Guide to Highlining in Tonsai
Welcome to Tonsai Bay, from first glance to last day (always tomorrow), this place will enchant you. The idyllic beaches, relaxed vibe and strong community will make any visit feel like coming home. Over the last few decades, climbers have flocked here for the incredibly featured limestone that shields it from the world, it’s become well known destination for anyone looking to escape the cold (it averages 28 degrees +) or reality with its abundance of otherworldly substance 😉
All types of vertical adventure are possible so if you’re ready for some serious bush bashing, you can enjoy to tranquil moments of peace soaring above dense jungle and blue ocean, then descend back down, walk 100m to the closest bar and enjoy a cheap meal and a beer while picking cactus out of your hair.
Disclaimer / Expected Skills
If you wish to enjoy a long pleasant life, free from injury or misfortune, it is NOT recommended that you highline, or even slackline for that matter. If however you completely choose to ignore this advice and slackline regardless, there are some things you should know…
Tonsai Bay, although a sport climbing paradise, is unfortunately not the same for highlines. Although the amount of gaps and epic lines available could fill a lifetime, it would be a very dangerous life indeed. Rigging highlines here is far from easy, it is expected that anyone who wishes to do so has extensive experience in their home country on expedition style trips where rational decision making, teamwork and suffering are all part of the package. It is expected that climbing, especially ropeless scrambling are very familiar concepts and that self rescue is using limited gear practiced thoroughly. There has never been a helicopter rescue in Tonsai and it is not expected that one would be brought in for a poor highliner, no matter how good your insurance. If self rescuing is beyond your capabilities, only other international sport climbers can save you, the local thai guides are skilled, but they are by no means a capable rescue service.
Highlines in Tonsai are a far far way away from the simple “Drive in, walk around” access of the Fruit Bowl, creative taglining, exposed hanging belays and independent on-the-fly decision making are all qualities needed to stay alive here.
At the end of the day, once you’ve battled, bleed, swore and sweated profusely under the harsh sun, the memories created and friendships formed will be so much more worth it.
If the information before makes you scared but ALSO a little bit excited, tonasi will be every bit as good as you imagine.
Fly into Krabi international Airport.
From here you must make your way to Ao Nang, there are a couple options. The bus/shuttle service leaves direct from the airport regularly (less than 1 hr between service). It is the cheapest option (besides hitch hiking, a difficult endeavour) and the recommended way for the dirtbag slacker.
Alternatively private taxi’s can be taken at a premium (about 500bht), this is the fastest and easiest. These are also available to take directly from the airport.
Tickets for either must be bought inside the terminal (it has signs for railay peninsula and photos of the idyllic beaches)
From Ao Nang, there is a longtail boat service that runs whenever there are enough people to fill a boat (100-200 bht each), or each person pays enough to make a full fare. In high season, the spots fill up quick and wait times are small, but late at night or in low season, expect to hang around for a while, or fork out the extra baht.
There is a whole range of options available here from super budget to super luxury. Rates vary greatly between seasons too, in high season (Nov – Feb) prices are usually 3x the low season rates what is quoted here is for high season.
It’s possible to book online now for some places, however within 20min of getting off the boat, you can almost always find a place to stay.
- Most expensive in Tonsai are around 1500bht per night however for the same price even better accommodation is available in railay, the beach next door, these units are generally airtight and free from bugs and mozzies and mostly come with aircon, wifi and 24hr power.
- The next step down still comes with private room and bathroom, but usually only a small fan and mozzie net over the bed. Power is also only available from late afternoon to early morning. Green valley is an expensive example of this option and goes for around 800 bht per night but walking further up the hill into the jungle you can find the same options for about 500bht per night at Passok, Jungle Hut, Andaman and more. Most of these have spotty wifi and queen mattresses.
- To reduce the rate again by another couple hundred bht, shared bathrooms and/or share rooms are available.
- The cheapest accommodation that will enable access to a shower and power outlets is sleeping above Saubi Bar for 50Bht per night, this is noisey and byo mat/hammock and mozzie netting. There is also nowhere secure to keep possessions, although they are unlikely to be taken, bungalows are robbed every now and again, so above the bar is even more at risk!
