The karst cliffs and azure waters of Railay Bay make it one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But we found staying at laid-back Tonsai Beach was the best way to see this stunning scenery.
The beaches that line Railay Bay are magnificent.
Steep-sided limestone karsts are shrouded in dense jungle and fringed by golden beaches. Playful monkeys swing through the trees watching climbers desperately cling to overhanging rocks. Colourful fish swim in crystal clear waters as long tail boats parked on the sand offer tasty morsels to passers-by.
It is a picture-perfect paradise.
But getting to Railay Bay is not easy. The high cliffs and dense jungle mean there are no roads; a long-tail boat is your only option into this beach paradise. Since you can’t just hop in a taxi to get around its important to stay in the right place. You have four main choices: Railay Bay West, Railay Bay East, Phra Nang or Tonsai Beach.
Here is what you need to know to help you decide.
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LAYOUT OF RAILAY BAY
Railay Bay is blessed with 4 different beaches each with their own atmosphere. All are within walking distance of each other.
Tonsai Beach is rock climbing bliss and home to adrenaline junky thrill seekers with a cool vibe. Railay West has a magnificent arc of golden sands and is backed by sea front restaurants and hotels. Railay East contains most of the high-end resorts and the pick-up point for boat tours. Phra Nang is a smaller beach with roaming monkeys and great views over karst rocks sitting out to sea.
Each has their own particular appeal, activities, accommodation styles and eating options. So the place you stay will determine the type of Railay experience you are going to have.
RAILAY BAY WEST
Railay West is home to 600m of curving golden beach that ends in dramatic limestone karsts creating postcard perfection. The beautiful water is great for swimming and long stretches of sand provide plenty of places to relax. Colourful boats offer day trips into the marine waters and karst wonderland around Krabi.
The back of the beach is lined with hotels and restaurants. Walking Street – a small path that connects Railay West to Railay East – contains convenience stores, cool bars, larger scale cafes and craft shops. Unfortunately, the service at many of the cafés is in desperate need of improvement.
Railay West is a beautiful location with many facilities and activities. Kayaks, canoes and long-tail boats can be hired; sight-seeing and snorkelling tours head out island hopping around Krabi. It’s also an easy 5-minute walk over to Railay East and 15 minutes to stunning Phra Nang Cave Beach. Most tourists choose to stay at Railay West due to the wide array of accommodation and facilities and the amazing beach on your doorstep.
RAILAY BAY EAST
Railay Bay East has a range of accommodation options including some higher-end hotels. complete with all the luxury facilities they provide – the perfect place to reminisce about your favourite beach quotes. Its pier is the main pick up point for boats going to Phuket and Phi Phi Island.
Unfortunately, Railay East beach is not a swimming beach. When the tide is out it’s mostly mudflats and mangroves. When the tide is in, the water rises to an unappealing cement path that runs around the beach.
Although Railay East offers superb views at high tide it is not a great place to hang out, but with only a 5-minute walk to Railay West or a 15-minute walk to beautiful Phra Nang Beach, you have not got far to go for great beaches and more activities.
Tonsai Beach sits directly under a magnificent karst twisting into vertical walls and overhanging rock faces. It is an ideal playground for rock climbers of all abilities. Even if you’re not a rock climber, watching these daring athletes from the comfort of the nearby bar is a test of nerves.
Tonsai Beach has a much friendlier attitude than its neighbour, Railay West. Backpackers and rock climbers chill out on the beach front bars and a small street (set back from the beach and behind an ugly concrete wall) is lined with engaging local bars and cafes serving terrific quality, well-priced food. It’s a cool vibe and relaxed atmosphere.
Canoes and kayaks can be rented to explore the bay but there are no golden sands and it is difficult to swim. At low tide it’s rocky and muddy, at high tide the beach all but disappears. To reach good beaches you must cross the rock face that separates Tonsai Beach from Railay Bay West.
