Day Eight: Tonsai

When we first arrived on the beach at Tonsai, we were unsure of what to make of it, but we damn near crawled back in the long tail. Tonsai is beautiful: humbling cliffs, seemingly impossible rock formations, crystal water, and gorgeous views. And all of it completely covered in trash.

We were speechless.

We had begun to grow used to the wear on the environment. Every excursion we’ve come back with our pockets filled with rappers. We’d even grown accustom to our guides in Khao Sok cutting down bamboo along the trail to make whistles, coffee pots, or even just because. But this was something different. Beer bottles, plastic bags, tires, and the smell of burning plastic permeate everything. It’s disgusting. Even along the beach with the on-shore wind, where it’s not sandy, it’s dead coral.

From what we’ve pieced together, no one lived in Tonsai before climbers came. Not like it was undiscovered, just that there was no reason to come out this way. But with the climbers came money, and with that the services it pays for: restaurants, bars, reliable internet. Very little infrastructure; trash still gets burned. The tourists ignore it or see it as a local problem (who wants to spend their vacation picking up trash?), and I’m sure locals have diverse perspectives on it.

This is not utopia's trash, but we are working to clean it!
This is not utopia's trash, but we are working to clean it!

Complicating all of this, they’ve just broke ground on a new resort, starting with a huge concrete wall wrapping around the perimeter. So the story goes, over the last few months banks have been repossessing all of the beach front property in Tonsai. Now it’s all in the hands of the Starwood Alliance (full disclosure, I’m proud to have several family members that are Sheraton employees). The climbers hate it (civilizations filling in all the cracks, man), while the locals seem ambivalent (and who can blame them for wanting higher cash flow?).

Ironically (if predictably), a major resort could be the best solution to the problem we climbers created. We’re the ones leaving Chang tallboys all over the jungle, while a resort can’t afford to let trash turn away customers. We’ll move on, push out further and develop new routes, hunting for that place where we can really experience nature, so long as it’s got wifi and beer.

Maybe I’ll come back in a few years, see how the resort has changed things. The rock sure isn’t going anywhere. But if I’m being honest, and as shocking as it is on arrival, writing this is probably the most I’m going to do about it. You can get used to overlooking the trash and holding your breath walking through the smoke. And the rock really is incredible.