Bracketed by towering limestone cliffs and backed by jungle-covered hills – which make access only possible by boat – Tonsai is as visually gorgeous a location as any in the world.
But while the surrounding beaches on the Railay peninsula on southern Thailand’s east coast have all been ruined, somehow development at Tonsai has been limited to a few driftwood bars, a couple of low-key restaurants and shops and some bungalow accommodation.
The place doesn’t have any paved roads or even mains electricity, with generators providing power overnight.
Most people who go there are rock climbers attracted by the limestone rock formations and backpackers who have heard there is still a slice of the “old Thailand” still left.
I actually went by accident – I meant to go a different beach – but within minutes of arriving I was sitting on the sand with a bunch of new friends – a beer in one hand and a spliff in the other – and I figured I might as well hang around.
I ensconced myself in a huge 300 baht ($AU10) a night bungalow and busily set about chilling out; every day is Sunday at Tonsai.
The main activity on offer is rock climbing – including the deepwater solo trips during which you can drop off the sea cliffs into the water – but kayaks are also available for hire and there are slack lines slung up all over the place.
Sights include a lagoon and lookout accessible via a jungle climb, and the spectacular Phra Nang Cave.
The beach at Tonsai is not the most amazing in the world but the much better Railay West and Phra Nang beaches are only a 15 or 30 minute walk away.
If you’re feeling less active or maybe a bit sore from rock climbing there are plenty of places to get a Thai massage for 300 baht ($AU10) an hour.
I spent most of my evenings drinking 120 baht ($AU4) cocktails at Tonsai’s beachfront Chill Bar. It’s run by a bunch of young Thai guys who love reggae, rarely wear shirts and spend as much time playing with firesticks as they do behind the bar.
The people I met were all cool including a super lovely American couple who promised to take me rock climbing in Yosemite National Park next time I’m in California.
After five nights I didn’t really want to leave but boredom was looming as an issue.
So I packed up my stuff and walked down to the end of the beach where the longtail boatmen were pulling cones out of a long bamboo bong.
Hopefully the developers (and the authorities) don’t discover the place before I come back next time.