One of the most popular and scenic destinations in the entire Krabi region, Railay Beach enjoys a stunning location. Although this is still part of the Krabi mainland, the topography of the area means that the beaches of Railay are only accessible by boat. Dominated by towering limestone cliffs, Railay Beach is part of a peninsula called Laem Phra Nang. This entire headland is referred to as Railay by many visitors although Laem Phra Nang actually comprises four main beach areas which are connected by walkways.
Bays and beaches
In Thai, ‘ao‘ means bay, ‘hat‘ (also spelt as had or haad) is beach, ‘tham‘ is cave and ‘laem‘ means cape or headland.
West Railay Beach
West Railay Beach is a gorgeous location to soak up the sun and scenery. With a backdrop of dramatic limestone cliffs, the beach at West Railay forms an inviting curve of soft sand. Although accommodation here is generally more expensive than nearby Ao Nang and East Railay, there are still some good value choices to be found. If money is no object, the Rayavadee enjoys a premium location that straddles West Railay Beach and Phra Nang Beach. And if you like the sound of the Rayavadee but your wallet doesn’t, Ao Nang is a good alternative with a broad range of accommodation and dining options. Staying in Ao Nang you are only a 10-minute boat ride away from Railay and this part of the mainland also makes a great base to visit not just Railay, but the outlying islands too.
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East Railay Beach
East Railay is the landing point for the longtail boats which arrive from Krabi Town. The beach at East Railay can’t compete in the beauty stakes with West Railay and Phra Nang and a combination of tides and mangroves make this area unsuitable for swimming. At low tide, the water recedes to reveal an expanse of mud flats and although the beach itself lacks the soft sands of the other Railay beach areas, the surrounding scenery remains impressive. Accommodation at East Railay can be good value and staying here puts you within easy walking distance of the beaches at West Railay and Phra Nang.
Phra Nang Beach
This part of the headland is shown on some maps as Ao Phra Nang or Hat Tham Phra Nang. The phrase Phra Nang translates to a revered lady and in this instance refers to the woman who locals still pay homage to at Phra Nang Cave. Phra Nang Beach isn’t particularly long, but is a beautiful spot and excellent for swimming. The sand is at its whitest and softest here compared to the other Railay beaches. Tucked away at the southern end of the bay is Phra Nang Cave (also known as Princess Cave) with this part of the beach offering the most shade.
Tonsai Beach has a reputation for attracting backpackers and bohemian travellers. This section of the Laem Phra Nang headland is also famous as a hub for rock climbers. Access to West Railay is via a walkway that leads through the trees and around the cliffs. At low tide it’s also possible to walk along a pathway and climb over the rocks that separate Tonsai from West Railay, but be careful as the rocks are slippery.
Food and drink
There are some pleasant beach-side restaurants set amongst the coconut palms on West Railay, and on the walkway leading to East Railay there are plenty more places to satisfy hungry and thirsty sun-seekers. Over on Phra Nang Beach, longtail boats double up as floating vendors selling food and drinks.
What to see and do at Railay
For the majority of day-trippers, Railay is all about relaxing on the beach and admiring the stunning scenery. For the more energetic, you can try your hand at rock-climbing. The area is a magnet for serious rock-climbers, but there are also some climbs suitable for novices with instructors on hand to literally show newbies the ropes. A secret lagoon behind the cliffs can be accessed without specialist climbing skills, but this is strenuous work clambering up and over rocks and is more difficult than many people anticipate when first setting off.
Look out too for the monkeys on the walkways linking East Railay, West Railay and Phra Nang Beach. Unfortunately, the monkeys have become accustomed to people feeding them which means that they are not shy about jumping on backpacks or trying to snatch food and drink out of people’s hands.