Railay Beach is a peninsula surrounded by clear blue water and sheer rocky cliffs. Its no wonder that the rock climbing in this area has made Railay a backpacker destination.
Day 1 – Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Railay Beach is located on a peninsula in the Krabi provenience of mainland Thailand. The rocky mountains which make Railay so stunning also are the reason why Railay is only accessible by boat. The journey to Railay from Koh Kradan was a bit more involved than the one most people take to Railay; which is flying into Krabi and taking a longboat. Koh Kradan is located closer to Trang on the mainland than to Krabi. Using our hotel’s front desk we booked ourselves a morning longtail boat to Trang and a minivan to Krabi-town, the central city of Krabi.
The longtail boat ride left Paradise Beach on Koh Kradan and headed to two locations on Koh Mook to pick up more passengers. The boat ended up being very full. When the Trang shore was insight, the boat followed a river inland a slight way and then docked seemingly in the middle of no where. Two mini-vans were at the dock; one going to the Trang Airport and one going to the city center of Trang. We weren’t expecting the boat dock to be outside of the city center and were a bit confused how to get to Krabi-town. We finally got on the mini-van to Trang. In Trang we were dropped off at the Trang Happy Trip and Tour Company, for which we had a voucher from our hotel. The girls at the Trang Happy Trip Company were very good about organizing all of us tourists to move on to our next destinations. After a short wait, the Happy Trip Company told us to board a tuk tuk which would take us to our next van. The tuk tuk drove us to a bus station where we were told to wait for a specific mini-van to load passengers. The mini-van was filled with young girls in school uniforms, us, and another couple. The van ride took over an hour and had a few stops. We got off where the Trang Happy Trip Co. had instructed us to, the center city mall.
At this point we had a decision to make; we hadn’t booked a hotel and weren’t sure if we should find one in Krabi-town or try to continue on to Railay that same day. Krabi-town was very urban and crowded and wasn’t the quaint beach town we were hoping for, so we decided to take a chance at Railay. While walking down the street to find a cafe where we could get internet connection, we saw a tuk tuk being filled with people and the driver was yelling something about Railay. We asked how much (50B/person) and jumped on the tuk tuk and were off. The ride took 30 minutes and left us in the town of Ao Nang, where the pier to get to Railay is.
Ao Nang actually looked like a cool town. A small strip of sand beach ran the length of the town and was full of sunbathers. Across the street, beach shops and bars lined the road, not unlike those in American beach towns. For a while we considered just staying in Ao Nang for a day or two, but we ultimately decided to stick to our plan of going to Railay. We sat in a restaurant and had a cool drink while looking for hotels on Railay. There are only a handful of hotels on Railay; half were more expensive luxury resorts and the other half were budget resorts. Several seemed to have rooms available so we continued.
The Ao Nang Boat Service ran longtails to the West Railay beach for 100B/person ($3.22). The boats would leave as soon as the 7 seats were filled. I think when we arrived at West Beach we knew we had made a good decision to come to Railay. The beach was nice and the water was clear, but the mountains around the beach were really amazing. There were several restaurants and hotels on West Beach, but not as many as I expected. At one location, a sign was posted for Walking Street. The budget resorts we had looked up were on East Beach and walking was the only way there, so we headed to Walking Street to cross the peninsula. The first 200meters of Walking Street was lined with small bars, restaurants, and shops, after that the street became more of a trail. Halfway to East Beach, right in the middle of nowhere, was another small grouping of restaurants and bars. Finally we reached East Railay Beach. East Railay Beach wasn’t nearly as nice of a beach as West. It was mostly rocky and, at low tide, muddy. However, East Beach was lined with many more bars and stores than West Beach and had a cool vibe to it. We checked into the Anyavee Resort.
I don’t think that we were thrilled with the Anyavee Resort, but it was cheap. They wouldn’t honor the price we had seen online, so we used our phones to book a room online while standing at their front desk. We booked a king bed room, but were then told they didn’t have one and not offered a discount to have the twin bed room. We complained and finally they gave us an ‘upgrade’ to a king room. We got to the room only to discover that the bed was crawling with ants. We asked for a new room and were stuck with twin beds. The new room wasn’t nearly as nice as the ‘upgraded king’ room, but it was without ants so we took it.
