Railay, Thailand is the closest we’ve come in Southeast Asia to tropical paradise. (Just google “Railay Beach wallpaper”. Yes, you can go there.)
Our family spent four nights on Railay in March, bookended by stunning rock formations, graced with impeccable weather and sharing the experience with reasonable crowds over an Easter Weekend.
This was the kind of vacation spot you imagine returning to even before you leave. So, ready to hop on a longtail boat and get over there? Here are 12 tips for your family trip to Railay, Thailand.
A dozen things to know about Railay, Thailand
- #1 You’ll arrive by boat.
- #2 Then get around on foot.
- #3 Tide, to go or not to go?
- #4 You can get (further) away from it all.
- #5 But get back for sunset.
- #6 You can get a lot on the sidewalk (a.k.a. Walking Street).
- #7 Seek out sea glass.
- #8 Pick up plastic.
- #9 You can behold bioluminescence.
- #10 Or take a rock climbing lesson.
- #11 Getting to Princess Cave is easy.
- #12 Plan to use cash.
- Where to stay on Railay, Thailand
- Where to eat on Railay, Thailand
- When to go to Railay, Thailand
#1 You’ll arrive by boat.
Railay, though attached to mainland Thailand, is inaccessible by road. To get there, we flew into Krabi International Airport then took a sprinter van, tuk tuk, longtail boat and another tuk tuk (all arranged by our accommodation – see Where to Stay below), that had us door-to-door in just about one hour after landing. (Yes, they had it down pat.)
You can also reach Railay from Phuket International Airport via a similar combination of modes (but taking about 2.5-3 hours), from Phuket Town via ferry (offered seasonally, about 2.5 hours), or from nearby Ao Nang via a quick 15-minute longtail boat. No matter where you’re coming from, dress ready to disembark into ankle-deep (or even knee-deep) water.
#2 Then get around on foot.
The area is connected purely by sidewalks, giving Railay a uniquely leisurely vibe. Have fun spotting how the daily goings-on occur without vehicles. Bags of ice, produce and bottled beverages, for instance, are all delivered up the sidewalk via wheelbarrow. Trash is carted away in a handcart. The rare tuk tuk totes luggage from boats to hotels, and one cliffside accommodation even had its own luggage pulley system.
We almost always favored the mobility of our wearable baby carrier when we traveled during the infant/toddler stage, but sidewalk condition is smooth enough to roll a stroller, and we definitely witnessed strolling families – even on the beach a few times!
#3 Tide, to go or not to go?
Ba-dum-ch! Really, I’ve never paid too much attention to tide charts on vacation, but these will make a difference in your experience here. We found West Railay Beach much more impressive at high tide. On the other hand, walking to Tonsai Beach is only possible at low tide. So, we planned our beach time for high tide and enjoyed exploring tide pools and spotting marine life during low tide.
If you only visit West Railay Beach during low tide, you’ll see a higher proportion of rocky sand to water within the frame of limestone karst. Scenic, yes, but postcard perfect? No. Looking back, I realize I didn’t even take a panorama of the beach during low tide!
If you visit during high tide, you’ll see water – aquamarine or jungle green depending on conditions – lapping up to powdery white sand, all framed tightly by the famous rock formation.
You needn’t possess an iota of nautical skill either – it’s super easy to consult a handy site like World Beach Guide to find out when this happens. But, if you have a kiddo in middle school or feel up for some mental exercise, why not review the science behind tides then marvel at how physics unfolds in front of you.
#4 You can get (further) away from it all.
If you want to get (further) away from it all, there are loads of boat companies to get you to some uniquely picturesque Thai islands. Whether you’re looking for day on a private longtail boat (we were quoted approximately $500+ USD) to a more affordable group excursion, you can book these along the Railay’s Walking Street or direct through a company online.
We opted for a small-group (25 person), 4-island boat trip. We WhatsApped directly with Krabi EZTrails, and booked spots for the three of us totaling about $250 (cash only). Inclusive of breakfast, lunch and snacks, it was a full day from 8a to 4p. Plus, our West Railay Beach location earned us the perk of being picked up last and dropped off first as the rest of the guests were overnighting in Ao Nang or Krabi.
