We spent one night at Ton Sai before moving over to Railey. The landscape in this area is trully spectacular with the jungle-clad karst cliffs dropping straight into the sea. It provides the best winter season climbing in the world, and with early-january the highest of the peak season, the place was packed with hundreds of climbers. When we arrived, everywhere was full and we thought thay we wouldn’t even be able to get a room. Eventually after just hanging around long enough, a bamboo bungalow at basecamp tonsai (“kasbah” bungalow) became available. The accommodation on ton sai is very basic, but that’s the reason we went there first, because it has the only cheap accommodation during peak season. We paid 700 baht (Â£14/$21)- top end for the thailand backpacker market- for our bungalow. The facilities are more like camping, but with a better mattress and plumbed water – you get a cold water shower and bucket-flushed toilet in an out-house style bathroom. Plus you get electricity between 6pm and the early hours of the morning, most useful for running the fan to cool down enough to get to sleep.
The beach to Ton Sai
However, unlike camping, the ability to seal your environment against mosquito’s and bugs is missing. There are many gaps/air holes in the construction so it’s free wandering area for all the creepy crawlies. When we woke up, we had the company of a 4-inch diameter spider – luckily not in bed with us thanks to the supplied mosquito net – but it’s the biggest spider i’ve seen in the wild and i’d rather not have that crawling into my luggage (i’ll need to check my boots carefully before i wear them next!). The mosquito net itself was a bit worn with a few holes and took a bit of effort to make sure we were sealed in (with the offending bugs on the outside, not the inside). I think in the end i picked up the majority of the bites i’ve had so far whilst/before/after showering. To top it all off, the space available was not enough to unpack/organise our stuff, with no table to keep things off the ground, and no chairs even to sit outside on.
Our accommodation bungalow on Ton Sai which was..well, adventurous
So, the accommodation wasnt great and not great value by Thai standards, but we probably could have made it work if the place otherwise was absolute paradise. But it really wasnt, not for us. The water at the beach didnt look good, and the day we arrived there was some drain leaking out with sewage stench floating around the place (they seemed to have it fixed by the next day, but the smell still lingered). When we waded back around the headland from Railey that evening, the water at that end of the beach was brown and foamy – looking distinctly polluted. Almost noone swam at ton sai, understandable with such a beautiful beach as Railey just next door. Even more tragic was the rotting garbage all over the place – mainly in the area behind the first row of businesses just behind the beach. It’s obvious that noone cleans up here, and that the local business owners who run their cafe, food stalla and shops don’t feel sufficiently invested to protect their environment and not dump their waste anywhere there is space for it. For these two reasons, we wouldn’t go back to Ton Sai – I can see in the next few years the environment there degrading and it will become less and less tolerable.
That said, the jungle is nice further back from the shore, and there are some nice cafe’s and restaurants down by the beach. And the climbing looks incredible, even just to watch. Tom – we thought of you – it would be heaven for you here. 700 bolted routes plus many other climbing options such as deep water soloing. You could climb every day for years here without doing the same climb twice. And bars filled with climbers drinking 50 baht ($1.50) beers talking climbing all evening.
But this isn’t really our scene, so we moved on, hauling our 20kg packs over the headland (really tough, but good training for Nepal!) to move in to the cheapest room we could find in Railey.