Like most routine-weary travelers, I love a good beach break. Nothing beats laying on sun-warmed sand, listening to the waves crash against the shore, and forgetting, at least for a little while, that anything exists outside of relaxed moments like these.
But I’m also your stereotypical Type A traveler, which means my enjoyment of doing nothing at all has an expiration date. I can switch from relaxed to restless in mere seconds, and then it’s time to find something to do.
Lucky for me and the rest of you sporting an overabundance of energy, in addition to being a prime beach destination, Railay also offers all sorts of ways to stay active. My favorite of these was hiking to Railay Viewpoint and the hidden lagoon. This hike, with its demanding trail bordering on treacherous, was exactly the sort of pick-me-up I needed after a day where the most physical activity I got was moving from the beach to the pool!
Finding the Trail to Railay Viewpoint & Lagoon
While not exactly hidden, the beginning of the trail up to Railay Viewpoint is easy to miss if you don’t know where to look. The trailhead is directly across from a small pavilion located on the path to Phra Nang Beach. If you haven’t walked this path before, just follow the signs from East Railay pointing to Phra Nang. The trailhead is on the left.
Along the path to Phra Nang Beach, you’ll come across lots of cool cave-like karsts and hanging vines. And also monkeys. So beware.
Hiking to Railay Viewpoint
You’ll know you’ve reached the Railay Viewpoint trailhead when you see the signs shouting Danger! and Caution! in all caps next to what looks like a straight up wall of rocks and mud. That, my friends, is the trail. For a second, I questioned our sanity attempting something semi-dangerous in a location far removed from any medical care facilities, and then I pushed those thoughts aside.
Challenge accepted. And I’ll raise you going barefoot.
Having not brought any other shoes than the same flip-flops I’d worn on the beach the day before, I figured going barefoot would likely be easier than trying to keep my shoes from falling off as I ascended a muddy cliff face at a near 90-degree angle. I wasn’t wrong.
Using nothing but natural vines, thick pieces of questionably fraying rope, and our own strength to hoist ourselves up the cliff, I was sweating through my clothes before we were even 20 feet off the ground. (Whether that was from physical effort or fear is up for debate.) If you have even the remotest fear of heights, I recommend not looking down. As we ascended the cliff, I tried to reserve looking down only for the few occasions when my feet couldn’t find their bearings on their own. Even that felt like too often.
Luckily, after the initial vertical climb, the trail levels out into a much more manageable hike, although you do still have to watch your step, especially if it’s slippery. You are now in the jungle and need only to follow the signs to reach your first destination – Railay Viewpoint.
See, now isn’t all that hard work worth it?
Railay Viewpoint is little more than a small opening in the trees above some rocks, but at this height, the view is nothing short of impressive. You can see boats coming and going from East Railay Beach on the right side of the peninsula and the shimmering blue waters of West Railay Beach on the other side. Even the beach at Tonsai can be seen from here. In fact, almost the entire peninsula is visible, but I wouldn’t suggest leaning out too far to take it all in. It’s a pretty steep drop down!
Related Post: 4 Amazing Beaches To Visit In Railay, Thailand
After you’ve taken in the view, it’s decision time. To make your way back down? Or continue on to Railay’s hidden lagoon? Both are going to require some serious effort, but continuing on to the lagoon will likely push you well out of your comfort zone unless you happen to be a seasoned hiker/scrambler with incredibly sure feet.
The trail actually gets quite a bit harder from here as you descend down into the belly of the cliff to reach the lagoon, so if you struggled more than you were comfortable with on the way up, I don’t recommend continuing on. If you found the hike up difficult, but exhilarating, then continue on because it’s about to get even better!
Hiking to Railay Lagoon
The trail to Railay Lagoon splits off from the Railay Viewpoint trail close to the viewpoint. There should be a sign, but when we were there, the sign looked like the sort that often gets knocked down/goes missing. In that case, good luck.
The trail starts off relatively easy, but quickly goes downhill, literally. The climb down to the lagoon is nearly as steep as the climb up, except this time it’s muddier, darker, and there are less ropes and vines to cling to. The “hike” at this point is really more of drop. That is, dropping from one boulder to the next as you try not to slip and tumble further down the cliff than you’d intended. There are bamboo ladders in particularly tricky spots, but for the most part you’re on your own. Just take it slow, make careful movements, and you’ll still be in one piece (albeit an incredibly muddy piece) when you reach the lagoon at the bottom.
Pardon the mini photo shoot of me. These were the only photos of the lagoon that turned out since my arms were shaking so badly by the time we reached the bottom that I couldn’t even properly hold my camera!
Railay Lagoon is a small, circular lagoon whose waters are dictated by the tide. It was low when we visited, but at high tide, going for a swim would be a great way to wash off all the red clay you’re certain to be covered in! Enclosed on all sides by the cliff, the only light in the lagoon streams in from a circular opening overhead, and there is no in or out other than the way you came. At low tide, it’s possible to walk around almost the entire perimeter of the lagoon, but at high tide you’ll have to wade in or go for a swim to check out the lagoon’s cool nooks and crannies.
It’s quiet and uncrowded at Railay Lagoon since most people don’t continue on after the viewpoint, so it’s a peaceful spot to relax and reward yourself for reaching somewhere most visitors to Railay never get to see. After wading in and taking a few pictures, we sat beside the lagoon for awhile with the people we’d met along the trail just basking in the sunshine from overhead, dipping our feet in the water, and trying not to think about the inevitable task ahead – getting back to the trailhead.
The hike back was actually quite a bit easier since the hardest part of the trail was now a climb instead of a drop, and we knew what to expect. I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud of myself as I was when we landed back on the path at the trailhead. I was covered in so much red clay that it looked like I’d been buried alive (my shorts were an unsalvageable casualty) and I couldn’t raise my arms higher than my elbows for several days afterwards, but this experience was still the highlight of our trip to Railay!
Tips for Hiking to Railay Viewpoint & Lagoon
Wear shoes. Climbing shoes or non-bulky trainers would be best. You’ll still slip all over the place if it’s muddy, but at least you won’t have to be watching the ground for sticks and other sharp objects that might hurt your feet.
Take a rain check if it’s raining. Or if it’s rained heavily in the past 24-48 hours. It can take quite some time for the trail to dry out, particularly in the jungle on the way down to the lagoon where there isn’t as much light, so save this hike for a dry day!
Leave enough time to make it back before sunset. This feels self-explanatory, but seriously, do not attempt this in the dark.
Plan for two hours to complete both hikes. That’s how long it took us from start to finish, including our rest stops at the viewpoint and lagoon. As for actual hiking time, it took us around 20 minutes to reach the viewpoint, and another 25 or so to reach the lagoon. It goes a little quicker on the way back.
If you’re the slow and steady type, go early. Since everyone goes up and comes back down the same climbing route, in the afternoon when the trail gets busier, traffic jams are more frequent. If you plan to take it slow, you’ll probably feel more comfortable going in the early morning when there’s less pressure from other hikers to keep moving.
Be in good shape. You don’t need to be a rock climber, but you will need to be in decently good shape. The trail is strenuous and you’ll need upper and lower body strength as well as stability to complete it. That being said, it is relatively easy to turn around and head back if it gets too tough, so give it a go if you’re feeling up for it!
Wear clothes you don’t care about. Because they’re going to get filthy. And chances are, even several runs through the wash won’t get those red clay stains out!
Don’t bring the kids. Even if they’re fit kids. It’s just too dangerous.
Check the tides. If you’re wanting to swim at the lagoon, you’ll want to time your hike with high tide. Approximate tide times for Railay can be found here.
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