If my arm bent any further it would certainly break. I cringe as I think of my elbow snapping like a twig. Thankfully, my joint survives the assault. But without warning, the assailant jumps on my back and begins pulling on my arms, as if to rip them from my sides! All I can picture is being beat to death with my own limbs, like some sort of fatality out of Mortal Combat. If only I could execute a proper bicycle kick from this position, this ordeal would all be over. Smack! Ah! She punches me in the foot! Oh no! What’s happening!? Between attacks, I mange to look over and catch a glimpse of Anna: she lay lifeless next to me as another figure holds her down. As I slip in and out of consciousness, all I can think is, “Just leave me alone and take my money!” …and she does…200 baht. Sixty minutes later, I have survived my first Thai massage. Equal parts violence and relaxation, Thai massage is a bit like Rolfing, pressure point therapy, and involuntary yoga, all rolled into one. At any given moment, I felt as if I was on the verge of serious injury, but I loved it at the same time. If you aren’t too keen on a small Thai woman stomping on your limbs, folding you in half, and rubbing uncomfortably close to your special purpose, then I’d say stick with the Swedish version. If this sounds like a good Friday night, then by all means, head to Tonsai Beach where such treatment can be obtained for a mere 6 USD. But you must be confused, so let me back up a bit:
We deboard our ferry from Koh Lanta to finish our journey to Railay on our first long-tail boat ride. We toss our bags aboard and jump/hobble aboard. Straight out the gate, we can see that Railay is a pretty dope place: long sandy beaches, towering cliffs, and cool clear water. Sure, maybe there are some spots of giardia sprinkled in the shallows, but what real Thai beach doesn’t have a bit of waste water trickling into the sea. To narrow it down a bit, our long-tail is headed for West Railay beach. West railay beach sits adjacent to our final destination of Tonsai Beach: the uber-mellow, climber, backpacking beach. (It is partially due to Tonsai beach that we have been carrying an extra 20-25 pounds of climbing gear around the globe.) During low-tide, one can walk from West Railay to Tonsai, but given the current water level and the rickety condition of Twisty McAnkleton (…my wife, Anna, of course), we opt for another short, long-tail boat ride. With six people, they’ll take you over for about 50 baht, but there is no guarantee when or if those extra people will come. So, forced to decide between waiting another hour for low tide or paying 200 baht for the private ride, we opt to pay the premium to get on with the relaxation.
As far as accommodation options go, Tonsai is fairly limited. There are two hostels on the beach front that will run you 400 baht on the low end, but your money doesn’t go very far in the way of amenities: bamboo bungalow, bug net, and a hard bed. If you’re lucky, there will be a bathroom attached to the back bungalow. We heard at least one of these hostels (…Viking) had a shady reputation, so we decide to hit the back row of hostels set back from the beach about 500 meters. The path that leads us there is paved, but slightly up hill the whole way so it’s best to just put your stuff down and run around and have a look (which we foolishly did not do, as we were too scared by our recent episode of theft). Most of the hostels here are also very basic, but some are a bit classier than others; i.e. concrete bungalow instead of bamboo. In the end, unless you dish out $30 or so per night (off-season price) to stay at the Dream Valley Resort, you’ll pay about the same rate at most places, which is about 400 baht or $12. We decided to go with the Andaman Nature Resort due to their large and relaxed restaraunt/lounge area and moderately comfortable bungalows. Sure the sink plumbing is made out of plastic bottles, but you have to respect them for recycling.
After we settle into our tropical shack, we head down for some grub by the beach. Options are limited here on Tonsai, but we are pleased with our meal of curry and rice. Next door, at the Pirate Bar, groups of mellow backpackers lounge on the ratty seat cushions scattered about their beach front deck. The good vibes emitted by this booze shack draw us over to partake in a few Changs. In between conversations about our travels, we watch unsuspecting travelers guzzle down their “happy shakes” while a local Thaiman fire dances on a slackline.
For the next few days we develop a routine which typically involves waking up slowly, heading down to the beach, eating mango sticky rice, drinking chocolate-peanut-butter-banana (and coffee, in my case) shakes, then deciding which outdoor activity to begin. (Note: with regard to the aforementioned shakes–go to the stand next to Mama’s Kitchen for the best and cheapest results.) In the evening, we typically down a few more shakes, grab a massage (as described above), eat at Mama’s kitchen, and cruise down the short beach strip for a few beers and socializing. Tough life.
As I mentioned before, Tonsai is a great place for climbing. Although our climbing itinerary was cut down a bit given the recent hospital trip in Phuket, I still manage to get a in few routes with Anna on belay. On our last day in Tonsai, Anna’s ankle was strong enough to climb one of the most fun routes in the region (and certainly the one with the best view): The Groove Tube. When not climbing, napping, or exploring the “penis caves” of Phranang Beach, we could be found kayaking as a means of exploring the nooks and crannies of the nearby Chicken Island.
All in all, Tonsai Beach was an amazing stop over. Although, not very fulfilling in a cultural sense, Tonsai is a great place to relax and get lost in Thailand for while. We will certainly be returning on our next trip.