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When traveling in Krabi province, you might come to find places like Ko Phi Phi and Ao Nang as far too busy and touristy. Those seeking a more rugged, adventurous experience will be hard-pressed to find it in places like these. At the same time, travelers on a tight budget may find these spots a tad expensive. All hope is not lost for backpackers, though, as proven by the tiny village of Ton Sai.
With no roads, motorized vehicles, chain hotels, fast food restaurants, or go-go bars, this place seems worlds apart from some of its neighbors. Here’s a brief guide to Ton Sai, one of my favorite places I’ve been in all my Thailand travels:
Although it’s not an island, it sure feels like one. Surrounded by the sea and mountains, the only way to get in is by boat. It’s a short trip over from Ao Nang, but the boat has to moor a bit far from the shore. This means you’ll have to wade through the water with all your luggage to reach the shore.
If you’re staying over on neighboring Raileh, there are quite a few options for coming over to check out Ton Sai – hiking through the forest, kayaking, walking over the rocks at low tide, or again taking a long-tail boat.
The main draw for most travelers to Ton Sai is the rock climbing. Between here and Raileh, there are hundreds of routes to choose from ranging in difficulty from absolute beginner to pro. There’s a school called Basecamp here that offers a variety of courses and has a wall for you to practice on. They even do deep water solo trips, where you climb a rock out in the middle of the sea free of equipment and simply jump back when you’ve had enough. You can bring your own gear or rent it from one of the shops. Some of the shops also sell a guidebook detailing all of the routes in the area.
Those not into climbing don’t need to just sit around on the beach (although that is an option). You can rent kayaks and cruise around to take in the beautiful scenery of karst peaks. As previously mentioned, it’s not a bad ride over to Raileh, where you can hang on the beach or grab lunch before coming back.
Other popular pastimes in Ton Sai include slack-lining and fire-spinning. Some of the bars have slacklines set up that you can practice on. More experienced (and crazy people) set their own up across the rocks at low tide.
As Ton Sai caters mostly to rock climbers and twenty-something backpackers, it should come as no surprise that the accommodation on offer is for the most part simple and rustic. Basic wooden bungalows are the norm here, and they’re definitely the cheapest in the area. Electricity is mostly powered by generators and is turned off during the day. WiFi is also hard to come by here, so be prepared to go without it. A few more upscale places have opened in recent years, such as the Ton Sai Bay Resort, much to the chagrin of many who feel this type of place is out of place here.
There aren’t a ton of options in Ton Sai, but there are enough to give you some variety if you stay for a while. Of course, there are plenty of cheap places to fill up on Pad Thai, fried rice, or curries. A local favorite is definitely Mama’s Chicken – be sure to order it Thai style. Those seeking Western food can find it in a variety of places as well, but don’t expect the culinary scene of Bangkok here. Not surprisingly, Ton Sai has quite a few bars where you can enjoy a Chang or seven while chatting with fellow travelers. Small World is a great spot to hang out, and their nightly fire/slack-line show is not to be missed. For late-night shenanigans, look no further than the awesome Sunset Pirate Bar.
We absolutely loved our stay on Ton Sai, and would have extended it if not for a few minor issues. For one, my wife’s ears had been bugging her for a while after we went diving on Ko Pha-Ngan. With no medical facilities whatsoever in Ton Sai, we had no choice but to head back to Ao Nang. The lack of WiFi also presented a problem, as I had work to do. It’s not like it’s a hard trip back and forth from Ao Nang, but we were hauling around too much stuff and had to move on to our next destination. If you’re traveling to Ton Sai and might want to stay for a while, be sure to take care of things like medical care and online work before going there. Definitely go, though – it’s an amazing place and one of our favorite stops on a 7-mont SE Asia backpacking trip.