My wife Olena and I may be two of the only people on Earth who have ever visited Tonsai Bay in Krabi, Thailand in both Winter and Summer. The first trip was a magical ten days full of perfect weather, daily excursions, and lots of swimming and lounging in the sun. Though it probably shouldn’t have, the atmosphere of our second venture to Tonsai really caught us off guard…
Our first trip to Tonsai was during the Christmas holiday in 2016. We flew into Phuket, spent the day on the famous Patong beach, and hopped on a ferry to the much more chilled-out Tonsai Bay. The late-night party life hasn’t been our thing for years, so it was nice to head to a more secluded area. In fact, Tonsai Bay is only reachable via longtail boat from Ao Nang beach in Krabi. This makes it all the more exclusive!
There are a few ways to get to Tonsai. Most likely if you’re in the area you’ll hear that most tourists are going to the nearby Railay Beach resort area. You can get a longtail boat for around 100 THB per person from either Railay East or from the more accessible Ao Nang beach. My suggestion is to head straight for Ao Nang and, in the high season (December), there will be plenty of others willing to share a longtail boat. If there is no longtail boat available, you can walk from Railay beach, but if it’s high-tide you have to hike up and over some pretty treacherous terrain. Not recommended if you have lots of luggage.
Upon arriving, one must walk about half a kilometer up a small hill, through the forest and past hordes of thieving monkeys. After arriving at our $6 per night bungalows, we immediately felt at home. Not too crowded, very relaxed atmosphere, Bob Marley on the loudspeakers, helpful and friendly staff, and a fire show every night. The seating area at Chillout Bungalows included several hammocks, some picnic benches and even a few tree houses. Surrounding the bar area were several food stalls where anyone can find a delicious bite to eat. Chillout is located on Tonsai’s only main strip which is lined with more relaxing bars, some restaurants and a few more similar bungalows.
The bungalows themselves were incredibly basic. One bed, one shelf, one bathroom, one fan, and electricity only between 6PM and 6AM. We were officially off the grid, and it felt fantastic! Life was good. We had five full days ahead of us to relax in the sun and go on adventures.
During this trip, we spent a couple days on the beach, a few days on excursions in Krabi, and one day island-hopping, snorkeling and kayaking. It was the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure. We were sad to wave goodbye to Tonsai and longed to return someday.
Fast-forward 19 months to July 2018. We had a flight booked on July 27th to leave China for good and start a new life in New York City. We were going a bit crazy because I only had one day to pack between school finishing and leaving the country. Also, my birthday was coming up. After lots of back-and-forth decision making, we decided I would take an entire week, unpaid, off from work to go to Thailand for a full 9 days. After all, it was our last chance in Asia!
Olena and I are avid travelers, but we never return to the exact same place. We’ve always considered it a waste of time and money because the world is so big and want to see as much as possible. Well, with visions of our time in Tonsai at Chillout Bungalows swimming in our heads, we booked four nights at Chillout and a flight into Krabi. We were determined to repeat our experience on our last trip. It was so exciting! This time, we planned to take fewer excursions and just relax on the beach. It was going to be amazing!
I think you see where this was going. Our second trip to Tonsai was absolutely nothing like the first. For starters, the weather. No one bothered to tell us and we never bothered looking, but July is right in the middle of Thailand’s rainy season. In fact, two ships carrying tourists had capsized the day before we arrived, killing more than 50 people in the very same bay we planned to take a ferry. To the North, 12 boys had been trapped in a cave because of rapidly-rising water. When we arrived in Krabi, a torrential downpour started within minutes, right out of the sunny blue sky.
The rain was so bad that, when we arrived at Ao Nang beach, where tourists had lined up in December for a longtail boat to Tonsai, we found the beach deserted, waterlogged and devoid of any boats. We were informed that no longtail boat would go that day because of the weather.
Our spirits would not be crushed! We were determined to get to Tonsai. We grabbed a Tuktuk to Ao Nan Mao pier, got on a longtail boat to Railay Bay, walked over a kilometer in the rain to the aforementioned treacherous path, climbed up and over carrying 20kg each on our backs, and finally made it to Tonsai. The walk through the Railay area was depressing. The beach, crowded with tourists last time, was as empty as the food stalls that lined the streets. Arriving at Tonsai, waterlogged and exhausted, we still felt a spark of joy at our accomplishment. This spark, however, was quickly extinguished by the weather and the low season. Walking up the path to Chillout, no monkeys barred our way to beg for fruit, no happy locals greeted us on our way, all the bars we passed were either closed for good or completely empty, and to cap it all off, some rich guy had bought a bunch of land in the center of the area and cut down most of the trees. What had once felt like a secluded walk in the forest felt much more exposed and public.
Arriving at Chillout, we found the bar also empty and almost no one staying in the bungalows. No fire shows planned for the evening, no music on the loudspeaker, just the dreary-eyed people who ran the place during this low season. With all of this against us, the lack of electricity and comforts of home were much more noticeable. Back in our rooms, instead of an off-the-grid lifestyle and chilled-out atmosphere, we instead noticed the dirty sheets, wet bathroom and lack of light. We made the best of it, went swimming in the rain, but ended up canceling our next few nights and moving on to Phi Phi island, where our adventure took a much more positive turn.
The moral of the story:
Know the season of where you’re traveling, and never expect a journey to the same place at a different time to be the same as the first trip. In fact, I think that in life we should never seek to repeat exact experience because it lines you up for disappointment. Let every experience be its own, and try to keep your chin up! As I said, we still had five more days and ended up having a fantastic time in Phi Phi. The weather improved, our spirit was revived, and we learned a lot from the experience. Tonsai Bay, it was amazing while it lasted, but it’ll never be the same again.