Finally we could drop our bags and explore Railay. We started by walking down East Beach. At the end of each beach is a path; to the left are mountains to climb that overlook the ocean, to the right is a longer path that leads to overlooks, caves, and the Phra Nang Cave Beach. We headed right and the path twisted under hanging stilagmites of the jagged cliffs. First we came to the trail to the overlook. The trail to the overlook was completely vertical. We knew we’d be back to hike it, but now wasn’t the time for that challenge. We continued to Phra Nang Cave Beach. As you reach the beach, climbers hang from the walls. The beach itself was gorgeous. The land in that area belongs to one resort, so there aren’t any shops, bars, or food stands. Instead longtail boats pull up to the beach sell snacks. We weren’t prepared to swim, so we walked the length of the beach. Finding that the beach is a dead end, we walked back the way we had come and crossed the peninsula to visit West Beach. We found that while West Beach is pretty, there really wasn’t much to do on it. Walking back across the island we stopped for dinner at Kohinoor Indian Restaurant.
Day 2 – Wednesday, February 11, 2015
This was our day to explore. We woke up a little early so that we could start before the air got too hot. After breakfast at the hotel we headed to the viewpoint we had walked by the day before. When we arrived we found that we weren’t the only people hoping to make the hike early. A large tour group of about 30 tourists, most of whom were small children, were attempting the hike. The hike to the viewpoint is up a muddy and steep trail. Ropes tied to trees hang down parts of the trail to help with the climb. Just before the top, the trail forks leading to the viewpoint and to a lagoon. When the group in front of us turned to the lagoon, we went the other way.
The viewpoint was a small window in the trees at the top of the mountain overlooking East Railay Beach. From that height, you could see across the peninsula to West Beach as well. The view was lovely despite the muddy low tide currently on the East Beach side.
Next we headed to the lagoon. We found the path to the lagoon descended again and the kids were attempting it one at a time. This time they let us pass and we hurried down the trail. We reached a point where the path dropped off dangerously steep. A few ropes hung down the 30 foot drop. We debated about turning back for a few minutes, then climbed down the ropes. At the bottom were 10 meters of trail and then an even larger drop with ropes that looked older. Jon started down the second drop, but decided the last 10 feet would be too dangerous. From our vantage point we could see a sliver of lagoon, and by lagoon and I mean a flat plain of mud that might be able to hold water when the rainy season comes.
To get back, we followed the trail in reverse. We didn’t seem to have any trouble getting to the viewpoint and back, but it was definitely a bit more than a casual hike.
Maps spread across the island showed another two viewpoints, one at each end of West Beach, so we decided that while we were hiking we should tackle those. We crossed to West Beach and didn’t see any marked trails. At the south end of the beach there was a small unmarked trail, so we started up it. We never found anything that looked like a viewpoint. Instead there was a small cave and, higher up, lots of people rock climbing.
Next we looked for the viewpoint at the north end of West Beach. Once again we didn’t see any signs for a viewpoint, however there was a path that led to Tonsai Beach. We followed the trail but never did find a viewpoint. On Tonsai Beach were even more rock climbers. By now it was hot and we wanted a cold drink. We were surprised not to see any hotels right off of Tonsai Beach (some were farther back), but there were a few restaurants and we were able to get milkshakes. The walk back to East Beach was long and hot. We stopped a few times to look at other resorts and book a room for the next night. We also stopped for lunch at Mom’s Kitchen.
We decided to spend the rest of the day at the Phra Nang Cave Beach. The water was much cooler than the water we had gotten used to on Koh Lanta and Koh Kradan. After one dip in the water and laying in a shady spot we were cooled down. We made a point to go in the water a few more times even though I don’t think we needed to cool down again. On the way back from the beach we stopped to ask about prices for rock climbing in the morning.
For dinner that evening we choose to eat at Mangrove. Mangrove had very good reviews online, but we were not impressed at all. The service was very slow and the fresh fish we ordered wasn’t one of the better meals we’d eaten.
Day 3 – Thursday, February 12, 2015
We were up even earlier on Thursday. We had to eat breakfast, move our bags to our new hotel, and get across the island to the Railay Rock Climbing Shop by 8:45am. The Railay Climbing Shop outfitted us with climbing harnesses and shoes as well as giving us water and bags of chalk. The school had told us that they don’t have more than 4 people to one guide. The way it really worked was that 8 of us went with two guides to climb. I think most climbs start at the wall along the east beach, however a few people in our group had climbed there before so we were taken to the Diamond Cave North Face wall.
Our guides each set up a top rope and we got to climb. Jon went first. The climbs were right about at our level and so they were perfect for us; a little tiring but very attainable. When we made it to the top of the climbs, the guides would yell up and remind us to enjoy the view. To the far left we could see the ocean. When the four people in our group had all climbed, we switched to the second guide’s rope. We were hardly alone too, lots of other schools were also climbing on the same wall. Over the course of about 4 hours we each got to climb 4 times. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but its a good amount because of how hot and tiring it was. Overall I really liked our guides who were usually smiling and who used at least 4 languages to guide everyone in our group in their native tongue.
