It’s been quite some time since I’ve written about any of our Asia explorations. To remedy this oversight, we are going to kick off a new year of travel tales with a guide to one of my favorite destinations in Southeast Asia – Railay Beach in Krabi, Thailand!
We arrived in Railay about this time last year for a short break over the Chinese New Year holiday. I’ll get to why you shouldn’t book over CNY in a minute, but first I want to tell you about this place – this magically wonderful place that has the power to transform even the most uptight of us (I’m talking about me here) into completely relaxed, pad-thai-eating beach bums without a care in the world in under 24 hours. Guaranteed.*
*Not really, but you get what I mean.
Located along the southern coast of Thailand, Railay is actually a peninsula, but feels more like an island thanks to the dense jungle that cuts it off from the rest of Krabi. A mix of dramatic limestone cliffs, postcard-worthy beaches, and thick jungle, Railay truly has it all, scenery and activity-wise. But what really makes this spot unique (and what makes it so good for those of us that have a hard time relaxing) is the vibe you’ll find here. In many ways, Railay feels more like an island in the Caribbean than a tourist hot-spot in Thailand.
Reggae beats drifting out of bars, the unmistakable scent of cannabis in the air, more dreadlocks than a Bob Marley tribute concert – this is definitely a No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem kind of destination. I mean, technically you don’t even have to wear pants.** (Thanks to a
super ungraceful fall slight mishap while hiking, I know this from experience. No one even batted an eyelash when I had to walk through the town wearing only my tank top and swimsuit bottoms!)
That being said, Railay is not a party destination. You’ll find way more couples and families here looking for a beautiful place to relax and unwind than young backpackers looking to party all night. While Railay has certainly increased in popularity over the past decade, it’s still one of Thailand’s best unspoiled beach destinations, of which there seem to be fewer and fewer of these days. What does that mean? If Railay is on your travel wishlist, move it to the top.
**You should probably wear pants.
WHEN TO GO
Not Chinese New Year, or any other major holiday when the whole region is off if you can avoid it!
Railay isn’t particularly large, so it can quickly get overcrowded in peak season, and especially on a public holiday in peak season as we witnessed on our trip. Like many other places in Southeast Asia, peak season in Railay coincides with the dry season and runs from December to April. Tourists flock to the area during these months because the weather is darn near perfect (seriously), the seas are calm, and humidity is low.
Rainy season runs from May to November with the most rainfall occurring in September. During these months, you’ll find cheaper accommodation rates across the peninsula, better deals on activities, and far less people, but you’ll most likely have to contend with choppier seas and almost certainly more than a few rainy days.
So what do I recommend you do? If you’re coming specifically to enjoy Railay’s pristine beaches, better to face crowds than risk spending the holiday indoors due to rain. Visiting at the very beginning or very end of peak season is probably best, but even if you find yourself visiting smack dab in the middle of peak season, just do what we did and avoid the worst of the crowds by spending the morning on the beach and then head into town, to your hotel pool, or find other activities to do around 11am when the beaches get overcrowded.
If your Railay getaway’s success doesn’t hinge on whether the skies stay blue and sunny and the seas calm, then by all means, head to Railay during shoulder season (November to early December and late April to May) and cross your fingers you get lucky!
HOW TO GET TO RAILAY
Due to Railay’s isolated location from the rest of Krabi, the only way to reach the peninsula is by boat. But you’ll get to ride on one of the region’s signature long-tail boats which is an experience in itself!
THE EASIEST WAY
After flying into Krabi International Airport, you’ll need to secure transportation to either Ao Nang or Krabi where you’ll hop on a long-tail boat to Railay. The easiest way to coordinate all of this is to book airport transfer with your hotel. We paid 1,350 Thai baht for a one-way transfer for three people. That came to about $38 USD and included a private van from the airport to the pier at Ao Nang, the long-tail boat journey, and a tractor ride up to our hotel on arrival in Railay. (Cars aren’t allowed on the roads here, but they aren’t really necessary since everything is within walking distance.) The entire process was seamless and our rides were waiting on us each step of the way.
