Ton Sai Teachings: How to Weather a Travel Storm with the Right Currency

[This post is the fourth part in a four-part series on my recent trip to Southeast Asia]

Ton Sai and Railay are beautiful parts of the Krabi coastline on the southeast coast of Thailand. It’s that long gangly arm of Thailand that reaches out to hug the Gulf of Thailand.

The landscape was immediately striking. Peeking up at the lush hills, the rocky cliffs that rose beside the highway reveal the striking Karst landscape that the region is known for. The dark rocks held shapes that didn’t seem physically possible, while also being geologically beautiful.

We traveled there to see its rugged beauty. And we arrived on a different route than planned with lessons in planning, logistics and travel’s most important currency.

Landing at Ton Sai

Plan A: Arrive at the airport, take a shuttle to Ao Phra Nang, hop on a long-tail to Ton Sai, all before the boats stop running at dark. Although Ton Sai is part of the mainland, there are no roads, only boats, to the bay. Easy.

Plan B: Flight is delayed, leaving us with just enough time to reach the boat before sunset. I watched Google maps as we drove to Krabi Town onto Ao Nammao Bay en route to our stop Ao Phra Nang. I was following along Google Maps and the ol’ faithful blue dot and almost missed it. “Did he say Ton Sai?” Derek asked. We asked the driver confirmed that this was the stop to reach Ton Sai, two bays away from our planned pier.  Without being sure, we followed the drivers’ directions and hopped off the bus. The woman worked the boat ticket office confirmed: there’s a storm further up the coast and boats aren’t leaving Ao Phra Nang. The only way to arrive in Ton Sai is to take a long-tail from this more protected bay to Railay and then walk.

Signs of a storm from the shuttle.

The boat ride was beautiful, but it definitely sailed into a storm. We arrived in a torrent of rain. I was almost forgotten on the boat as I stuffed our valuables into plastic bags in the inside of my pack with the boatman was anxious to leave. Derek alerted the driver and I leaped onto the floating dock, and we ran for cover into the Railay trees.

The calm and the storm from Ao Nammao

Then, our real adventure started. With a Dutch mountain climber, we headed towards Ton Sai on foot. We asked our way through Railay, being guided by people tucked under umbrellas and awnings. They pointed us towards the far end of East Railay Beach. We were following a small group ahead who seemed to disappear into the trees. We looked for paths, and arrived only with the help of a young couple who pointed us the right way. The right way was literally between a rock and hard place: we could see the path rise from the beach, but the path meandered into the water between the cliffside and a huge beach boulder, with the incoming tide being propelled by the storm.

We were already soaked in the warm rain, so, we started out over the 15 underwater meters on the rocky path. As twilight fell, we navigated the sand and sharp rocks underfoot and the waves that pushed on my hips and backpack. The three of us made it across. As Derek and I hoped our passports and cell phones were far enough from the sides of our pack to stay dry, we looked up into the forest.

Thankfully, our well-prepared (and well-waterproofed) Dutch friend had a headlamp. We followed him as he lit the way through the dark forest hanging onto the Karst ocean outcrop separating the Railay and Ton Sai bays. We maneuvered slowly, navigating the wet trails and guide ropes but finally saw the lights on Ton Sai. We emerged at the end of the trail and jumped into the high-tide of Ton Sai beach. We made it.

Ton Sai
The calm after the storm on our first morning in Ton Sai

This adventure taught me a few handy things for traveling Thailand, that are also handy for travel anywhere in the world.

Welcome To Ton Sai graffiti

Expect the Unexpected

I’m a planner. I knew the route to Ton Sai and we were on it. Yet, a storm completely changed our path. Thankfully, the shuttle company knew better than we did and directed us to the right pier. I was skeptical when hopping off the bus, but I asked enough questions to ease my concerns and start a new plan. Travel plans change. all. the. time. Being flexible is as important as being informed. With the right balance, you can enjoy your travels and the destination.

Waterproofing is important

Before hopping off the boat in Railay, I stayed undercover (and unseen!) to tuck our valuables (passports, cell phones, and cash, in order of importance) into a plastic bag inside a plastic bag into a plastic bag in the center of my pack. Not ideal, and may not have worked if submerged, but provided some (and thankfully, enough) protection. Thieves can be a threat to your valuables, but the elements can be too, and preparation for any element is important. Conveniently, the traveler’s best friend, credit cards, are totally waterproof.

Trust and Be Trustworthy

At different times on our journey, we had to trust the information we were given or the people we met. It’s not always easy and I’m generally more cautious than welcoming when traveling, but there are times you need to give your trust. Hopping off the bus and onto a boat, and into the dark, we had to trust others and ourselves. We also had to be trustworthy, helping other travelers with the information we had, offering help and following through. It’s the delicate balance of travel. Trust is the most expensive currency and must be spent well.

Lessons in Explorations

Beyond these learnings, here are the other lessons and experiences from Ton Sai:

Phra Nang beach
Between Railay East and West, the best beach on the bay is Phra Nang.
Phra Nang cave
There is an impressive shrine to fertility, where fishermen leave wooden penises in a cave, at Phra Nang.
Sunset on Ton Sai
Sunset on Ton Sai. Obvs.
Railay lagoon view
View from the lagoon above Railay West. Not recommended for sunset though, given the mosquitos and treacherous descent.
Sand crab art
Look down for nature’s beauty and these sand crab’s vast tidal art.
Climb in Railay, BaseCamp Ton Sai
Do as locals (and tourists from the world over) do: climb.
Climbing in Railay
Because a new perspective is worth it. The view from 50 meters up.
Drink all the smoothies! And enjoy the local fare, such as at Mama’s Chicken, Ton Sai
BaseCamp Ton Sai boat tour
Take a long-tail boat out. Here we went with BaseCamp Ton Sai for their Sunset Snorkel
We didn’t just snorkel, we climbed onto a Thai island and jumped off into the Andaman Sea.
Ton Sai long tails
By boat, by foot, by top-rope, Ton Sai and Railay are naturally stunning places to explore.