At low tide, you can walk around the base of the rock face, scrambling over rocks. At high tide, there’s a path that goes up over the rock and through the jungle before dropping back down into Railay West. Both take 15 minutes to walk. The walk is a little tricky, but if you are steady on your feet, not a problem. However it becomes difficult with luggage, so make sure that upon arrival you take your boat to Tonsai Beach and not Railay West or East. It is also harder when it is dark as the path is not lit, so bring a torch or make it back before the light disappears.
PHRA NANG BEACH
Phra Nang Beach is the least developed of all the beaches but quite possibly the most beautiful. It’s a 15-minute walk from Railay East under steep karsts and through dense jungle as monkeys swing on the trees overhead. The 450-metre beach contains soft fluffy sand and shallow warm waters. Two small karst islands sit just offshore, rising out of the crystal blue waters.
While there are no facilities on the beach, shade can be found under trees, and at lunchtime, long-tail boats pull up offering a great selection of delicious Thai food. Standing in the water, sipping your coconut, waiting for your food to be freshly prepared by a smiling face is a holiday highlight.
With beautiful scenery, clear water, soft golden sand, and great local experiences, Phra Nang Beach is simply one of the best beaches anywhere in the world
WHERE TO STAY IN RAILAY BAY?
There’s no shortage of accommodation options on Railay. From chilled-out backpacker digs to top-end luxury, there’s something on Railay for every type of budget.
Each of the main areas offers a slightly different experience based on what you are looking for. Are you looking for a relaxed indulgence or something more party-oriented?
Here’s our pick of the best choices on each of the beaches at Railay.
With a cool relaxed vibe and excellent value accommodation, Tonsai Bay Resort is a good option for independent travellers who don’t mind the tricky 15-minute walk over to the main beach.
RAILAY WEST & EAST
With stunning scenery and beautiful beaches within an easy walk of the main hub, Railay Bay Resort & Spa is a great option if you care about convenience and having lots of stuff on your doorstep.
PHRA NANG BEACH
Phra Nang Beach is located on a truly magnificent beach and Rayavadee is the only – and very upmarket – choice. If a trip to Railay is about splurging out, this place will not disappoint
OUR PICK: TONSAI BAY
Our pick for staying at this magnificent beach is Tonsai Bay, mostly because it suited our daily schedule.
We spent the days on Phra Nang Beach, swimming, sunbathing and eating egg-fried rice from long tail boats parked on the shore. Late afternoon we spent back at Tonsai Beach bar with a beer in hand watching the climbers scale the cliffs. Dinner was usually at the local restaurants behind Tonsai Bay Resort where the quality and price were significantly better.
This meant we didn’t need to make the walk over to Railay West in the evening or put up with the lousy service and noisy tourists. The 35-minute walk every morning and afternoon to get to Phra Nang through the jungle was a joy rather than an annoyance for us.
Regardless of where you choose to stay, you must go to Railay Bay. It’s simply a stunning location and quite possibly the most beautiful beach in the world.
If you have more time to explore the rest of the country, check out this 2 week Thailand itinerary.
GETTING TO TONSAI BEACH AND RAILAY BAY
To get to Railay Bay, fly into Krabi. From the airport, take a 45-minute taxi (600 baht) or bus (150 baht) to Ao Nang Beach. From Ao Nang Beach pier, take a 20-minute long-tail boat ride to either Tonsai Beach or to Railay Bay West. The public longtail boats will wait for a minimum of 10 passengers before departing and cost 100 baht per person. When you arrive, the boats will drop you on the beach, meaning you must wade into shore carrying your bags and make your way to your hotel.
Alternatively, get your hotel to organise a private transfer from the airport. This will include taxi, private boat and help with your luggage to your hotel. The cost ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 baht for up to 4 people.
If you are arriving from Phuket (Bang Rong Pier) or Phi Phi (Ao Tonsai Pier), many boats regularly plough the route. They drop you at the pier at Railay East, so you don’t have to get your feet wet.
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