Overall, this was a very recommendable tour with extensive coverage of the Andaman Sea. Just don’t hang your hat too much on the claim that their early bird start will “avoid the crowds”. We found there were still plenty of other boats about.
From our pick up, it took only 20 minutes to reach Ko Kai, home of the judiciously named Chicken Rock. While the team prepared a hearty breakfast of sticky rice, dough fritters, bananas and coffee, we were able to walk along a sandbar connecting to Koh Mor and Koh Tub. The sandbar is a unique attraction that is only visible at low tide, so where this stop fits on your itinerary depends on the tide schedule.
We then rode another 45 minutes south to Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Lee where we gawked in absolute awe at the cove before us.
A little background: Maya Bay is that beach propelled to global notoriety by the 2000 film The Beach starring Leo DiCaprio. Between the Hollywoodization – we learned that the palm trees in the film weren’t native but planted for the set then removed when filming wrapped – and two decades of mass tourism that followed, the bay’s natural habitat was decimated in the 2000s. To give the plant and animal life a chance to rebound, Thailand closed Maya Bay in June 2018, and didn’t reopen it to visitors until 2022.
Reopened, Maya Bay now operates under new rules: No swimming or boat traffic in the bay itself; tour boats are allocated one-hour time slots; and total daily visitors are capped at 4,125 persons. (Yep, the bay saw 8,000 people per day at its peak before.) It also operates with better tourist infrastructure: a boat jetty behind the bay; public toilets and a visitor center (which can’t possibly see much foot traffic given the hurry to get to the main attraction); boardwalks over the flora; and park officials on site enforcing the rules.
Consider yourself fortunate. The measures in place make for a much better visit. You can still get your feet wet in the gorgeous water, the sand is clean and sugar-fine, you can actually see the bay because boats can’t be in it, and you might spy small black tipped reef sharks in the bay – wildlife success story! I’ll admit, my bar was low due to the photos of the once-overcrowded bay I’d seen online. I also wasn’t sure if we’d be contributing to unmitigated overtourism, but we were blown away by the view and glad to have paid the park fee to contribute to its continued upkeep.
Located on one of the Ko Phi Phi Islands and overseen by Thailand’s Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), there is a fee to enter (likely built into your boat tour fee) of ~$10 per person. The fee was last raised in October 2022 when entry for the Phi Phi Islands became 400 Baht for adults (about $11.50 USD) and 200 Baht for children 3-14 years old. Thai citizens pay 40 Baht for adults and 20 Baht for children.
👉Tip: Maya Bay was closed again in 2022 from August through September, coinciding with the rainy monsoon season. Summertime closures will likely become annual to allow for continued environmental recovery. The closure for 2023 has not yet been announced.
The next stop, Pi Leh Bay, was a 2-minute ride around the corner and described as an emerald green lagoon for swimming, jumping off the boat and taking photos. All true, but what isn’t mentioned is that dozens of other boats (and their longtail motors) are all jostling for a spot while hundreds of swimmers are bobbing in the water. Even still, Nick and PB gave the snorkeling surprisingly high marks. Since I was so uneasy watching the boat traffic, this was definitely not my favorite stop.
Next up came Viking Cave and Monkey Beach (both viewed only from the boat) followed by Bamboo Island (still part of Ko Phi Phi) where everyone disembarked for 90 minutes of lunch, gorgeous swimming conditions and snorkeling. Heads up that the boat will park back out in the water, so remember to take with you anything you’ll want on the beach including 1) the snorkel the boat provides and 2) a life jacket to assist kiddos (or yourself) because the snorkel spot is a decent swim from the beach.
The final stop was at Ko Poda Beach, a spacious National Park island just 10 minutes ride out from Railay that offered dreamy views, young coconuts for purchase and an additional snorkeling opportunity. If I could have, I would have skipped the overcrowded Pi Leh Bay and reallocated the time here.
Toilets were available throughout, including on the speedboat, at Maya Bay and on Bamboo Island.
#5 But get back for sunset.
Golden hour was magical on West Railay Beach, which faces the setting sun – see cover photo above. Don’t miss it. Get a fruit shake, coconut or Singha and toast the day.
We also tried sunset out beyond Last Bar in Railay East, but the view at West Railay Beach won, hands down.
