Ton Sai is a beach near Krabi in Thailand, offering a combination of inexpensive accommodation and great rock climbing routes that make it popular with both backpackers and climbers alike. Compared to neighbouring Rai Leh and Ao Nang it's relatively rough around on the edges; in particular, the beach gets unsuitable for swimming and becomes quite rocky as the tide goes out. But this only happens for about ten days every moon period. The rest of the time the beach is suitable for swimming.
Possible warning! Major construction is planned for a huge resort on the beach. As of December 2011 the middle of the beach front (about 1/3 of the beach) is empty due to planned construction. Many of the existing beach bars in the middle of the beach were torn down a few years back but some were relocated. The construction has been looming over the whole area since 2007 but so far it hasn't happened. The beach feels deserted compared with December 2006.
There's no easy overland access to Ton Sai, so all visitors arrive by boat. There are however a difficult trek that will take 1 hour and a half but its not recommended to do when you are carrying your luggage. Railay is a five minute long-tail ride or a 20 minute walk, while long-tails from Ao Nang to Railay might also stop at Ton Sai. Boats between Ton Sai and Railay generally don't run at night. If you're arriving from Krabi bus station you will need to get a taxi or tuktuk to Ao Nang Pier. The price should be around 60baht. Expect the tuktuk to drive around a bit and pick up more people if its not full, before heading towards Ao Nang Pier. From Krabi airport is a shuttle bus that are less than 100baht. It takes 45 minutes to Ao Nang Pier. From there 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.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 100baht at the ticket-stand in the southern end of Ao Nang Pier. The price almost doubles after 6pm. Alternatively chart a boat and make a deal with the boatman. Expect to pay the price of 10 tickets if you want the boat all by yourself. The boat ride from Ao Nang Pier to Ton Sai takes 8-10 minutes and is very scenic.
There are three ways to reach Railay on foot:
1) At low tide you can walk around the rocky outcrop which separates Ton Sai from Railay (20 minutes).
2) At high tide, go to the South end of Ton Sai Beach, walk the obvious path at the end of the Beach, through the forest, up and over the rocky outcrop. You'll pop out on the North side of Railay West (20 minutes).
3) The least used option is a longer trail through the Jungle. Walk away from the Ton Sai beach along the road where all the Bungalows and Resorts are. When you get to Wee's Climbing School turn (East) and continue on the road up hill. Eventually you'll pass ALL the Bungalows; continue on the obvious path and you will eventually pop out on Railay East near the Diamond Cave area (50 minutes). Although longer, this trail is smoother and easier to walk than the shorter one.
None of these options are possible at night without a flashlight/torch, and the jungle paths can be slippery and treacherous after the rain.
Alternatively hire a kayak and sail around. (10 minutes)
The only way to get around Ton Sai is on foot. The beach and the main road act as the primary through fares for the area. It may take five minutes or less to cover the entire area. During heavy rains, the dirt road becomes muddy and treacherous.
Ton Sai is more of an activity kind of place, rather than sights. It is worth visiting the Phra Nang shrine on Phra Nang beach, which is either a 30 min walk away or a 20 min kayak. Thai women come here in the hope of increasing their fertility, and the shrine is adorned with wooden penises. Quite a sight!
Another sight worth visiting is the Lagoon. Also located on the way to Phra Nang beach, a path off to the left of the main track leads steeply up to a landlocked lagoon. Takes some scrambling to get there, but surrounded by beautiful cliffs and perfect for a dip. Only worth visting when the tide is high, the pool is salt water and empties out at low tide.
At the far end of Phra Nang beach (near Escher wall) there is a cave which is the access point to a beautiful view point of Ton Sai and West Railay. It is an easy climb up 4 bamboo ladders, but take a torch as its pitch black in the cave. Breath taking views that are definately worth the the climb.
Rock climbing is the primary draw for visitors, with Ton Sai offering as many routes as Rai Leh, and hosting a number of climbing schools and guiding companies, including:
Share or charter a boat to nearby islands. Chicken Island is good for snorkeling.
