When we decided to travel around Thailand earlier this year, choosing a beach destination was a struggle. There’s so many to choose from! Well, I guess that’s a good problem to have.
We narrowed our options down to three places, Railay Beach, Koh Lanta and Koh Lipe. In the end, because of their close proximity to each other, we decided to spend a few days at Railay Beach before heading to Koh Lanta. This was a great decision because both places were exactly what we were after. They are totally different from each other but amazing in their own ways.
When we hopped on the long tail boat heading to Railay Beach, we caught our first glimpse of the tall limestone cliffs in the distance. We knew straight away that we’d made the right decision. The ride to Railay Beach was breathtaking and once we arrived it got even better! The pristine beaches, the soaring cliffs, that laid-back island vibe. How could we not love this place?
Is Railay Beach an island?
A lot of people think Railay Beach is an island but in fact, it is part of mainland Thailand. However, its isolated location (it’s only reachable by longtail boat) sure makes it feel like an island.
The atmosphere in Railay is really laid-back. You have Bob Marley tunes playing on every corner and the smell of Cannabis fills the air. On our first day there we felt like we’d been magically transported to Jamaica!
Where is Railay Beach?
Railay Beach is on the southern coast of Thailand in the Krabi province. This peninsula is cut off from the mainland by dramatic limestone cliffs and lush jungle. The closest airport is Krabi Airport and Railay Beach is situated between Krabi Town and Ao Nang.
How to get to Railay Beach from Krabi Airport?
Getting to Railay Beach from the airport is actually very easy. Once you collect your luggage, look for the airport shuttle buses located outside the terminal. As you exit you’ll see the signs for them, or more than likely someone from the shuttle company will come and ask where you are going and point you in the right direction.
To get to Railay Beach you have to catch a long tail boat. There are three places where you can do that. Krabi Town (a 40-minute ride costing 100 Baht), Ao Nammao (a 15 minutes ride that costs 150 Baht) or Ao Nang (a 15-minute ride for 150 Baht).
Although the shuttle to Krabi is cheaper, the long tail boat ride is much longer and the price of the boat is higher. We would not recommend this option unless you are staying the night in Krabi Town beforehand.
The long tail boat from Ao Nang will take you directly to Railey West. The long tail boat from Ao Nammao will take you to Railey East.
The one thing you need to know about going from Ao Nang to Railay West is that there are no piers at either end of the trip. This means that you will get your feet wet getting on and off the boat. If you have a lot of heavy luggage you’ll have to be careful not to trip over with it when walking to and from the boat.
If you leave from Ao Nammao you’ll have a pier at both ends so it’s easier for anyone with a lot of luggage or who don’t fancy getting their feet wet. Both of those are floating pontoon piers which can be a little awkward to walk on with luggage; it’s not a big deal though.
Note that if you are staying on Railay West and arriving from Ao Nammao pier you’ll have to walk across to the other side to get to your accommodation. But it’s an easy, 5 to 10 minutes walk, so we’d still suggest leaving from Ao Nammao regardless of which side of Railay you are staying on. That’s the option we chose.
The cost of the long tail boat from both Ao Nammao and Ao Nang is currently 100 Baht.
If you don’t want to catch a shuttle bus to the longtail boat, you can also catch a taxi to those places, although this is a more expensive option. It’s around 600 Baht to Ao Nammao pier and 650 Baht to Ao Nang. Unless there are a few of you travelling together, it’s not really worth it. The shuttles are quite comfortable.
What to do in Railay Beach?
Be a beach bum!
The beaches at Railay are some of the most stunning beaches in the world and one of the main reasons to head there is to laze around on the white sand and swim in the crystal clear water.
West Railay Beach and Phra Nang Beach are just so beautiful! They do get busy though, so be sure to get there early in the morning before the day trippers arrive to enjoy them while it’s quiet.
Phra Nang Beach is just a few minutes walk from West Railay Beach. You need to walk south along Railey East and follow the track all the way to the beach.
On the south side of Phra Nang Beach, is Phra Nang Cave, a weird cave filled with penis carvings! The carvings are placed there by local fishermen and boatmen as offerings to a princess goddess named Phra Nang. She then ensures that they have safe travels at sea.
Ton Sai Beach
Another beach we loved was Ton Sai Beach. It was a fair bit quieter than the other two and it still offered an idyllic setting surrounded by limestone cliffs. Ton Sai is accessible through a jungle path in the north of Railay West but at low tide, you can walk around and over the rocky cliff that separates the two.
