The peculiarity that convinced me to visit Railay beach during my trip to Thailand was the total absence of motor vehicles, the small peninsula of Railay can only be reached by sea in fact, factor that contributes to enhance its reputation of a heavenly place where peace reigns.
We set off from the pier in Krabi at dusk and in the half-hour journey that separates us from the marina at Railay, the sun disappears altogether leaving us alone in the dark with our boatman to reassure us every time the long tail boat rocked a bit stronger.
A moonless night, lit only by the reflections projected from the lantern, secured to the bow of the boat, that shimmered on the surface of the sea catapulting us into a surreal atmosphere where high dark outlines of the hills on the shore seemed to us like great ominous shadows, almost imaginary guardians who want to keep this location secret.
The high tide allows us to reach the docking platform with the boat and, despite the poor light, we soon realize that the Ao Railay East Beach, where we are, is virtually nonexistent. A part of the shore is occupied by a dense patch of mangroves, while in the vegetation-free areas we see water lapping the sidewalks that run along the waterfont premises.
Where to stay at Railay beach
As in the whole of Thailand, also in Railay you can stay at a good price, there is only one great luxury hotel in this area and it is located right in the middle of the peninsula, all around there are several nightclubs and restaurants, among which are also found small villages of bungalows that can be rented by travelers.
We decide to take one for three nights at the Viewpoint Hotel, a very pretty building, surrounded by greenery that offers really nice mini apartments, in a few words, I have always dreamed the sea of Thailand just like this.
The total for overnight stays including breakfast is 40€ per double room.
The breakfast is the other clearly positive note of the structure that offers a real feast of snacks, sweet as well as savoury ones, but whose spearhead is the great assortment of fresh fruit every morning.
East Railay, do not be fooled by appearances
We spent two days exploring the zone that is divided mainly into four areas distinguished by the different beaches.
The slope on which we arrived is Ao Railay East and, as I had suspected the night before, does not have an accessible beach, also, now, the high tide has made it so that there is no sand, forcing us to seek our little corner somewhere else wondering whether it was a good choice to have come here.
Very different the situation at low tide, when the landscape changes reminding us of the tormented pictures of the coast after the tsunami.
In reality, there is nothing dramatic, but the point where the water touches the shore is several tens of meters far, exposing a muddy sand expanse from which the mangroves emerge and on which the boats that were floating in the bay earlier on are grounded.
Arriving in Railay at this moment is a bit more difficult, on foot you cannot walk on the dried seabed, you will sink, and with luggage it is unthinkable to make the distance on foot.
For this reason, the only motorised means of the peninsula appears to be a tractor with trailer that runs between the shoreline and the pier to bring to land the incoming tourists and to accompany to the boats those who leave.
Ao Phra Nang, almost Earthly Paradise
With a ten minute walk, in itself very scenic, passing under high rock formations suitable for free climbing, we reach Ao Phra Nang, considered one of the most enchanting beaches of Thailand.
This reputation is absolutely well-deserved, the beauty of this place is almost dazzling and the intense blue sky creates a sharp contrast with the honey-colored sand lapped by an emerald-green sea, as if painted by an artist, two islands, rising up in the center of the bay giving the landscape a touch of exotic charm.
Even at high tide, here, you can find a place at the beach, but as the tide changes the expanse of sand available increases and lengthens for several meters, yet remaining soft and fine.
Along this beach there are no locals, but during the day the scene comes alive with various characters, and, while walking tirelessly watching the little crabs playing in the backwash, I see, at mid-morning a little energetic looking woman and a physically massive man set up, with mats and cushions, a relaxing area where you can have a massage on the beach, experience tried and really relaxing, for about 4€ you can have the full treatment lasting almost an hour.
Around noon another two ladies look for a position in the shade and begin to set up the ‘stalls’ of street dining.
The first carry on her back two large baskets full of bottles of cold drinks, while the second, mounted a rudimentary barbecue, begins to roast corn on the cob and chicken wings diffusing an aroma that is almost impossible to resist.
Needless to remind you that, also in this case, the cost is very low, with about 3€ you can eat in two: chicken wings, a corn cob and a drink per head.
Occasionally, down from the nearby rocky hills will come the nice monkeys who, accustomed to people, approach without fear in the hope that someone will offer them food.
As much as I disapprove of the practice of feeding wild animals, here it seems to have become a common pastime, and everyone will amusingly flock to give fruit or chunks of bread to the small monkeys.
Tham Phra Nang and the wooden phalluses
Out of the common peculiarity of this beach is Tham Phra Nang, also known as the Cave of the Princess.
An ancient legend says that a boat, upon which an Indian princess was traveling, sank in the bay during a storm.
The spirit of the girl, looking for peace, stopped to dwell in the small cave that is located at the eastern end of the beach, and the people, especially the fishermen, began to bring as gifts, to the little altar in her honor, wooden phalluses to propitiate their fishing.
Even today the cult has been handed down and many people come here to pray, where the altar is adorned with paintings, it is almost submerged by poles of all sizes of phallic shape that attract an ever growing number of onlookers.
West Railay scene of sunsets
Another great beach on the western side of the peninsula, is West Ao Railay, a vast expanse of sand surrounded by high rocky peaks overlooking the sea.
In this area you can find the nicest premises and restaurants of Railay, romantic ‘terraces’ for an aperitif or dinner contemplating the ocean.
The time of sunset is also the most suitable for enjoying the atmosphere of West Railay, being oriented to the west, offers magnificent views of the ocean at sunset, when the sky becomes fiery creating incredible reflections on the sea and painting in red all the surrounding rocks, while the children gather on the shoreline to play football.
During the day, lying down here, you can observe the slow comings and goings of small fishing pirogues that set sail or return from the fishing at any time.
Ao Ton Sai and the climbing routes
At the extreme north of West Ao Railay, reached by a narrow path, is Ao Ton Sai, a small beach known for the steep cliffs that surround it.
A favorite destination for climbers, Ton Sai is often dotted with camping tents and crowded with free climbing enthusiasts who queue up to be able to scour some of the most picturesque and spectacular streets of the peninsula.
In fact throughout the whole of Railay there are more than 70 climbing routes, some of which are accessible only by sea or in particular tidal conditions, of varying degrees of difficulty.
Noteworthy are also the opportunities for trekking to explore the cliff to discover the Princess Lagoon on the extreme south of the isthmus, or the Diamond Cave, kept in the heart of the forest to the north and where it is possible to see the massive rock formations of glittering crystals.
Ultimately Railay is not only sea and relaxation, but also a place to do some physical exercise in full nature during the day and have fun until late at night in the numerous premises that surround the beaches, Railay is life!