A Guide to Railay, Thailand
An arc of yellow-hued sand slopes down to a glistening, sky-blue shoreline on one side of the Railay peninsula, while walls of carved karst rocks shoot up and out of the sea and jungles all around. Welcome to one of the most-photographed spots on the Thai coast, where bobbing longboats and lazing locals are regular visitors between the hotel resorts and the swaying groves of coconut palms.
A short ride across the Indian Ocean from Krabi and the beach town of Ao Nang, Railay has become a veritable magnet for travellers and backpackers in search of the fabled sand, sea and sun of the Land of Smiles, not to mention those eager to see the rugged, wild western coastline of the country. These days, it also has its own fair share of spa hotels and backpacker digs, along with the ubiquitous street food vendors and massage joints – perfect for capping off long and lazy days on the beachfront.
That makes this small enclave on the edge of the Indian Ocean one of the top places to visit in Thailand. It's got beach shacks and parties, snorkelling spots and some of the best sands in the region. And it's all just a stone's throw from our very own Krabi Life Homestay, which is why you'll catch our LBW groups in the area most seasons!
Where exactly is Railay?
Although it has the distinct feeling of a Thai island, Railay is actually not an island at all. It's situated on its own rugged and remote peninsula – the Railay (or Rai Leh) Peninsula – on the western-central edge of the country. That juts out into the Andaman Sea from the mainland, just a short distance west of Krabi Town. And while Krabi itself isn't too far away in terms of geography, the rugged walls of jungle-topped karst mountains that erupt between it and the beaches of Railay means this whole region is remote and inaccessible by car…
How to get to Railay?
Railay certainly isn’t the easiest beach to reach on Thailand's west coast, but then good things come to those who are willing to take long boats, right? (We're looking at you Phi Phi, Samui et al!). That said, the boat trip from the docks of Krabi or the nearby sands of Ao Nang will be just 10 or 30 minutes respectively, while tickets can be had for around just 100 THB. It's also worth remembering that virtually all boats will drop you on the piers of East Railay, a small clutch of bargain guesthouses and bars that's peppered with Muay Thai schools and surrounded by mangroves. You'll need to walk the jungle paths for around 15 minutes from there to get to the main beach.
Where to stay in Railay?
Railay has plenty of places to stay, ranging from uber-luxurious resort hotels to bargain beach shacks with a real backpacker vibe. There's a booming market for both ends of the budget spectrum here, thanks to the constant stream of honeymooners and backpackers that head this way. The cheapest digs are almost always going to be closer to the piers and boat docks of East Railay, which is good news for those who hate lugging their stuff far from the boats, but not so great if you enjoy waking up with views over the sand (mangroves prevent there being any really great beaches on this more affordable side of the peninsula).
As you walk through the jungle on the paths that connect East Railay to the more chilled and handsome West Railay, you'll gradually see the accommodation choices getting swisher and more boutique. There are yoga retreats and quirky bed and breakfasts as you get closer to the sound of the lapping waves, all before the large-scale resorts with villas spilling out into groves of coconut palms and touting infinity pools overlooking the karst cliffs and the sea. A spot of flashpacking, anyone?
What to do in Railay?
Railay is primarily known across Thailand for two things: its beach and its rock climbing. The first is easy to find, with that long stretch of golden-colored sand ranging across the length of West Railay, offering oodles of sunbathing spots, the lapping Andaman Sea, and wonderful views over the needle-like karst spires that poke out from the ocean here and there. An alternative option is the cliff-backed cove of Phra Nang. Not as handsome as West Railay, this small stretch of beach on the south side of the peninsula is home to some deep and dank caves that are perfect for the more adventurous type.
When it comes to rock climbing – and thousands of travelers flock here each year to do just that – it might be better to look to the rustic enclave of Ton Sai, which can be accessed via some boulder-speckled paths on the north side of Railay's main beach. There are some other great climbing spots peppering Railay proper, not to mention countless rental shops where you can bag yourself the necessary harnesses, ropes, chalk and even tuition.
Another great way to explore this rugged stretch of coastline is to take to the sea. Kayaking is right up there with the top things to do, and day-long rentals (typically costing around 1,000 THB) can reveal wonders like the chiselled Thaiwand Wall peak, Ko Poda island (only for strong and accomplished kayakers), and the hidden climber mecca of Ton Sai.
Where to eat and drink in Railay?
Like all popular parts of Thailand, Railay has its fair share of taste-bud-tingling places to eat. West Railay tends to be a little pricier than other parts of the peninsula, but there are some top shoestring digs and roadside cooks to deliver those bubbling masaman curries in East Railay and Ton Sai. There are also some great little hipster eateries, coming in the form of ramshackle Yam-Yam (think top southern Thai coconut curries and speedy WiFi) and Mom’s Kitchen (where the veg is crispy and the spicy treats are cooked up by local hands). Other top draws include the fish fries and BBQ sessions in the Viewpoint Resort, and the appropriately named Local Thai Restaurant in Railay West.
For nightlife, there's no substitute for the sleepless fire pit shows and sloshing buckets of Last Bar, which is best hit after a crawl through the other backpacker dives in East Railay.
Of course, there are oodles more recommendations and pieces of info to add to this short guide to Railay, Thailand? If you're a veteran of the peninsula and have something to add, we'd sure love to hear about it in the comments below. Or, if you think it's time you headed out to explore this seaside gem on the Andaman coast, why not take a look at our tours in the region?