Ton Sai, Railay in Thailand
An outdoor adventure lover’s Paradise
Southern Thailand is notorious for it’s beautiful islands, beaches, and limestone pinnacles which jut out from the sea’s floor. Many head south to the islands almost immediately upon arriving to Thailand to indulge on some of the pristine beauty that awaits around every corner. From white sand beaches with warm sea waters, from rustic bungalows to high end resorts, fresh seafood and tropical fruit, great diving, and curious wildlife, there’s an incredible draw which keeps people intrigued. With this kind of appeal, and it’s long standing ease of travel for foreigners, it’s no wonder that the islands of south Thailand are world renowned… and quite busy on the tourist circuit. For the more adventurous type, there’s a spot which, although it has received a fair amount of publicity, remains less busy than some of the other areas in the region, and keeps it demographic almost entirely to those looking for something more active and adventurous on their vacation. This place is known as Ton Sai.
Ton Sai is one of the beaches found on the Railay Bay, a popular destination with several beaches found around it’s circumference. Unlike many of the popular beach areas around the area, Ton Sai is actually connected to mainland Thailand, though there isn’t any roads leading to it. A short long-tail boat ride from Krabi is one of the only ways of getting there, and is an experience in itself. Railay has been a fairly on-the-beaten-path destination for quite some time now, and attracts tourists of all different types. The peninsula on which it sits is riddled with enormous limestone cliffs, which is probably one of the reasons why it’s never been accessed by land. Once in Railay, depending on the tide, you can continue your journey on another long-tail boat, OR you may cross over the peninsula’s centre with a moderate climb through the jungle, in order to reach Ton Sai.
When you arrive in Ton Sai, you can see why it is such a special location. A limestone cliff almost completely encloses the beach area to the sea. Just off shore, several pinnacles protrude from the ocean, helping to close in the private beach even more. The golden sands wrap around the horseshoed bay, with jungle dotting the edge of the beach. In the centre of the beach area there are several beach-side restaurants, equipment rental shops, internet cafes and bungalow offices. Quickly scouring the edges of the cliffs, it is almost guaranteed that you will see several people scaling the walls, rock-climbing some of the most beautiful rusty cliffs imaginable. Occasionally you will see people off shore kayaking the perimeter, off to explore and visit some of the neighbouring islands and beaches, while at other times you may see someone gently soaring down to the earth after base jumping or hang gliding from the top of one of the cliffs.
Needless to say, the majority of the new friends you’ll make on this little slice of paradise have aquired a taste for adrenaline! Don’t let that intimidate you, though. Let it inspire you to break out of your comfort zone! This happens to be the same cliff face I first took a stab at rock climbing on more than a decade ago!
When you’re surrounded by people who are truly passionate about something, it becomes contagious, and they are usually more than happy to help out a novice to literally ‘show them the ropes’.
Rock climbing has to take the top of the charts for this destination. It has some incredible walls, which attract climbers from all over the world! Some people come to Thailand with the sole purpose of climbing around Krabi and the neighbouring areas. There are climbing shops with gear and instructors, to accommodate all levels of climbers. If you’ve never done it before, maybe this could be where you try! SCUBA Diving is also a popular activity, and is quite nice when the water and weather conditions are right. There is a dive shop on the beach which takes groups or individuals out, regardless of the experience level. Sea Kayaking is a fun pass-time, as you may paddle out to the neighbouring islands just off shore, or explore the coastal beauty which exists here. Rest ‘n Relaxation is always fun too. Grab a book, go for a swim, lay in a hammock or trek through the jungle. There’s loads to do here, regardless of your energy or experience levels. Almost every night is topped off with a good fire show down on the beach with backpackers taking a stab at their fire dancing skills.
There are a number of bungalows scattered all throughout the jungly overgrowth between the beach and the cliff enclosure. I wouldn’t go as far as calling them high end accommodations in this part of Railay. Ton Sai is more of a backpacker type hangout, and accommodation is merely a place to rest your tired muscles after a day of trekking, climbing, swimming, kayaking, or even just sunning yourself. There are several places to choose from and usually all it takes is walking up the beach asking a couple front desks before you find a place that will suit your needs. To get the higher end accommodation, you will need to head over to another of Railay’s beaches, however.
There’s no easy overland access to Ton Sai, so most visitors arrive by boat. It’s possible to hike 1.5 hours from Krabi City, but it’s not recommended if you are carrying luggage. The neighbouring Railay (pronounced “Rai Leh”) beacg is a five minute longtail boat ride or a 20 minute walk. Longtails from Ao Nang to Rai Leh may also stop at Ton Sai. Boats between Ton Sai and Rai Leh generally don’t run at night. If you’re arriving from Krabi bus station you will need to get a taxi or tuk-tuk to Ao Nang Pier. The price should be around 60 baht.
From Krabi airport there is a shuttle bus that is less than 100 baht. It takes 45 minutes to Ao Nang Pier.
From Ao Nang Pier, you can share or charter a boat to Ton Sai. Boats run frequently from Ao Nang Pier to Ton Sai, but only when enough people have gathered and the boat is full with 10-12 persons. Arriving in the morning is often the most ideal time, as it’s when many people are heading towards Railay. In high season it takes around 20 minutes to fill a boat depending on the time of the day. In low season it usually takes longer.
Tickets costs 100 baht at the ticket stand at the southend of Ao Nang Pier. The price almost doubles after 18:00. Alternatively, charter a boat and make a deal with the boatman. Expect to pay the full price of 10 ticket sales lost if you want the boat all to yourself. The boat ride from Ao Nang Pier to Railay takes 8-10 minutes and is very scenic! It’s an additional 5 mins around a bend to get to Ton Sai. (or you may hike from Railay about 20 mins, as long as the tide is low). View Where Sidewalks End in a larger map
Ton Sai really is made of the stuff seen in movies. Though a bit well trodden, the variety of people heading there are usually quite tame in comparison to those found in some of the more resort, party driven environments of some popular nearby islands. Albeit a bit lacking in selection for cuisine, they have some decent stalls for local dishes, very fresh sea food and fruits, and one or two spots on the beach that make some of the best pizza in Thailand (subject to personal opinion). Its prices have been driven up over the past few years, and will undoubtedly continue to do so, though they are still quite cheap relative to most other parts of the world. It may not be the most off the beaten path destination featured on WSE, but it certainly is a place to explore new things within yourself!
Are you an adventurous, outdoorsy Earth explorer? What types of activities do you like to get up to when you travel? What is one adventurous activity that is still on your bucket list? Please share your stories and feedback in the comment section below!