THE CHEAPEST WAY
If you’re on a time crunch, I don’t recommend getting to Railay this way as it can take some time, but if sticking to a budget is your main priority, this will be the cheapest option. After arriving into Krabi airport, you’ll need to take a shuttle bus departing from the airport to either Krabi for 100 baht ($3) or to Ao Nang for 150 baht ($5). The bus ride to Krabi is relatively quick, but it’ll take around 45 minutes to reach Ao Nang.
Once you’ve reached the pier in Krabi or Ao Nang, you’ll need to purchase tickets on a long-tail boat. A ticket to Railay from Ao Nang will cost around 100 baht ($3) and the journey takes 15 minutes. In Krabi, tickets are a little more expensive at 150 baht ($5) since the boat ride is longer. In both places you’ll pay more for a ticket after dark. And the biggest downside – most boats will only leave once full which means you may be sitting around awhile waiting for more passengers to arrive.
If you don’t want to wait for one of the shuttle buses to Ao Nang or Krabi, fixed price taxis are available, but are pretty pricey at 600 baht ($18) to Ao Nang and 350 baht ($11) to Krabi.
WHERE TO STAY
For such a small destination, there are actually quite a few choices on the peninsula for accommodations, but don’t expect prices like you’ll find elsewhere in Thailand. Railay doesn’t come quite as cheap!
THE BUDGET CHOICE
You’ll find there are very few budget choices available in Railay, especially on a backpacker budget. In fact, hardly any if you want to stay on Railay Beach itself. All I could find was Rapala Rock Wood Resort in East Railay. Instead of staying in Railay, many backpackers choose instead to stay in Tonsai, a half-hour walk through the jungle or a 10-minute wade at low tide from Railay. Accommodations are much cheaper there at just $10/night at Chill Out Bar & Bungalow.
THE MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD OPTION
The majority of visitors to Railay will be looking in this category, so if you find something you love, don’t wait to book especially if you’re traveling during peak season! As per usual, we chose our accommodations from the middle-of-the-road options and stayed in a bungalow at Railay Phutawan Resort in East Railay. I cannot sing this resort’s praises loud enough. (But I tried in a review post here!) Railay Phutawan Resort is tucked away in the cliffs about a 10-minute walk from the beach, so if you prefer to be beach-side, Railay Bay Resort & Spa is a good choice!
THE LUXURY DIGS
The obvious pick here if money is no object is to book at the luxurious, 5-star Rayavadee Resort. Honestly, one look at the pictures and you’ll probably wonder if a place that insanely perfect could even be real. I assure you it is. We walked by it and I temporarily suffered from a major case of hotel-envy.
WHERE TO EAT IN RAILAY
Ah, Thai food. Is there anything better? (Okay, maybe Vietnamese, but that’s a debate I don’t feel like getting into right now.)
Breakfast came included in our hotel package, so I, unfortunately, don’t have many recommendations to offer for where to get your morning meal or coffee. Only once did we eat breakfast outside of our hotel and we had Thai pancakes from a small shop on Walking Street. I wasn’t a huge fan, to tell you the truth. If you know of a good place for breakfast in Railay, please leave it in the comments!
Like Thailand’s version of a food truck, my favorite place to order lunch in Railay was from the long-tail boats lined up along Phra Nang Beach. Serving up all sorts of dishes from noodles to grilled corn-on-the-cob, you place your order by wading into the water and pointing to pictures on the menu, and then you carry your meal back to the beach and eat it while watching the waves lap against the shore. Thai food with a scenic view – that’s kind of perfection if you ask me.
For a more traditional lunch, Local Thai Restaurant on Walking Street is an excellent choice. We ate there twice. Definitely the best Pad Thai I had in Railay…and I had a lot.
If you google where to eat in Railay, you’ll find Flame Tree Restaurant on West Railay Beach recommended over and over again. While we weren’t big fans of the food (or the higher prices), it’s still going on the recommendation list because you really should have dinner while watching one of Railay’s sunsets at least once on your holiday. Arrive early to ensure you get a table with a good view.
For traditional Thai, Mangrove Restaurant on Walking Street is hard to beat. The extremely friendly service was a bonus, too!
I know it’s not Thai food, but if you get a hankering for Indian while you’re in Railay, look no further than Kohi Noor. Some of the dishes we ordered were even better than ones we had in India, no joke.
THINGS TO DO IN RAILAY
ENJOY THE BEACHES
There’s a lot more to Railay than beaches, but for the sake of starting with the obvious, let’s check out the four beaches the peninsula has to offer.