On our way to Ton Sai Beach, we walked the inland path through the jungle but it’s a fair hike (around 45 minutes up and over a hill) and in the heat, it was not much fun. It’s also barely signposted so we wasted ten minutes taking the wrong path before we realised and doubled back.
If you don’t fancy any exercise, you can catch a quick long tail boat ride to Ton Sai for around 50 baht.
Railay East is filled with mangroves and isn’t much of a beach. It is mainly used by the boatmen as a pickup and drop-off point.
Go rock climbing
If you are into rock climbing, Railay Beach is the place for you. It offers more than 600 climbing routes suitable for a wide range of climbers from beginners to experts. On the main walking street, you’ll find a few rock climbing schools that offer half-day courses (including equipment and guides) or multi-day packages for very keen climbers.
Rent a Kayak
One way to explore the area around Railay is to rent a kayak for a few hours. It’s quite easy to do. Just walk to West Railay Beach where there are many vendors and resorts who rent them. Kayaks cost 100 Baht per hour for a one-person kayak or 200 Baht per hour for two people. If you go for two hours it’s 200 and 300 Baht respectively. You can also hire them for the whole day. Most of the vendors will also provide you with a dry bag for your valuables.
There are many nice places to paddle just off the coast, such as deserted beaches, caves and small limestone islands.
Hike to the viewpoint
For the best view of East Railay, you can hike up to the viewpoint. Due to the steepness of the terrain, it’s not an easy hike. It is extremely slippery after it has rained and is best avoided during the rainy season.
The first part of the hike is pretty much a vertical climb and you have to pull yourself up with ropes. It’s not for the faint-hearted and from what we’ve heard it’s pretty scary. Once at the viewpoint, you can climb down another path to get to a beautiful lagoon. That’s another tough hike.
We were quite keen to go to the lagoon but there had been a lot of rain during our stay so we didn’t attempt it. Well actually, we stood at the base of the track watching a couple take about 15 minutes to climb down just ten metres. They were wearing flip-flops and were covered from head to toe in bright red mud. We asked them whether it was worth the effort and they said it wasn’t because the lagoon was closed anyway! So that sealed it for us. We like a challenge but it didn’t sound like there would be much reward!
If you’re going to attempt the hike, ask others coming down whether the lagoon is open because the authorities don’t put any signs up to indicate it. If no-one is coming, down check for recent reviews on TripAdvisor. Finally, wear footwear with some decent grip and clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty.
Check out Diamond cave
I was a bit put off by the cost of visiting this cave. The sign said it was 200 Baht per adult and 100 per child but the guard at the entrance said the price had changed and it is now just 100 Baht per adult and free for children! Anyway, we bought a ticket and it was a lovely looking cave, although not the nicest one we’ve seen. It was certainly the best cave in Railay and it was nice to escape the heat and humidity outside for a few minutes.
The cave is illuminated and you walk in a loop along an elevated wooden path. It only takes a few minutes to do the loop. If you look up to the ceiling you might be able to spot some bats. You’ll certainly hear them.
Watch the sunset
Railay sure loves to put on a really good show for sunset. West Railay Beach is a great place to watch the sunset and on our first night, it was just magical. Check out the picture below, mind-blowing!
Another good place to watch the sunset is on the East side, at a bar called Tew Lay Bar. They make great (although rather pricey) cocktails to go with the view.
Day trips from Railay Beach
Take the Four Islands Tour
If you are looking for a trip away from Railay, you can take the 4-islands boat tour. This is a popular half day trip. Your boat will take you to Chicken Island, Poda Island, Tup Island and Koh Mawr.
If you are travelling solo or as a couple, the cheapest option is a group tour. They cost around $22 per person. If you’re willing to spend a bit more or have a larger group, you can book a private boat directly with the boatmen on the beach for around 1700 Baht.
Where to eat in Railay Beach?
There are plenty of restaurants on both sides of Railay as well as on the main walking street. You’ll find the usual Thai fare, together with Italian, Indian and western dishes. But to be honest the food on Railay was nothing to rave about. We didn’t eat at any restaurants where we thought the food was outstanding, even the ones ranked highly on TripAdvisor. The average meal on Railay Beach costs nearly twice as much as anywhere else in Thailand. That’s possibly because a lot of ingredients must be brought in by boat and also because you don’t have anywhere else to go!
Where to drink in Railay Beach?
As with the food, drinks on Railay cost twice as much as other places in Thailand. Large beers cost from 150 Baht to 180 Baht. If you enjoy a few drinks, you might want to consider bringing your own supply from the mainland. You can stock up at the minimarts before heading across but it’s still not that cheap there. Many places on the walking street offer happy hour cocktails for around 120-150 Baht, so you may want to make the most of that opportunity!
