Tonsai - Thaïland

Rock climbing in a little paradise

March 25 2007, 

Each climber with a true passion for the sport wants to break away from his daily routine for a long time with one single goal: climbing, and lots of it. In these spirits I left a cold and rainy Belgium for Asia, heading straight for Tonsai, Thailand. Tonsai is a wonderful spot on the Andaman Sea. Since a few hardcore climbing pioneers discovered this place of beauty, Tonsai quickly developed in a modern rock-climbing mecca.

Sunshine on Tonsai Beach

In the early days of December I left for Bangkok with a day delay due to unforeseen circumstances. Nevertheless, thirteen hours later I found myself in the hassle and hullabaloo of the big city, desperately searching for the over-night coach for Krabi. Looking for a way out, I asked for a cab to drop me of at the bus station, but instead ended up on the crowded Khao San Road. Never trust the cab driver. Eventually another taxi, now a trustworthy one, dropped me of at the bus station. Twelve hours later I left the coach, which had totally wrecked me, only to be confronted with two more ?Asian challenges?; a small van and a lovely longtailboat. Soaked in sweat and downright exhausted I arrived at Tonsai. But soon first impressions came dripping in, making up for my ramshackle physical state. Huge rock, waving palm trees and one magnificent beach. Two hours later I grouped up with people I had planned to meet and we headed out for some Thai-rock-climbing.
Again some first impressions; humidity, sheer heat and exhaustion. It seemed to me that Thai-rock-climbing would take some getting used to. Not only the climate, but also the filthy and neglected surroundings, the terrible noise of the longtails, the racket of generators and a repulsive beach bungalow owner clearly took some getting accustomed to as well. I choose to visit Tonsai in the high season, brilliant climbing, but not that financially attractive. I left Belgium thinking life would be cheap, but at first that didn?t seem to be the case. Gradually I learned to live on a very modest budget.

PlaisirTonsai is, together with Railay, part of the Pra Nang Peninsular. Thai-climbing has his roots in Railay, but Tonsai quickly developed into the most popular climbing spot, probably because of the absence of expensive holiday resorts and an equal amount of fabulous routes. The wide choice in routes, from powerful and short to long and multi-pitch over deep water solo, made this peninsula, which is only accessible by longboat, a piece of climbing paradise. Tonsai is one of Thailand?s National Parks, and a haven for the restless climber in all of us.

But, even in this Garden of Eden weeds are starting to flower. Bungalows pop up everywhere together with all kinds of restaurants and bars. Every night is party night and many locals walk around like the reincarnation of Bob Marley, thinking they are the original Don Juan, harassing every western girl they come across. The Koh Pangang ?Full Moon? and ?No Moon parties? are being reduplicated to the extent that even ?What ever Moon parties? are being held. Sex tourism is everywhere in Ao Nang and Railay/Pra Nang Beach. Thank God there are still climbers to hang out with.

Greed - 8c - Dum's kitchenNevertheless, in spite of all small drawbacks, Tonsai is heaven on earth. The climbing is sublime, there are loads of recreation, fine restaurants and relative peace, because sometimes you just have to party. Tonsai is flooded with party-possibilities. Beware of the ?buckets?, a lethal cocktail of Samsong (Thai whisky), Vodka, Coke and ?Ledbull?. You guzzle it down like it was orange juice, but it has quite different consequences. You might experience failing memory and, important for a climber, general balance disorder as I was to experience on Christmas Eve?.
Besides feeling sick after a real Thai-party, you could go snorkelling, diving or test your balance on the slack-line. You could spend a day at the beach reading, having a massage or you could simply enjoy the oriental sun. The fact that Thai-cooking will upset your stomach at least once, is just part of the deal. Maybe some yoga exercises in the heat of the setting sun will ease your pain, certainly if your seated on a comfortable ?Freedom Bar? cushion and can indulge in a selection of their renowned chill-out tunes. It gets even better when base jumpers come falling down out of the sky above ?Freedom Bar?. It gets rather amusing when they fail to dodge the cactuses on Tonsai Roof. (Does the name Tim Emmet ring a bell?)
But there is one major deterrent. This small piece of paradise will be transformed in another resort for the rich. The strip of picturesque restaurants and bars will have to make place for concrete bungalows and ?Holiday inn? fun. It leaves no doubt that this will result in an increase of prices and that it certainly will destroy the authentic feel of Tonsai.

