In the Wild

Myths about Tonsai

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We just got back from an incredible trip to Tonsai.  It was our first time there and was everything we had anticipated it would be.  Some future posts on the site will discuss the various things we got up to whilst we were there (including our first venture into Deep Water Solo), but first I wanted to address three myths that are as ubiquitous on messageboards and blogs as discussion of the quality of the rock and the beautiful scenery.

1.   It’s expensive:

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This is really just a matter of perspective.  I understand that for travellers coming in from other parts of the Krabi coast the prices on Tonsai might come as something of a shock.  For us, coming from Bangkok, the prices were about the same and seemed pretty reasonable.  Any inflated cost is understandable too, since Tonsai cannot be reached by car and everything must be brought in by boat.  Decent bungalows with fans and mosquito nets are available for 200thb (£4.50 / US$6.50) – mosquito nets are an absolute must by the way!  Since we weren’t travelling for long we splurged on the Dream Valley bungalows, which came with a/c and a pool.  Some of the guys we met balked at how much we were paying – around 1000thb/night (£23 / US$32) – but again this was down to a matter of perspective.  They were lucky enough to be travelling for months, whereas a little indulgence on our part made very little difference to the cost of our trip.  The bungalows at Dream Valley are excellent and it was incredible to come back from a long day of climbing to the pool!

Here’s an overview of the cost of the things we bought most:

  • Fruit shake 60thb (£1.30 / US$2.00)
  • Large beer 100thb (£2.30 / US$3.20)
  • Large water 40thb (£1.00 / US$1.30)
  • Rice & main meal 110-150thb (£2.50-3.40 / US$3.50-4.80)
  • Nutella roti 60 thb (£1.30 / US$2.00)

2.   It’s been spoilt

For those that are unfamiliar, in 2014 a large resort hotel was commissioned by the Sheraton group which saw the village of Tonsai relocated away from the beach and a concrete wall was erected around the intended construction site.  There is thus a lot of climbers understandably gutted that the village they once knew has gone, with all the bars, cafes and bungalows now facing a wall rather than the beautiful turquoise ocean.  We didn’t see Tonsai before but we can imagine just how perfect it must have been.  Speaking to the locals too, this has been bad for business and the village was noticeably quiet at what should have been a busy time of year.  Almost four years after putting up the wall and there is no sign that the hotel is to start construction any time soon.

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There is no question about the injustice of this, but nevertheless I was utterly charmed by Tonsai.  The wall has been decorated with graffiti celebrating life there.  Tonsai truly feels like a community in which all visitors are welcome.  There is a great atmosphere built around a shared love for climbing.  Everything is laid back, quiet, tranquil even, owed in part of the absence of traffic.  Great efforts have also been made to address the litter problem that you may also read about.  In our opinion, Tonsai still has so much to offer and it is certainly better to support those that have been displaced by visiting rather than staying away in protest.  Things have changed, certainly not for the better, but nothing has been ruined and I’m sure the aura of Tonsai will continue to thrive.

3.   You’ll get sick

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Ah yes, Tonsai Tummy.  You can’t read much about Tonsai without coming across the dreaded stomach upset that plagues all that visit.  Just before leaving, I told a friend from work we were going to Tonsai.  He replied: “No way!  I went there a few years back with some friends.  It’s beautiful there, amazing climbing.  We all got sick”.  Speculation is rife as to whether its dodgy ice in the fruit shakes, poor sanitation, or the lack of power (and therefore refrigeration) from 10am-4pm every day that’s behind it.

Maybe we got lucky but we didn’t get ill in the slightest.  Being mindful of Tonsai Tummy before we got there, we stuck to two golden rules and still ate like royalty:

  • Eat at popular places: ask those that have been there for a while where is safe to eat.  With perhaps only ten places to eat on Tonsai, it is noticeable that only three or four are ever busy.  Busy means higher turnover of food so ingredients won’t be sat out as long, and also indicates that its got a better reputation for not making people sick.  We would recommend Family Restaurant (at Chill Out Bungalows), Mama’s Chicken, and most of all, Pyramid Cafe, which serves enormous breakfasts in the morning and the most delicious Thai curries I have ever sampled in the evening!
  • Eat veggie: we’re always veggie, but it makes sense in a place without refrigeration for six hours of the day to not consume meat and seafood.  One alternative is to eat at neighbouring Railay, which has electricity throughout the day.  There is an abundance of incredible veggie options on Tonsai so you really won’t be missing out!