We had a nice long post introducing Thailand and the climbing here at Tonsai and the Phra Nang peninsula but then our WordPress app decided to eat it so we’re trying again.
Traveling to Tonsai Beach from Malaysian Pulau Langkawi was about as epic as the sixteen hour trans-Artic flight we took from EWR > HKG. It involved catching a taxi at about 8am, then a ferry to Thailand, then riding in the back of a small pickup truck, then a long and bumpy bus ride over a short distance to Krabi Town, another pickup truck to Ao Nang, waiting at sunset for enough passengers for a Longboat to Tonsai and then finally a short jungle walk pecking around for accomodations. It worked out though. Our little bamboo and wood bungalow does the job with a mosquito net and small oscilating fan and we seem to have acclimated to the heat well enough. It’s even started to feel cool at night.
Our ‘resort’ is almost entirely filled with climbers; in fact, the entire Tonsai beach feels like a giant international youth hostel for scruffy sporty types. Tonsai is cut off from East and West Railey beaches by karst crags; climbers will take one of two rather rigorous (but relatively short) jungle treks over the rock and back down to get to the other beaches, but your typical sunseeker is unlikely to make the trek in the other direction, particularly when their beach is nicer anyway.
We’ve met a few other young American couples, but Germans, Scandinavians and Aussies/Kiwis definitely predominate. Regardless of nationality, everyone is fit, sweaty, and tries to wear as little clothing as possible. You hear a lot of Jack Johnson playing pretty much everywhere on the beach, Singha and Chang beer flows freely, and at night there are fire juggling shows on the slackline (tight rope) at the bar across the dirt road from us.
The climbing, well let’s just say it’s been challenging. The rock formations are incredible, large limestone karst rising above the water, full of tufas and stalactites. The holds are mostly big but the sea and rain have worn away at the rock and it’s almost all overhung. Our arms and backs are sore. Almost all easy, vertical routes are utilized by the dozen or so climbing schools that have sprouted up all over the peninsula, so they are overrun between 9am and 6pm. If you stay away from those areas though, and from the climbing areas closer to the cheap bungalows in Tonsai, it’s actually not too crowded. Nothing really is when you come from New York.
Mai pen rai is a Thai phrase that loosely translates to ‘don’t worry about it’ and has been described as the unofficial national motto. It definitely fits the ethos of Tonsai, where no one seems to have any idea what day of the week it is (including us) and even the resident roosters don’t start crowing until 10am. ‘Mai pen rai’ the route is a 6a (blissfully easy, maybe a 5.10a on the Yosemite scale) in the Defile area off of Phra Nang beach, just past the wooden phalli filled shrine to the ancient princess who haunts the island. When you reach the top of the 25 meter climb, you have a panoramic view of Phra Nang and West Railey beaches to the north, and sea with hazy islands to the west. It’s one of those moments that remind you why you did come to Thailand to climb.