As the quality and price of accommodation in and around Ao Nang and west Railay inevitably increases, backpacking tourists are slowly but surely moving out to Ton Sai beach, which sits bang in the middle of the two.
Potential visitors should be aware, however, that Ton Sai is far more inaccessible than its neighbours – which is just how the people who stay there like it. During the monsoon months, waves can be too big to ensure a safe passage, while all year round at low tide, longtail boats must moor far from the shore, leaving passengers to wade to dry land, with their luggage, over slippery rocks and mud.
The beach itself is stunning, a classic bay surrounded by steep cliffs, although the sand is not quite as fine as its neighbours and, as mentioned, the low tide exposes a basin of rocks and silt. Heavy traffic, both foot and boats, means the only truly quiet and sandy part of it is at the far side towards Railay – at least during high season (Nov – Apr)*. Railay West beach can be reached over the rocks at low tide, or by the clifftop path (some clambering involved) at any time. If you don’t wish to walk you can also jump on a longtail boat for 40 baht per person.
Climbing is the main activity in Ton Sai; the other is sitting around in the numerous bars getting stoned or occasionally playing frisbee. There are some dive schools present here, as well as kayak rental, so you can also paddle to Railay if you feel active. Base jumping from the summit of the cliffs is another recent addition – enquire in Freedom Bar if you are feeling brave. The vast majority of the people who stay in Tonsai Beach are twenty-somethings, or early thirties; there are, however, an increasing number of older people and families, as the ability to book rooms opens the market to these groups.
The building of the infamous “Tonsai Wall” by a property developer means there is now a concrete boundary fencing off a large section of beachfront land. This previously housed a row of bamboo shack bars and bungalows, so now all accommodation (other than Tonsai Bay Resort) is situated at least a two minute walk up the hill behind the sand. Local artists and visitors have graffitied the part of the wall running along this footpath with messages and images of freedom – testament to Ton Sai’s enduring hippie spirit.
Dirt tracks continue and criss-cross the forest, passing smart resorts, rundown bamboo shacks, more coffee huts, makeshift staff housing and noisy generators. It is possible to keep walking on this hill and come to Railay East, although it’s a gruelling trek. In parts, up on the hillside, it is actually much more pleasant than down on the beach: quiet and green, in the shadow of the cliffs.
Restaurants are plentiful in Tonsai, though both western and Thai food are fairly average. Coffee shops and bars can be found almost every 10 metres. A couple of minimarts sell basic provisions; wi-fi and 3G connections are widely available; and there is now an ATM machine. For serious shopping, a trip to Ao Nang, or Krabi Town will be needed.
Many people stay in Ton Sai for months at a time – it is possible in this case to negotiate directly with the bungalow owners for a better deal. The resorts linked to below are at the top end of those on offer – there are also more basic bamboo huts available, but they do not take reservations.
*Note: in low season Ton Sai is a different place: without the crowds, the beach is much more relaxed and quiet.
More guides to Tonsai
Hotels in Ton Sai Beach that offer online booking
Getting to Tonsai Beach
Rock climbing in Krabi
More Krabi destination guides
► Aonang Beach
The main tourist centre
► Nopparat Thara and Klong Haeng
Ao Nang’s up and coming neighbour
► Railay Beach
Hippy chic, with an island feel
► Klong Muang and Tubkaek
Upmarket escape from the crowds
► Krabi Town
Authentic Thai market town
► Koh Jum, Krabi
The last get-away-from-it-all
► Ko Ngai (a.k.a. Ko Hai)
One of Krabi’s most pristine spots
► Ko Phi Phi (external site)
The ultimate crazy / beautiful destination
► Ko Lanta (external site)
For laidback lounging