When I was growing up, only two things mattered to me when we traveled – could I shop there and how close was the beach? (You’re impressed with my teenage self’s deep and varied interests, I can tell.) I’m pleased to tell you my passions in life have expanded a great deal since those early years of travel, and I can’t even remember the last time I went shopping, but I’m not going to lie, I still love a good beach. And so, at least once a year, we go in search of the very best ones.
Living here in Southeast Asia, we are spoiled with hundreds (possibly even thousands) of beautiful beaches right at our fingertips. It makes choosing between them all a near-impossible task. (I know, what a predicament.) When, after much research and deliberation, we finally settled on Railay Beach for our Chinese New Year holiday last year, I was fairly certain we were picking one of the very best beach destinations in Thailand…and I wasn’t wrong. Railay blew us away with its beauty and completely chill vibe!
While there is more to Railay than just its beaches, they truly are the main attraction and for good reason. Despite its small size, there are actually four separate beaches to visit in Railay, and all are worthy of your well-earned vacation days. Epic sunsets, a sparkling turquoise sea, and remarkable landscapes – the beaches in Railay are practically the definition of tropical paradise perfection. Keep reading to discover more about these four amazing beaches to visit in Railay, Thailand!
BEACHES TO VISIT IN RAILAY – PHRA NANG BEACH
Is it bad form to start with the best? I don’t care, I’m going to do it anyway.
Of the four beaches to visit in Railay, Phra Nang Beach was my favorite. Located near the southern tip of the peninsula, Phra Nang is just around the corner from Railay’s main beach, but is still very much its own piece of paradise.
Phra Nang Beach is narrow, but long leaving plenty of space for sunbathing with a wide open view of the sea and the unusual limestone karsts rising out of it. Since Phra Nang Beach is bordered on both ends by tall cliffs, the only way to reach the beach at high tide is via a well-marked path from East Railay. This secluded feeling was one of the things that made me love Phra Nang so much. Don’t get me wrong – this beach still gets a lot of visitors, especially in the dry season, but thanks to the cliffs and all the trees it feels more protected and private.
THINGS TO DO AT PHRA NANG BEACH
Go rock climbing. The cliffs along the southern end of Phra Nang Beach are a popular rock climbing spot. (When taking the path from East Railay to Phra Nang, look to your left after the path spits you out on the beach. That’s where you’ll find the rock climbers.) Even if you don’t plan to do any rock climbing, it’s still fun to watch!
Visit Princess Cave. Located directly beside where all the rock climbing action happens, Princess Cave is quite the unusual tourist attraction. That is, if you consider a cave full of wooden penises unusual, anyway.
Swim into the cliff caves. Besides being useful for rock climbing, the cliffs on the southern end of Phra Nang also provide some interesting caves to explore if you’re willing to take a dip into the water to reach them. (The waves aren’t particularly strong, so it’s easy swimming!)
Grab lunch from a long-tail boat. Like little Thai food trucks, the region’s signature long-tail boats start lining up about mid-way down Phra Nang Beach every morning. Offering up all sorts of things from hot noodle dishes to grilled corn-on-the-cob, wading into the water to buy lunch is like a Railay rite of passage.
Watch the sunset. Do yourself a favor and never miss a sunset while you’re staying in Railay. The colors are spectacular, of course, but what I found unexpectedly cool was how the setting sun made the limestone islands off the coast look like shadowy sea creatures rising out of the water. Those islands made photographing sunsets in Railay so much fun!
BEACHES TO VISIT IN RAILAY – WEST RAILAY BEACH
West Railay Beach is the peninsula’s main beach and the most popular of the beaches to visit in Railay, but don’t let that deter you from visiting. There’s room here for everyone!
The beach in West Railay is both long and wide, offering a similar view out to sea of that at Phra Nang Beach. Besides a small range of restaurants bordering the beach along the back, this is also where most of the nice beach resorts in Railay are located. If you like your beaches a little more developed (i.e., more food choices, shops, and cocktails on the beach), then West Railay Beach will probably be your favorite.
THINGS TO DO AT WEST RAILAY BEACH
Go kayaking. Renting a kayak and paddling around the peninsula and out to the rock islands off the coast was one of my favorite things we did in Railay. And it’s super inexpensive! There are several places on West Railay Beach to rent kayaks from and they all offer similar deals. (We rented a two-person kayak for two hours and it cost us the equivalent of $8 USD.)
Take a stroll down Walking Street. Walking Street is the main strip in Railay packed full of funky shops and great places to grab a bite to eat. As you’d expect, the further you get from the beach, the more affordable the restaurants become.
