Railay Beach is arguably one of the most beautiful locations in Thailand’s popular southern region. The landmass is created by an eye-popping collection of gorgeous limestone outcrops that are connected to the mainland by a small expanse of sand, forming one of the smaller peninsula’s in the country. Upon first glance, Railay is hidden behind the naturally stunning cliffs, giving it a clandestine feel. Once there, however, you’ll notice the setting is anything but secret. Set amid the bustling town of Ao Nang—a tourist center offering shopping, longboat transportation to nearby islands, and a mass of dive centers—and the also-busy town of Krabi in Krabi province, Railay Beach has been a well-known climbing spot for decades. It is only accessed by boat; most tourists arrive by longtail boats departing from Krabi or by songthaew (taxi) from Krabi to Ao Nang and then on to West Railay.
Railay Beach is comprised of four distinct areas: West and East Railay, Phra Nang, and Tonsai. West Railay is the beaten path on this stunning isthmus where nearly all longtail boats, on no particular schedule, appear hauling in tourists, so it can be rather noisy. There are several tasty restaurants and many mid-level beach hotels along the shallow expanse of water. East Railay is laced with budget accommodations and is also the landing point for longtail boats jetting in from Krabi. The East beach isn’t for swimming; the waterline is home to an aging mangrove forest, now the natural border along endless guesthouse receiving areas and restaurants. The atmosphere is unbeatable; a heady mix of Louisiana-bayou-meets-Thai-coastal-village. Phra Nang is best known for the ultra-luxurious resort Rayavadee. When it was first built, the public lost access to the beach. However, after much lobbying, there is now a decent beach trail for all, which is a well-used access point during the high season between November and February for reaching the beautiful coast. If climbing is on your travel agenda, Tonsai should be on your hit list. The pace on Tonsai is decidedly slower, the crowd more relaxed, and the climbing is top-notch. Tonsai Bay is the most difficult of the four areas to reach. It features world-class outcrops for climbing as well as a lovely beach, which for most is an afterthought.