West Railay Beach This is Railay’s main beach and its most popular. Bordered by limestone cliffs on both sides and with the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea stretching endlessly into the horizon, West Railay Beach certainly makes quite the first impression.
Phra Nang Beach Almost as popular as West Railay Beach, Phra Nang Beach is located near the tip of the peninsula. The rugged limestone karsts in this area are popular with rock climbers, and Princess Cave gets quite a few curious visitors. (More info below!)
Tonsai Beach Pictured above, Tonsai Beach is technically not in Railay, but it’s so close I’m including it anyway. Reachable from West Railay Beach via long-tail boat (or a quick wade through the water at low tide) or from East Railay if you’re up for a hike through the jungle, Tonsai Beach benefits from the same gorgeous views as West Railay Beach with a fraction of the people.
East Railay Beach You won’t find any actual beach here at high tide, just mangroves, but the path along East Railay Beach still makes for a lovely walk at any time of day.
Related Post: 4 Amazing Beaches To Visit In Railay, Thailand
GO ROCK CLIMBING
Besides beaches, Railay’s single best selling point is its cliffs for rock climbing. Both Railay and Tonsai have climbing routes suitable for a wide range of climbers from beginners to experts. If you’re new to rock climbing, you won’t have to look hard to find schools offering half-day courses including all equipment plus a guide all the way up to multi-day packages for those a little more serious about improving their rock climbing skills. For more experienced climbers comfortable with climbing without a guide, equipment for two can be rented in most rock climbing shops for around 800 baht ($25).
HIKE TO RAILAY VIEW POINT
For the best view in Railay, a hike up to Railay View Point is a must! Assuming you’re in relatively good shape, that is. The hike itself isn’t particularly long in distance, but it is difficult. The initial part of the hike requires scaling an incredibly steep cliff using nothing but your own strength and a thick piece of rope that you can never be entirely certain isn’t going to snap the next time you grasp ahold of it. It’s exhausting, and absolutely terrifying if you look down, but the view from the top makes the effort more than worth it. You’ll be treated to a bird’s eye view of East Railay, West Railay, and Tonsai Beach from up here.
CONTINUE HIKING TO THE LAGOON
If you made it to the view point without too much of a struggle and are up for a little adventure, it’ll be worth your while to continue on the hike to Railay’s hidden lagoon. Enclosed on all sides except for a wide opening at the top, the lagoon is best seen at high tide when the ocean fills the lagoon deep enough for swimming. But even if you show up at low tide, it’s still quite a sight to see with the sunshine streaming in from above. If you thought the hike up to the view point was strenuous, prepare yourself as the hike down into the lagoon can really test your limits and get quite dangerous. Be very careful, especially if it’s rained recently as the trail gets extremely muddy. (FYI, this is why I ended up pants-less in Railay for a few hours.)
GO INSIDE DIAMOND CAVE
Do I think we got a little scammed paying 100 baht per person to enter Diamond Cave? Yes. Was it still worth it? Also yes. Diamond Cave probably isn’t going to blow you away if you’ve been inside pretty much any other cave ever, but it’s the best Railay has to offer. And it’s pretty cool to see the inside of the cliffs that make up so much of the landscape in Railay. It’s fairly dark inside, but the cave is lit well enough that you can see the many stalactites and stalagmites making up the interior of the cave. The only disappointing thing for me was how little of the cave is actually open to visitors. I definitely would have enjoyed being able to explore a little deeper!
VISIT PRINCESS CAVE
Not so much a cave as a shrine really, Princess Cave on Phra Nang Beach is one you won’t be able to miss. (Seriously, good luck ignoring the giant 4-foot phallus and all its colorful, multi-sized friends as you enter the beach. It’s impossible.) While the cave has become somewhat of a tourist attraction in recent years, it actually serves a cultural purpose as a place for local people to leave an offering (in this case, a wooden lingam) to ensure fertility and prosperity in their lives. But if anyone actually comes here to make offerings, I never saw it. It’s mostly amused tourists who visit to take almost obligatory and definitely questionable selfies.