👉Tip: If your beach toy collection is zilch, try building a tower of sand “stones” to keep kiddos entertained during the golden hour. Thank you to the vacationing couple who showed PB this new trick!
#6 You can get a lot on the sidewalk (a.k.a. Walking Street).
There aren’t many places on earth where foot traffic is the only traffic, so relish strolling up and down the paths at different points throughout the day. Things really quieted down by 10 p.m.
While you’re strolling, you can find anything from swimsuits to excursions. Over our long weekend, we picked up:
- 6 coconuts 🥥
- 6 ice creams 🍦
- 9 fruit smoothies 🍍🍌🥭
- 3 leg massages 🦵
- One sand shovel. There are plentiful beach toys for sale along the sidewalk, though we were skeptical about the quality. One we can vouch for was this large sand shovel for $2 (pictured below).
- One woven beach mat. These Thai-made beach mats are ubiquitous, likely handed out on any excursion you book and by your hotel. Sand just falls right off, which makes these much more practical than beach towels. You can purchase a double mat for about $5 USD on the sidewalk. They go for 3-10x more online, so it was a bargain souvenir that we’ll certainly use around the world.
- Zero hair braids, to PB’s dismay. Salons will weave in pastel or neon braid extensions to your hair, which really did look awesome. Maybe you’ll be the parents who spring for mermaid hair! 🧜♀️
And, heads up that Thailand decriminalized marijuana in 2022, so you’ll see it for sale at lots of counters along Walking Street. Depending on how observant your kiddos are, you might be asked about what’s in the jars. However, it is illegal to smoke it in public and incurs a hefty fine, so we never saw it in use. We did however enjoy some Rastafarian music and sips at Jamaica Bar.
#7 Seek out sea glass.
Sea glass is a free souvenir with a story. During low tide, we walked from West Railay Beach to Tonsai Beach and picked up a lovely assortment of polished green and brown glass. PB loved the hunt. Wear sneakers or sturdy hiking sandals, though. The terrain is bouldery, sharp and can be slippery.
#8 Pick up plastic.
And while you’re scouting for sea glass, it’s easy to pick up the inevitable trash, too. Happily, the beach was not littered, but it still wasn’t hard to fill a bag with plastic straws, bags and cups to dispose of properly. The hard part was finding where to dispose of it properly.
Because hauling away trash from remote Railay costs businesses money, they don’t offer bins freely, and public trash bins are nonexistent. We took ours to our accommodation, which encouraged recycling and had trash bins on property.
#9 You can behold bioluminescence.
Visiting during the new moon? Darker night skies make for prime viewing conditions of bioluminescent plankton. And since I’m drawn to glow-y things – fireflies, glowworms, meteor showers, glowing bike paths – I always have my eyes out for a bioluminescent experience. Alas, our visit coincided with the full moon, so we’ll have to come back. Darn 😉
You can find tours online promising glowing plankton, but many are just taking visitors staying on Krabi or Ao Nang Railay’s Phra Nang Beach (#11 below).
#10 Or take a rock climbing lesson.
Railay is a mecca for rock climbing, and there is no shortage of vendors to help you on your vertical quest. We didn’t take anyone up on the opportunity this trip. One company assured us that PB (at 121 cm and age 6) could participate if we wanted, though.
#11 Getting to Princess Cave is easy.
There are viewpoints on Railay that involve hikes described in forums as a “steep scramble” where ropes are necessary aides through the mud. Worry not. You can access Railay’s stunning Phra Nang Beach and quirky Princess Cave via an easy 10-minute stroll along the Railay East sidewalk following posted signs (and crowds).
Princess Cave is also known as Phra Nang Cave, dedicated to a woman who was either an Indian princess fatally shipwrecked and washed ashore here or a fisherman’s wife who, after his disappearance at sea, lived out the rest of her days in the cave watching for his return. Whichever the tragic case, locals leave phallic-shaped statues as offerings for her assistance with fertility.
Is this unusual setting a place to bring kiddos? Yes, but in spite of the legend, since kid(s) you already have. For instance, once done admiring the cave, there is a lot more to ogle about the surrounding limestone karst. I mean look at this!!
