Welcome to Tonsai!
We’re now in a bungalow in Tonsai beach. Getting here was quite the adventure.
After our "donkey" (Malaysian train) ride to Wakaf Bahru, we spent the night in Khota Bharu. The guidebook was right – Khota Bahru accomodation is filthy (regardless of price.) But we found a place where the bed at least was clean and free of bedbugs to spend the night.
The next morning, we took a local bus to the Thai border and crossed over to Sungai Kolok. A nasty surprise at the border: they’re only giving out 15-day entry stamps when you cross by land, not the 30 days we were promised by our guidebook (and still available when entering by air.) So our plans will have to change… oh well, they were only plans.
From Sungai Kolok, we took a second class Thai train to Hat Yai. I’ve been on a third class Thai train and the only difference is hard vs. soft seats – still no aircon, but that’s fine. The cars were white steel on the outside, mango orange-painted wood on the inside, so I declared the train to be a mango. Overall the mango was much older than the donkey, but better maintainted.
It was about 5 hours to Hat Yai, then a tuktuk ride took us to the bus station. Most of the buses were actually minibuses going to all sorts of places, but Krabi is on the way to Phuket, which is a big enough destination to merit a big bus. And what a bus it was! This bus was, in fact, a kitten. A pink kitten. I decided this because it had beckoning cat air fresheners inside. It was a double decker with seats on top and a padded floor below holding baggage, someone’s new motor scooter, and overflow passengers. Overall, the nicest bus I’ve ever taken, especially since it had aircon. Other features included DVDs of Thai music videos on screen during the 5 hour ride and a green fluorescent tube in the engine compartment – definite style points. On a rest stop, I watched the shiny Mercedes engine for a while and noticed that they were carrying several spare fan belts. Smart bus company!
Once in Krabi, another adventure: at this time we were travelling with another backpacking couple we met in Sungai Kolok. The bus stop was in a remote area but we didn’t trust the aggressive man who met us right off the bus and told us it was 6 km to downtown and he would take us there for 200 baht (about half the cost of our 5 hour bus trip!) He would’t budge on the price, so we started walking. And walked, and walked. After well over 1km of walking, a moto driver stopped for us. These are drivers who will take you around town on the back of a motorcycle – very popular with the locals for short trips. He realized there was no way we could take motos with our heavy backpacks, and helpfully called some friends with a taxi. About 10 minutes later, the taxi (which was a pickup truck with passenger benches in the bed) showed up. We didn’t even try to haggle over the 200 baht price this driver also wanted.
He took us to the hostel, no problem, and we paid through the passenger side window. The driver’s ~5 year old daughter actually took the money, held up by his wife. This was clearly a family business! All in all, it was a good lesson in 3rd world economics: sometimes you can bargain, but sometimes you just have to pay the 200 baht to get where you’re going.
The hostel was called Good Dream – an oasis of sanity in this crazy country. The owner spoke excellent English and had a wide varitety of opinionated information on Krabi area attractions, with prices. The room was cheap and spotlessly clean. The breakfast was not the cheapest but it was excellent – the closest thing I’ve had to a trucker’s breakfast in over 2 months.
Onwards from Krabi, we took a longtail boat to Railey Beach – 150 baht each. The boatman wanted 400 baht more to go to Ton Sai so we declined. Various sources said it was a 15 minute walk to Ton Sai Beach, which is the area with the most climbers and the cheapest accomodation (coincidence? I think not.) Various sources were wrong. There’s a 15 minute walk between the beaches that’s doable at low tide, but not with heavy backpacks because of slippery rocks, and anyway this was high tide. There’s a 30-45 minute overland walk which we tried to find, but on the way there we passed a couple of climbers who told us there was another way: a path near the low tide walk where you scramble up a steep hill and down the other side. It took us about 30 minutes to find the path though, and Robin couldn’t do it with her backpack so I had to do it 3 times, twice with a load!
So, finally, Tonsai. I bought a big jug of water at the first bar on the beach and we drank most of it on the spot. Then we found a cheap but decent hut: it has a shower, electric lights, and a fan. Compared to my usual climbing trips where I’m camping, this hut is luxurious :) I think we’ll stay here for a while.
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