Eat dinner at sunset. Thanks to its west-facing view and a variety of beach front restaurants to choose from, West Railay Beach is the perfect beach for dining while watching the sun go down. Flame Tree Restaurant is a popular choice, but there are others, too. Get seated early for the best view!
Or just watch the sunset from the beach. While the view is similar to that of Phra Nang, sunsets still look quite a bit different on West Railay Beach than they do on Phra Nang. I loved catching the light rays as they disappeared behind the cliffs on the southern end of the beach!
BEACHES TO VISIT IN RAILAY – EAST RAILAY BEACH
While not technically the sort of beach you’d want to go to for swimming or sunbathing, East Railay Beach is still worth a visit.
Depending on where your hotel is located, if you’re arriving to Railay via long-tail boat from Ao Nang, East Railay Beach will probably be the first thing you see on the peninsula. Used mainly as a pier for boats arriving to and leaving Railay, East Railay Beach also features some beautiful mangroves as well as a water-side walking trail you’re almost certain to meander down at least once or twice unless you never leave West Railay.
THINGS TO DO AT EAST RAILAY BEACH
Watch the sunrise. Since the other three beaches to visit in Railay are located on the western side of the peninsula, East Railay Beach is the only beach where you’ll be able to catch the sunrise.
Take a walk down the East Railay Beach path. The path is prettiest when the tide has only halfway come in and you can see more of the mangroves, but it’s also worth a walk at high tide. (At low tide, the waters completely recede and it’s mostly swamps.)
Enjoy more affordable accommodations. Railay is not like most of Thailand where you can stay in four and five star hotels for a song. If you want to stay at a beach-side resort in Railay, you’ll pay a pretty penny for it on West Railay Beach. However, equally beautiful resorts exist on the east side of Railay for almost half the price!
Watch sunset from Tew Lay Bar. As it happens, even though East Railay Beach faces east, you can still catch a phenomenal sunset from here. One of the best spots to watch is from the quirky, hippie-themed Tew Lay Bar. The tide was always out at sunset while we were in Railay, but at other times of year you can sit on the cool patios at Tew Lay Bar and dip your toes in the water while watching the sun go down. (Hard to beat in my opinion!)
BEACHES TO VISIT IN RAILAY – TONSAI BEACH
If you’re looking for the most uncrowded, undeveloped beach in Railay, you’ll find it at Tonsai Beach!
Reachable from West Railay Beach via long-tail boat (or a quick wade through the water at low tide) or from East Railay if you’re up for a hike through the jungle, Tonsai Beach is technically not in Railay, but it’s so close that most people tend to include it anyway. A favorite among rock climbers and backpackers (thanks to its much cheaper prices), Tonsai has a distinct bohemian vibe that you’re sure to pick up on as you walk through the small village dotted with open-air bungalows and bamboo cafes.
THINGS TO DO AT TONSAI BEACH
Take the long way to get there. The half-hour hike to Tonsai from East Railay is part of its appeal, I think. The trailhead is a little difficult to find (it’s easiest just to ask someone), but once you’ve found it, the path through the jungle to Tonsai is clear and scenic the whole way!
Go rock climbing. Like Phra Nang, Tonsai is popular with the rock climbing crowd and you’ll find several schools in Railay offering lessons over this way. Climbing routes in Tonsai are suitable for a wide range of climbers from beginners to experts.
Catch a sunset. Are you sensing a theme here? Every single beach in Railay is excellent for sunset viewing, including Tonsai. Although, if you’re not staying in Tonsai, you’ll have a tough go getting back to Railay in the dark unless you take a long-tail boat. (If it’s low tide and not too dark yet, it is possible to wade back over for free.)
Enjoy the quiet. While the other beaches in Railay have long-tail boats coming and going at all times and occasionally get a little overcrowded, you won’t experience either of those things at Tonsai Beach. It’s a much more peaceful beach than the others, but because of that, don’t expect to find all of the conveniences here that you’ll find at the others like beach-side dining and, well, anything other than a beach actually.
My last piece of advice really only applies if you’re visiting Railay during peak season. Because of its small size and ever-growing popularity, Railay can get rather crowded, particularly during the dry season months of December to April, and the place you’ll notice it the most is on the beaches. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit during peak season, though. The weather is at its best this time of year and you’re likely to experience little to no rain on your holiday, but I do recommend visiting the beaches earlier in the day if you can. They really start to fill up around 11am, so if you can get your beach bumming out of the way in the morning and then spend the rest of the day staying busy with other activities or lounging at your hotel pool, you’ll likely enjoy your time in this little slice of Thai paradise a whole lot more!
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