This post is being written live from our bungalow in Tonsai, Bangkok. We came here to climb for a month, hoping to have a vacation within our year long trip with $15 000 CAD. I wrote it about Tonsai but the exact same applies to Railay.
We had been hearing before getting here that Tonsai was changing, mostly due to a resort being built using 90% of the beachfront in Tonsai. What that mean is that as of now, there’s a big wall surrounding the property and that any business that was by the beach was either relocated further up in the jungle or simply closed down, with the exception of Freedom bar and 2 restaurants next to it. Since we were never here before, it’s hard to tell exactly how much has changed but clearly it’s not like it used to be. I know I don’t like that wall and I believe it goes the same way with the locals.
Here’s a top 10 of things you need to know before considering a climbing trip to Tonsai.
- Bungalows aren’t cheap. The cheapest will ring you in at 200 baht. This will provide you with a shower(cold water only but that’s all you need really), a toilet(bring your own toilet paper, can be purchased for 15-20 baht for a skinny roll), a queen size bed, bamboo walls and cockroaches are included… Hey apparently they keep spiders out!. If you want fancier, it’s there but it will cost you. At least there’s a mosquito net. They’re very effective if you tuck it in underneath the mattress and don’t rest your body against it while you’re sleeping. After a week in one of those bungalows, we are quite ok. You really feel like you’re living in the jungle and that’s awesome.
- A dinner meal, let’s say Pad Tai, starts at 70 and with meat it’s 80 baht. It’s like they’ve all colluded and the prices are the same pretty much everywhere. We looked everywhere for a way to feed ourselves for 30-40 baht like we did in Bangkok and it’s impossible. Everything, and I mean everything is double what the cost is in Ao Nang. (5-6 min boat ride). May I suggest stopping by a store before crossing over to Tonsai to buy anything you will need.
- Thefore, if you want to cut your cost down, it might very well be worth taking the 100 baht long tail boat ride each way to Ao Nang to buy supplies. If you don’t mind your beer at room temperature, you can buy it there for 50 baht for a big 630ml instead of 100-120 in Tonsai. Eggs in Tonsai are 10 baht each while we were able to buy 30 of them for 87 baht in Ao Nang. We use an electric kettle to boil them at night when electricity is on and eat them as hard boiled eggs in the morning. The biggest grocery store in Ao Nang is Tesco. You will find all your food supplies there. It’s a 20 minute walk up the road from the beach or a cheap taxi fare away. Same price for everyone too… Not a larger price for foreigners. Most items have their English description on the price tag which is convenient when you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking at.
- Local shops aren’t willing to negotiate much with their prices or rates. We were able to get a bungalow for 200 instead of 250 by paying upfront for a week but that’s about it. The very same hut we live in was going for 90 baht two years ago. We tried at every resort and only this one was willing to move on the price, even though we were 6 people looking for bungalows together. Forget about getting a deal to rent equipment or at the restaurant. Prices are what they are and they’re pretty high.
- Water. You will be drinking plenty of water so here’s the solution. You buy a big 20L jug for 170 Baht and when you are done, you return it for a 100 baht refund. Effectively getting 20 L of purified water for 70 Baht. It doesn’t say Dasani or Nestle on it but it’s what the locals drink and what they’re serving you in your smoothies. If you’re going to spend any time with an overnight stay, that’s the only way to go otherwise you will be ruining yourself buying 1.5L for 40 baht or 6 liters for 70-80 baht.
- To many locals, you’re just another tourist with a lot of money. They know you will spend it and don’t really care to give you good, or why not, amazing service. Asking a local climbing guide what the grade of a route is may result you in an answer along the line of “I’m not getting paid to help you, you climb it if you want to know what the grade is.” Unless you hire a guide, you’re on your own. Thankfully regular climbing tourists are friendly as you would expect and you can share knowledge and experience with them. The guidebook is also fairly well done and can be bought locally for 800-900 baht.
- Bring bug spray or plan on buying some locally. “After-bite” isn’t a bad idea either. Many people also bring/use some iodine (aka betadine) to desinfect small wounds.
- If you are on a tight budget, going somewhere else than Tonsai might be wise. We are having a hard time spending less than $175 USD/week. We are spending more on a weekly basis here than when we were in the USA. And that’s sharing a big beer daily. If we were to party we would be way over budget. I thinks is fair to say that Tonsai isn’t cheap anymore.
- Deep water soloing is pretty expensive too. We haven’t looked for ourselves yet but from what we have heard, it should be around 1000 baht(over $30USD per person). Sure it includes a sandwich for lunch but it’s still a ton of money per person in Thailand or anywhere for that matter.
- The greatest surprise has to do with Internet. It is readily available at most restaurants and bars with a purchase. Many do not change their passwords every day but since you will probably eat out at least once a day, it shouldn’t be a problem to get your internet fix.
- Bonus: when looking for a place to stay, be aware that some resorts have electricity from 6 PM to midnight while some others have it on for 12 hours, from 6 PM until 6 AM. It’s quite handy when the nights are hot and you want to have the fan on all night. It’s also nice when you have many devices to charge up
As you may have noticed, we aren’t exactly in awe with Tonsai. It’s perfect when you’re having a good time climbing on the beach but coming here isn’t only that. I was in Thailand about 7 years ago and it feels like Thailand is changing. The feeling is that they’re going to milk the tourists for as much as they can. We were laughed at this morning when we preferred waiting for one more person to fill the boat to go to Ao Nang instead of paying 20 Baht more per person. Quite disrespectfull and had we been back home, this idiot would have known my thoughts.
My final words would simply be to either lower your expectations if you think that Tonsai is still the sport climbing mekka or just go look elsewhere. The climbs are obviously the same as they were and potentially safer than ever but having to dispense more for a coffee or a beer here than back home is quite shocking and disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery is just awesome and I’m glad we came. But what I mean is that we will try a different spot next time. Coming back here for a second time will be a much harder sell than this time around. Perhaps it’s because it’s low season or perhaps it’s because many got the memo already but there are way more island hoppers than there are climbers here right now.
We will make the best of it and thankfully we are already having a lot of fun climbing and meeting new people.
Safe travels everyone. Get in touch with comments if you have any questions.
Matt & Elaine