Read on for a complete guide full of budget Railay travel tips. Railay, Thailand is a peninsula near Krabi, on the southwest coast. Cheap travel in Railay can be difficult, but it is not impossible. We’ll show you how to enjoy travel in Railay for $40 a day!
Railay (sometimes spelled Rai Leh), Thailand is one of the first places I read about when we were considering a trip to Southeast Asia. As I browsed Pinterest boards full of inspiring images of beaches and long tail boats I quickly noticed that many of the pictures were from Railay. We knew we had to see it.
In person Railay is beautiful to be sure, but the overall feeling left us a bit disappointed. Perhaps it was the time we were there (during Chinese New Year) but whatever the reason it was very crowded. The peninsula has been heavily developed, stressing the infrastructure and the beaches themselves.
Nonetheless we definitely enjoyed ourselves and I think during a quieter time Railay has the potential to be spectacular. The natural beauty of the beaches is tough to beat anywhere and there’s an almost endless array of activities beyond the beaches too.
In general Railay is expensive by Thailand standards. But even in high season during a holiday period we were able to visit Railay for about $82 per day for a family of four. Even assuming most of that $82 is due to Kat and me that’s still less than $40 per adult per day.
Railay Travel Tips: Table of Contents
This post is full of detail about how to get to Railay, getting around the peninsula, where to stay in Railay, and things do do and ideas for restaurants. Use the table of contents below to navigate all of the Railay travel tips!
Before we get into the detailed Railay travel tips, here’s a very short video of our Railay vacation.
Also check out more video from rock climbing over the ocean in our post on Railay deep water solo rock climbing.
How to Get to Railay
Railay is a peninsula on the west coast of southern Thailand. It is in the Krabi provice, near the town of Ao Nang, and Krabi City has the nearest major airport (about 45 minutes away by car).
While Railay is a peninsula it’s actually not accessible by land (at least not without trekking through the jungle). You arrive by boat, making it feel much more like an island than part of the mainland.
You can get boats to Railay from many places along Thailand’s Andaman coast. Ao Nang and Krabi City are the two closest ports, but you can also book trips from Phuket, Koh Lanta, and Koh Phi Phi. There are probably other routes as well – basically from wherever you are in the area you can probably get a boat connection to Railay.
From Ao Nang, it’s 100-150 baht ($3-4.50) to Railay West Beach. You buy the tickets just before you want to travel, wait a few minutes, and then get on one of the boats when your boatman is ready. That fare is for the shared boats. You can also hire a private boat for more money. A private boat may be necessary if you’re traveling very early or late in the day.
To get to this part of Thailand you can fly to either Phuket or Krabi, or travel overland (e.g. by van or bus) to Krabi or Ao Nang. From there you take one of the boat connections.
A big benefit of traveling in Thailand is that everything is set up for relatively easy transport between destinations. Especially for travel by sea or land within Thailand, any number of travel agent type offices can explain the options and set you up with the appropriate tickets to get between point A and B.
Getting Around Railay
Railay is essentially divided into three areas: Railay West, Railay East, and Phra Nang at the south end of the peninsula. There are resorts on both East and West, while Phra Nang is mostly undeveloped except for one resort. Railay West and Phra Nang are the beach spots, while Railay East is mostly a tidal mangrove area.
Besides these three general areas there is also a more central area referred to as the highlands, though it is essentially an uphill expansion of Railay East.
Finally Tonsai Beach is also sometimes mentioned as part of Railay but it should really be considered completely separately. Tonsai is north of Railay West but not easily accessible by land from Railay.
I hiked 20-30 minutes on a steep path through the jungle to check out accommodation options near Tonsai, but it’s not something you’d want to be doing every day and certainly not with luggage or kids.
We heard you can scramble over rocks along the water but we understand that’s also a difficult route (we didn’t try that one).
The whole peninsula (other than Tonsai) is not very large and you can walk from the north end to the south end in 20-30 minutes. Railay West is all sand, with two main paths connecting to Railay East. There’s a paved path along the water on Railay East running along the full length of the peninsula.
How to Get to Phra Nang Beach
To get to Phra Nang Beach walk all the way to the south end of Railay East. Keep following the path as it bends to the right and you’ll emerge at Phra Nang.