When we were done climbing we went to our new hotel, the Phutawan Resort. The Phutawan was much nicer than the Anyavee for about the same price. We cleaned up in our room and then took a quick dip in the pool. For dinner that night, we ate at the Phutawan restaurant.
Day 4 – Friday, February 13, 2015
Friday was our last full day on Railay. We started with breakfast at the hotel buffet and then decided to relax at the hotel pool. Surprisingly it didn’t seem all that hot and the pool water was cool. We spent most of the day reading by the pool. Mid-afternoon, just when we were considering leaving to get lunch, a hotel waitress appeared and took orders for everyone at the pool. Until then we didn’t think our hotel had pool service. We ordered fruit shakes and an appetizer. By the time the food came, we were about ready to get out of the sun (which was quickly becoming shade from the nearby mountain).
That evening we treated ourselves to some drinks. First we went to the Bang Bang Bar. We had passed the Bang Bang Bar several times before, and it made an impression on us. It was a very small store front that had enough room for about 8 people. I ordered a margarita and Jon had a whiskey sour. The bartender truly made our drinks from scratch, cutting and squeezing each lime for the drinks. No pre-made mixers used here. As the bartender finished my drink with a pineapple slice, a red cherry, and a swizzle stick, I was reminded of the scene in love actually when Rowan Atkinson gift wraps a present. Another 5 minutes later Jon’s drink was also finished being made. As we sat there without too much to say, the bar tender reached over and put a Connect 4 game in front of us. I really enjoyed the causal, friendly feel at the Bang Bang Bar.
Next we walked to West Beach. One of the bars at West Beach sets out mats and lanterns for guests to sit on while they watch the sunset. Although the sun had already gone down, the mats were still sitting out. We bought a beer and sat on a mat watching the stars for a while. Eventually we needed to go get some food. We walked inland and stopped for dinner at Wan-A-Rouy which is the best rated restaurant on the island according to TripAdvisor. It also seems very similar to Mangrove, which we didn’t love, so we weren’t sure what to expect. At first we really enjoyed the meal, but our second dish was salty and left a bad impression with us. The staff were very friendly and attentive though.
Day 5 – Saturday, February 14, 2015
It was time to head back to Krabi so we’d be better positioned to get to the airport on Sunday. We had breakfast at the hotel and packed up our bags. We crossed the Railay peninsula for one final time to catch a longtail boat from West Railay Beach to Ao Nang. When we arrived in Ao Nang, we didn’t have a hotel booked, but Jon had done some research and headed us up the street. We had a short list of some cheap, but recommended, guesthouses which we were keeping an eye open for. When we started to see the guesthouses, an employee of the Nong Eed Resort (not on our list) stopped us to barter room prices. We decided to stay with Nong Eed because he told us a room would cost 800B ($25). We ended up choosing a slightly more expensive room that had air conditioning.
To celebrate Valentine’s Day, we decided to do something we don’t do very often while traveling; eat American food. For lunch we just stopped at McDonalds, followed by a Starbucks. In Ao Nang we also saw a Subway and a Burger King as well as wine bars and other types of restaurants not widely found in Thailand. We walked to the beach. Mostly there were massage studios and restaurants decorated for Valentine’s Day. When we reached the end of the main road we turned around to look for ice cream on the way home. We had scoops of gelato at a small coffee shop.
For dinner we continued our American food and went to TJ’s Sports Bar. The menu was mostly standard western bar fare. We passed on the burgers since we had eaten at McDonald’s for lunch. Instead we had chicken wings, loaded potatoes, and a quesadilla. The food was passable. At first the site of real cheese was great, but after a month of eating Thai food, the processed cheese and frier grease wasn’t nearly as good as we remembered. We spent the rest of the night in because we had a 7am taxi scheduled to take us to the airport for a flight to Chiang Mai.
Transportation: Railay can only be reached by boat. Longtail boats run between Ao Nang and West Railay for 100B/ride. The boats run most daylight hours and no advance ticket is needed. The ticket counter is near the boats in both Ao Nang and West Railay Beach.
Money: The local currency in Thailand is the Baht. Cash is needed in most stores and restaurants on the peninsula. Some places may charge an extra 3-8% if paying with a credit card. ATMs were limited but available. The exchange rate was 34 Baht = $1.00 .
Visa Information: For American tourists traveling to Thailand for less than 30 days, the need for a visa is waived. This will be done at your entry point to the country, such as an airport, prior to arriving at Railay.
Water: Don’t drink it. Bottled water is widely available.
Malaria: Unless you are traveling to remote areas of northern Thailand, there is no need for malaria pills. We still wear bug spray often though.