We three spent a fun, refreshing hour jumping the waves just by the shore (these were strong when we visited – hold on to those sunnies!). We also saw kayakers coming ashore, presumably making their way from West Railay Beach where kayaks are rentable by the hour. And come nightfall, you could try your luck at spotting that bioluminescent plankton.
#12 Plan to use cash.
In fact, the only time we used a credit card was to pay the balance on our accommodation. Other than that, Railay was cash-only, from seafood eateries to our full-day island excursion. Don’t worry, an ATM is conveniently available on the Walking Street of Railay West across from Baan Tree – Homemade Ice Cream.
👉Tip: If you use a Schwab debit card, you’ll be reimbursed every ATM fee – anywhere in the world! We have saved $1000+ since opening our account over a decade ago now.
Where to stay on Railay, Thailand
We loved our cabin rented through Railei Beach Club (RBC). A community of private homes available to travelers when owners aren’t in residence, RBC is situated on simply the best location on Railay, steps from West Railay Beach and shrouded in landscaped jungle. The traditional Thai cabins ooze jungle charm. Just don’t expect air con and be aware that most of the en suite bathrooms are open to the elements.
Our cabin (8M) was spacious and spotless and we never had an issue with bugs or creepy crawlies. I also appreciated RBC’s commitment to recycling and the generous number of spigots to wash sand from feet, too – our home alone had four!
Staff on site provide daily light housekeeping (complimentary) and can do grocery shopping and (as mentioned above), organize a snappy transfer service at a reasonable additional cost. We ordered in breakfast one morning (satisfactory) but found there was no need to book their beer delivery service – those are easily accessible and cheaper on Walking Street. Bottom line: we would absolutely book again.
Alternatively, Rayavadee fits the bill for resort-style service and appeal if you have the budget to match. Neighbors of ours with boys aged 3 and 6 loved their stay there. Another perk: The Grotto at Rayavadee, eye-candy of a restaurant set within a cave on Phra Nang Beach, is open only to guests of the resort.
Where to eat on Railay, Thailand
Our overall winner: Mom’s Kitchen. Their Thai panang curry was a revelation. We made sure to return for seconds before we departing Railay. This is the kind of place where you overhear every other table complimenting the food as plates are cleared away – a great sign. They also served up PB’s favorite fruit shake on the peninsula and had the sweetest staff.
Our pick for seafood: Railay Family Restaurant. We loved their Thai-style fried catch of the day (snapper) and picked it clean. We ate here after our late arrival to Railay so had no trouble getting a table, but this place was packed right after sunset. It sits on a prime location along Walking Street midway between Railay West and East. They also served up very decent pad thai and calamari.
(Though it gets great reviews for seafood, too, The Heart Restaurant let us down. It was the most expensive meal we ate by far, but the flavors leaned too heavy on the kaffir lime for our taste, and it was s…l…o…w even before it got busy. With a kiddo in tow, slow is usually not a descriptor you seek out.)
Our pick for chill: Tew Lay Bar sprawls out among trees with tire swings, tree house platforms and views of Railay East. We demolished three whole pizzas in a no-crumb-left-behind way. I’d stick to beer over cocktails (nothing themselves to write home about), but would totally go back for a slice (or six).
Our pick for breakfast: Baan Tree Homemade Ice Cream. Discover the divine combination of their avocado-coconut shake and do your tummy a favor by splitting their waffles with fresh mango and ice cream. Scrumptious, but you’ll be stuffed if you try to finish it solo.
When to go to Railay, Thailand
Railay is located on a peninsiula in Thailand’s Krabi province. Winter (November to March) is peak season for Thailand’s west coast, including Railay, Krabi, nearby Phuket and the Andaman Sea islands. The breeze wanes and humidity rises in March until rainy season begins in late May. It remains rainy through October.
As for swimming, sea temperature is suitable year-round, and as a self-proclaimed wimp when it comes to swimming temps, I can attest to it being an ideal water temperature – wonderful for swimming – in March.
If you’re planning to visit the Ko Phi Phi Islands in the Andaman Sea specifically to see The Beach‘s Maya Bay, remember that Maya Bay will close sometime over the summer months coinciding with the rainy season. This aids in its continued environmental recovery.