Saturday, June 9, 2018

Thailand Travel Series: Railay Beach, Thailand

This is Part 7 of the Thailand and Cambodia Travel Series. Read Part 1 Here.

TRULY THIS IS A SPECIAL PLACE. Memorable for all the right reasons. Every vacationer’s dream. Railay Beach is only accessible by boat. It is a peninsula cut off from Ao Nang by dramatic limestone cliffs and surrounded by a sapphire Andaman Sea.

On the ferry ride over, I realized that every single face on board was a foreigner. No locals going here. We journeyed over from Phuket. Our same tour agency stall we’d gone to for setting up our Phrang Nga Bay trip and our Deep Sea Fishing trip helped us out here as well. We stopped by them two nights before to say we needed help getting from Kamala Beach to Rassada Pier and purchasing two ferry tickets down to Railay Beach. They hooked us up – after a few quick conversations on the phone, they handed us an envelope with our agenda: we’d receive a hotel pick up in a mini van that was making the rounds with the other northern beach hotels and then drop off at the southern Rassada Pier.
I had debated quite a while how to get the ferry tickets. There were some online options that I was unsure if those tickets would be honored, but at the end of the day, I’m glad we went with the local tourist agency. (These booths will be a dime a dozen.) Never hurts to let them know that you intend to purchase multiple tickets, too – that typically always results in a price discount. The van picked us up and dropped us straight where we needed to go. An operation was in place to herd all of the varying tourists onto the ferry to go to their respective destinations. They even gave us different colored stickers to mark what destination group we belonged to. This ferry would cross the bay and have a stop at Ao Nang, the neighboring city to Railay, and then divert the Railay Beach folks onto longtail boat for their drop off.
The ferry ride worked well. They had us stack our luggage up top which left me wrestling with my paranoia to leave any suitcases unattended, but I hugged my backpack tight to me inside the cabin. I was also the first one to zip up there once we reached Ao Nang, but our luggage was untouched.

After the Ao Nang group transferred to their longboats to drop them off in the harbor, the Railay Beach party was directed to ours. We left the busy ferry drop off pier behind and soared across crystal blue waves. Stunning limestone sea stacks came into view, and everyone fell silent staring. White sand beaches peeked from around the skirts of vermilion cliffs and iridescent emerald jungle. Unusually shaped peaks, like Chicken Island, speared up from the spitting sea spray. We had come to Railay Beach.

The longtail boat spluttered up as close as it could to the beach. They only leave a couple times a day depending on the tides. We jumped into the water (wear shorts and sandals you don’t mind getting wet and pack light!), held our luggage above our heads, and trekked up one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen. Coastline resorts greeted us upon arrival.  
There is a limited number of accommodations in Railay so book early, far ahead of time. We originally tried to stay at Tonsai Bay Resort which is on the isolated Tonsai Bay next door to Railay Beach. It offers bungalow style housing up to lavish accommodations and some of the most memorable rock climbing overlooking the sea that you can hope to come across. However, that was booked up at least 6 months before when we tried to book it. We booked Railay Bay Resort and Spa which was pricier but met every one of our expectations. It is directly on Railay Beach. It is near Rayavadee, which the most luxurious upscale resort spilling out onto its own beach near Princess Cave with infinity pools and what have you. There was also Sand Sea Resort next to us which seemed to be a better price wise option. There also looked to be some smaller bungalows and bed and breakfast locations in the jungle and on the western side of the island, so I would advise shop around, but shop early to find yourself a spot here, because it will get booked.
Railay Bay Resort and Spa is literally right at the longtail boat drop off spot. We actually wandered around it for a while before realizing that yes, we were in our hotel – it is a very expansive resort. From there, we found the check in office on the western side of the beach. Our room was wonderful and had its own bath tub and shower, which was a luxury. There were also more friendly cats wandering around, happy to jump up on the porch and meow until you gave them attention.

