Tonsai, Thailand has long been a world class destination for international climbers. Climbing in Tonsai combines world class routes with the chilled, laid back backpacker environment. Most crags are within a 10-20 minute walk and the very affordable Thai lifestyle means you can probably afford as many mango smoothies as you want.
We've created this guide to help climbers coming to Tonsai get a feel for what to expect. Theres a few tips and tricks to save a $ here and there and guidance accumulated from multiple climbing trips to Tonsai over the years.
We don't guarantee the accuracy or reliability of anything written in this guide. Anyone who acts upon or takes any step in any way connected with its content or the fact that it exists does so entirely at his or her own risk.
Why Climb in Tonsai?
Often referred to as the climbing Mecca of South East Asia, Tonsai is what many consider to be a climbers paradise. Think sun, sea and amazing views of beaches and palm trees. Cheap accommodation, great food with plenty of opportunity to discuss your latest project over a beer in the evening.
It's great for the solo climber as it's very easy to find partners to climb with. Take note of high and low season, as it can get extremely busy in high season with queues for the most popular routes.
Best Time To Come To Tonsai
The weather in Tonsai is pretty much split into two seasons, high (November to March) and low (April to October).
High Season weather is generally sunny, clear and less humid. Generally it’s a bit cooler after late January. You will however find that Tonsai will be full of climbers and non climbers and the easier routes will be busy all day, so expect queues for the popular routes. Prices also reflect the season and are considerable more.
Low Season is still great for climbing, although it's monsoon season due to the change in wind from the South West. If and when it does rain it's generally heavy for a couple of hours and then sunny again. Most of the crags dry off quickly and can be climbed almost immediately. September and October are generally the wettest months.
A Recent Tonsai History Bit
You may hear the odd person arriving and exclaiming that they were here 5/10/15 years ago and it has changed so much because all the bars and accommodation were on the beach. Yes this is true, some corporation bought all the land in the middle and walled off the grounds. Hence ‘the wall’ has become something of an art project, so feel free to bring along some paints and make your mark on the Tonsai wall. Now all but one of the bars are further back, away from the beach. One good thing that came out of it are that the gibbons are easier to spot, the bad thing is that there’s no sea view when you’re indulging in night time shenanigans at the bars.
How To Get to Tonsai
Tonsai is not an island but has the feel of island life. You can reach it by long tail boat from Ao Nang. Boats leave regularly when full during daylight and cost THB 100 one way (April 2017 price). You can get buses to Ao Nang from Krabi Airport or Krabi Town. Occasionally the boat may not stop at Tonsai and only at Railey. In this case you’ll have to walk about 40 mins to Tonsai, see further down on how to get from Tonsai to Railey.
How Good is the Climbing in Tonsai?
Great: There are hundreds of routes on Tonsai and as many on Railey next door. Routes varying from 5’s to 8c. The easiest routes on Tonsai start at 6a, so not so easy for a complete beginner, Railey has the 5’s.
Expect lots of fun routes with 3D climbing around stalactites and tufas but diverse enough to get your balancy climbs in. Many of the harder routes are pumpy and overhanging, especially on Tonsai beach.
Climbers have been coming here since the early 1990’s and as it's limestone, a relatively soft rock many of the popular routes at most grades can be polished (adding to the challenge).
There are plenty of multi pitches starting at 6b and upwards, all providing stunning, panoramic views of the area. Humanality, Ao Nang Tower and Heart of Darkness are our favourites.
Look further down to see our favourite routes at the different grades.
Are the Bolts Safe?
Buy a book! You need it to know if the routes have been rebolted with Titanium. It is relatively simple to identify once you know and the books clearly describe what is safe. Routes not bolted with Titanium are not to be climbed on. Beware of slings, a lot of the routes have slings, some are protected by tubing, most are not. Check the sling and bear in mind the condition if you’re planning to send the crux with a mono pocket above it.
All the rebolted climbs have anchors with two ‘O’ rings on at least 2 titanium bolts.
There are two main books: King Climbers and ‘Rock climb in Thailand & Laos’. We used Rock Climbing in Thailand & Laos by Elke Schmitz and recommend it. Best to get it when you're in Tonsai as they will be the most up to date. You can buy them at Base Camp in Tonsai or King Climbers in Railey. If you want to buy before you go have a look here.
Regardless make sure you are covered by climbing by your Travel Insurance. If you are not sure why you need Travel Insurance read our post here.
