Tonsai: Astonishingly beautiful and a little bit frustrating

The famed Tonsai sunset
The famed Tonsai sunset

Leaving from Krabi to Tonsai, I had a few firm expectations about our next destination. Tonsai has picked up a reputation for being a hippie commune as well as an incredibly popular rock climbing spot. I had also heard of the beach’s towering limestone cliffs and spectacular sunset. Needless to say, after Khao Sok national park, I was looking forward to some more incredible scenery. Unfortunately, I spent my first day loathing the place.

We arrived at Tonsai beach in the afternoon and promptly went about finding accommodation. We spoke to a few people who pointed us in the direction of some bungalows up a hill. We ultimately found that the vast majority of those bungalows were full, or cost upwards of 1000 Baht per night. Luckily, we chanced upon a resort that had simple huts for 500 Baht each. We booked a place, threw off our bags, and hit the beach.

Tonsai Beach
Tonsai Beach

The first thing I noticed about Tonsai was the rubbish. There was rubbish pretty much everywhere which I couldn’t really understand because there were a ridiculous number of dreadlocked hippies around, more than I’d ever seen in one place before. At this point, it was starting to piss me off that a place full of people who purportedly cared so much about Mother Nature had allowed her to become covered in trash. My mood worsened when we got to the beach.

We trudged over to a patch of sand beneath the overhang of a huge limestone cliff right near the waters edge. Regrettably, the first thing that I noticed was that somebody had written “Welcome to all climbers. Reggae gave us one god one love one people. Tha Rasta… (illegible name)” on the overhang of the cliff. That riled me up even more, and I started spewing mental insults at the arrogant tourist who decided it would be real clever to write some vague, exclusionary message on a staggeringly beautiful rock face that would’ve taken millions of years to form (exclusionary because, what if I’m not a rock climber? What if I’m Hindu and believe in more than one god? What if I am in disagreement with the homogenization of different races, cultural backgrounds, and belief systems into “one people”? Blah blah blah… whiney thoughts). You can see at this point my mood and reaction was somewhat dramatic and unnecessary. I knew it myself, so I went for a swim in an attempt to drown my melodrama.

The swim didn’t help much, mostly because I found more rubbish floating around in the water. So I decided to clean it up. I ended up stuffing my pockets full of clear plastic bags before getting out of the water to find a bin. Along the way, I didn’t see anybody else picking up rubbish, despite it’s abundance. I even saw a shirtless guy slack lining over what I would refer to as a small garbage pit. Albeit, slack lining over a pile of miscellaneous trash is definitely adequate motivation to stay on the line.

I was starting to get really angry (in retrospect, sanctimoniously), when I came across a tiny black kitten in the middle of the beach. It was being ignored by everyone who was walking past, but me being an avid cat lover, I decided to pay it some attention. I bent down to pet him, and immediately noticed that his ears and chin were rough and scarred from him scratching too much. What made it worse was that he looked exactly like my kitten, Danger, who had died when he was only 3 months old. All the anger and frustration that I had melted into a small pot of sadness. Ton Sai was beating me emotionally.

This little guy was my lunch buddy one day
This little guy was my lunch buddy one day

I pet and cuddled the kitten on the beach until I got over my small depression. He was very friendly, and well fed, so I knew that someone must’ve been looking after him. Knowing that he had a home made me feel better, so I set about finding a bin to empty my pockets into. This is where my attitude started changing. There was not a single bin that I could find that wasn’t already overflowing with rubbish. I looked everywhere but couldn’t find any. I eventually settled for placing the plastic bags into an empty carton so they wouldn’t blow away.

Walking back to Jo on the beach, it dawned on me that the rubbish problem wasn’t due to apathy or laziness, it was purely to do with Tonsai’s location. Rubbish collections are much more difficult in Tonsai because trucks aren’t able to get there easily, so the rubbish just piles up until it can be collected. I also saw a few “clean-up Tonsai” initiatives advertised on posters throughout the small town that demonstrated the locals awareness of the problem. It became obvious to me that my mood was spoiling my first impressions, so I set about changing my attitude, rather than feeding it.

