This guide is aimed at anybody considering visiting Railay, or anybody looking for somewhere new to stay in Thailand. After spending just under two weeks here I really do recommend it as we had an amazing time.
Railay is located in southern Thailand on the Andaman sea, with the closest airport being Krabi which is about one hour away by bus/taxi and longtail boat. Railay is only accessible by boat as it is cut off from the mainland by towering limestone cliffs.
Please be prepared for your arrival at Railay and wear appropriate clothing! The reason I say this is that you will need to climb in and out of a longtail boat, which means you will be potentially knee deep in water. Also consider bringing a backpack instead of a suitcase, as arrival at low tide means that you will have to walk a couple of hundred metres in ankle deep water to reach the shore.
Railay has a range of accommodation from high end resorts to budget bungalows suitable for backpackers. We stayed at Railay Garden View Resort which is aimed at the budget traveller/flashpacker market and is located toward the far end of Railay East. They offer two types of bungalow, sea view or garden view, with the price for sea view slightly higher. We went with garden view which cost us 1000 Thai Baht (£20) per night and surprisingly could still actually see the water from our balcony. From our arrival until the day we left we found the staff, in particular the manager An, to be extremely friendly, pleasant and helpful. The bungalows themselves are very basic with a front balcony, just one room which has a bed (with mosquito net which we found we didn’t need to use), and a small attached bathroom with toilet and shower. One thing which may deter some here is that there is no hot water. Due to the temperature never dropping below 22 degrees even at night, we didn’t find this to be a problem at all. Breakfast is also included and is served each morning on the resort’s sheltered deck which has an amazing view. The breakfast includes tea and coffee, fresh fruit, toast, banana pancakes and eggs cooked to your liking (scrambled, fried or omelette). One of my favourite things about the resort is that it is set right into the trees on the edge of the forest, and because of this you get to see a whole range of wildlife right on your doorstep. In our time we saw monkeys, snakes, lizards, butterflies, bats, hummingbirds and some bizarre insects.
Railay is situated with great access to many beautiful sandy beaches, with Ao Railay and the highly impressive Ao Phranang just a short walk away, and Ao Tonsai and many islands reached by longboat in 15 minutes or less.
There are no shortage of things to do at or from Railay, including a range of massage and beauty treatments offered at little shops along Railay East, South East Asia’s best natural rock climbing, sea kayaking, learning Muay Thai at The Last Bar, and also many fishing and snorkeling trips around the surrounding Islands. One of the highlights of our visit was taking one of the sunset snorkeling trips which are offered which ends with a BBQ on the beach as the sun goes down, before taking one more swim off the boat in the darkness surrounded by glowing bioluminescent plankton. Compared to other more well known tourist areas in Thailand we found the prices to be slightly lower and very reasonable. For example an hour long massage will cost you 300 Thai Baht (£6), or a full day’s hire of a 2 seat sea kayak about 800 Thai Baht (£16).
One thing we found slightly disappointing in Railay was the Thai food. As expected on the Resort side of west Railay all dishes seem to have been thoroughly bastardised for the tastes of Western tourists. It that’s your thing you’ll love it, if you are looking for something more local then don’t bother. On East Railay there are some far better restaurants but still nothing amazing by my standards. All of the small cafes here along the front offer standard Thai fare like curries, soups and fried dishes for about 200 Thai Baht or less (£4). One thing to note is that many of the restaurants in Railay are owned by Thai Muslims and therefore do not sell alcohol. This is no problem for drinkers though as all of them will point the way to the nearest shop where you can buy your own (for half restaurant price) and bring it back to the table.
Railay has a great relaxed bar scene. There are no clubs. It is not an all nighter kind of area. There are numerous small bars along East Railay each staffed by interesting local characters including The Last Bar, Why Not Bar, Skunk Bar, Joy Bar and our personal favourite Jamrock staffed by the unforgettable Sam. Beer price seems to be different at every place, but most offer cocktails at about 120 Thai Baht (£2.40). Another thing to note is that weed is freely available at all of the bars, is freely smoked within the bars, and despite not being legal in Thailand, is even blatantly advertised in some. We were told the police visit about once a month and the bars all know when it is happening, but regardless, if you do choose to partake remember that you are breaking the local law and Thai prison is probably not a very nice place.
One thing I would say about Railay is that it is not really suitable for young solo travelers. This is mostly because most of the tourists here seem to be families or couples. If you are out to meet other solo travellers you’d be much better off over at Tonsai with the slack lining hippies and those who look like they are never going to leave. The atmosphere there is quite different and much more suited to a solo traveller since it feels like a hostel on a beach… Just with more drugs and Haile Selassie flags.