We found a couple of places where we enjoyed drinking.
Tew Lay Bar
As mentioned previously, this bar is the best place to go to watch the sunset with a cocktail. Sadly they don’t have a happy hour and their cocktails aren’t cheap (around 200 Baht each), but the view and the atmosphere make it worthwhile anyway. The bar has hammocks to lie in, beanbag chairs, and patios that hang out over the water. It’s a very chill atmosphere and the sunsets are stunning.
The Boat Bar
This bar is located on the walking street. It’s called the boat bar because it’s set inside a boat, which is quite cool. The owner is lovely and you can even buy beers to take away. That way you can head to the beach and watch the sunset, without spending top dollar at one of the bars on Railay West.
Railay Beach accommodation
Now to decide where to stay in Railay Beach. Depending on your budget this might be an easy one. Railay Beach is divided into two different areas, Railay West where you’ll find the more upmarket hotels and Railay East where the accommodation is more affordable.
This is probably the best budget place in Railay Beach and it’s located at Railay East. You’ll get no thrills but they have comfortable bungalows with mosquitos nets and fans. Check out their latest prices here.
This resort is very well located right on West Railay Beach. It is set in a tropical landscape and offers spacious cottages, a beachfront pool and a beachfront restaurant. Check out their latest prices here.
If money is no concern, you absolutely must pick this beautiful and luxurious, 5-star resort. The resort is located on Phra Nang beach and is surrounded on all sides by tropical gardens and views to die for. I’ve already told Simon that whenever we return to Railay, we’ll staying there instead! I guess we’d better start saving! Check out their latest prices here.
If none of those hotels take your fancy, use the search box below to find your ideal accommodation at Railay Beach:
How many days should you stay at Railay Beach?
Well, this really depends on the type of holiday you’re after. If you’re on a budget, you might not want to hang around Railay for too long because it’s certainly not the cheapest beach destination in Thailand. But if money is not an issue then stay for as long as you like! We had three nights at Railay and although it was enough to see most of the sights, I would have loved to have stayed a couple of extra days just to relax and enjoy the beauty of the place.
Where to go after Railay Beach?
If you haven’t had enough beach time yet, you can check out some of the nearby islands.
Koh Phi Phi
If you’re looking for something a bit more happening you can head to Koh Phi Phi Island. You can travel from Railay Beach to Koh Phi Phi on the Ao Nang Princess ferry. Departing from Railay West Beach you first hop on a long tail boat with your luggage which takes you out to meet the ferry that is coming across from Ao Nang. The ferry picks people up at 9.45 am. It costs 450 Baht per person and the journey takes about one hour and forty-five minutes, depending on the weather.
If you want somewhere a bit quieter, you can head to Koh Lanta instead. Koh Lanta is larger than Koh Phi Phi and is still on the quieter side compared to the other islands in Thailand. That’s the option we chose. Transport arrangements for Koh Lanta are similar to those for Koh Phi Phi. You hop on a long tail boat and meet up with the Ao Nang Princess ferry headed to Koh Lanta. The ferry picked us up at 10.45 am and it cost us 550 Baht each. The trip took about 2 hours. Bear in mind that this option is only available in the high season (November till April).
You can also choose to head to popular Phuket. The ferry costs 700 Baht each and the ride takes about two and a quarter hours, depending on the weather. The ferry leaves Railay at 3.15 pm.
Tips for your visit to Railay Beach
- Mosquitoes are a bit of an issue on Railay Beach, especially because of the mangroves on Railay East. Make sure you bring insect repellent.
- Be careful with the monkeys. There are many of them on Railay Beach and although they’re cute, they are also pretty naughty. They like to steal things from people, especially food. So keep a close eye on your belongings.
- Make sure you bring enough cash with you because most places on Railay Beach only accept cash. There are a couple of ATMs there but if you need to exchange currency, do it on the mainland where you’ll get a much better conversion rate.
- Bring a waterproof jacket, especially if travelling between May and October. We were there in November and it rained every afternoon for a couple of hours. Sometimes it started so quickly and was so heavy that we had to run to the nearest undercover area (strangely enough that was usually a bar!).
- The wifi can be quite spotty on Railay Beach so if you need a good internet connection, you might want to consider getting a Thai sim card. We got a thirty day deal with AIS for our month in Thailand and it worked well everywhere, including Railay Beach.