The restaurant was right on the beach. We wandered past a large inland swimming pool, a convenience store, and an excursion booth to get there. There was a second beachside pool with a bar, and a giant inflatable pink flamingo that was fun to float around on. The beach was absolutely beautiful. Really watch the tides to know when to swim and when to explore the sea caves that get exposed once the tide pulls out enough. There is also a steep clifftop jungle trek you can do up to a viewpoint at the far west end of the beach but keep in mind the signs warning to be down before sunset to avoid injury.
Wandering toward the east, we came to a trail that took us inland to a thriving tourist village. There were tons of thatch roof cottages and shopfronts, plenty of tour agency booths that are a better deal to book trips from then the ones on the resort, and many delicious restaurants and food stalls. Bob Marley was also a big presence in this tucked away jungle village. It was extremely fun to wander through there and grab a snack of pancake slathered in chocolate sauce, as well as feast on some delicious curry for dinner. I tried a Thai cashew chicken dish which was spicy but soo good. We wandered until we needed boots to go much further; the road veered off into a series of dirt paths. Some of them intersect to the west side of the island, where there are some low key bungalows and a Muay Thai boxing ring set up. There was a fight going on that night, and the bar scene comes alive then as well. Not only people-watching can be done here – we also spotted a rare slow loris clambering its way slowly and ponderously along a wire once night fell. Monkeys chatter in the trees, and we spotted a few dusky langurs hanging around our hotel. There were also a few giant birds, which I think were some kind of hornbill.

We had planned to go to Koh Phi Phi on a snorkeling day trip from Railay Beach. However, at this point in our trip, we were a bit tired of the constant travel and a bit leery since we’d heard Koh Phi Phi is tourist central. As such, we decided to just rent a sea kayak from some folks on the beach (equivalent of about $11 US for the day) and set out to explore the sea stacks.

This was by far the best decision we could have made. The sea kayaking was so much fun. It was just us, the ocean, and tons of small islands to explore. We kept close to the shorelines and didn’t encounter problems with the currents. We first paddled out through some sea caves and arches to land at the Princess Cave beach, where we explored the cave and snorkeled. There were longtail boats docked here offering yummy mango sticky rice and an assortment of other goodies for a snack.

Then we set out in our kayak again and circled all the way to the west side of the island, where there were lots of mangrove trees and monkeys chattering. There were neat lone trees that appeared to be growing up out of the ocean itself. Then we circled back and paddled all the way out to Ton Sai Beach. There were plenty of seabirds nesting in the cliffs. There was also some neat rock climbing spots – one was a tight rope walk over the ocean. The other was a rock climb up a sheer face with nothing but the sea below. We spotted some rock climbers and pulled into Ton Sai to watch.

At this point, as we were journeying back in open ocean, it began to downpour. It was a tremendous, dramatic storm with the violet clouds splashed against the sapphire blue depths that turned black as the gale moved in. We began to paddle like mad to make it back to our beach. I spotted two boys spring up from out of nowhere on the mudflats of Ton Sai, they made thin shadows as the rain and winds howled. Our kayak was fast filling up with water but it was certainly a sturdy boat – we made it back in time and ran up onto the beach with it. The locals we had rented the kayak from were surprised to see us – they had taken cover under a nearby building. We returned the kayak to them and ran back to our hotel room to take a nice warm bath.

This was such a memorable moment. The rest of our time at Railay we were safe sunbathing, but this is a very dramatic and unforgettable place to visit. It has something for everyone whether it’s sea kayaking, rock climbing, or if you prefer to do a tour out to one of the neighboring islands to snorkel, and the atmosphere is very village-oriented and you feel as if you’re secretly hidden away from the world. We had a really great time here.
You can ask your hotel for help or a local agency, but longtail boats will come at certain times to pick up those departing from Railay Beach to head back for the mainland. For us, we departed pretty early in the morning to head over to Ao Nang Town, where we would be during the Loy Krathong Festival.
Upcoming Blog Post: Ao Nang and Loy Krathong

The above is depicted as fiction, not fact.

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