Railay: jewel of Thailand

by juliannabarnaby

Thailand is famous for its beautiful beaches and wonderful food – and nowhere does them better than the stunningly beautiful Railay, in Krabi province. It is, no contest, the best place I've ever been

“Railay? Where’s that then?” That’s the most common response to my assertion that Railay is hands down my favourite out of all the places I’ve travelled so far. This little-known isthmus on the Andaman coast of Thailand has long been the secret of in-the-know climbers and those looking for something slightly off the beaten track.

With its picturesque limestone cliffs rising straight out of the sea, Railay is home to some of the most stunning photo opportunities in South East Asia. But it’s more than that. Adventure-lovers are right at home here – there’s rock climbing galore, diving, snorkelling, kayaking and pretty much every other water activity you can think of. Those who simply want to flop on the beach are amply provided for at Railay West, where the stretch of unbroken white sand will elicit a gasp from even the most demanding beach-goer.

Choosing a base

Railay is split into three main areas. Hat Ton Sai, a great favourite with rock climbers, is where most of the budget accommodation is. Though it has a pretty acceptable beach and a few bars, it’s not as lively as the other areas by night. This is where my boat dropped me off, but after having a look around I decided that I wanted to go to Railay East and West, the other two areas, to check out what the accommodation and beaches were like there.

This was where I encountered my only hiccup in Railay: once you’re on Hat Ton Sai, the only way to get to the other areas is either to wait for the next boat to fill up (this can take five minutes or five hours depending on the day) or face a steep, intense scramble over rocks to Railay West on the other side. Challenging as this is at the best of times, it's significantly more so when you're encumbered by some quite heavy bags, as I was. But with the help of a few people along the way, I made it. Tip: if you’re planning to go to Railay East or West, it’s better if you get the boat to drop you off there in the first place.

Stepping onto the beach, I was immediately sure I’d made the right decision; to say that the sight of the bay merited the climb through the dense foliage and rocks would be a huge understatement. Anyone’s first instinct would be to get their bikini on and swim out into the ocean immediately - but as I hadn’t sorted out somewhere to stay, I decided to do that first, walking along the short path to Railay East, home to most of the mid-range accommodation (Railay West is more in the high-end price range). After a few enquiries, I checked into Viewpoint Resort; it’s one of the cheaper options but bungalows come with satellite TV and hot showers.

Action days

I spent most of the days climbing the various routes in the different areas. If you’re not an experienced climber, there are millions of climbing shops offering anything from one-day introductory climbs to week-long courses. Walk along Hat Ton Sai or Railay East and you’ll come across quite a few, mostly offering the same kind of thing. As competition is so high, it pays to haggle a bit to get a good price.

One day a group of us decided to rent a kayak and make our way to some of the many beaches that are inaccessible by foot. As we paddled out, the water looked as calm and clear as anyone could want. We made our way along the coast, stopping off at a few points to do a bit of snorkelling and rest on the beach under the warm rays. Suddenly, we noticed that all the fishermen were sheltering in the same cove we were currently resting in, and a glance at the ocean told us why: there was a storm coming. After waiting out the worst of it, we hopped back in the kayaks and tested our strength against the choppy waters, an unforgettable if slightly nerve-wracking experience.

Laidback nights

Evenings in Railay are a lot more laidback – the most action to be found comes in the form of one-off Thai boxing demonstrations in the Reggae Bar. Sundowners at tiny cocktail bar Joy’s, overlooking the bay on Railay East, can’t be beaten; Joy’s knowledge of cocktails is pretty much unrivalled and there are always a few people milling around to chat to. Later on, the action moves to the Reggae Bar, where live music, lounge chairs and pool tables lure people until the early hours.

If you’re looking for some traditional Thai food in a simple setting, Mama’s Restaurant, at the end of the Railay East strip, comes highly recommended. Even the simplest Thai dishes, such as tom yum goong and Thai green curry, take on a new lease of life in Mama’s hands, especially when slurped down with one of the fruit shakes (ask them to go easy on the sugar, unless you’re a seriously big fan of the sweet stuff).

And that’s it. One thing is definite, if you want your own little slice of Thai paradise, Railay is the place to go.