- It is definitely possible to spend the night on the beach or in the trees just behind it, however it is not advised to do for any longer than it takes to find available accommodation (only 1-2 days max). Locals are not a fan of human waste being buried, nor would you be of the cats that also bury theirs all over the beach. Tonsai is a small community with an economy that depends on the climbers, the accommodation is generally really great quality for a comparatively small fee, Help them out and help Tonasi stay the paradise it is!
The style of rigging here is mostly natural with the odd bolted anchor around. It’s worth consulting the lines bellow and planning accordingly. At the end of the day it’s using minimal gear creatively that will get lines rigged.
- Up to 70m of webbing with sewn ends
- A couple weblocks and leash (Alu or Ti rings)
- 1, 2 and 3m spansets, worth bringing doubles, especially of the 2m
- 20-30m of static rap/jug rope
- Sections of 8mm static rope, 6, 8, 10 and 12m are good
- Sections of beefier 10mm static rope, 8 and 10m (more the better)
- A couple of stainless bow shackles
- A 50-60m dynamic rope and draws, can double as a backup line.
- Alpine draws for trad access
- Tagline about 60m long
- Rope protection, the rock is knife blade sharp, bring lots of this!
- Aluminum biners (for backups), try avoid steel, it will start rusting within a week
- Personal highline gear, E.g. harness, roller, tensioning system
- Gri Gri, ascender, prussics, other self rescue/ basic access items
If you’re going as a team or as two people, it’s worth bringing a few extra items
- Backup webbing, as some spots are quite low and a rope backup is not very effective
- More spansets / anchor material, inc rope pro
- Another 20-30m static rap/jug line
- Another tagline (it’s easy to get it caught and lost in the dense jungle)
- 11mm static to add/replace fixed lines
This is a rough map of where spots are, until this guide is properly updated, consult the climbing guidebook for much more detailed info on how to get to particular spots that are mentioned in here. Climbing guides can be found by asking a climber to look at theirs or sometimes there is one at Mamas Coffee Shop.
The details of the bars and accommodation in this map are NOT accurate, most of them have moved!
(1) Railay Peninsula
Grischa Rulle on Perseverance Jun/Jul 2011. Photo by Preston Bruce Alden
Perseverance – 35m Long, 40ish m High, 70 ish m Exposure
Who/When: Grischa Rulle (95%), Preston Bruce Alden (5%), 2011
FA: Grischa Rulle, Jun/Jul 2011
Anchors: Tonsai Side – Main – Natural horns/ rock features to sling, 2-3m Spansets
– Backup – Same as main, more 2-3m Spansets
Thaiwand Tower – Main – 2x Ti Ring Bolts
– Backup – Natural slings / threads in the rock? Maybe no backup?
Home to the first Highline of the Tonasi area and also home to a couple run ins with tourists and authority, Beautiful rigs and stunning exposure, but also not the place to leave a line up for many days anymore. There is a 35ish meter here and a longer one done by the gibbon team apparently?
This is the story and beta for the 35m, a well worth read and epic especially considering the slackline gear of the day… http://slacklineproject.blogspot.com.au/2011/07/thailine.html
Also a video provides good beta; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXQh7PJy4X4&feature=youtu.be
(2) Dums Kitchen
See main cover image on page one for a photo of this line
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself – 32m Long, 40m High, 110m + Exposure
Who/When: Chris Wallace, Marvin Bruns, Sam Stiegemeier, Feb 2016
FA: Chris Wallace, March 2017
RHS (Ocean Side) – Main – Short sharp horn, needs 2m spanset
– Backup – Same as main or use small tree or another horn/sling
LHS (Climb Side) – Main – Tall sharp horn, needs 1m spanset
– Backup – Same as main or use the tyrollean/rap anchor
Remarks: The highest exposure highline in Tonsai/Railay with awesome aproach (don’t all of them though) and El natural. Annoyingly about 1.5m off level but not that noticeable on the 32m length.
