Railay Bay: A Treasure Well-Preserved

Railay bay is one of the most famous scenic places in Krabi provence of Thailand. The main attraction is nature, which is full of karstic rocks sticking out of the sea, and picturesque limestone cliffs. It’s not an island, but the only way to get there is from Aonang or Krabi town by longtail boat.

I chose Railay because I knew how much mom wanted to see Halong in Vietnam, which was in the midst of its rainy season when we were to visit. I surely didn’t expect to fall in love with Railay myself, and do so completely. But Railay possesses some kind of hidden magic, whether it’s in the scenery or in the folks that come to visit.

I planned our trip in great detail, and surprisingly, it all worked just as planned. We got picked up at the airport, brought to the pier on Aonang beach, and a longtail boat carried us to Railay. It was the first stop of our holiday, and I chose to be one it instead of Koh Lanta because of the logistics. I was right to do so: forty minutes isn’t quite as bad after an international flight (with a connection) as two and a half hours. On the other hand, now I would’ve picked Koh Lanta. You see, it’s a place for “sea lion vacation”, as I call it. That is, you lie on the sand belly up and enjoy yourself tremendously without doing much. It’s also an amazing place to swim, read, to get back in shape and gather some physical stamina. Oh, and diving, diving, diving. But Railay, well, Railay demands action!

What can you do there? To begin with, every Russian rock-climber I met has heard of Railay and has either been there or his/her friends have. I had no clue. Honestly. I did my homework, but I couldn’t imagine the scale. Climbing, bouldering, deep water soloing – you name it. Some professional climbers call it a piece of cake and complain about the lack of really interesting routes, but well, I as a noob was impressed. There are numerous climbing shops and dozens of routes, one of which starts from a real dark cave full of tiny bats, and another from a cliff full of monkeys. Though monkeys aren’t news on Railay, they’re pretty much everywhere. We were lucky they never found our hotel territory particularly interesting (to be fair, neither did we). The prices I heard ranged from 700 to 3000 Thai Baht, depending on the kind of climbing activity. I was really sorry I didn’t give it a try, but remembering my last climbing experience (my unprepared body hurt badly for three full days) I was reluctant to go before I was back in shape.

Then there’s kayaking. Most people just float along the beaches, circle the cliffs and have fun. We chose a different tack, which was not very smart (of me), but delivered quite an adventure. Snorkeling is a thing too, and people could order diving trips to places like Phi Phi islands. And hiking – yeah, there are some really nice routes, one of which, and the most challenging one for sure, cost me an iPhone. Never again. Without a waterproof case, I mean.

There’s a public boat service to Railay running until dusk (which is around 5-6 pm). From Aonang it costs 100TBH – a short 15-munute journey with lots of sea spray in your face. As the boat floats on, you have a chance to gape at the stunning rocks, all covered with green and slightly reminding you of these hanging cliffs in Avatar. There’s also boat service from Krabi town, which takes around 30-40 minutes, or so I heard, but we never went that way. Now here’s my best advice: if you’re ever on Railay, or decide to do a day trip, get outta there no later than 5:30 pm. Why so early? Because believe me, it’s not fun at all to be stuck in a bay where the only means of transport is longtail boats, and these guys are too smart to stick around after sunset. You might still find a boat after six, only it would cost you 900 baht instead of 100-150, as they want no less than 6-8 people to run the boat. I would say, for Thailand that’s a lot of profit, 900 baht per go! We were that close to spending a night on a moonlit beach our last night in Krabi. Thankfully, a boat full of cheerful tourists arrived out of nowhere, and that sneaky boat guy (where does all their nicety go when money is concerned?) had to let go of us and bid farewell to his 900 baht.

Railay definitely feels very hip. You don’t see many older folks around, maybe only at Rayavadee, that ridiculously expensive resort that stretches from East to West and reaches Pranang. The funny thing is that its guests are the ones complaining about monkeys (there’a a whole gang of them) and mosquitos. But mostly you observe tan energetic youngsters (lots of beard and tattoo owners among them) in hiking and rock-climbing gear.