Things You Need to Know
- Climbing on a beach looks great, but sand gets everywhere. Buy/bring a mat and even better bring a brush to clean the sand off your feet before you climb.
- Tides, sun and rain can stop you climbing on the crags you want. The books will tell you what’s in the shade when. Plan your chosen crag with the tide (Google) as some can only be approached in low tide, more importantly plan your return so your gear doesn’t get wet and you don’t cut your feet on sharp rock. If it's light rain a lot of the crags are slightly protected with overhangs, Eagle Wall, The Nest and Wild Kingdom are the driest bet.
- If you’re rope is at the end of its life, or you just don’t want to lug it home, donate it to Base Camp who are the most active in rebolting. They use it for slings and rebolting efforts. They also have the Thaitanium Project which funds the rebolting of the routes in Titanium.
- Mosquitos – they are everywhere and you’ll quickly learn the times that they are worse. We recommend stocking up on mosquito coils in Ao Nang as they are cheaper there. We go through a pack every 3 days. All rooms have mosquito nets but we also light a new coil before we go to sleep which keeps us bite free until morning.
- Open wounds/cuts are particularly susceptible to infection on Tonsai, particularly because it's hard to keep it dry. Regularly treat it with Betadine clay (not liquid betadine) and keep a close eye on even the smallest cut. Suggest checking into Tonsai Bay Resort if wounds aren’t closing, the aircon will aid the healing. Furthermore, open blisters or cuts on the feet might get you the Cutaneous Larva Migrans (an itchy, painfull but not dangerous hookworm).
- There are no ATM’s on Tonsai but plenty on Railey. Take your ATM card with you when you’re climbing in Railey so you don’t have to go on your rest day or stock up in Ao Nang before you come. There is a money exchange but we’ve never used it. We doubt the rates are in your favour as there is not much competition and volume for the exchange.
How to Get from Tonsai to Railey
You’re going to be spending at least a few days on Railey and there are actually four ways to get from Tonsai to Railey by foot
- If the tide is super low you can walk directly from beach to beach without cutting through the jungle. Be very careful on the sharp and slippery rocks. This way only takes 10 minutes.
- If the tide is about shin deep while walking past Tonsai roof then you can take the lower jungle path, so turn right after Tyrolean wall. This way takes about 15 minutes.
- If the tide is above knee deep while walking past Tonsai roof then there will be a good chance that your gear/rope will get wet or you cut yourself on sharp rocks when exiting the jungle onto Railey West beach. In this case keep going straight up after Tyrolean wall. This way takes about 20 minutes.
- The path going past Mama’s Chicken and Country side Resort will eventually bring you out near Diamond Cave in Railey. We don’t recommend this path as you will get attacked by mosquitos and it takes at least 40 mins.
Tip : The best public toilet on Railey is on the left after the main street, just before the path splits, it's opposite a bench which says no smoking. It's actually the hotel toilet for the restaurant but nobody cares who uses it. It's great for a last minute stop before you get to the crag.
Chalk, Gear & Guides
A 70 meter rope, 12 quick draws + 2 long draws, prussik, anchor chain and belay device should be all the gear you need.
There are two climbing shops on Tonsai, Base Camp and the Rock Shop and plenty more in Railey. Gear is generally more expensive to buy than in Europe and the US so try to bring everything yourself. Rope is about 400 Baht a day to rent. Remember you’re in Thailand so bargaining is allowed, especially for multiple days. It is also very easy and great to get a guide
Some people bring oversized shoes, as often your feet will expand at least half a size due to the heat and humidity.
You’re going to sweat like crazy so bring lots of chalk. Liquid chalk wouldn’t hurt either.
Deep Water Solo (DWS)
DWS is great here, climbing is not too difficult and a good 6a climber can easily get to 15 meters, 6b and above as high as you dare to fall from! If you are going to go with a guide we recommend Base Camp, who run half day trips.
It is easy and cheaper with enough people to just get a boat man to take you out. Tell them Deep Water Solo and they will know where to go. Just remember to go at high tide and also try and always have one person on the boat watching the jumper.
Plan ahead so your next day is a rest day, then your shoes can dry.
Accommodation in Tonsai
There are about 15 different places to stay in Tonsai starting at 100 THB in low season for a shared room at the top of the hill. Most of the places have similar style of accommodation
- Basic bamboo hut
- Wooden sealed hut
- Concrete room
Best thing to do is walk around, ask to see the room and the price. Here is an example of the prices
The only resort is Tonsai Bay Resort which has power 24/7, aircon, wifi and breakfast included. It's expensive and I’ve never stayed there but looks nice.
