Sunbathe, climb & dive all on the same day? On Railay Beach majestic limestone cliffs punch through soft sand. With 500+ bolted routes, great diving & numerous chill-out bars, nowhere else competes.
Dangling precariously from a narrow cleft in a limestone overhang may not be everyone’s idea of a holiday. But hey, this is Thailand so there’s a picture-perfect beach right there too!
In Krabi Province, adrenaline junkies cut their drug with high-grade tropical paradise and get baked under the dreamy-eyed gaze of sun-worshippers of a less energetic persuasion.
Want to know more? Railay enjoys all the sun, sea and sand you could want alongside unrivalled activity opportunities. This guide gives you the essential facts: read on...
Our arrival could hardly have been more atmospheric. With a relentless thud-thudding chug, our long-tail boat nosed warily through the darkness beneath forbidding cliffs. Distant lightning flickered over a mass of retreating storm clouds as they hurried across a star strewn sky.
Railay, together with Ton Sai and Pranang beaches, is locked away on a limestone headland. The towering cliffs, that attract savvy, in-the-know climbers from around the world, form a natural barrier keeping roads out and isolation in.
This has enabled parts of the Railay peninsula to maintain a rustic charm. This is particularly true on down-to-earth Ton Sai Beach, the sparingly developed haunt of long-term backpackers and rugged climber types.
But there are plush resorts too. West Railay and Pranang Beaches, with their glorious sunset vistas and broad beaches, command the most exclusive prices. However, all the beaches are connected by a network of paths so if you’re looking for midrange accommodation, try East Railay. The shoreline here is scattered with mangroves and is no good for sunbathing or swimming but it’s only a five minute walk from the classic beaches.
However, East Railay’s waterfront bars are the best, particularly at high-tide with a light swell gently rocking the bamboo platforms built out over the waves. On a moonlit night, blend into the Rasta backdrop of the Skunk Bar and mellow into your beer to a reggae soundtrack.
The climbing possibilities range from child-friendly scrambles to sinew-wrenching overhangs. If you don’t have your own gear, there are plenty of setups offering guided climbs from beginner level to more advanced bottom roped climbs or even challenging multi-pitches on truly demanding routes. Visit Railay’s climbing website for more info.
For less demanding exercise, scramble along the rocky path between Ton Sai and West Railay, or clamber up the rocks at the north end of Pranang beach to explore the yawning caverns that cut deep into the cliffs. If you take a torch you can follow the caves right through to a vantage point high above West Railay.
Towards the southern tip of the peninsular a colossal outcrop has a vertical chasm weathered right down to sea-level creating Sa Phra Nang or Holy Princess Pool, an isolated, salt water lagoon an hour’s strenuous clamber from the beach.
Kayaks are available for hire on West Railay beach for an hour, half-day or full-day. At low tide, paddle into remote caves or beneath the eroded edges of the cliffs or find your own private cove hidden around one of the headlands. There are numerous dive centres to choose from too if you prefer to explore underwater.
Bars and restaurants
There is no big party scene and you’re more likely to wrestle an overhang than a hangover. But where there’s a will there’s a way, especially with such an eclectic mix of bars to choose from. All the bars try to get an edge over the competition for at least one night each week with attractions ranging from karaoke and snake shows to Thai boxing spectacles (think WWF-style choreographed scraps).
For food, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Mas Mann curry at The Last Bar on East Railay is a must. Chicken with coconut milk at Ya Ya Resort is also not to be missed. Try a buffet at View Point too: crocodile kebabs selected from the meat counter and cooked to order – awesome. Personally, I never tire of Thai green curry; it’s slightly different wherever you order it in a very Asian same-same-but-different kind of way.
Where to stay
Our spacious and immaculately kept mountain view terraced room at Viewpoint Resort was 3,000 baht (£60)/night including breakfast and the fundamental luxuries: air con, satellite TV and a hot shower.
We were just a short walk from East Railay’s many cafes and chill-out bars. Ask for a room at the top of the hill, where you’ll enjoy stunning views of the cliffs behind the evocatively named Stone Bar, a popular climber’s watering-hole and Railay’s low-key concession to modern nightlife.
For slightly cheaper accommodation on East Railay, I recommend Ya Ya Resort. Secluded, tree-lined pathways lead from their waterfront restaurant to a variety of 'treetop style' rooms suitable for a range of budgets, including a basic option with fans and cold showers.
From simple bungalows costing a few hundred baht per night, to fancy suites charging well over 30,000 ($1000), almost all accommodation is featured on www.krabirailay.com. The site doesn’t offer a ‘live’ search for availability; you place an enquiry via their web form and wait for an email back but they were pretty prompt. However, booking directly with a resort sometimes proves cheaper.
Most visitors transit through Bangkok, which is served by around 90 airlines operating flights to and from well over 100 domestic and international destinations. Internal connections to Krabi airport are available with Thai Airways, Lufthansa, Tiger Airways and Air Asia.
Railay can only be reached by boat, either from Krabi town or nearby Ao Nang beach. For evening arrivals, it’s worth organising your airport transfer in advance as most of the long-tail taxi-boat operators clock-off at dusk.
Our luxury pick-up (1500 Baht (£30) for a family of four) was arranged by www.krabirailay.com. A spacious, air-con van whisked us through Krabi’s early evening traffic to the harbour where we were stuffed into a slightly suspect contraption welded to the side of a motorcycle for a brief spin along the jetty. In a final flourish, our boat was met by a tractor, splashing through the shallow water to whisk us ashore.
For our return we arranged a morning transfer for a fraction of the cost with NJoy Travel (firstname.lastname@example.org; +66 (0)81 609 8191), one of the ‘travel agents’ on East Railay beach. Bargain prices demand a less cosseted experience: you make your own way to the boat, paddling through the waves, and swap air-con for the breeze on your face in the back of an open sided van.
Since my last visit, I've discovered www.krabi.com/book/taxi/, which arranges transfers from Krabi Airport to Railey Beach... please leave a comment for other travellers if you have used this site.
When to go
November to January is high season, with prices to match, and the weather then is drier with more sunshine. You may find summer months oppressively humid but it depends very much on your climatic tastes. Check out average temperature and rainfall here. Being tropical, it can rain (spectacularly heavily) at anytime of the day or year, but the accompanying electric storms are phenomenal and merit an occasional soaking.
At The Last Bar on the northern end of East Railay Beach you will most likely meet an Englishman, fondly know as the magician, who has been there for ten years. In another bar I met an Australian who has spent a year on Railay beach and shows no sign of leaving anytime soon. Nobody actually wishes to leave.