Tonsai Again; A Study in ‘Fros and Grouper Faces

As if I hadn’t gotten enough traveling in… The Monday after my family left there was no school for Thai Mother’s Day (the Queen’s birthday, as you may remember from last year— she just turned 80. Happy [now much belated] Birthday Queen Sirikrit!), meaning we had a long weekend, meaning we oh-so-begrudgingly decided we needed to go traveling again.

You’d think, with my time in Thailand drawing so rapidly to a close, I’d be a bit more eager to check out some new places. And it’s not that I’m not. But when we first went to Tonsai for Collette’s birthday, back in February, she made it clear that it was the kind of place that keeps you coming back. A few months later that proved to be true; we returned in April to officially wind-up our end-of-term travels. On both occasions we were only there for one short night, and never made it around to doing what Tonsai is so renowned for: rock climbing.

This time around we had three whole nights on the beach, and on our final day a new friend took us to a cool climbing route called Groove Tube. And in general we had such a rip-roaring good time we’re planning yet another trip to Tonsai for Chris’ and my birthday, as well as my farewell. Keeps you coming back indeed!

the biker convoy heading through the last stages of krabi

just in time for sunset

leaving ao nang on the longtail– one of the last ones of the day, and the only way to get to tonsai

if you’re thinking, ‘heyyy… that looks JUST like the route i took to railay!’ you’re right. tonsai is the beach immediately adjacent railay west. whereas railay is resort-dense and can be quite expensive, tonsai has the feeling of more of a well-kept secret. every time we go we run into people who happened upon it and couldn’t bring themselves to leave; people who eventually did leave but made a point of returning; people who started at railay only to discover ‘THIS is where i need to be!’

We began Round 3 at Tonsai the same way we begin most rounds: by getting set up at Chill-Out Bar. It’s hard to determine what we like most about this place… The awesome, friendly staff who proceeded to call us all “Koon Kruuuuu!” (the very respectful address used for teachers. I realize it was largely tongue-in-cheek coming from them but it nevertheless amused me greatly) the entire time? The fact that the manager one of the bartenders (I asked him if he was manager and he looked at me very seriously and said, “No. We are family here.”) cut us a deal on rooms– 100 baht a night? (I mean. They’re very simple bamboo bungalows with a mat on the floor and a mosquito net, with shared bathrooms and a ‘bucket shower.’ But for $3 a night I ain’t complaining!) The endless slack-lining entertainment? The longtail boats converted into lounge areas? The goats?! Hard telling. But we re-established the friendships we’d made on our previous visits, grabbed some beers, and proceeded to enjoy the music, dancing, and fire shows for the rest of the evening.

david, collette, claire, and i did take a break in order to get some delicious massaman at mama’s chicken restaurant (yes, she serves more than chicken) and decided that because the table was so high it felt like we were at a kids’ table. hahaha. with a beer. and looking… well haggard.

collette and claire at the kids’ table too.

stopping to introduce david to what collette hailed as ‘the best smoothie ever’: coconut, mango, and banana. this was later topped (in my opinion) by the discovery of coconut, banana, peanut butter, which we ended up ordering in buckets.

so happy after the first sip!


then we decided to go to the nearby sunset bar for a change of scenery

oh yeah, and wayne’s excellent dancing

oh yeah, and i got to sing with the band for a few songs? (the first one, oddly enough, was ‘zombie,’ which thais go totally nuts for. it’s strange because it wasn’t discussed nor did they give me lyrics, but luckily i’d been making a worksheet about the song for my kids earlier that very day so i knew them!) david also got up and rocked out pretty hard on drums, so that was cool too.

and later in the evening chris entertained us by playing a tune on the flip-flop guitar; the latest fad in thailand

and this is what we woke up to in the morning

grouper face competitions began the next morning at breakfast

wayne wins

and then we stumbled on some monkeys? awesome.

of course, in our opinion, wayne had already dominated every dance-off competition

one last grouper face and a big ol’ smile. (also lolz to the guy in the background. a little dirt-path yoga for ya! why not?

did i mention the beach was nicer this time than ever before?

looking out towards railay on a beautiful day! the boys took the treacherous jungle path in order to use the atm (no atm’s on tonsai) but most of us were lazy and hung out in our boat hideout that we made our home for the weekend.

the aforementioned boat hideout

a local girl on one of tonsai’s infamous slacklines. with a little assistance.

love this one

claire heading up some beach yoga.

cool photo! thanks wayne.

haha… caught in the middle of david and jimmy’s fro-off. not a bad place to be!

and then we did the stanky legg. naturally.

for those of you unfortunates who are unfamiliar with the stanky legg

lek offering up some fresh papaya on sunday afternoon

Sunday afternoon it was rock climbing time! Claire had met an Australian climber named Ben the night before, who’d offered to take us. We rented some equipment from the place next to Chill Out Bar (Why Not? Bar, I wanna say… gotta love these names) and then it was off to Groove Tube!