Without a doubt, my favorite thing to do in Railay was kayaking around the peninsula! There are organized kayaking tours available, but it’s much cheaper (and very easy) to rent equipment and head out on your own. We rented our kayak from a shop on West Railay Beach for 300 baht ($8) for two hours. (If you’re not sure how long you’ll be out, you can leave a 300 baht deposit and your hotel key and pay the balance when you get back.)
If you’re leaving from West Railay Beach, I recommend paddling towards the tiny rock islands just off the coastline and checking those out before heading towards Phra Nang Beach. Passing that, you’ll discover a small chain of tiny private beaches in between Phra Nang Beach and East Railay Beach. Needless to say, we parked our kayak and enjoyed our own little tropical paradise until the tide made our beach vanish! From there, you can complete the route by heading towards East Railay Beach and then circling back. Altogether, not counting time on the private beaches, the route will probably take just under two hours to complete. If you’re up for a real adventure, you can rent a kayak for the whole day and head out to some of the larger islands off the coast!
CATCH A SUNSET
As luck would have it, you can actually catch a beautiful sunset from all four beaches in Railay. That’s right, even the one on the east coast. (I’m telling you, this place has some pretty magical qualities!)
The most popular locations for watching sunset are definitely West Railay Beach and Phra Nang Beach (pictured above). People start finding their spot for the show at least an hour before sunset, and the beaches get crowded quite quickly. That being said, they’re not nearly as crowded as they are during the day, so there’s plenty of space for everyone. For photographers, these beaches will be the best choice since there’s a seemingly endless amount of ways you can use the surrounding landscape to make compelling sunset shots.
While you can see the same sunset from Tonsai Beach that you’ll see from West Railay Beach, I really only recommend watching sunset from there if you’re staying in Tonsai. It’s too difficult to make your way back to Railay from Tonsai after dark unless you’re willing to pay for a long-tail boat.
If you’re fine with not being on an actual beach for sunset, I highly recommend catching one from Tew Lay Bar in East Railay. It’s a super chilled out, hippie-style outdoor bar with hammocks, beanbag chairs, and patios that stretch out over the water at high tide. And because of the way the peninsula wraps around, it also has a lovely view of sunset!
WATCH OUT FOR MONKEYS
Some people find these things cute. I’m convinced they are little furry demons hellbent on destruction, but who’s to say who’s correct? Either way, the monkeys in Railay aren’t to be messed with. Avoiding them entirely will likely be impossible since they are everywhere. And they tend to run in packs, so where you see one, there are probably ten more nearby. They seem to particularly like the pathway that leads to Phra Nang Beach, so be on alert as you walk through there, especially if you’re heading back into town after sunset.
The best thing you can do when coming across a pack of them is to keep your eyes straight ahead and keep moving. And definitely, absolutely, under no circumstances should you be carrying anything in your hands, especially food. I learned this the hard way when I was walking back to our hotel from a convenience store which had (very inconveniently) not given me a larger bag to put my purchases in. Halfway down the path, we came across a pack of monkeys and my heart sank. Sure enough, the biggest, scariest monkey of them all saw my bag of mini pretzels and instead of politely asking if we could share, he jumped on me, crawled up my legs, and then clung to me so tightly he had to be kicked off. (Assaulted by a monkey in Thailand. Check!) And he got my pretzels.
Moral of the story: Don’t carry food. And if you must carry food and happen to come across a pack of monkeys, throw said food as far away from your person as possible and get out of there.
HOW LONG TO STAY IN RAILAY
How long to stay somewhere is always such a hard question to answer because it depends on what you’re expecting to get out of a place. Can you visit Railay as a day trip from Krabi or another nearby area? Yes. Can you stay two weeks and still feel like you weren’t there long enough? Also yes. Is there an appropriate in between? I think so.
For those on a strict budget, a day trip may be the best way to see Railay’s unique landscape without having to pay the steep prices to stay overnight. For those making a full holiday of it, five nights should be enough to do everything on this list and still have plenty of time to take it slow and relax. We stayed four and a half days, and while I would have loved to stay longer and do a little exploring of some of the islands surrounding the peninsula, I felt like we pretty well covered everything there was to do in Railay itself.
That being said, I’d still return again in a heartbeat. Every traveler discovers places around the world that they could return to again and again and never grow tired of. This is one of those such places for me. I hope it’ll be the same for you!
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