Adventurous, beautiful, and isolated — Railay, Thailand, is a unique destination once mainly frequented by backpackers and rock climbing enthusiasts. Today, even honeymooners and families run to Railay for the beauty and exotic appeal.
Railay feels like an island, but it's actually a peninsula only accessible by boat. The remoteness adds to the charm already prevalent thanks to Krabi's famously postcard-perfect limestone formations.
- Don't Shop: Nearly everything costs a little more in Railay due to its location. Instead, purchase toiletries, sunscreen, and consumables before you arrive. Railay definitely isn't the place for souvenir shopping or picking out a new shirt. A few shops provide basics along with sunglasses and flip-flops if the sea steals yours, but prices are among the highest in Thailand.
- ATMs: Cash is available from a few ATMs found on the main walkways; the usual 180-baht fee (around US $6) applies for each transaction. Bringing enough money for the first few nights is always a good idea just in case the ATM network is experiencing trouble. If you plan to dive, bring enough baht to pay in cash and avoid additional fees.
- Credit Cards: Credit cards are typically only accepted in major resorts and at diving or climbing shops; a fee (sometimes 10 percent or more) is added if you pay with plastic. Don't plan to rely on credit cards — bring plenty of Thai baht! Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted cards.
- No 7-Elevens: Unlike pretty much the rest of Thailand, Railay has somehow resisted the tide of 7-Eleven minimarts ubiquitous everywhere else. Prices can differ significantly between the many small shops and independently owned minimarts. Even bottled water is way more expensive in Railay; compare priced between shops.
Health and Safety
For any serious health concern, you'll need to go back to Krabi Town or Ao Nang. The "international clinics" around Railay are well-known scam operations that charge exorbitant prices. Nearly all treatments begin with an IV hydration drip which turns out to be very expensive (many times the cost in the United States) if you don't ask the price beforehand.
Stay well hydrated by enjoying the fresh coconuts available in Railay. Keep in mind, the delicious fruit shakes have a lot of sugar syrup added to them unless you ask for less.
- Monkeys: Curious macaque monkeys patrol the main paths and beaches. They even make occasional raids into restaurants and steal items from resorts. Although usually harmless, you should avoid encouraging them — don't feed the monkeys or taunt them with anything! Getting scratched or bitten requires a trip back to Krabi for a visit to the clinic.
- Drugs: Although some people openly smoke marijuana in Railay — particularly in Ton Sai — no recreational drugs are legal. Getting caught with drugs is a big deal in Thailand.
- Dengue Fever: Mosquitoes are a real problem in Railay because of all the limestone dimples and mangrove areas hosting stagnant water. The daytime-biting mosquitoes can carry dengue fever. Take measures to avoid bites, particularly at dusk.
- Jellyfish: Although rare, jellyfish encounters on the beaches in Railay can take the fun out of a beach day. Sometimes only pieces of tentacles from big ones are left in the water, but they are still enough to create a sting. Scrape the sting carefully with something to remove the barbed stinging cells (a credit card or ID card works well), and then douse the area with vinegar (ask at a restaurant) to help alleviate the pain.
- Cliff Jumping: The tides are extreme on beaches in Railay, particularly at Railay East where most boats arrive. Attempting the cliff jump on Phra Nang Beach during the wrong tide is the difference between a fun plunge and a fatal fall. Don't be the first to jump! If you plan to jump, personally check the depth by swimming over.
- Solo Climbing: If you want to tap your inner Alex Honnold, solo (climbing without gear) and deep-water solo climbing can be found in the area. Some require hikes and scrambles to reach. For obvious safety reasons, you shouldn't go try soloing unless you're very experienced and take a local guide. Ask about opportunities for deep-water soloing (dropping into water at the end of a climb) inside one of the local climbing schools.
Accommodation in Railay, Thailand
Prices for accommodation can nearly always be negotiated in Railay during Thailand's low season (May to October) or if you are staying a week or longer. Negotiating prices is an integral part of local culture; there is no harm in politely asking for a discount if you'll be staying for a while.
- For Budget Travelers: As many places in Thailand do, accommodation in Railay is creeping upscale as budget places get bought or forced out to make room for resorts. Ton Sai still offers the best deals for backpackers. Aside from Ton Sai, you'll find the cheapest accommodation options at the extreme end of Railay East. You will also find more bars and restaurants for budget travelers. If you don't mind climbing a few — or a lot — of stairs to get home, the different bungalow operations located on the hills above Railay East are good bargains; many have pleasant gardens.
- Wi-Fi: Finding reliable Wi-Fi in Railay can be hit or miss. The more expensive bungalow operations typically have better connections, but the location of your room matters. For budget bungalows set in a lush garden with free Wi-Fi, check out the Railay Garden View Resort.
Getting Around Railay
Every part of Railay can be reached by walking — that's a good thing, because you won't find any tuk-tuks, motorized vehicles, or taxis! Although the drone of traffic is replaced by the noise from longtail boats on some beaches, Railay is one of the few places in Thailand you won't have to dodge motorbikes while walking.
When getting in and out of longtail boats, the primary mode of transportation around the peninsula, you'll be expected to jump overboard in hopefully shallow water and wade ashore with your luggage.
- Getting in: The longtail boat ride from Ao Nang can get extremely wet — for passengers and luggage — depending on the temperament of the sea and the driver. Waterproof your electronics and passport.
- Getting to Ton Sai: The 20-minute scramble from Railay West to Ao Ton Sai starts sharply up slick rocks with fixed ropes. Doing the jungle scramble with luggage can be challenging. It is possible to walk in the water around the rocky outcrop to Ton Sai Beach from Railay West only during low tide. Otherwise, you'll need to hire a longtail boat to bring you and luggage over to Ton Sai. Team with other travelers to get a better rate for the short ride and cut down on boat noise.