Railay (also Raileh, Reilay and Railey) is the name of a small peninsula just south of Ao Nang in Krabi province. It is part of the mainland, but is inaccessible by road due to the impressive towering cliffs that cut it off from the highway.
This inaccessibility gives Railay Beach a special ‘island feel’, which, with the spectacular scenery, draws many visitors every year. It’s probably the most popular place in Krabi to spend Christmas and New Year, with the limited number of rooms filling up around six months in advance.
There are three sides to the Railay Beach peninsula, two of which boast spectacular beaches: the west-facing Sunset Beach and Phra Nang Bay. Both could be ranked among the best beaches in Thailand, with their wide expanses of powdery white sand sloping down to emerald green water. Accommodation on these two sides is naturally the more expensive, though there are cheaper rooms on the mangrove-lined east coast, within around 10 to 15 minutes walk from the main beaches.
Of course, there are no cars or roads in Railay, which also gives the place a relaxed feel. Lazy days are spent by the pool or on the beach. More active people can try their hand at rock-climbing, for which Railay is rightly famous. There are many climbing schools that run courses for complete beginners as well as those who want to improve their skills.
Railay Beach is often the gorgeous shot featured on tourist posters of Thailand and there are endless postcard pictures to be taken, so don’t forget your camera. At the far end of Phra Nang Beach, you will find a small cave with a shrine noted for its phallic statues. In fact, it is dedicated to a deity known locally as Sri Kunlathewi who, according to legend, was apparently an Indian princess wrecked on this coast in the 3rd century BC and has been called upon by fishermen ever since to provide them with a good catch. The really adventure-minded can climb a rugged path up the side of this impressive karst cliff to discover a hidden lake in its centre.
At night, Railay is fairly quiet, with a few small beach bars, although there is a pocket of lively, rasta-style bars on the east side which stay open late and often have live music and fire shows. The girlie-bar scene is completely absent from here as the majority of visitors are either families or young backpackers.
Railay is easily reached by longtail boat from Ao Nang, Krabi and Ao Nam Mao. In low season it is best to take a boat from Ao Nang as the boatman won’t set off without a few more passengers, so if you are travelling alone you may have to wait a long time. The trip from Ao Nam Mao is the smoothest during monsoon season as the boat doesn’t have to enter the open water. During the roughest tides, boats leave from a small pier at the northern end of Nopparat Beach in an area called Klong Haeng. It’s a brief 20-minute trip to Railay from any of these piers.