Tonsai: A Climbing Paradise
Izzy and Elliot from our Perth store recently returned from a trip to Tonsai, Thailand. Here's what it's like to go to climbing heaven.
Tonsai was everything I'd heard and so much more. It has beauty, good vibes, delicious food, epic climbs, convenience and, for all you penny pinchers, it's cheap. Just a short ferry ride from Phuket or Krabi, Tonsai is one of those places where you find yourself forgetting about your life. When it's time to leave, all you want to do is go straight back for some Gaeng Som Pla (local Fish Curry) and continue your adventure.
Dropping into the Local Bars
The climbing here is fun, 3-dimensional limestone that challenges you to think outside the box and offers great holds. Climbs range from complete punter status to higher levels. The real appeal of the climbing here is the convenience – today I was lowered off a climb and into a bar. I was straight into the Chang (Local Thai beer).
If you're flying solo and interested in climbing here, no problem. You're bound to meet other climbers needing a belay partner or you can hire a guide at the local rock climbing store (Rock Shop or Base Camp). There is no shortage of climbs at any point of the day, the crags along the beach are shaded till midday, then you can hit up the back crags to the north.
We flew into Phuket airport and taxied to Rassada Pier 1 hour away. From the pier, it's a very pleasant ferry ride across turquoise water among islands that rise starkly around you. For a quicker trip, you can fly into Krabi and make your way to the closest pier to be transported by ferry to the peninsula. Try to book your trip in the dryer season (November - March).
Where to Stay
If you're looking for a touch of luxury, Tonsai Bay Resort is located on the beach. From here you can watch climbers complete multi-pitches or overhanging projects while you eat breakfast. This resort will cost you $60 per night and includes a buffet breakfast. Other choices are a short stroll into the heart of town – the Jungle Huts are the most popular for climbing folk and you will pay less at $30 per night.
Climbing the Cliffs of Tonsai
For anyone looking to catfish their noodles* Elliot's tops picks were Tonsai Playboy 7a+ (24), a long roof to make the forearms burst, and Voodoo Doll 7c+ (28), offering jugs through the roof and a punchy thin crux. Some other classics that are a must include Humanality 6b+ (21), a 6 pitch multi that offers grand views with an exposed crux, and Missing Snow 6b+ (21), which is just all-round fun!
If you're finding the rock too polished hit up Monkey World, the face climbs here are of a lower grade (6a-6b+/19-21) but the climbs are fresh and good quality. We only just scratched the surface of climbing in Tonsai on our short 10 day stay but you can understand why climbers come back annually sometimes for months at a time.
Tonsai, I understand the obsession among climbers now. It is a tropical paradise surrounded by clear turquoise water and massive limestone walls with endless features to be climbed on. The regular visitors and locals really care for this place, replacing steel bolts and anchors with titanium for safety (The Thaitanium Project). Stores also offer refills for water to reduce plastic bottle waste and there are beach clean ups once a week arranged by a local bar. There is a real sense of community and love for this place and it will welcome you with polished jugs. If we don't come back to work (Mountain Designs), you'll know where to find us!
You can find more information about The Thaitanium Project and help support Thailand in becoming a safer place for climbers by checking out their website Thaitanium Project.
*Climbing Terms Explained
Catfish noodle: A climbing term for having an alarming spike in hydrolysis in your forearms making them expand which is perfect for catfishing!
Jug: A user-friendly hand hold resembling the top/handle of a jug.
Crux: A definite difficult point on the climbing route.
Polished jugs: Jugs that offer little to no friction due to the smoothness – Tonsai is full of them.
Grading: Climbs in this article are graded using the French system and Australian equivalent is in brackets.
- Women's Black Diamond Primrose SA Harness
- Black Diamond Posiwire Quickdraw 18cm
- Black Diamond Positron Quickdraw 12cm
- Black Diamond ATC Guide Belay Device
- Petzl Gri Gri 2
- Men's and Women's Mountain Designs Delta Tees
- Men's and Women's Mountain Designs Seamless Underwear
- Men's Teva Terra Fi 4 Sandals
- Men's Mountain Designs Six Foot Cargo Shorts
- High UV Protection Buff®
- Bushman Gel + Sunscreen 75g
- Sea to Summit Wildnerness Wash 89ml Camping Detergent
- Mountain Designs Micro Suede Towel
- Pegless washing line
- SOS Electrolytes
These tees had an extremely light and comfortable fit. The quick drying fabric allowed us to wash and have them dry to wear hours later.
These were comfortable and lightweight, yet surprisingly durable (trust a man with two left feet). What more could you want. Low and behold THEY FLOAT! Who'd have thought.
This self-locking belay device is really convenient when your climbing partner is hanging on the rope when trying to complete projects.
Unless you're eating nothing but canned food, the infamous Tonsai tummy will catch you. When it gets real, you can count on SOS to replace everything your body loses.
About the Authors
Elliot Vercoe and Isobel Burgoyne are amateur rock climbers based in Perth, partnering up to visit world-class climbing destinations. They both also happen to work for Mountain Designs where they enjoy taking and testing gear on some great adventures.