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Railay Beach: Unwinding in a remote paradise

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Krabi

Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 25/07/2024, 04:15

Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

When it comes to choosing a holiday destination I don’t have to think twice. I’m such a beach bum and love the ocean, lazing out on white sand and allow my skin to get a little brown. Thailand has so many islands and places, where you can do just that. In October Chris and I went to Koh Phangan. That was my 5th visit there, so this time we decided to check out the other side of the peninsula and visit Railay Beach (or Rai Leh) and Krabi Town.

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About Railay Beach

Isolated from the mainland by limestone cliffs and surrounded by lush jungle, Railay Beach is one of the most stunning and laid back beaches in the whole of Thailand. There is no other way to get here rather than by one of the long tail boats and, due to that, the beach has a very ‘island-ish’ feeling.

There are two main parts of the area:

  • Railay West is the place to go if you want to swim and lay on the sand. It is lined up with restaurants and shops, and it is also the entrance to the Walking Street, where you will find cheap eats and a few shops.
  • Railay East doesn’t have a proper beach, but it makes a nice walk along the shore. It also offers plenty of bars and restaurants, plus a wide variety of accommodation.

Railay is also surrounded by a couple of other beaches, which can be reached by a boat, or on foot. They make a nice break from the usual sites and are as stunning as the main beach at Railay West.

Railay Beach is famous for being surrounded by tall limestone cliffs
Railay Beach is famous for being surrounded by tall limestone cliffs

Visiting Railay Beach

We actually didn’t do our research properly and thought that we could reach Railay by road. We were very surprised when our taxi driver told us to get off and catch a long tail boat. It was a late afternoon and the tide at Ao Nang Beach, where the boats depart, was low. We had to go through meters and meters of wet mud and water to get to our boat. Fortunately, I had my backpack on and Chris only carried a small weekender bag. Others weren’t so lucky and had to carry their suitcases or dragged them over the mud. I didn’t envy them one bit.

Railay is not big and it is easy to get to any hotel by foot once you arrive. It took us about 5 -10 minutes to get to our resort at Railay East.

Colourful long-tail boats are everywhere here
Colourful long-tail boats are everywhere here

Another thing which surprised us was how quiet the whole area was. There were no parties, almost no backpackers behaving loudly. Both Railay West and Railay East had a very romantic and laid back ambience. Normally this is not something we prefer, but we decided to have a quiet, relaxing holiday and after a day, or two, were perfectly happy with going to bed early and getting up at 8 am.

The only thing I didn’t like about Railay Beach was the fact that it was so crowded, almost too crowded in some places. We didn’t find a piece of land that wouldn’t have other people on it. That’s what happens during the high season in Thailand.

Railay is one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen so far
Railay is one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen so far

What to do at Railay Beach?

Despite the fact that Railay is small there are still quite a few things to see and do. You can combine your lazy days with a couple of activities, which are on offer from any of the small tourist offices in Railay:

  • Rock climbing: Railay Beach is famous for its cliffs and rocks, and rock climbing on Railay is the thing to do here. There are plenty of companies, which offer courses for beginners and excursions for those, who are more experienced.
  • Diving  and snorkelling: Despite the hordes of tourists, the waters around the beach are clear and diving, or snorkelling, can be very enjoyable.
  • Kayaking: The waters around Railay are calm and safe for swimming and kayaking. You can rent a kayak from the vendors, or resorts, on the beach. The cost is around 100 Baht per hour.
  • Watching the sunset: One of not so many free activities you can do in Railay. The sunsets on Railay West are beautiful. Take a matt, a bottle of wine and take your partner for a romantic evening on the beach.
Sunsets on Railay are something you cannot miss
Sunsets on Railay are something you cannot miss

Places to see around Railay Beach?

There are only a handful of places to see around Railay Beach, but they make your stay a little bit more interesting. Chris and I hoped to discover sites that wouldn’t be crowded with people, but unfortunately we didn’t succeed. However, all of these places were beautiful and interesting, even with other tourists getting into our photo shoots.

Tonsai Beach

A trip to Tonsai by boat will cost around 50 Baht with a minimum of 4 passengers. You can also reach it on foot through some rocks and cliffs if the tide is low (early morning, late afternoon), or through a path in the jungle. Just follow the signs from Railay East, but be careful as the trek goes through some hills and uneven grounds. On our way there we chose to walk through the rocks and on the way back we went through the jungle. I was moaning during both of the walks. I am not a fan of climbing or any other physical activity, except the treadmill. I did however enjoy Tonsai Beach.

Tonsai is a bit more quiet than Railay and is as beautiful as its more popular sister. Come here in the early morning to enjoy the peace and quiet. The beach gets a little bit more busy later on in the day.

Tonsai is more relaxed and less crowded than Railay West
Tonsai is more relaxed and less crowded than Railay West

Phra Nang Beach

It is easy to get to Phra Nang from Railay East. It is a straight and easy route, shaded by some interesting rock formations.

Phra Nang Beach is also home to the famous ‘penis cave’, where local fishermen, other locals and visitors bring carvings of phalluses as a gift to the princess of the cave, who is supposed to grant them fertility and prosperity.

This little shrine is one of the main attractions of the area
This little shrine is one of the main attractions of the area
Locals and visitors bring statues of penises to ask for good fortune and fertility
Locals and visitors bring statues of penises to ask for good fortune and fertility

Railay View Point and Lagoon

The entrance to the view point and the lagoon is located on the way to Phra Nang Beach. Mid way you will see a couple of benches and a small sign pointing left to the view point. The route leading to it is not really a trek, but more of a climb. There are ropes that you can hold onto, but you do need to have a little bit of stamina and be more or less fit to get to the top. It is not easy and you shouldn’t do it in your flip flops, nor in your sandals. Good trainers should suffice.

