View from the top of 1,2,3 Wall
There’s plenty of information out there on actual routes at Tonsai, so this article is going to focus on the logistics of organising a climbing trip to Southern Thailand.
Travelling from Bangkok
Your choices for getting south are flying, sleeper train or coach - probably in that order for comfort (but train is best value for money!). To book train (£30) or coach tickets (£16), head to any information office in Bangkok, and ask for tickets to get to Krabi, they’ll tell you what’s available, and you can choose the overnight option (the train gives you a bed, and the coach has reclining seats). Go for the overnight option, meaning you won’t waste a proper day travelling. The train will get you to Suttherani, where you will be met in the morning by someone who is taking a bus to Krabi.
When I did this journey, there was a couple of stops on route, changing to a coach before continuing. When you arrive at Krabi, you’ll probably be dropped outside town and will need to get a taxi to Ao Nang.
From Ao Nang, find the pier, and there will be a desk selling tickets for Tonsai and Railay. These will be 100 baht per person.
From there, enjoy the boat ride and the wonderful feeling jumping off the longtail boat into the shallow sea.
It’s hard. Like, really hard. When people say Tonsai is a climber’s paradise, they’re not lying. But perhaps they should be saying Tonsai is a good climber’s paradise. Unless you’re comfortably leading 6a-6b, you (like me) will probably find there’s not exactly an abundance of routes. But don’t despair, there are some easier climbs around. The most fruitful area for lower grades is 1,2,3 Area, at the end of East Railay beach. Here, there are a handful of 5’s, and a 4+. The ridiculous amount of polish makes them feel steep for the grade though.
Check it out on UKC.
There are a few options in Tonsai. By far the nicest is the Tonsai Bay Resort, but this is also expensive and busy. If its not for you, there are more options at the other end of the beach. Take the path up, and there are a few tiers of accommodation. None of these have air-con though, just a fan, and there’s no electricty between 6am - 6pm, so the rooms get pretty stuffy.
There’s loads of options in Railay, all a lot more tourist-y, but with AC, and electricty. One tip we picked up whilst here, is that lots of the rooms have a key that must be placed in a slot inside the room to activate electricty - however if you have a fridge in the room, that will often be on a separate power source, so if you take that out, you can still charge stuff when you’re not around.
Top 5 Tips
Think carefully about what gear you bring
There are loads of gear shops, and the price to hire a rope for a week is probably the cost it would have been to add an extra bag to the flight anyway, and you have the benefit of not lugging it around elsewhere. You can also hire guidebooks at the shops - they can be tricky to find online. I’d definitely bring your own shoes and harness, and draws are up to you, easy to carry, also easy to hire, along with helmets.
Buy a beach mat!
One of the first things you’ll notice is that everybody is using beach mats. This is for a good reason. There is sand everywhere. If you’re careful, you’ll still get sand everywhere. It makes your life so much easier using a massive mat. And they’re super cheap.
Do your research
There are some routes that the guidebooks purposefully say are no longer deemed safe. Make sure you do your research before climbing a route that may potentially have dodgy bolts/loose rock. A good rule of thumb is if your (up to date) guidebook says its okay, and you see other climbers on the routes - then its probably alright.
Bring some seriously sticky chalk…
Unless you’re very acclimatised, you’ll sweat like there’s no tomorrow. And this doesn’t make climbing extremely polished limestone any easier. We used liquid chalk, with a chalk ball to keep topping up on the climb. This was a pretty effective method.
Make sure its the right destination
Tonsai is an amazing place, filled with magnificent climbs, but if you’re set on climbing every day, and aren’t comfortable climbing 6’s, it might be more worthwhile heading somewhere else. That being said, there’s so much else to do in Tonsai if you’re happy to spend some time not climbing!
Whilst in Tonsai, give yourself some breaks, and try some other stuff out. I’d highly recommend hiring paddleboards, kayaks, going swimming, taking the ludicrous path to the Phra Nang Lagoon and going Scuba Diving. Tonsai is a stunning part of the world, and you’ll probably not want to come home once settling into the relaxed lifestyle out there. I hope there are some useful nuggets of information for you in this article, and happy climbing!