As the quality and price of accommodation in and around Ao Nang and west Railay inevitably increases, backpacking tourists are slowly but surely moving out to Ton Sai beach, which sits bang in the middle of the two.
Potential visitors should be aware, however, that Ton Sai is far more inaccessible than its neighbours – which is just how the people who stay there like it. During the monsoon months, waves can be too big to ensure a safe passage, while all year round at low tide, longtail boats must moor far from the shore, leaving passengers to wade to dry land, with their luggage, over slippery rocks and mud.
The beach itself used to be beautiful and a nice place to relax on, but heavy traffic, both foot and boats, as well as an uninterrupted line of bars and cafes along its length means the only truly quiet and sandy part of it is at the far side towards Railay – at least during high season (Nov – Apr)*. The much nicer Railay West beach can be reached over the rocks at low tide, or by the clifftop path (some clambering involved) at any time. If you don’t wish to walk you can also jump on a longtail boat for 40 baht per person. Confused? See an aerial view of the whole Railay peninsula on the map on the right (below on mobile devices).
Climbing is the main activity in Ton Sai; the other is sitting around in the numerous beach bars getting stoned or occasionally playing frisbee. There are some dive schools present here, as well as kayak rental, so you can also paddle to Railay if you feel active. The vast majority of the people who stay in Tonsai Beach are twenty-somethings, or early thirties; there are, however, an increasing number of older people and families, as the ability to book rooms opens the market to these groups.
Only two bungalow operations are located directly on the beach in Tonsai; all other accommodation is situated at least a two minute walk up the hill behind the sand. Dirt tracks criss-cross the forest, passing smart resorts, rundown bamboo shacks, more coffee huts, makeshift staff housing and noisy generators. It is possible to keep walking on this hill and come to Railay East, although it’s a gruelling trek. In parts, up on the hillside, it is actually much more pleasant than down on the beach: quiet and green, in the shadow of the cliffs.
Restaurants are plentiful in Ton Sai, though both western and Thai food are very average, apart from a couple of decent pizzerias. Coffee shops and bars can be found almost every 10 metres. A couple of minimarts sell basic provisions; high speed internet access is also available; and there is now an ATM machine. For serious shopping, a trip to Ao Nang, or Krabi Town will be needed.
Many people stay in Ton Sai for months at a time – it is possible in this case to negotiate directly with the bungalow owners for a better deal. The resorts we list here are at the top end of those on offer – there are also more basic bamboo huts available, but they do not take reservations.
*Note: in low season Ton Sai, like the rest of Krabi, is a different place: without the crowds, the beach is much more relaxed and quiet.
Last updated: July 22, 2014