He chose Groove Tube not only because it was an easy enough route for n00bs like us, but also because you could get such a nice view. We were very appreciative! Collette went first, followed by Wayne, then me, David, Claire. We all made it up without falling and are super amped for another climbing adventure. Thanks Ben!

not a bad view at all! this was just the base, where we began the real climbing.

groove tube, in all her glory. a relatively easy climb with lots of natural holds.

ben helping collette get started. the first bit’s the hardest!

ta, the guide for the couple climbing ahead of us, toplining their next climb. he was a funny guy! his mantra was, ‘no worry, chicken curry. no hurry, no curry, no worry, no chicken.’ gave us the biggest laugh!

patiently waiting our turns.

nice one!

wayne getting started

i brought up wayne’s camera when i climbed. not a bad view at all!!

everyone cheering me on!

perpendicular view

david on his way up. ben labeled him as, ‘my first afro climbing experience!’

claire on her way up!

So again… had a great time with our first climbing experience! Thanks so much, Ben! (For more on Groove Tube.)

That night we had another little party, during which I got to watch a bit of the Perseids meteor shower. A magical moment!

And the next morning, we were off again.

the last shot with my infamous full moon glasses… they fell off during a very hectic and windy bike ride

celebrity shot of the man on the bike next to us

my solution to my sarang always blowing off and leaving me sunburn. and sprite. and old school gas dispensers.

So… in case anyone missed it… Tonsai. 21-23 September. Angela and Chris’ birthdays. Angela (and Wayne, actually)’s going away. Be there or be square!





Back in Thailand

Well I guess it’s appropriate that the first post of my new blog is actually about being back in Thailand; as opposed to Bali, or that other Indonesian island, or Kuala Lumpur. Also, as I finally found time to learn to quickly and easily compress my photo files from iPhoto (read: Wayne mentioned to me that a friend had told him how to do it) I can pretty safely assure you this will be the last time you need to bookmark one of my blog links:). (Or you could, you know, hit that subscribe button on the right and get new posts delivered swiftly to your Inbox. Oh, technology!)

Anyway, there was no rest for the weary upon our arrival to our adopted home, and I mean that in the best way possible. Our good friends Jack and Grace (of the Mini Pizza making extravaganza, as well as many other fond memories whose blog posts didn’t jump as readily to mind… oh yes we all went to Nakhon Si Thammarat together once and I recently met up with them in Bangkok… as long as I’m shamelessly plugging I might as well do it right.) were returning to Thung Song for a few brief days on a hiatus from their new jobs in Mandalay, Myanmar. They arrived the day after we did.

We actually took Jack and Grace’s jobs at Thungsong (Tapae) Municipality High School when they left, and so have many mutual friends and acquaintances at the school. Everyone was very excited to see the prodigal children, and true to the parable this involved a lot of food-giving. Wayne and I were invited along for many-a-meal, and thought it only fit to host a feast at our own house on their last night in town.

dim sum; little steamed baskets of things that generally wouldn’t be considered breakfast where we’re from (broccoli, tofu, quail eggs, processed fish patties molded and colored to look like nemo) but is a very standard breakfast here. to no one’s surprise, even after everyone was full another 10-or-so baskets made their way to the table. thai hosts find it really hard to understand and accept the concept of, ‘i’m full, i really can’t eat any more,’ no matter what language you tell them in!

so of course for our feast at home we had to make enough food to impress. item 1: jack’s roasted vegetable fusilli. he taught us how to make a tomato sauce from scratch and we haven’t bought one from the store since. a good trick to know!

item number 2: massaman curry. it’s delicious and comes in $1.50 packets… just sauté some veggies (and/or meat, if you want, it’s generally served with chicken), dissolve the mix in coconut milk, add to veggies, and let simmer until everything is nice and soft with its enzymes sufficiently degenerated. this is a normal thai dish and we thought we’d better serve them something they were used to if they didn’t take so strongly to all the farang food.

item 3: bruschetta (with homemade pesto!)

item 5: grace’s apple crumble. most excellent!

jack, grace, p’lem (p’tim’s husband), p’tim (our invaluable helper-teacher at school), p’bam (another co-teacher), nam and sai (p’lem and p’tim’s daughters), and wayne. not pictured: chok dee, our principle; and jalan, our neighbor. a feast indeed!

There was also potato salad but somehow it missed out on the photo shoot. While Thai people really like to shove food down one’s throat and not take “no” for an answer, we found they seemed a bit more choosy with our food. No worries, though, it left us with a fridge full of leftovers that lasted us a week. As for the over-feeding habits, Eugene’s visiting Finnish friend whom we also met during Jack and Grace’s visit summed it up nicely: “There are worse problems you could have.”