Access: Make your way to Dums Kitchen and up the BASE trail, the difficulty of the “trail” is up to 5b free solo with death a very real consequence if you fall. Surprisingly it is actually one of the easier approaches to a highline in tonsai, requiring no belaying. Climbing times from freedom bar to summit vary depending on how hot/cold it is and how quickly you free solo with a highline rig but is generally around 35-45min. Has been done in sub 16min by BASE jumpers with a 10+kg rig!
CAUTION: DO NOT climb if it has rained and is not yet dry, the “track” leads up a water course and becomes extremely slippery and dangerous in the wet.
To access Climb Side anchor
At the notch in the “trail” (about 30m from the summit) climb the RHS spur, leading diagonally up and to the right (about 5C climbing with threads slingable for protection), after about 15m of cleanish rock, the cliff becomes more slabby and full of cactus, crawl your way to the top and find the tyrollean/rap anchor. As of March 2017 there was a 3mm cord left linking the two summits and it was possible to pull a 70m rope around through the tyrollean anchor to be able to roll across to the other side, this avoided the need to climb, do not however rely on this being there.
To access Ocean Side anchor
Continue following the yellowed rock on the BASE “trail” up the LHS spur and about 3m (vertically) from the summit, turn around and you will see the highline gap.
(3) Monkey World
Luke Sarantos on Sung Lao – Photo credit to Sarah Gmeiner
Sung Lao – 37m Long, 40m+ High, 80m Exposure
Who/When: Luke Sarantos, Gino Laginzo, Maxi Montree, Sarah Gmeiner, 2016
FA: Luke Sarantos? Jan 2017
Anchors: Bong Cave – Main – Big pillar wrap, about 4-6m of spanset needed
– Backup – Same as main (or other smaller pillars possible to equalise)
The Nest – Main – 2 Ti Bolts in pullout (needs about 6m of static)
– Backup – 2 Ti Bolts in pullout about 1/2m above
Remarks: Very nice direct height and all round beautifully scary line. The 6a-b approach makes for a nice all round adventure while still remaining relatively easy to get to from the ground. It is in the shade from around 2-3:00pm onwards.
Approach: From Passok / Jungle Hut Head to the corner of the street and uphill into the jungle.
Bong Cave: Keep heading up and left for Monkey World approach. There are two climbs to pick from here, a 6a or a 6b (Chunky Monkey or Curious George), both excellent 2 pitch routes that end at the bong cave. Once inside, there is a 10m unprotected airy traverse to a small hole, crawl though this slinging the huge pillar on the right for your anchor.
The Nest / Wild Kingdom Side: From the street head up the same as bong cave approach, but veer to the right from about 3/4 of the way up the approach. The route here is Bubble Boy (6b+) With 5-6m of even harder unprotected climbing after the lower offs to get to the highline bolts. As of 2017 there is a fixed line to help aid this section, remain on belay when jugging this though!
Maxi Montree on Catwall Midline – Unknown photographer
Catwall Midline – 15m Long, 10m High
Who/When: Luke Sarantos, Shane Yates, 2012/13?
Anchors: Ledge Side – Main – Using at least 30m of static equalise the two glue in U bolts
closest to the ocean
– Backup – Equalise the remainder of the bolts (about 30m static also)
Pillar Side – Main – Wrap the huge pillar with 6m worth of spanset
– Backup – Either, wrap same pillar, go of bolts up to to the right or sling
thread above bolts
Remarks: Take loads of rope pro, especially for the ledge side. Be respectful of climbers, as the bolts are there for them, Since this rig involves cross loading almost every bolt it is important to use lots of them and a nylon webbing is a must. Watch out for the no fall zone too!
All round cool beginner line, and probably the quickest and easiest to access, worth rigging as a warm up to other lines here as it is also the easiest to rig too. In summer it goes into sun around 9:00am and back into shade around 3:00pm. Be there on time to rig (not tonsai time) otherwise the climbers will claim all the bolts first.
Approach: From the Legacy side of the beach, walk less than 100m up the concrete path and take a left at the first major tree. Follow the fixed lines up the steep dirt path, at the clearing head left (facing cliff) for the tensioning side, and right to the static pillar side. Both sides require dangerous climbing on old fixed lines (about 10m high).