The view point is really small and can’t accommodate many people. Luckily, the trek discourages many from climbing up and you can enjoy the views with less people around than what you usually see on Railay.

The lagoon is located nearby, but you need to climb down from the view point and it is a very tough route. We ended up not doing it. I was too exhausted with the climb up and nervous about going down that I preferred to have the whole experience behind me as quickly as possible.

Chris enjoyed the climb more than I did
Chris enjoyed the climb more than I did
The view point is tiny and shaded by trees and bushes
The view point is tiny and shaded by trees and bushes

The Hong Islands

The four islands of Koh Hong can be reached within 1 hour by tail boat from Railay Beach. They are part of the The National Marine Park and one of the most beautiful sites in the area.

We bought a whole day tour to visit the islands (1000 Baht per person, including lunch). We were taken on a small boat with about 10 other people to a couple of stunning beaches with turquoise waters, where we could snorkel and watch the colourful fish. At the end of the day we also made a stop in the middle of the sea and went for snorkelling there. It was my first time snorkelling and I was amazed by the underwater world.

You can buy this trip from any of the local tourist offices, or if you travel with a group you can hire one of the boatsmen from Railay Beach to take you around.

We visited many small coves and beaches during the trip to Hong Islands
We visited many small coves and beaches during the trip to Hong Islands
We made a stop at this beautiful beach for lunch
We made a stop at this beautiful beach for lunch

4 Islands Tour

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to do this tour, but it is one of the most popular trips you can do from Railay Beach. For around 1,700 Baht you can visit the famous islands in the area, such as Chicken Island and Tup Island.

Where to eat and drink?

I must say, Railay Beach was the worst place in terms of food I have ever visited in Thailand. Nothing tasted good. We went to different places every day and every time it was the same story. The Thai food was mediocre at best, the western food was not fresh and tasted stale. Chris had a bad food poisoning from the pizza he had at the Last Bar and I caught some sort of bug, too. Either from the breakfast in our hotel, or some other place we had food at. I cannot recommend any place at Railay Beach to eat, I’m afraid.

Lots of places are open till late on Railay West and Railay East. The drinks are more expensive than elsewhere, very often double the price. There are a couple of reggae bars that sell alcohol and something extra, and the resorts on the beach serve expensive cocktails.

The Last Bar is very popular with the backpacker crowd and is the only place around that plays loud music and where you can dance.

There's food everywhere on Railay and Phra Nang, but the quality is not great
There’s food everywhere on Railay and Phra Nang, but the quality is not great

Where to party on Railay Beach?

Railay is not a party place and it is more suitable for families and couples, but venture out to Tonsai Beach and you will find plenty of bars and clubs, selling mushroom shakes and cheap drinks. The boats go to Tonsai through out the night from Railay West, but you need to have at least 4 people to pay a reasonable price.

The bars are hidden behind the beach and you need to follow a dirt path to find them. They are located in the forest, which is a perfect hiding place for those wanting to party hard.

Where to stay in Railay?

Thanks to our disorganization we stayed in two hotels, which were next to each other, right on Railay East. Diamond Cave Resort, where we had a small bungalow with a fan and a bathroom. It was clean and spacious, maybe a little outdated, but it was comfortable enough for both of us. Our second home for the holidays was the Railay Viewpoint Resort. We had a very nice, clean and modern room with air-con and en-suite bathroom. The resort has its own pool and the breakfast is included.

If the backpacker scene is your thing and you would like to stay somewhere cheaper, book your accommodation on Tonsai Beach. Just behind it, where all the bars are, you will find a wide variety of cheap bungalows.

How to get to Railay Beach?

Fly to Krabi and take a bus for 150 Baht to Ao Nang Beach. From there you can take a boat for 100 Baht per person. The boat can take you to either Railay or Tonsai, just ask the boatman. You don’t need a taxi on Railay as everything is located within a walking distance from the beach.

Tip: Don’t take a taxi for 600 Baht from the airport unless you are travelling with a group. It is comfortable, but really not affordable.

Catch one of the long-tail boats from Krabi Town to Railay Beach
Catch one of the long-tail boats from Krabi Town to Railay Beach

Facilities

  • Pharmacies and doctors: The are a couple of pharmacies around and at least one clinic, which is located on Railay East, next to the Friendship Restaurant. I also saw a sign for a doctor, who is available 24/7, but don’t know how reliable their services are. For anything more serious you need to go to Phuket, or Krabi.
  • ATM: One of the ATMs is available at the Mountain View Resort and there is another one next to a small shop at Railay West.
  • Shops: There are plenty of small shops around, selling mostly cheap clothing, accessories and post cards. Railay must also be the only place in Thailand that doesn’t have 7-11. Instead there are mini marts scattered all over the place, which charge double the price for everything.

Other useful tips and information

At the end of our trip we figured that you can easily stay in Krabi and travel to Railay every day to enjoy the beach. The trip is only 20 minutes one way and costs 100 Baht. There are plenty of good and affordable places to stay in Krabi Town and the food quality is way better. At the end of our trip, just before we left we stayed in Baan Nisarine. It was a very clean guesthouse, equipped with air con and it was close to all of the bars and restaurants.

Despite the stomach bugs we really did have a great time on Railay Beach. It was a wonderful, relaxing holiday.

Relaxed and happy on Railay Beach
Relaxed and happy on Railay Beach