Rent kayaks from one of the bungalow operations along the beach and paddle around to Railay or the beautiful Phra Nang beach.
Look out cave Next to the Freedom Bar, there is a bamboo ladder that climbs to a lookout point of the bay. Although the ladder is fairly safe, be cautious especially after the sun goes down.
There are very few shops in Ton Sai, and they are pricey (for Thai standards) as everything is brought in by boat. It's probably best to bring everything with you or make a trip to Krabi, which is a much larger town with better choice. However there are a few mini marts selling cold drinks, snacks, phone credit and some tacky clothes, similar to the ones at Rai Leh.
There are several restaurants and bars on the beach and most bungalow operators have restaurants as well. Beware that many operations in Ton Sai are not electrified throughout the day meaning that unless they are careful with food storage you'll end up with a nasty case of food poisoning. Normally there is electricity from 6:00pm-6:00am during low and mid season. During high season there is electricity for most of the businesses.
The street vendors also make fantastic authentic Thai food. Try the mango with sticky rice or Som Tum (papaya salad). Cheap too!!
Mamas Chicken Kitchen highly recommended.Will do "Thai style" if you ask them.
There are several bars on the beach, several of which (oddly enough) feature non-stop reggae music. You can even chill out with a "special" coffee or tea. A popular climber's hang out is Ton Sai Roof, at the east end of the beach, where the routes begin at the foot of Freedom bar, another hot spot with glorious views of both the rock and the whole bay.
Also be sure to check out Small World Bar, right in the middle of the loop, where there is amazing nightly fire and slackline entertainment and a super relaxed atmosphere with great staff.
All accommodation is set off of the beach and tends to be of the bamboo bungalow variety, and a little more rustic (and certainly more affordable though prices have more than tripled over the past five years) than at Rai Leh. Rubbish piles and noisy generators are common nuisances but as TonSai has no mains electricity it is a necessary nuisance.
Mambo Bungalow - Right on the beach near the west side of Ton Sai this place offers basic bamboo bungalows. They have bathrooms and cold water showers for 500 baht in high season. The on-site restaurant has clean food and prices for food are ~70-100 baht for Thai food and ~200-300 baht for western food. The staff is friendly. This is not a resort and you can expect your bungalow to be co-inhabited by a lot of other animals that fly, slither, crawl, or hop. They don't take bookings so the best bet is to show up at 10am and struggle to get a room during the check out period (check out is at 11am).
Andaman Nature Resort - set well off the beach near the base of the cliffs, the basic bamboo bungalows are popular with budget travelers. The Andaman is largest collection of bungalows in Ton Sai. Rates are around 800 baht during the high season for a basic room with private bathroom. 100-150 baht during low season.300 baht during March/April.
Country Side Resort, firstname.lastname@example.org - set back behind the beach (follow the path up the hill from the internet cafe, and take the right-hand fork by Wee's Climbing School - follow the signs), this set of 10 bungalows or so are lovely, well-kept and have views. Each is built on stilts, with its own deck, clean tiled bathroom, single or double beds, many windows and a wall of three glass doors opening onto the porch. During low season it is the best deal on Ton Sai at 250- baht. During high season the rate may rise to 7-850 baht. Aircon rooms are also available at 1200 baht in high season. Plenty of helpful advice and smiles. The downside, as elsewhere, is ongoing construction across the street - not a big intrusion since most days are spent at the beach, on the water or on the side of a mountain. Countryside has recently been taken over (2008) by a new owner, as the old one had left TonSai, and is meant to be investing some heavy money into the place to improve things further including wireless Internet for guests, new and improved restaurant and a funky new bar. The path to Railay East over the back of TonSai (past CountrySide) is also being improved for guest access.
Dream Valley Resort Operation closed due to major construction work as of April 2012.Standard bungalows are in the process of being ripped down,cafe area being transformed into a somewhat ill-advised swimming pool(Tonsai doesn't have anywhere near enough fresh water to run it properly..chlorine and ear infections all round?)10 minutes by walk from the beach.