Railay Beach is my favorite destination I’ve found in my travels to 30 countries.
Watch here for my guided tour of Railay Beach, Thailand, down in the south on the beaches of Krabi. This is a stunning place, with a beautiful lush green landscape dotted with towering sheer limestone cliffs that make it ideal for world-class rock climbing.
About Krabi, Thailand
New travelers to Thailand often seek a tropical paradise getaway, and frequently the only destination you’ve heard about from the magazines and the TV shows is Phuket.
But after living in Thailand for several years and experiencing much of the country, I always recommend that my friends spend their precious time instead in Krabi province rather than on Phuket, which has become overdeveloped and overrun with tourists and girlie bars.
In particular, in all of my travels to 30+ countries, my favorite (and the most beautiful) place I have found so far is Railay Bay.
Railay Beach —
also frequently referred to as Rai Leh or Rai Lay — is a small peninsula just south of the town of Ao Nang, Krabi. It’s attached to Krabi’s mainland, but cut off by towering limestone cliffs from all the roads and towns.
This isolation from the mainland, and the complete absence of cars and roads, gives Railay Beach a very island feel. This idyllic beach setting attracts thousands of visitors every year, and Krabi is famous around the world with rock climbers for the stunning limestone rocks on Railay and neighboring Ton Sai Beach.
There are three sides to the Railay Beach peninsula. West Railay Beach, also called Sunset Beach by some, and Phra Nang Beach on the south-facing side of the peninsula, are among the best, most stunning white sand beaches in Thailand, surrounded by beautiful emerald clear water.
The resorts and hotels on these two beaches are more expensive, but there are also cheaper hotels and bungalows available on the mangrove-lined East Railay Beach, within around 10-15 minutes’ walk from the main beaches.
You can spend a relaxing day lazing by the pool or on the beach. Or if you’re looking for more adventure, you can try rock climbing with some of the best instructors in the world.
There are many local climbing schools that can outfit you with climbing shoes and equipment, and lead you on trips for everyone from beginners to advanced climbers.
Railay Beach is often the idyllic tropical paradise featured in posters and postcards of Thailand, so don’t forget your camera.
On Phra Nang beach you’ll find a small cave shrine filled with phallic statues dedicated to the deity Sri Kunlathewi, a legendary Indian princess who was wrecked along the Krabi coastline in the 3rd century B.C. and has been invoked by local fishermen ever since to provide a bountiful catch.
Adventurous travelers can climb a ragged jungle path up this impressive karst cliff to discover a hidden lagoon and an eagle-eye viewpoint high over East Railay Beach.
At night Railay is fairly quiet, but with several cozy little beach bars — some romantic spots to share a cocktail by candle light, some lively, reggae-style bars that stay open late with live music and exciting fire shows on the East Beach.
The girlie-bar scene is also completely absent from Railay Beach, since the majority of visitors here are families and younger backpackers, which makes for a nice change of pace from many spots in Thailand.
If you’re already in Thailand or Malaysia, then AirAsia.com typically has the best airfare to Krabi, otherwise for those who still need to arrange flights to Thailand, I recommend searching through Skyscanner for the most competitive deals to Krabi International Airport (KBV).
From Krabi Town the journey is around 30 minutes and boats arrive on the east side beach. You will have to negotiate a price with the boatman, but if there are other travelers, you can expect to pay about 150 baht.
From Ao Nang the journey is around 15 minutes (100 baht) and boats arrive either on West Railay Beach or on Phranang Beach.
It is also possible to visit Railay on a day trip from anywhere on the mainland; indeed many people stay in Ao Nang, which has cheaper accommodation, but spend the daytime in Railay. The beautiful beach at Phranang Bay is also the last stop on the “four island” tour that you can book from any travel agent in Ao Nang.
Once you arrive in Railay Beach, you will find more upscale hotels & resorts on West Railay Beach (also called Sunset Beach). My favorites are Railay Bay Resort and Spa and it’s sister hotel Railay Princess Resort.
If you’re looking for a luxury stay for your wedding or honeymoon, or you’re just straight up ballin’, the nicest resort on the peninsula is Rayavadee.
But if you are looking for less expensive accommodation or bungalows, I recommend you go to the East Beach to negotiate a room. The hotel we stayed at in the video I made above is the Anyavee Railay Resort, and for a great deal for the price, I highly recommend Diamond Cave Resort & Spa as I have stayed there half a dozen times.
About Tonsai Beach
Next door to Railay beach is Tonsai, a much more budget area for the backpacker and climber crowd (though the options here may be disappearing pretty soon as I’ve heard the whole beach has recently been bought out by one of the big fancy resorts).
Tonsai has a shallow beach with slow gradients out of sea which is profoundly affected by the tide (it was hit pretty hard in the 2004 tsunami). Tonsai isn’t very swimmable, but has very cheap bungalows and attracts the climbing crowd. Be warned though, most of that beach only gets 12 hours of electric power per day.
Here’s another gorgeous video that captures Railay Bay, Krabi, and the beautiful beaches of Southern Thailand (this one much higher production value than mine!)