Railay Beach – A Beachcomber’s Guide

Railay Beach

White sandy beaches, towering limestone cliffs, a quiet and relaxing atmosphere. Railay beach is a spectacular tropical paradise cut off from the rest of mainland Thailand, a place to enjoy the sun, the sand, and everything else in between.

Railay, or otherwise spelled as ‘Rai Leh’, is a Thailand beach located between the city of Ao Nang and Krabi. This piece of paradise on earth is accessible only by boat because of the limestone cliffs cutting it off from the mainland.

It is popular among tourists and locals alike as a place to relax, to have fun, or escape the hustle of city life. Although Railay is situated proximate to the city of Ao Nang where the party scenes are thriving and where the tourist scene is hectic, the atmosphere in Railay beach is very laid back.


The Areas of Railay Beach

The four main areas of Railay beach are East Railay, West Railay, Pranang, and Tonsai – with the last one catering more to climbers rather than beachgoers.

1.      East Railay

East Railay is where the boats arriving from the city of Krabi dock. A commercial area with loads of restaurants, bars, and other services including a Muai Thai school can be found at the northern end of the waterfront. If you have a tight budget, then it is good to know that resorts in East Railay are more affordable than those than can be found in West Rialay Beach.

Dense mangrove covers the waters around this area making it unsuitable for swimming, but ideal for diving and exploring the natural beauty and wildlife hidden amongst the trees and shrubs under water. If you want to go on a little cave exploration in East Railay, check out the Diamond Cave which features a walkway into its depths.

2.      West Railay

For the typical beachgoer, beachcomber or beach bum, West Railay Beach is the place to visit. Moving from East to West Railay Beach can either be a simple walk through the resorts or an adventurous trek through the jungle. Don’t be put off by the word “jungle” as the West Railay jungle is quite thin. A little walk through the cover can be a pleasant experience.

Just fifteen minutes away from Ao Nang, visitors can hire long-tail boats available in this area to transport them from the city to the beach, or the other way around. After sunset, the silhouette of the rocks gives the place a distinctive and almost mystical look. The picturesque beach lined with limestone cliffs on both sides and clear blue waters await every visitor that comes to this area.

3.      Phra Nang

Phra Nang or Pranang is on the southern portion of the peninsula and just twenty minutes away from Ao Nang by boat. The ideal place for swimming in Railay, the Pranang Cave beach was voted one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world. Despite its popularity, it has not been spoilt by pollution or noise commonly found at commercialized beaches.

4.      Ton Sai

Cheap accommodations and awesome routes for rock climbing are two things that Ton Sai offers its visitors. For these reasons, this Railay area is where most climbing enthusiasts and backpackers choose to stay in when they are in Railay. Swimming is possible in Ton Sai except during monsoon season.


The Sights and Sounds of Railay Beach

Whenever you go to somewhere new or a place you have not been to in a while, it is always best to know what sights there are to see. Here are a few of the places that you can visit during your stay at this Thailand beach.

  • Tham Phra Nang Nai – Located in East Railay, just above Hat Rai Leh East is a large cave called the Diamond Cave. With a path leading through several illuminated caverns, visitors can be awestruck by the beautiful limestone formations and the stone waterfall found inside. Walking into the depths of the cave can leave you with imagery that may inspire you and stay with you for a lifetime.
  • Sa Phra Nang – Courageous travelers or those who can brave a strenuous hike up a jungle-covered cliff wall along the vertigo-inducing path can visit this hidden lagoon located halfway along the path from Hat Phra Nang to Hat Rai Leh East. Getting to the top takes about twenty to twenty five minutes, and to the viewpoint around ten minutes.
  • Than Phra Nang – Legend says that in the third century B.C., a royal barge carrying an Indian princess was destroyed by a storm here. Local Muslim and Buddhist fishermen wishing for granted favors (plenty of fish) come to this shrine and offer their respects to the spirit of the drowned princess.


The Activities

1.      Rock Climbing, Trekking and Sunbathing

Tonsai is the place to be if you are into rock climbing. Having more than seven hundred bolted routes, Railay is probably one of the best rock-climbing areas that you will ever find. In fact, many consider this place to be the rock climber’s Mecca. Getting a panoramic view overlooking the ocean after reaching the top of the limestone face can be a breath-taking experience.

After your climbing session, you can either go trekking through the jungle to the private island of Ko Poda or explore the beach.

2.      Diving and Kayaking

Railay is not a major diving spot. Given that the aquatic life and local coral is not as diverse as other places that you can find in Thailand, it is still an ideal place for divers who are just learning the ropes, those who just want to do a little snorkeling, or go kayaking.

3.      Nightlife, Muay Thai and Tattoo

While being known for its quiet and relaxing atmosphere, Railay Beach still offers a lot in terms of nightlife – particularly in Rai Leh East as it has plenty of restaurants and bars. There are several bars that you can find in West Railay. They are usually attached to the hotel restaurants where you can enjoy a cocktail or a beer at sunset. You may also enter into a Thai boxing contest or get a tattoo at one of the tattoo parlors in East Railay.


With many hotels to choose from, you can adjust your budget with the level of comfort that you desire. Some visitors stay for the day and go back to the city afterwards; some stay for the night and go home the following day; while some stay for several days at a time. However long you stay in Railay beach – whether it is to get away, to enjoy the beach, to party, or to go on an adventure – visiting this tropical paradise could be one of the best choices that you make.