The bay itself is relatively compact. It’s divided into Railay East and Railay West, plus Pranang beach in between. Everything is walking distance, but it still is some distance – unless you’re paying beyond reason to stay right on the western beach. There’s a catch too, though: from Railay West it takes longer to Pranang than East. The reason? The cause of my endless frustration? Rayavadee, the luxurious resort that just bloody occupies the space right in between all three beaches. And they won’t let you on a shortcut through their territory. They’re really rude about that. Although, here’s a lifehack for you: if you do some research (read: check out Tripadvisor) and find out how their bungalows are numbered, you can easily pass for an insider as your bungalow number is all they ask to let you through. There might be a catch – they may ask for the key or something, but I haven’t seen any special marks on Rayavadee guests, so hell, just give it a try!

If you don’t have the funds for Rayavadee and want to be closer to Pranang, then think Railay East. It’s very convenient – all the food and real nightlife (as real as it gets on the small quiet Railay) – is there. Our hotel, Railay Princess, had a great location (though not such great food, hello food poisoning on day one). All the beaches were a pretty short walk away. I would’ve preferred Railay Bay resort, if I knew they were side-by-side – it looks so much nicer. More expensive too, though. The cheapest accommodation I’ve heard of belonged to Tonsai beach, which is a bit away from Railay West. One could swim from one to another, or take a boat, or walk – but the nasty walk includes a lot of dirt, rocks and slippery clay. They’re said to have no-AC bungalows for 150THB per night. And Tonsai is the usual choice for rock climbers, a lot of routes start there. It’s also less developed, but the beach isn’t good at all, and the waterfront has been recently bought by the Four Seasons chain, so goodbye backpacker heaven. Alas.

Railay East isn’t fit for swimming – it’s muddy, dirty and the tide gets really low. Every day after around two p.m. the sea goes “nope, had enough of you folks” and pulls away to create a really neat, late Pink Floyd-ish landscape with trees sticking out from the sand. The smell by the beach often isn’t roses, but hey, you wanted some authentic experience, right?

Railay West is good when the tide’s up, except for the boat traffic that makes the swimming area limited. Pranang is really nice, even with a lot of people, and would be even better if all longtails were prohibited entry except for the permanent ones that sell food. But longtails cruise to and fro all the time, and I would say it creates some danger for long-distance swim lovers like me. For example, to reach a certain rock which is around 100m away from the beach you have to swim across a stretch of water where longtails pass every few minutes, making it a bit of a survival game. But once you’re out, your only company is fellow snorkelers and some kayakers. And cute little colorful fish. And a dark grey heron that takes its time building a nest on the cliff. But on Railay, it’s really all about the tide, so if you choose to sleep in you may be very disappointed to find the water barely reaching your knees. No such problem in the morning.

Our time on Railay was full of ups and downs. If I got a mild food poisoning on the first day, totally from the hotel food, my mom got it much worse – there was some stomach infection circling around the bay. Thankfully, there was a good drugstore nearby, and they knew exactly what to give us. Oh, and have I told you that my fourth wisdom tooth decided to say hi right when I packed for a holiday? Yeah, that gave me a few interesting days too.

Anyways. So here’s my Railay advice:
– Read the reviews about the hotel of your choice very, very carefully. Better also scan the ones for the cafes. In Railay Princess, for one, don’t eat anything but bread and jam…
– Bringing your own medkit is always a must, but in “exotic” countries it may not be of use. If you get a stomach issue, head straight to the drugstore and describe the symptoms to them. And don’t forget to buy probiotics to restore after the medication. Plus, hand sanitizer, every freaking where.
– A flashlight. I would say, even a headlight. Railay isn’t all that developed, and there’s a lot of dark areas. Cellphones and flashlights provided at hotels are good, but even better to have it hands-free for, say, cave exploration.
– If you want to eat cheap, eat from the boats on Pranang beach. They’re awesome.
– Do rent a kayak, even if you’ve never done it before. Don’t attempt the nearby islands on it. There are no nearby islands to Railay. It’s an optical illusion.
– Do try rock climbing, even if you’re not in a perfect shape. However, if you’re in simply terrible shape, don’t. It will hurt. I promise. Even the muscles in your armpits, though the legs are the most important. Besides, there’s no fun in having to give up after just a few meters because of shaking hands and buzzing legs.
– Do Thai massage. Do all the massage you can. It’s so cheap – 300-400THB, and it’s a real treat for sore necks and muscles. Our favorite was the Last Bar Massage at the end of Railay East walkway. Best massage we ever had.
– If you want fruit, you gotta go to that Krabi Town market. The cool fruit, I mean. Smoothie bars on Railay can sell you some mangos, pineapples or dragon fruits, but that would be it.

More of our Thai adventures to follow!

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