After catching a short plane from Malaysia we arrived back in Thailand. We had landed on the southwest side in an area known as Krabi. This area holds a cluster of Islands to choose from but we already knew where we were heading next, Tonsai beach.
We had first heard the mention of this little beach in a conversation about climbing. We’d always heard that Krabi held some of the best climbing spots in Asia but it wasn’t until we spoke to a few climbers who had been there, when we heard about Tonsai, the climbing mecca of Krabi.
So off we jumped into another little wooden boat heading for an Island but would it be paradise or just a bunch of big rocks? It wasn’t long before we met other fellow climbers heading the same way. In fact we had met a couple on the plane that were going to the same place.
As we pulled up I looked down at the water. It wasn’t crystal clear like on the Perhentians but a fascinating turquoise blue colour. I glanced up from the water to see shards of huge cliffs protruding out of the water, it was like Halong Bay. As we haled our bags out of the boats and dragged them onto the beach we both looked up with surprise to find that there was no one around but us. The island looked wild and uninhabited, a rare thing to see especially in Thailand. We hauled our backpacks on and split from the others in search of a hostel.
We walked through the forest only to find empty wooden houses that looked dormant. Then we heard the voice of a girl. It was another backpacker. We asked her what the deal was with the island and why it was so quiet. “Low season” she said. “It’s such a small island that most places shut for low season and re-open in high season. Only one boat a day comes to and from the island at the moment and they turn the electricity off during the day. There are few guesthouses open up there I think and a few restaurants/bars open down on the beach, that’s it.”
“Wow ok” we chuckled. “What is there to do then?”
“Climb of course!” With that she threw her harness and rope over her shoulder and wondered down the beach.
We managed to find a guesthouse to stay. It was pretty feral, just a brick shell in the forest but the options were limited and by this point we were old hands at ‘roughing it’. Feeling hungry we decided to head down to the beach to find civilisation and hopefully food.
It wasn’t a very developed Island that’s for sure. All the little bars and restaurants were made out of anything they could find it looked like. The whole place felt rugged, overgrown and uninhabited in and exiting kind of way. It was a comforting feeling after seeing the likes of Koh Panagan and Koh Tao. Tonsai had a completely different feel to it, made even more prominent by it being low season.
After finding somewhere to eat we noticed a group of climbers on one of the cliffs on the beach. They were experienced, with their own gear attempting a really high grade. We got chatting to a few of them. We explained how Pete had climbed before but I was new to it. Because we didn’t have any gear with us and I was not yet confident in b-laying, they suggested we go to one of the climbing shops and hire some gear and a guide.
We went to a nearby shop and after having a chat with them they booked us in to climb the next day. We could do either half a day of climbing or a full day. We opted for the half day to see how our bodies would fair!
The next day we arrived at the shop a little before nine to start our climb. We were greeted by two girls from Germany who would be joining us for the day. As we were chatting we noticed a little figure leaping around in the background heading in our direction. This was the day we first met Maxi, one of the most memorable people we have met on our travels.
Rocking up in a half broken pair of flip flops and a pair of colourful Ray ban sunglasses, a tiny little Thai man appeared with a huge grin on his face. I would describe Maxi as a squirrel on ecstasy. Small, scatty and extremely happy! What made him even more humorous was his voice. We never worked out if he just never spoke long sentences or his English was limited but all the same he was hilarious! Maxi was our guide and instructor that also became our motivator and friend over the few days we were there.
I remember my first impressions of him. What a funny little man I thought. But I wonder how he is going to hold me up a rock being the size of my leg! After a brief introduction he stuck his hand out towards the direction we were heading. “Let’s go climbing” he sang as he danced his way down to the beach.
We reached our spot on Tonsai’s neighbouring beach, Railey. It was a completely different island. Very modern with heaps of tourists and not half as beautiful but the climbing spots were good. We were accompanied by other climbers of all abilities and there were lots of grades to choose from. We were all pretty novice so decided to start with the easiest one.
Because we were outdoor climbing, there was no top rope to tie onto. All there is are metal rings drilled into the cliff face. The first person has the sketchy task of ‘lead climbing’. They must free climb the wall and clip into every ring when they get to it whilst someone is b-laying them at the bottom. When they reach the top, they set a top rope up for the others and come back down. This is only done by experienced climbers which is why we had Maxi.
He began to climb the wall with Pete holding the rope at the bottom. I turned away to have a sip of water but by the time I had turned back he was almost at the top! I couldn’t believe it, we was a spider monkey! Later we took a closer look at his body and noticed that he in fact had muscles of steel. Small but extremely lean, the ideal candidate for climbing.
After spending half a day climbing, we were all feeling the burn accept Maxi of course. He would have gone all day! None of us had much experience climbing outdoors but by the end of the day we were hooked! Climbing outdoors on real rock faces was such a different experience to indoor climbing. Not only was it more challenging but and exiting but the beauty of the exotic island made it even more magical.
Pete and I spent a total of five days on the island mainly climbing and we hired Maxi to take us out every day. We went to all different locations around the two islands and met so many climbers from all over the world. Thanks to Maxi and Pete I progressed from a grade 5a to a 6a in just a few days and became competent in b-laying meaning next time we wet climbing we could go on our own.
We spent our days climbing with the rest of the island and our evenings relaxing in quirky, hippy bars drinking beer, messing around on slack lines and learning to do fire juggling. The Thai people on Tonsai beach were like no other. The locals wore fisherman pants, dreadlocks down to their bums and covered in tattoos but were the friendliest bunch of people we had ever met, along with the small community of climbers that were there for the duration of our stay.
There was something about this particular place that drew us in more than ever. By the time we had to leave we really didn’t want to. Tonsai became our home from home. We loved everything from the amazing climbing, to the people to the adorable cats at our local restaurant!
The only negative thing I have to say about our experience there was contracting food poisoning. The both of us missed climbing for a day along with half the island that ate at a particular restaurant! Nothing a day on the toilet can’t fix!
It was time to say our goodbyes. We vowed to come back in a few years and stay for a month of hardcore climbing. Hopefully the same faces will be there when we come back and the beach will still be as beautiful as when we left it.