Leaving the city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand (the city actually sits among the Himalayas' most SE foothills), Allison and I caught a flight to Bangkok, I got miserably sick in the airport, and we caught a second flight to the town of Nakhon Si Thamarat. Why go to Nakhon? Because the flight was cheaper than the usual spots of Krabi and Phuket... that's why.

Even our trusty tourist guidebooks had little to say about this sleepy, backwater town. Tucked firmly OFF the backpacker/climber radar, it nevertheless provided a neat insight into traditional Thai culture, and allowed us to save $70 on the flight. From Nakhon, we caught a cheap minivan ride to the adventure jump-off town of Krabi.

Along the way, our minivan picked up passengers and packages from roadside stands and food stalls. It was a combination taxi, pony express, pizza delivery, and news/mail carrier. We had originally planned to catch a longtail boat directly to the Tonsai Beach area, but I had a fever of 103 and felt like I wouldn't be able to belay, let alone climb. We checked into a cheap hostel in Krabi and I drank tea and ached in bed for 3 days while Allison used her access to medical journals to diagnose the problem: Dengue Fever. I guess the Thai Mosquitos are a little more dangerous than the swarms I am used to in the North Cascades. It took all my energy to walk down the hall at our hostel and use the computer in order to submit a Mazamas climbing club grant application by New Years Eve, but after another day of rest, I felt well enough to head off once again.

Catching a longtail boat in Thailand is a fascinating experience, and one that baffles the economist in me. In Krabi, there are various folks running around the town, not even close to the pier, who suggest/cajole/persuade you to take a boat to basically anywhere that the boats will run to. If you agree to go, or even if you had already been planning for months to go, you are pointed generally toward the dock, to which you may already be headed. At the dock, you are again asked, probably several times by various boat drivers, if you want to take a boat somewhere. It was unclear how(or if) certain drivers 'claim' certain passengers, and how the drivers know we were approached by someone in town. Eventually a boat will arrive, and depending on the energy of the boat men, your skill at bartering, and the current flow of passengers, you'll need to have between 4 and 8 people present in order for your boat to go with the standard price of 150 Baht ($4.75) per person for a ride to Tonsai Beach.

After leaving the dock, our boat driver shouted out to a chubby middle-aged Dutch couple walking along the beach, and got them to join us as last-minute passengers. We couldn't figure out how the money for this business is divided up, who keeps track of what, and how they pay people for "referring" passengers who already planned on taking the boat. Just another mystery in Thailand that I'll have to solve on the next trip...

Tonsai Beach is the climbing epicenter of Thailand, and sits on the Phra Nang Peninsula, a jut of land with four separate beaches and no road access to the mainlad. Life on Tonsai is good. Lodging is moderately-priced by Thai standards, but very cheap my western standards ($8/night for a bungalow, $22/night for a nice hotel room). The food was awesome, with favorites being freshly-caught shark and tuna steaks, grilled, and served with salad ($2.75) or crepe-like pancakes, filled with banana, nutella, and Peanut butter ($1.15).

Here Mr. Pancake makes me an apple/cinnamon/honey treat

As I slowly recovered from Dengue fever (The Dengue, as we called it) we explored many of the limestone walls on the peninsula. Apart from lots of single pitch climbs on stalagtites, pockets, and even cracks, Allison and I climbed 5 pitches routes called "The Wave" and "Humanality.

Allison got to lead the last pitch on "The Wave", gently overhung with big pockets and tufas.

We met some great folks in Tonsai. Here's our friend Sun-Ho following the last pitch of The Wave. It was his first multipitch route and he had a blast 500' up off the beach.

A few things to know about Tonsai:

  1. Food is VERY cheap by western standards and ok by Thai standards. The restaurant where the Tonsai loop road meets the ocean has the BEST seafood grill. Big steaks of Tuna and Shark, with salad, for $2.75
  2. The other bestp food is the open-air cart/booth/stall near where the loop road meets the beach. Try the baked fried rice with chicken for $1.10. The fruit/Muesli/Yogurt bowl is a good deal as well.
  3. The Andaman hotel and restaurant plays free movies every night. They are typically awful
  4. There's a really good Indian restaurant a few minutes up the trail to East Railay. It's expensive by Thai standards, but cheaper than Indian food in the USA.
  5. Without sunblock, you'll get sunburned climbing in the shade if your route faces the ocean.
  6. Barter with the boat men for a price of 150 Baht to get there from Krabi. There were originally only 4 passengers and he was asking for 250 Baht each. When we told him we would just catch a ride the next day, he dropped the price to 150 Baht.
  7. Most hotels and bungalow operations will drop the price of your room if you negotiate, especially if you will be there for a while.
  8. DO NOT drink out of many disposable water bottles. Trash often gets piled up on Tonsai, and these 1-liter bottles are among the biggest culprits. We used Aquamira drops to purify tapwater in a few minutes, which meant that we went through two water bottles the whole time. If you don't have a way to pruify the tap water, buy a 5-gallon jug of clean water, and refill one smaller bottle as you go. This is cheaper and produces FAR LESS garbage.

Deepwater soloing proved scarier than I had guessed, partly because most of the harder moves were 30-40' off the water, and I knew that the higher I climbed, the longer my plunge would be. I preferred the deepwater "bouldering"

A personal favorite moment was onsighting "Pearl Jam", a 30m 5.12b hand crack that overhangs 10m and puts you high above the whole Tonsai scene. Cleaning this route while being lowered resulted in a massive swing and sudden intimatacy with some nearby palms. I should have had the forethought to grab a coconut as a reward.

Bulletin board on Tonsai Beach always had something worth reading:

Most afternoons it rained for a bit. We were told this was unusual, but I liked it, and it kept things cool.

Washington's own apple juice

From Tonsai, we caught a ferry boat to the Ko Lanta, and spent the final few days of our trip motorbiking around the quiet island, snorkeling in the Andaman Sea, and enjoying the last lazy moments.

An overnight train ($20) brought us all the way back to Bangkok and our flight across the Pacific. This fancy restaurant will make you a Pb&J for about 3x the prices of delicious Thai food you can buy next door.

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