Where to eat?
YumYum/Sawadee serves the best breakfast in Tonsai.
Tena?s is wonderful if you?re looking for a cheap but satisfying meal. (Pineapple Fried Rice, Pad Thai and Pineapple Fritters are my personal favourites).
Dream Valley is the place to be if you fancy a BBQ. They serve good pizza as well. Waiting times can be quite long.
Banyan Tree for the Massaman and garlic bread.
Countryside is very similar to Tena's, as long as Klaus is in the house.

Where to party?
To chill-out is possible in different locations. For those who like try smoking shisha and to discover new chill-out tunes, Kasbah is the place to be. Lounging with a marvellous view and perhaps a bit pooling is possible in Freedom Bar. Partying till the break of day has to be done in NoName.

Where to sleep?
Dream Valley is the most fancy and expensive, Tiew Kkoa is the more democratic and peaceful counterpart up on the hill and Pashook is a bit in between.

Wout dans Groove Tube - 6a

And? what about the climbing?

  • 6a Groove Tube ? Fire Wall ? Tonsai: A classic. A true beauty in spite of the slippery parts.
  • 6a+ Fit to be Thaid ? Thaiwand Wall ? Railay: Wonderfull easy-climbing on pure vertical rock. It is situated on the right, where it can?t be overpopulated with climbing schools.
  • 6b Big Wave ? Monkey World ? Tonsai ? multipitch : Fifteen quick draws and sixty meters of rope will guide you via 6a+, 6b, 6b en 6b to the top of the route. The view is breathtaking, the bolts are firm and trustworthy and getting down is fairly easy and comfortable in contrast with that other renowned multipitch route, Peyote (7a).
  • 6b+ Sit Spins ? Dums? Kitchen ? Tonsai beach: A very nice crack. A must for every one who isn?t very experienced in crack-climbing.
  • 6c Dozer Days ? Nest & Wild Kingdom ? Tonsai: Part of the Tonsai top ten. Long, mysterious and must satisfying tower.
  • 6c+ Lion King ? Dums? Kitchen ? Tonsai beach : The route follows a big S-curve which marks the disparity between two parts of the rock formation. Spectators always included, queuing unavoidable, secure foot placement obligatory.
  • 7a The King & I ? Thaiwand Wall ? Railay: A very long and complete 7a with many shifts in style and a few majestic moves, always accompanied by the awe-inspiring view on Tonsai and Railay.
  • 7a+ Burnt Offerings ? Fire Wall ? Tonsai: Every self-indulgent climber should at least try the key moves of this renowned photo-route. But beware of the two-finger pockets at the end of the route, they tend to be some kind of party-pooper. And you just can?t display the perfect climbing picture in your living room without actually having topped the route. Imagine the guilt... You shall fight this technical battle with powerful moves till the end.
  • 7b Café Andaman ? Tonsai roof ? Tonsai: A big traverse in the big Tonsai Beach-roof. Spectators and commentators included, so beware of the final challenging move of this wonderful boulder?
  • 7b Cross Eyed ? Melting Wall ? Tonsai: For sure the most physically challenging 7b in Tonsai, but skipping it would be sheer blasphemy! Thirty meters of constant 7b with the crux of the biscuit at the end? No one gets away without severely pumped up arms.
  • 7b+ Blind Deaf & Dumb ? Tyrolean Wall ? Tonsai: Tyrolean Wall offers the most technical climbs in Tonsai and Railay. The equal division between powerful roof climbing and vertical technicality is magnificent. A perfect line, a perfectly balanced climb. Just great!
  • 7c Affentanz ? Tyrolean Wall ? Tonsai. Situated on the right of Blind, deaf and dumb, Affentanz is cleary reminiscent of the latter. Same style, but increasing level of difficulty. Fight till the end!
  • 7c+ Rolling Thunder ? Generator Wall ? Tonsai: Generator Wall is situated on the far side of the hill and is home to some beautiful routes. Crack climbing with loads of hand-jams is possible in Pearl Jam 7b, but still, Rolling Thunder is my personal favourite. Although a bit overrated, not that easy. A no-hand-rest gives you the time to gather all what?s left of power and energy before tackling the slopers of the crux.

Burnt Offerings - 7a+

What do I need?
Climbing shoes, fifteen quick draws, a seventy meter climbing rope, (western) chalk, a harness, a couple of slings, some karabiners, something to belay with, a headlamp, shorts and swimwear are more than enough to spend a satisfying time at Tonsai.

With all this gear you can climb short routes, multipitch and DWS. Anything else what could be useful can be bought in Tonsai shops.




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