We have always stayed at Pasook as the staff are super friendly and it's right next to a couple of crags, The Nest and Wild Kingdom.
Generally you can negotiate prices in the low season, in the high season prices are fixed and may be booked up quickly.
Alternatively there are several unofficial spots to camp either on the beach or further down behind the beach where the base jumpers entrance is. Eagle wall would also be a great camping spot. Beware thefts have occurred.
Power & Wifi
Most places only have power from 6pm – 6am and one plug socket. There are exceptions, especially further up the path and also at Tonsai Bay Resort.
Adequate Wifi is common at all the bars and restaurants, 24/7.
Food & Water
Water is not safe to drink. We recommend bringing your own 2 litre bottle and then buying the big 15 litre bottles. You’ll see them in the kitchens of most restaurants, if they aren’t selling them in the minimarts then ask around at the restaurants. It's normal to ask for a deposit for the bottle itself. Expect to go through at least 3 litres a day
There are multiple restaurants around, you can’t miss them. Tonsai is a good place for vegetarians as most restaurants offer enough vegetarian options. Our favourites are
Sao Legacy – large portions and the banana chocolate pancakes are the best
Mama’s Chicken – infamous among climbers, always a great vibe here and has the best BBQ chicken
Sweet Monkey – a bit more expensive but expect the best homemade Italian food in Thailand
You'll likely Tonsai tummy at least once!
Best Climbs in Tonsai
5 - 'Groove Tube' on Fire Wall, yes we know it is graded as a 6a but it's really easy and a classic that everybody should do. Make sure you go through the hole at the start.
6a - 'Spiderman' on Eagle Wall, paradise like approach and nice long climb.
6b - 'Monkey Love' on Thaiwand Wall, unique climbing through tufas and nice views.
6c - 'Best route in Minnesota' on Esher Wall, polished start but amazing line and great views from the top. Ideally with an additonal spotter, spot anyone towards the ground AND the rock behind if they second up/toprope.
7a+ - 'Burnt Offerings' on Fire Wall, get the classic Tonsai picture. Beautiful route through the cave into a tricky crux to get out onto a bouldery finish.7b - 'Cross eyed' on Firewall, some of the best face climbing with great views as standard.
'Heart Of Darkness' on Cat Wall, pretty sure it's the highest you can get on that side of Tonsai. 5 pitches of awesome overhanging pump with an cool bit where you thread through a group of stalagtites. Pain to rappel down as you have to back clip every pitch.
'Humanality' next to Freedom Bar, it's a classic but really just for the 2nd to last pitch. Try not to talk to anyone about the crux before you go.
Thaiwand Wall, we haven't done a multipitch here but I've heard the views are incredible.
'Ao Nang Tower', get a kayak and go for an adventure. Can be a bit noisy with all the boats going past and unfortunately ends with hanging belay. As of March 2017 some kind Germans put a fixed line on the last pitch so you don't have to get your rope wet rappeling down the last pitch.
What to Do on Your Rest Day
Yoga – there is usually a yoga class in the morning and evening. The location varies depending on the season but there are usually signs on the main street or have a look next to Pasook Resort.
Railey Lagoon and View point – go during high tide otherwise all you’ll see is a muddy pool. Going in flip flops is possible, shoes would be better. If it’s been raining expect it to be very muddy!
Kayaking – We don’t like getting wet so I can’t really comment on this but a lot of people enjoy it.
Phra Nang Beach – Voted in the top ten best beaches in the world. Has a Penis Shrine (Princess Cave) and amazing views. Best to go super early or expect it to be very busy with annoying day trippers.
Cave and Rappel – There is a cave you can walk through between Escher Wall and Thaiwand Wall. Best to approach from Escher wall and then rappel onto Thaiwand Wall. You will need head torches, look for the ladders when you’re inside the cave.
Slack Lining & High Lining - There a few short lines in the bars to keep you occupied, otherwise the long lines and high lines are very much dependent on who is around.
Weed & Mushrooms – easy accessible and you will see a lot of locals and travellers indulging openly. There are no police on Tonsai, even when the army coup closed all the bars around Thailand it had no effect on Tonsai. But make your own decision.
Thanks for reading, comment below for your best Tonsai tips to help out future travellers. As Tonsai is a constantly evolving environment please let us know if any of the tips are now outdated.
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