Railay Beach Sunrise

Railay Was My Least Favorite Thai Beach; Now I Love It

Photography, Thailand, Travel

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

Railay Beach Thailand Rainbow

Railay Beach Thailand

Railay Beach Thailand

Railay Beach Thailand Long Tail Boat

Railay Beach Thailand Kayaks

Railay Beach Thailand Long Tail Boat

Railay Beach Thailand

Railay Beach Thailand

Railay Beach Thailand

Railay Beach Sunrise

And one more for the black and white connoisseurs in the crowd.

Railay Beach Black and White


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? 


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Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~ planetbell1@gmail.com

35 thoughts on “Railay Was My Least Favorite Thai Beach; Now I Love It”

  1. Magical pictures! Never been Railay, probably next trip. Interesting note at the end! 😉

    • Railay is a great place to visit provided you stay on the peninsula. If you visit on a day trip you’ll be disappointed.

      • Yes, I agree… that’s with most of the tourist places. But always staying is not an option. Yes, I do have a habit of taking an early morning walk with the camera whenever I stay overnight.

  2. Wow stunning photos, particularly the first one with the amazing rainbow. I have not been to Railey, but would certainly love to visit. It is sad when places loose their charm and identify, but I think Railey still got it.

    • There is so much over-development of the beaches in Thailand and Southeast Asia. Hopefully we can learn from our past mistakes as new places open up.

  3. Marilyn says:

    Thank you Jeff for sharing the beauty of Railay Beach.

  4. Oh Jeff! Such exquisite photos! The beauty of Railay clearly captured. In my book the rainbow shot is definitely award winning.
    I hope I can be as good a photographer as you when I grow up 🙂

    • Thank you Alison. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time with my camera already set up for that one. I hope to be as good of a write as you when I grow up!

    • If you went in ’91, you may want to stay away then! I bet it was quite pristine back then by comparison.

      • Totally pristine…just a few dirt-cheap, basic, salt-water shower huts and simple eateries. Heaven really! I’m wondering though if I’m getting it mixed up with PhraNang Beach…I think just next to it.

  5. Fantastic post, Jeff. I can see why your opinion changed- a fresh point of view a decade+ later. I love your low perspective on many of your landscape shots picking up a captivating foreground element or the textures of the land. And yes, I marveled at your wonderful black and white shot but not as much as at your last shots of the cave donations. 😄

    • I like to get low and find something interesting in the foreground on landscapes. I am happy that you noticed! I guess I was doing it right.

      I like how a person left a banana at the penis cave.

  6. Great pictures. Railay is one of our favourite beaches in Thailand, but we climb (but don’t party all night at the Bob Marley pub). We were a little unimpressed by the amount of people ‘learning’ on to climb on the high rated climbs when really they were just being pulled up by the guides, but that’s what you have to put up with at a great climbing destination.

    • One of my rock climbing friends said a lot of the rocks have been worn slick from so many climbers. It isn’t the kind of place I’d go to learn because Thailand doesn’t take safety seriously at all!

    • I’m not a morning person by design, but when I get up early I never regret it. My problem is I need an hour and 3 cups of coffee to return to life! Thanks for commenting.

  7. Gorgeous photos. I think my favorite is the rivulets in the sand, the third one.

    I haven’t been down there, but you piqued my curiosity!

    • I’d recommend going during the shoulder season. We got a great deal on our beach house and the crowds were not too bad.Thanks for the comments on the photos. I was playing around with perspectives and I liked the sand shot as well.

    • If you go during low or shoulder season and stay on the peninsula, the crowds are bearable. But, I’d never recommend a day trip during high season – it is overrun!

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