Most people may not have heard of Railay in Thailand, a large peninsula located between Krabi and Ao Nang city, comprised of four main areas: Phra Nang, Tonsai, West and East Railay. Framed by towering limestone cliffs and looking out on the dazzling Andaman Sea, this peaceful beachside destination harbours a sense of calm that’s palpable as soon as you arrive on its makeshift jetty — and no, zen is not a code word for the marijuana that’s rampant on the island.
The tranquillity that blankets the island conceals the nuanced experiences one can enjoy on each of Railay’s four corners. It may be a small and remote area, but the vibe you get on the backpacker-spotted bay of Tonsai is antithetical to the palatial resorts and spas that line West Railay, or the colourful nightlife that charges Railay Village.
What we especially adore about Krabi’s blissful peninsula is how, once there, you feel utterly engulfed by a sense of quiet and peace, of no obligations to be had but the time spent under the sun and the sea. Should you wish to visit this haven for the weary, here is our guide.
What to do in Railay
Phra Nang, Nam Mao and Railay beach
Thailand is renowned for its seascapes, and Railay harbours its best. There are three key beaches, all a quick walk or boat ride of the other. Railay and Phra Nang beaches are two of the most renowned, and each of them offers unbridled views of azure waters as you sunbathe on the golden sand. Ao Nam Mao is the last, and it is the least occupied of the bunch. Its dark sand stretches and jade-green waters are the product of the mangrove forests that cup the beach, so you get an entirely different atmosphere and scenery from the former duo we mentioned.
A retreat in Railay truly allows you to unplug and escape, so spending a full day on each of these beaches should be at the top of your to-do list when on the island.
The limestone crags on Railay aren’t just there to be the backdrop for your holiday photos. These rock walls are climbable, with routes that accommodate rock climbing virgins and veterans alike. Plenty of rock climbing guides are available on the island and will offer tours spanning half to multiple days, which include how-to lessons for beginners or intermediate climbers looking to expand their skill set. Every climb offers climbers a view of the peninsula that can’t be seen through any other means, so if you are hankering for a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, book yourself a rock climbing package.
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If going vertical is not your preferred way to hang loose, then Railay has an assortment of hikes for you. The most scenic of the lot is the hike to reach the Railay Lookout Viewpoint, which is not the easiest, but definitely most rewarding. A journey to the top does involve some precarious ascensions, including scaling a steep but short wall with only a rope to hang on to, but we can testify that the panorama at the top remedies the struggle.
Railay has other offerings that are closer to sea level too. The peninsula is a playground for water-based activities, including kayaking and paddle-boarding on any of its beaches. Those who are determined to stay dry can just hop on and off longboats that will ferry you from shore to shore.
Railay’s geology also makes it home to a number of caves and coves well worth exploring, if only to marvel at how impressive Mother Nature can be. The most famous of all the caves on the peninsula is Phra Nang Nai, or Diamond Cave, a high-ceilinged wonder home to glistening stalactites and stalagmites that give the destination its name.
Where to eat in Railay
Don’t expect multi-course meals with all the frills on laidback Railay. The Railay Village, where most of the dining options are parked, is spotted by a number of family-owned restaurants offering authentic and familiar Thai cuisine, as well as other options, spanning Western, Japanese and Indian.
For a start, Railay Family Restaurant is a fairly popular diner, with its affordable prices, broad menu selection and generous servings. Another hotspot is Kohinoor Indian Restaurant and Pizza, an Indian restaurant that makes moreish biryanis and pillowy naan breads the size of your head.
Where to stay in Railay
Railay has a number of hotels and hostels for travellers on a budget, but those looking to really be pampered should look to the following resorts:
Bhu Nga Thani Resort
Bhu Nga Thani is a beachfront resort and spa with an outdoor pool that is a thing of wonder. The rooms themselves are clean, elegant and spacious enough to fit two or a small family, though villas are available as well.
Peak Railay luxury expresses itself as Rayavadee, a private resort with 96 double-storey pavilions and four villas that one can choose to stay in. Pavilion tiers range from having a terrace to an outdoor Jacuzzi and garden, or your very own pool, so think hard about how much you’d like to splurge.
How to get there
Flights from Singapore to Krabi are the easiest and fastest way to get to Railay. Book a private car or board a shuttle from the airport to take you to Ao Nang beach, from where you get tickets to get on a longtail boat that goes to Railay. Boats typically run every hour from the pier.
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.