A GUIDE TO TON SAI, THAILAND
Hidden behind one of the craggiest, most chiseled sections of clifftop on this stretch of the Andaman coast, and cut off from the bustling sand strips of Krabi proper by walls of impenetrable rock and jungle, little Ton Sai has managed to retain something of an off-the-beaten-path feel, even while spa hotels and luxury resorts begin to pop up on the beaches all around it.
The province of backpackers and budget travellers, beach bums and rock climbers, we've been coming to these parts on our LBW Thaiventure tour for years. We simply love the laid-back vibes, the chilled reggae-Buddha bars along the shoreline, the lapping ocean, the breathtaking rock-climbing feats, the echoing jungles, the lean-to cabanas and the soy-scented holes in the wall touting piles of noodles and coconut curries for just a handful of baht.
If you're considering adding Ton Sai to your itinerary in the Land of Smiles this year, or have opted for an LBW tour of the awesome little Andaman region, then be sure to read this short introduction to the place. It's got everything from details on the top eateries to the must-do activities, guides to where to stay and how to get there. We'll see you on the sands…
Where exactly is Ton Sai?
Ton Sai isn't easy to find. Even on the map it looks like just another tiny inlet amongst the countless other unreachable inlets that pepper the Andaman coast. But persevere with your search a little, zoom into the map, and you'll see it; cut off from the rest of the peninsula by a wall of craggy rock and stone.
More generally speaking, Ton Sai can be found in the middle of the Andaman coast, jutting out into the Andaman Sea from the western edge of Thailand.
How to get to Ton Sai?
Because it's so close to the popular beach resort of Railay, getting into the general area of Ton Sai is easy. Most travellers opt to hop aboard a longboat in the harbours of nearby Krabi town, while other connections come in via Phuket. Because it's backed by walls of rugged cliffs and jungles, the place can't be directly accessed by bus or car, making arrivals by sea virtually the only option.
It's once you've alighted on the long beachfronts of Railay (which is where most boats will moor up) that things get a little trickier. Now it's time to hit the trails and work the legs muscles to reach your goal. Some folk will head for the jungle paths that weave through the karst hills and come out to the back of Ton Sai beach. Most will opt for the shorter seaside route though, which involves scrambling over a series of boulders and gullies before arriving on the sand. You'll find the entrance to that on the northern end of Railay Beach itself.
Where to stay in Ton Sai?
There are pretty much two options when it comes to bedding down in Ton Sai: the beach or the jungle. The first choice is the most expensive (although that's still not going to break the bank!). You'll find a clutch of small guesthouses and salt-washed cabanas really close to the shore, punctuated by the main bars and the top eateries of the tiny little town. These are perfect if you're looking for long and lazy days on the sands, or love to sleep to the sound of the lapping ocean.
Alternatively, there are cheaper and much more rustic accommodations hiding in the forests to the east. These can be as much as 10-minutes by foot from the main beach of Ton Sai, but also offer wallet-friendly prices to reflect that. Here, you'll get stilted cabins with cold-water showers and unreliable electricity, although those features are more than balanced out by the location, which means views over the dense forests and the cacophonous sounds of monkeys and tropical birds from morning till night. It's awesome.
What to do in Ton Sai?
Ton Sai is a place that really gets its claws into most travellers. From rock-climbing to long and lazy days on the beachfront, there's loads to keep you busy in this small and untrodden section of the Andaman coast.
If you're feeling adventurous, then you could join the groups of folks that can be seen perpetually clambering up the huge splinters of rock above the town. There are oodles of outfitters offering climbing expeditions close to the bay, ranging from intrepid summit attempts on the coastal cliffs to beginner sessions on the small boulders by the sea – there's a reason this is considered the climbing mecca of all Southeast Asia!
Alternatively, you could opt to wax down the walking boots and hit the hiking trails that weave into the mountains to the east. Doing that will open up wild jungles where rare birds flit between the canopies, and could even turn up the occasional reggae-themed beer bar.
And talking of beer bars, it's these lively little joints in both the jungle and along the shore that come alive at night. Head down and sip mango lassis or frothy Chang with the climbers straight off the cliffs, swap travel stories and enjoy the live music shows: Bob Marley and the Wailers in overload!
Where to eat in Ton Sai?
There's pretty much just one spot you simply have to sample when staying in Ton Sai: Mamas Chicken Kitchen. Eye-wateringly low prices combine with a medley of traditional Thai dishes – honey-glazed chicken legs, egg-fried rice, pad Thai noodles – to offer the perfect backpacker haunt. There are also a couple of international meals on the menu, going from the ubiquitous club sandwich to breaded chicken burgers. Enjoy.
If you can think of anything important to add to this guide to Ton Sai, we'd love to hear about it in the comments below. Or, if you think it's time you headed around the rugged karst mountains of the Andaman to explore this hidden jewel, be sure to check out LBW's trips to Thailand.