Eugene’s other Finnish friend also made a lasting impression on us in that she made the recommendation that led us to our (Jack’s, Grace’s, Wayne’s, and my) next travel destination: Koh Jum. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry– neither had we. It’s a very small island (that also has the name “Koh Pu,” or “Crab Island”) that was very quiet but picturesque. We were warned there was not much to do there but relax and that sounded perfect to us. The next morning P’Lem so very graciously drove us to Krabi, from where we caught a boat to the island.

their album’s dropping next fall.

crab island indeed!

so to add to the ‘deserted island’ feel there was no electricity in the bungalows at all, and it was turned off after 10 even in the restaurant/hang out area! we were issued an oil lamp as night fell haha. this little baby ran us 350 baht– just over 10 dollars a night!

We attempted to do a bit of snorkeling off the island, but unfortunately the waters around Koh Jum are not graced with the clarity of, say, Koh Phi Phi (visible from Jum’s shores). The snorkels provided by our guesthouse (Joy Bungalows) were also not the greatest. Wayne and I were, however, “lucky” enough to see an enormous reddish-pink jellyfish, which sent us straight out of the water. It was quite murky and I had thoughts of a million others lurking in the midst!

shame, this is from someone’s flickr and i’m not able to get the link for it. but this is what our jelly looked like.

Of course we got some gorgeous sunsets (followed by a few rounds of volleyball… I was the only one to lose all four games, but I was voted Most Improved, which counts for something I guess).

rescue attempt?

The thing about Koh Jum, however, was that as soon as night started falling, and the air temperature hit a certain level (or so we were told), this incredible buzzing sound would instantly fill the air. It was loud but gradually one got used to it, or perhaps when the temperature cooled even further the cacophony actually subsided as quickly as it had begun. In any case, it was easy to forget about the what-must-be-cicadas seemingly everywhere around you. That is, until the lights in the restaurant drew them from the darkness and they first started circling the lights, then descended a bit to land on whomever attracted them the greatest at any particular moment. I’ll say they liked Wayne the best, but none of us made it through the evening without at some point being latched onto by a giant insect.

looks like he’s really considering chomping on the thing!

the second scariest thing in the restaurant that night…

favorite pose.

After two days on the island it was time for the four of us to go our separate ways. Wayne and I were off to Tonsai, to catch our friend Di-art (whom we’d met on our previous excursion to the beach, and who invited us to that big Thai concert near his house in Hat Yai in March) on one of the last weekends he’d be working there.

leaving koh jum. after a terrifying motorbike taxi ride across the island (there aren’t really any… roads to speak of) we took one of these tiny boats to a small fishing village called laem kruat. from there, a songtao to krabi town, a mini bus to ao nang, and then a very very choppy boat ride to tonsai. all part of getting from point a to point b in thailand!

oooh… arrived at low tide…

We remembered Tonsai being quiet, but it would seem we had really arrived in the middle of low season. I wouldn’t call it deserted, but it was definitely devoid of hordes. The fact that as soon as we arrived the wind began blowing incessantly off the sea in ways that suggested a hurricane might be on the way I’m sure did not pique people’s party spirits, encouraging them instead to seek shelter.

This was actually alright by us– the staff at Chill Out Bar (where Di-art worked and where we made our base) are all fun and friendly people, but we were a bit disappointed that the blues band who were meant to play that evening had to pack up their stuff once the rain started falling. We caught their warm-up session and I think it would have been really great. Oh well, it’s safe to say we still enjoyed the evening considerably.

di-art kissing a buddha statue.

The next morning provided much better weather, and we decided to do the jungle trek from Tonsai to Railay Beach. It was a cool journey, but I have to say I wasn’t that impressed by Railay. The beach was definitely nicer than on Tonsai, but we couldn’t find breakfast for under 200 Baht (alright, only $7 but that’s really a lot in these parts) and the people were noticeably less friendly. We met two different people on Tonsai who’d started their time in the area over on Railay, and said when they came to Tonsai there was just this total feeling of, “This is where I need to be!” We felt the same and so decided to be super adventurous and swim back to Tonsai. (On that note, we do know others who prefer Railay, so don’t let me completely bash it. I could see it being a much more livelier place by night.) The swim ended up being a bit longer than I was anticipating but it’s always rewarding to complete a physical challenge like that. We were then rewarded with a <100 Baht breakfast.

advertisement for the blues show we should have seen!

railay (west) beach

By noontime the weather had already changed again; strong winds and rain were making us wonder if we’d even be able to take a boat back to Ao Nang. Eventually we were and after another songtao/walk around Krabi Town in search of the minibus station/minibus we were really back in Thung Song to stay!

Which meant there was one more order of business to carry out: Fetching the beloved pup! In the course of our absence our friend Henk (“Uncle Henk,” to Ollie) had come into possession of a car, so he very kindly drove us out to Nakhon to pick up Ollie from the kennel. With smiles on their faces the ladies working there told us he was naughty and had fought with the other dogs, and also that he hadn’t really eaten. Little pup was indeed a bit on the thin side! But it was a happy reunion and we’ve since worked on putting some meat on his bones.

The next day we were back to work for the onset of 3 weeks of going-to-work-but-having-no-work, which are fond memories at this point, but now reality has set in and we have to go to work (and actually do work) on six Saturdays, including today! So let me leave you here.