How to Get to Tonsai Beach
Take the east/west path from Railay East near Anyavee Resort. Soon after leaving Railay East there will be a “T” intersection. Turn right here and walk up the hill. After passing Phutawan Resort on the left you’ll come to a collection of run down bamboo bungalows (very cheap accommodation – see below). The path to Tonsai is hidden in the tall grass to the right of the bungalows. Ask at the bungalows reception desk to make sure you’re going the right way.
Where to Stay in Railay
There are resorts all over Railay, with options in just about every price bracket. However, for a place so famous for beaches there are actually relatively few beachfront resorts. The few beachfront resorts on Railay West and Phra Nang are very expensive, definitely not for budget travelers.
Railay East is home to many more resorts, including a few that will suit budget travelers. While there’s no beach on this side most of the resorts are within a short walk of either Railay West or Phra Nang. The resorts up the hill in the highlands area are a bit further from the beaches, so keep that in mind if you go there for deals.
Railay Viewpoint Resort
We stayed at Railay Viewpoint Resort on Railay East and it was a decent spot. Our room was a bit dated and hot (no AC and just one window for breeze) but served us fine. The resort has a really nice pool and the grounds are attractive.
Like most of the Railay East resorts, Viewpoint is set on the hill going up from the main path, so there’s lots of up and down walking to get to and from your room.
Our rate included a big breakfast buffet at the resort restaurant each day. The food was ok but nothing special.
One significant negative for the Viewpoint Resort is the wifi situation. The resort itself does not offer wifi. There is an internet cafe near the reception desk that offers wifi but it’s quite expensive. We found it more cost effective (and fun) to just go next door to Diamond Cave Restaurant and use their good free wifi over cocktails or coffee.
Our fan room at Railay Viewpoint was 1,200 baht ($36) including breakfast. We negotiated this rate in person and it was cheaper than what was offered online (about $50). They also had AC rooms for 1,600 baht ($48).
Other Cheap Railay Hotels
For some other cheap Railay hotel options look up the hill from Railay East in the highlands area.
I walked through Phutawan Resort and it looked really nice. Phutawan offers newer, and more expensive, rooms but also cheap rustic bungalows for about 600 baht (about $18) per night. The bugalows are really rough and basic, but if you’re just looking for a bed in Railay it seems like a decent option. The resort has a nice pool that you can use regardless of which room you’re in, so you can take advantage of the high end facilities for a low end price.
Just past Phutawan Resort is are Railay Cabana Garden Bungalows. This is as budget as it gets in Railay. There are several bamboo bungalows spread on the hillside. The one I looked at was in really rough shape and I wouldn’t stay there with young kids, but for most backpackers it’s probably fine. The staff was really friendly though and for the right traveler it might be a fun place to stay. They offered me a bungalow for 500 baht ($15) per night.
Finally, you could stay near Tonsai Beach but at that point you’re not really in Railay anymore. The bungalows by Tonsai are similar to the Cabana Garden Bungalows but actually more expensive (at least based on quoted rates when I was exploring – I didn’t bargain hard).
Things to Do in Railay
OK with the logistics out of the way, let’s have some fun! There’s plenty to keep you busy for a while in Railay. Here are some Railay travel tips for exciting activities, gorgeous beaches, and more.
The two main beaches are Railay West and Phra Nang. You can’t miss Railay West (your boat will probably drop you off there) and I describe how to get to Phra Nang above.
Phra Nang is your best bet for a day on the beach. There are monkeys on the path to get there, more places to spread out compared to Railay West, rock climbers on the cliffs behind you, and you can explore nearby caves by swimming and on foot. There’s a roped off swimming area to keep the long tails away on the end of the beach closest to the path from Railay East.
Food is also better at Phra Nang because a floating market of long tails collects near the middle of the beach (keep walking to the right as you arrive on the beach from the Railay East path). The boats are like the food trucks we have all over the U.S. now, and there’s a big variety of good cheap food available.
Sunsets at Phra Nang are also spectacular. The cliffs glow orange and there are far fewer people on the beach.
If you’re looking for lunch while hanging out at Railay West, walk down the sandy path that goes back behind the beach (near the center of the beach). There are some decent, relatively inexpensive, options for food back there. There’s one stand selling delicious, cheap gyros and fruit shakes that we hit up more than once.
If you’ve been following our travels you may recall how much we loved kayaking in the Philippines. After our many wonderful days kayaking in El Nido we were really looking forward to kayaking in Railay too.