(5) Fire – Melting Wall
Benny on Burnt Offerings and Chris Wallace on “SWWTB” – Photo Credit to Claire Xian, 2017
Smoking Weed With The Bees – 58m Long, 20-30m High, 60m Exposure
Who/When: Chris Wallace, Chiko Shah, Pyn Chin, French Dude, March 2017
FA: Chris Wallace, March 2017
Anchors: Stalactite – Main – Girth hitch the pillar on top of the stalactite, 3-4m spanset
– Backup – Same bomber pillar.
Cave Side – Main – Sling 2 pillars with rope or spanset, (3m spanset)
– Backup – Sling 1-2 more pillars (2m rope for close, 8m rope for far pillar)
Remarks: The masterpoint on the cave side must be extended far beyond just slinging the pillars, save a 2-3m spanset for this as it must rub on the rock every time someone enters/exits/whippers on the line. Its possible to rig the line more level by moving the cave anchor about 10m higher onto a small stubby stalactite (7a climb) and moving the melting wall anchor up another few meters, in this case, the easiest anchor to access becomes the melting wall (big stalactite) side. If rigged from the cave, the easiest access to the line is via the 6b+ climb. It can be worth fixing a static line to the bolts on this and using it as a via ferrata. It is an unpopular climb and does not see much traffic, however, be mindful of climbers wishing to climb there and don’t leave it too long.
Access: Probably one of the easiest/fastest lines in tonsai to access, perfect for early morning or cruisy afternoon practice. It takes about 3min to walk from the beach to the base of the climbs.
Cave Side: Walk to fire wall (where Burnt Offerings is) and climb the hard 6b+ (hard start, easy middle, hard end) and after clipping the anchors, traverse 5m right on easy but exposed climbing into the cave.
Stalactite Side: Walk further on the track through the jungle to melting wall and climb the slick 6a or 6b (both 2 pitches). From the anchors traverse left into the dirty slippery underneath of the stalactite with possible thread protection and mantle up onto the top. Fix a rope to rap/jug on.
(6) Shadow Wall
Sinner Team – 15m Long, 10m High
Who/When: Originally rigged by the Sinner Team and top roped with hooks though the back as the safety “leash” in 2014/15.
FA: Does it really matter when the first falls involved hooks though your skin?
Anchors: RHS (FV) – Main – Dodgy but sizable tree (at least you’re slinging the base of it) (2m)
– Backup – Threads in rock behind tree
LHS (FV) – Main – 2m up thinner but healthy tree (1m spanset)
– Backup – Same as main
Remarks: Probably the easiest to rig midline in tonsai, and the perfect way to introduce someone into slacklining at heights. The rigging is straightforward and simple but still has its dangers. Rock fall does happen here, a bucket size chunk fell 50m and narrowly missed someone’s head in 2017. Also inspect both trees very thoroughly before trusting them, just because it was fine last time doesn’t mean it always will be!
If you’re not feeling tonsai tummy, this should help you out 😉 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6usNLseyzMA
- Any of the islands, they are national parks, climbing or adventuring of any kind is banned and now enforced there.
- The small clearing with a hut on it that is found by turning off the Tonsai-Railay jungle track, is private property and is also not allowed, a rope jump was rigged here in 2016 and resulting in $1000’s worth of equipment taken, until the generous help of toffee helped get it back.
There are some waterlines in the area, at least one is bolted. Be aware of tides however as some spots can only be rigged at high tide, the rock is very sharp here and waterlining is not usually an easy affair. Renting a kayak is usually the best option to gain access to the rocks.
The beach is home to many hidden deadman anchors, good luck finding them, the best is probably to dig your own and build an a frame. There is a long beachline option that doesn’t require deadman anchors, it goes at about 130m long, from the most seaward point of rock (the bit that you have to wade past to get to dums kitchen when the tide is high) over to a huge boulder at the staircase leading to Railay.
The easier option for rigging longlines is in between the palm trees just in from the beach, make sure to clean up the ground really really well though, there is lots of broken glass!
In 2012 Hayley Ashburn did this naked free solo in a spot called Mai Leung
Another unknown Thai Line
Hayley Ashburn on another unknown thai line.
Hayley Ashburn, Stalactite line in Koh Yao Noi, Phuket