Twelve years ago, when I first went to Railay Beach, I was not impressed. (Yes, I am getting old.) I visited during high season on a day trip from Ao Nang, and I arrived to see the bay filled with noisy longtail boats and the beaches overrun with sunburnt humans. The whole place had the depressing feel of paradise lost.
Over the years I scoffed anytime I saw Railay listed as one of the best beaches of Thailand.
I recently returned and stayed at a cool beach house. I must admit – I enjoyed Railay, especially in the morning or afternoon when the daytrippers were gone.
Railay is a peninsula in southern Thailand straight out of your tropical island fantasy. On the west side is a gorgeous sandy beach bookended by towering limestone rock formations. On the southern tip is Ao Phra Nang Beach with clear water and vertical cliffs which serve as a playground for rock climbers.
Railay has a strange mix of rich tourists and budget travelers. The west side of the island is the domain of luxury travelers, 5-star hotels, and restaurants that close up early. On the east side, marijuana smoke and Bob Marley songs waft from the cheap bars filled with backpackers and rock climbers who party late into the night.
In a perfect world, the entire peninsula would be a national park with a simple campground, hiking trails, and visitor center. The area is certainly over-developed and some of the natural charm has been damaged. If you can look past that, it is a fun and interesting place to visit.
On my last evening in Railay, I declared to my friends that I was going to wake up at sunrise and take an “award-winning photo.” A few hours later, I crawled out of bed at dawn against the protections of my body, and stood awestruck on the beach; as the rising sun began to illuminate the limestone cliffs, a rainbow appeared over the waves. I looked around and didn’t see another soul. I snapped a few photos enjoying the beauty and solitude of Railay. In that moment, I understood the hype.◊
10 Photos of Railay Beach
And one more for the black and white connoisseurs in the crowd.
Note: on the south side of the peninsula is Princess Cave which houses a fertility shrine. If you are hoping to make a baby, perhaps a prayer at the shrine and a romantic night on Railay will do the trick!
Have you been to Railay? What is your favorite beach destination?
Photos can be purchased by clicking the individual image in the post or this link.