of lesser-known destinations is one of the benefits of living in a place (as opposed to just visiting) and I have a feeling I’d take the “hippie” vibe of Tonsai over Railay’s (as I understand it) tourist-trap status any day. Of course, one of the draws of lesser-known places are the cheaper prices, and with bungalows at 200 ($6.70) and 300 ($10)  baht/night, Tonsai’s one of the cheapest places I’ve come across. And yes, that does mean we never procured that tent we were hoping for, and the camping portion of the climbing/biking/camping adventure got scrapped.

view from inside the girls' favorite hangout on the beach, chill out bar (complete with 200 baht/night bungalows, though they were full when we arrived, and we settled for viking bungalows, just down the beach, for 300 baht/night).

chill out bar had tables situated in old longtails. how clever!

tides came and went quickly, and when the tide was out we were left with a huge expanse of rocky muck in place of the sea!

found a cuddle buddy after all! (did i mention i'm allergic to cats?)

goodbye friend!

jimmy, one of the chill out employees, playing frisbee. we'd all join, and it would bring us much joy.

jimmy by night.

So by now you’re probably wondering just where the rock climbing comes in. And, well, it doesn’t… Since we knew we’d be a bit exhausted from the bike ride, we decided we’d only go for it on Sunday morning, before leaving. However, we arrived to learn that Christina’s main climbing connection is suffering from a foot injury at the moment (and Christina’s just getting over being sick herself). So we thought maybe it would be better to just scope out the scene and get a feel for Tonsai on this, our first excursion to the location, and do some climbing next time (since it won our hearts so and we feel sure there will be a next time). And thus the money we set aside for climbing went instead to the more standard beach fare of dinner and cocktails (which, incidentally, ended up a bit more expensive than the climbing would have been. Whoops.)

Though short it was an excellent weekend and I’d definitely recommend the spot to anyone to whom the no-frills-just-good-clean-fun lifestyle appeals. That’s definitely what Tonsai is all about!

what the inside of a $10 bungalow looks like. i mean, what more do you need than a mattress and mosquito net?

what the outside of a $10 bungalow looks like.

we did go WATCH some climbers, if that counts...

Instead of climbing, Sunday was dedicated to the more leisurely activities of eating breakfast at Sabai Sabai Café and wandering into the more jungly area of Tonsai. We were surprised to find how far back it went and would be interested in doing more exploring in that direction next time as well. I mean, we ran into people who’d stayed there for weeks and months, so there’s really no shortage of outdoorsy fun to keep one occupied. Around one o’clock we were off to Ao Nang, where we had a delicious Indian lunch for Collette’s birthday, and then it was back home with us.

Aside from all the beautiful and fun things I just shared, I think one of the reasons the weekend has left such a fond impression in my memory is that so many of the people we interacted with were just so genuine, kind, and cool. All the staff at Chill Out Bar were awesome, and the patrons we ended up hanging out with were also very enjoyable. Sunday morning when we were packing Wayne realized one of his shirts was missing (he changed after holding the cat, on account of my allergies). I went back and found not only his shirt, but one of Eugene’s and one of our snorkels. When you’re kind of always on your guard against thieves and other such menaces as a traveler, it’s really nice to go to a place where you can forget a few items in a bar and go back the next day without them being touched.

We had another memorable instance of overt caring and compassion on the part of the Thais on our way back. We were only about 40 kilometers away, eager to finish the trip, when a truck pulled out suddenly, causing Wayne to slam on the breaks, causing Christina to slam on hers just behind us. Alas, the bike locked up and slid, breaking a mirror and leaving Christina with a few scrapes and scratches. Now, I’ve almost never seen a Thai person get right down to business and start making things happen, but this time around it was unbelievable. In a flash, there was a water bottle so she could rinse her wounds, and it took about one minute for a “proper medic” (read: man from down the road carrying a tote bag full of things like iodine) to appear on the scene. They sat her down, doctored the scrapes, and all in all seemed very concerned and desperate to help us in any way we needed. When you’ve lived somewhere like Thailand long enough it can be easy to let the cultural frustrations occupy a greater portion of one’s mind than the positive factors. I know I’m guilty of this as well, but I also know I’ve seen so much kindness and generosity on the part of Thais, and I know that’s the kind of thing that will remain in my mind long after I’m gone.

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3 responses

  1. Pingback: Back in Thailand | …still having the THAIme of my life

  2. Pingback: Tonsai Again; A Study in ‘Fros and Grouper Faces | …still having the THAIme of my life

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