Located in the Province of Krabi, Thailand, the Railay Peninsula encompasses the four main beach areas of Railay Beach East, Railay Beach West, Tonsai Beach, and Phra Nang Beach. Accessible only by boat, most visitors arrive via traditional Thai longtail boats from nearby Ao Nang or the Ao Mao Nam Pier.
With a smile on my face, I wipe the seawater from my eyes after being drenched by ocean spray coming over the bow of my water taxi. It seems a small price to pay as I anticipate what waits for me just beyond the towering karst cliffs of the Railay Peninsula in coastal Krabi, Thailand. The loud chatter of the motor and the strong scent of diesel fumes fade into mere background noise as the shore of Railay Beach East comes into view. Looking out over the undulating bow of the longtail boat, I find it to be quite beautiful from this vantage point.
Railay Beach East
As my longtail boat taxi approaches the shore of Railay Beach East, I can see that it actually isn’t much of a beach. Mostly mudflats and mangroves at low tide, it is not what one would think of as a swimming beach.
However, outfitted with a floating pier it serves as a slightly more convenient entry point than the beach landing of Railay West. It is a beautiful introduction to Railay nonetheless.
Reaching the end of the pier, a small patch of sand gives way to a concrete walkway. This walkway, flanked by restaurants, convenience stores, a pharmacy, and resort entrances, serves as a barrier to the encroaching waters of high tide.
When the tide is high, the “beach” here will all but disappear. Fortunately, I will come to find that Railay has several other gorgeous beaches all within walking distance of each other.
Railay Beach West
It’s early morning and Railay Beach West greets me with a beautiful stretch of sand flanked by impressive limestone cliffs on both sides. Several resorts line the beach, however, they are spread out just enough to keep it from feeling overly developed.
Net fishermen work the shore of Railay Beach West as the sunrise begins to peak over the trees and cliffs. It’s a peaceful start to the day.
Unfortunately, the peace would soon end. As the morning progresses, many longtail boat taxis arrive and line the shore of the beach. Carrying day trippers from Ao Nang and several other nearby locations, this place is buzzing with tourists by late morning.
I have mixed feelings about this as I enjoy the beauty and cultural significance of the longtail boats. Unfortunately, too many of them lining the beach with their noisy diesel engines tend to diminish an otherwise pleasant beach experience. I prefer a more tranquil beach, something that is becoming more and more difficult to come by it would seem. Despite this, I continue to find Railay West a pleasant place to be thanks to its wide beach and gorgeous views.
As the sun retreats for the day, many of the day trippers from Ao Nang have left and the vibe on Railay West becomes a bit more serene. Longtail boat captains tend to their vessels, move on, and moor them for the evening. Most of the guests of Railay’s resorts return to their rooms and prepare themselves for an evening on Railay’s walking street.
The Walking Street
There are no cars here. Instead, a walking street connects Railay Beach East and Railay Beach West. Filled with dining options, bars, convenience stores, and dive shops, it takes no more than 15 minutes or so to traverse the walking street from one beach to the other.
The occasional scent of marijuana is detected along the way as there are several options to indulge in the jolly green smoke. Many places in Thailand have taken full advantage of the legalization of Marijuana. This seems especially true of beach destinations and Railay is no exception.
I head to the northern end of Railay Beach West in search of Tonsai Beach. A small bit of wading through the sea and a hike over a rocky jungle path would get me to Tonsai from Railay West. As Tonsai Beach comes into view from my perched position atop this craggy path, my first impression is “Wow!” Almost completely lined with striking sheer limestone cliffs, palm trees, and beautiful sea views it is a sight to behold.
With fewer and less developed resorts, mature palm trees, and a more lithic beach than Railay West, Tonsai Beach has a more laid-back Bohemian vibe.
Tonsai Beach is much quieter than Railay Beach West, but busy with rock climbers who I find to be very entertaining people.
Just as I do when I’m in the company of surfers, I find myself fantasizing about living the seemingly carefree yet intense life of a rock climber. Tonsai has that effect on you. You need to experience this place to understand.
Phra Nang Beach
I leave my accommodation early in the morning to traverse a paved path that meanders under the steep and rocky karsts near Railay Beach East. In search of Phra Nang beach, I take my time as monkeys swing overhead and climb the wooden fencing that lines the path.
Both fascinating and beautiful, this cave-like walkway is an experience in itself. Massive stalactites hover over my head, looking as though they might break away at any moment and crash to the ground. Lingering for a bit, I contemplate how long it must have taken for these structures to form.
Then, chattering monkeys grab my attention as they make their way along the fence. It is as if they are reminding me of my original goal for the morning. I decide to move on and continue my search for Phra Nang Beach.
The path eventually opens up to reveal the stunning Phra Nang beach.
Arriving early in the morning on Phra Nang Beach, I practically have this place to myself. I’m surrounded by beautiful aquamarine and emerald-hued water, white sand, and craggy limestone cliffs that protrude from the sea like a scene from the movie “Avatar”. Mysterious-looking caves, some filled with offerings of carved penises add a sense of intrigue and adventure to an already captivating place.
At this moment, Phra Nang Beach offers a real sense of paradise. Something I don’t take lightly or say often. It would prove to be one of the most beautiful and interesting beaches I would visit during my exploration of the Andaman Sea in Thailand.
However, with that beauty comes popularity and a crowded beach by late morning.
By the time the beach massage ladies finish setting up for the day, this gorgeous beach is packed with sunbathers and day trippers. I feel very satisfied with my decision to visit Phra Nang Beach early and have it to myself for at least a little while.
Initially thought of as merely an entry point to a Thailand island hopping tour, Railay Beach actually proved to be one of my favorite stops in my exploration of the Andaman Sea. Although it can get a bit crowded for my personal taste, It offers just about everything else I could want in a beach destination. Beautiful beaches and gorgeous scenery, unique and stunning topography, access to local food, and “just enough” modern conveniences can all be found here.
Plus, it’s giving me that island vibe.
I’ve got a feeling I’ll be back.