Well, the kayaking in Railay is gorgeous and we had an amazing time… for about 45 minutes. Then Nana and Papa’s kayak sank somewhere off Phra Nang beach, no boats would stop to help us, and when one finally did a giant jellyfish stung Papa while he was trying to climb up the ladder into the rescue boat. All the while Aurora was completely losing her mind, terrified for poor Nana and Papa.
So that was a pretty major fail of an activity for us. We were never in serious danger as the water was warm, we were not too far from shore, and the weather was good. Nonetheless it was an unsettling experience, especially for Nana and Papa who were bobbing in the water and Aurora who was so concerned for them.
It *could* have been fun though. So learn from our experience and enjoy yourself. Here are some tips.
You can rent kayaks from a couple of places on Railay West. You just show up, hand over a room key or cash deposit as collateral, and grab a kayak. The rates are based on how long you use the kayak and are clearly posted.
Carefully inspect your kayak before leaving the beach! In our case there were rubber covers that were supposed to seal certain compartments in the kayak. These looked like storage compartments but it turned out they were critical to the seaworthiness of the kayak. They were not sealed, and Nana and Papa’s kayak took on enough water to cause them to capsize.
The kayak rental place should obviously provide life jackets, so make sure you get one that fits. We bring the kids’ Puddle Jumpers with us everywhere and make sure they wear them because often places don’t have life jackets small enough to fit children properly.
It would have been helpful for us to have a whistle to get the attention of passing boats. Waving only elicited waves in return, and even waving our paddles in the air many boats passed us by before one turned to help.
Railay is a famous rock climbing mecca. There are routes all over the peninsula and plenty of schools to guide you and help you brush up your skills. We had an awesome time doing deep water solo rock climbing with Hot Rock Climbing School and would highly recommend that activity.
The beaches in Railay are nice, but the truly spectacular ones are offshore. Take a day and do some island hopping to see the real beauty of this area. Our Railay island hopping tour was a highlight of our time in Railay and doing an island hopping tour is a prime Railay travel tip. Don’t miss them!
There are a couple spots for hiking in Railay. The first is between Railay and Tonsai Beach. The path to Tonsai climbs through dense jungle, over the mountain between Railay West and Tonsai, and back down again. There’s not much as far as views, but it’s good exercise and you might encounter some cool critters. I saw a lizard that looked just like a miniature version of that spitting dinosaur in Jurassic Park.
You can also climb to the top of the cliff over Phra Nang Beach. A “trail” leads up from the main path between Railay East and Phra Nang, but it’s really more of a vertical mud wall with a rope to cling to for support. We didn’t do this one so can’t speak for the view from the top but it looked like a very challenging trek.
Budget about $7-10 per person per day for activities and adjust up or down depending on how busy you want to be.
Where to Eat in Railay
When looking for Railay travel tips, many people are probably interested in the food. Cheap food in Railay is hard to find. Coming from Chiang Mai where you can stuff yourself for a couple dollars we found most food in Railay to be relatively expensive. But there are some options for reasonably priced good food in Railay.
The biggest concentration of cheap restaurants in Railay is along the northern path between Railay East and West. There are several low key places serving a variety of traditional Thai dishes and some western food too.
Other than that there are some places scattered along Railay West that are worth checking out.
We went to the Diamond Cave Restaurant many times. The food was consistently good, service was great, and the view over the Railay East mangroves was not too shabby either. We’d often go for their happy hour cocktail specials and find ourselves still sitting here 2 hours later after a nice meal.
For good pizza check out Joy on East Railay, near Diamond Cave. It’s a small place with a few tables on a platform right in the middle of the walking path. Sounds strange but it works and you get a nice view of the mangroves to enjoy with your pizza. The pizza is excellent with super thin crust and yummy toppings like gorgonzola cheese.
We averaged $31 per day to feed the family, so budget about $10-15 per day per adult. Keep in mind breakfast was included with our room at the Viewpoint Resort, so budget a little higher if you are buying it yourself.
Railay Travel Tips: Summary
While Railay didn’t quite live up to our lofty expectations it was still a fun spot and there’s tons to keep you entertained. During a quieter time of year it’s probably even better.
At $82 per day for a family of 4 during one of the busiest times of the year we thought Railay was still relatively affordable, though more expensive than other places in Thailand. You can easily travel to this paradise for less than $40 per day per person using the Railay travel tips we describe in this post.
Have you been to Railay? Planning a trip? Let us know your own Railay travel tips in the comments below!