"I've seen things, man..."
“I’ve seen some things, and some stuff…”

After a good nights rest, I found myself looking at Tonsai in a completely different way. I felt a bit childish about the way I’d been acting the day before, almost like someone was going to say “Hey, it’s that guy who was scoffing at everyone on the beach yesterday. Thanks for relocating the rubbish for us… douche!”. Despite my fears, the mood of the place, whilst relaxed, had a feeling of vibrancy to it. Jo and I explored and ate down by the beach everyday, marveling at the climbers scaling the cliffs and cooing at the monkeys on the roads. At night, we’d go to the chill out bar, have a few drinks, and watch the fire show.

Tonsai comes alive at night. Most of the bars will have some sort of show, whether it be fire twirling, slack lining, or impromptu Muay Thai/boxing matches. We sat down outside a bar to watch one of the fights, and it turns out that witnessing drunk travelers attempt to knock each other out can be quite entertaining (emphasis on “attempt”. Every fighter was so wasted that they were more likely to injure themselves than their opponent). We also managed to wrangle us some fried potato swirls on a stick while we watched the fight. Mmmmm… Nothing like a delicious snack with a side of mild violence.

Tonsai is pretty small, and there isn’t much to do other than rock climb, slack line, kayak or just laze about. For us, that was perfect as our time in Thailand was coming to a close, and relaxation was all that was on our mind. In fact, we only planned one activity for 3 days, deep water soloing. This is when you rock climb over open water, meaning that when you want to stop climbing, you can just fall off the cliff face into the water.

Deep Water Soloing
Deep Water Soloing

I’d been looking forward to this for a while, but it turns out that it was a lot more difficult than I anticipated. Either that, or I’m much worse at climbing than I thought… I’m gonna go for the first one though. Despite the difficulty and me never making it higher that three meters above the water, it was a unique experience to be climbing around huge stalactites and along small cliff side ledges. Eventually, my arms gave up on me and I spent the rest of the day snorkelling around the cliff faces.

After the emotional roller coaster that was my first day in Tonsai, I bust through my small breakdown and really started enjoying myself. I stopped taking everything so seriously, and found that I was surrounded by an incredible landscape that I had been overlooking. Tonsai is startlingly beautiful, and boasts the most colourful and surreal sunset I have ever seen. The beach area of Tonsai is very shallow, and when the tide goes out, water pools among the rocks and sand. The water reflects the orange and reds of the sunset, causing the pools to look like lava. It’s absolutely stunning. My favourite memory of Tonsai was kayaking around a cliff to watch the sunset on our last night. It was a spectacular way to end our journey in Thailand.

Our kayak around the cliff
Our kayak around the cliff

Have you been to Tonsai? Did you enjoy your time as much as we did? Any tips for anyone who is planning on visiting? Feel free to leave a comment 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Tonsai: Astonishingly beautiful and a little bit frustrating

  1. We had a similar experience in Dahab at the Red Sea on the Sinai Peninsula. The water was simply filled with trash and garbage. Unfortunately, over there I think it was an issue of apathy and cultural conditioning. I have never seen as much litter as I did in that part of the world. There were literally fields of garbage everywhere you looked. Very disheartening. 😦 Glad you were able to see through it all and enjoy the beauty of Tonsai though. Attitude truly is everything.

    1. We’re in Kathmandu at the moment and the rubbish situation is horrendous here. It really is a shame, especially in such beautiful places. It’s hard to not let it get to you sometimes. Like you said though, it’s all about the attitude.

  2. I’ve wanted to go rock climbing in Tonsai for years but I’ve heard do much about it being dirty lately, it’s starting to put me off.

    1. There was a clean up initiative in February after we left, but I’m not sure how successful it was. Even so, you do eventually get used to the trash, and it’s mostly localised to a few designated piles. Also, the rock climbing is phenomenal from a scenery perspective. There are a lot of easy and technically difficult climbs, and I’d highly recommend going deep water soloing. There wasn’t anybody we spoke to who didn’t enjoy the day, and it’s quite a unique experience. I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

  3. thanks for relocating the garbage.. lol. great line. but honestly, I find this feeling within myself a LOT in India. Goa is this hippie place that draws in a huge group of psychedelic drug loving yoga gurus, yet many of them litter everywhere because “It’s India” There are a lack of bins but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

    1. Haha, cheers! Yeah, even if it’s more difficult to dispose of rubbish, seeing it everywhere is still disheartening, especially in beautiful places. We’re trekking through the Himalayas at the moment and even here there is still rubbish on the mountains.

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