The Endangered Beauty of Railay

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Railay is one of Krabi’s most beautiful beaches, only accessible by boat and packed with islands of limestone.  Railay had been one of the destinations I had wanted to visit the most on my Asia Jaunt.

In fact, I had wanted to visit Railay for four years! Right after I started my first post-college job, I discovered my first online travelogue: Gone Walkabout.  The writer went to Railay on a whim and fell in love, staying for weeks, turning into the beach bum he never thought he’d become!

Of course, his travelogue, which was actually his journal at the time, took place during the mid-1990s. I feared that after 15 years, Railay would be completely changed, as overly touristed and overdeveloped as Koh Phi Phi.

But after hearing wistful, glowing reviews of Railay from Caz of y Travel Blog and Michael of Art of Backpacking, I had hope.  This place had to be beautiful.

And it was.

Everyone who goes to Thailand gets a photo of a longtail boat on a beach.  Now I have mine!

Railay is probably the most beautiful of all the beaches I saw on the Andaman Coast. The cliffs here are the most dramatic; the water is the most turquoise.

Between Railay’s beauty and the fact that I had longed to visit for so many years, I should have loved it.  But I couldn’t.

It was crowded.  Not at the level of Koh Phi Phi, but quite crowded nonetheless.  You have no idea how much work it took to get pictures without people in them!  The beaches and oceans were filled with people; the little land that Railay has is packed to the gills with hotels and restaurants.

This is something I hadn’t seen yet: a restaurant run out of a longtail boat!

Maybe I was spoiled, having just spent a blissful week in Koh Lanta, which felt like an undiscovered paradise.  I missed having an endless expanse of beach, few other people around.  The next place I’d visit could only pale in comparison.

I genuinely fear for Railay.  I’m afraid that it will become the next Koh Phi Phi, the entire island smelling like sewage because the infrastructure can’t handle the number of visitors.

And I have no idea what to do about it.

Despite this post’s negativity, I enjoyed Railay — I loved the beaches, the nightlife was awesome, and there’s a really cool expat community.  And if you’re into rock climbing, you’ll be in heaven!

But I am so afraid for it.

I know that this counteracts what I’ve said so far…but go to Railay.  Go now. See it while it still looks like this.

And, as I’ve said before, go to Lanta.  That island holds my heart.

But there’s something that Railay has that Lanta does not…a sacred penis cave.

And my girlfriends will have flights to Railay booked in three…two…one…

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27 thoughts on “The Endangered Beauty of Railay”

  1. Nice way to end the post 😉

    But I will definitely check out this beach on my 2nd swing through Thailand on my 5 month swing through SE Asia. If you are looking for a (relatively) unspoiled beach, check out Long Beach on Koh Chang in Eastern Thailand. Accessible only by a barely passable road, or by speedboat from Lonely Beach, Long Beach is a mile long stretch of sand on the otherwise beachless East side of Koh Chang … there is only one place to stay in this isolated place, the Treehouse … as a result, there are only a few people on the beach at any given time, it’s amazing!

    Hope you’re having fun in Thailand!

    1. James, I have about a week free between New Year’s and shooting the next film in Krabi. I’m thinking of heading to Koh Chang for that time — I keep hearing amazing things. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Aw this post is so bittersweet! I completely know what you mean. I went to Barra de Navidad, Mexico and loved it but I was scared at how much tourism was seeping in and destroying it. The beauty in no way compared to this though, nor the crowdedness. I’m glad you finally got to go! What an inspiring travel blog dream.

  3. Weird. It wasn’t packed at all when I went. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I liked it so much. I spent only three days there and was empty for the most part. I do wonder though, like you said, how long will it take before it’s abused. Once easier access becomes available, it’ll be all over.

  4. Beautiful. Can not wait much longer, We dont start our RTW trip until next October and it will be a year after we start before we get to Thailand. I hope its not completely over run by then.
    Thailand is a must do destination for me, and living through these blogs and photos have me on my toes.
    Keep it up.

  5. My buddy at AOB sure does know his stuff. Listen to him!! hahaha He is the Asian master seriously. I think I am planning an Asian adventure for my 25th this July. I’ll be looking back at these posts… perhaps I should learn how to swim since I know you have to swim to this island 😡 that’s a terrible traveler sin. Yikes.

    But seriously, that photograph is breathtaking.

  6. Sacred penis cave?!?! I’m so there. Looks like a great destination. Hope I make it there before it ruins.

  7. That is really stunning… I never seen a restaurant boat like that before and looks very cute. I love the beach and this one is surprising. I never thought that Thailand has a lot of hidden beauty I just hope it will be preserved and handled well. Anyway, they got a funny name for the cave. Is that for real?

  8. I agree with your comments about Railay. I first went after the Tsunami in 2004 and was struck by how beautiful it was – and because of the Tsunami there was only me and 4 friends (although at the time I didn’t realise this was the reason, assumed it was just aquieter spot)- it was our own private paradise.

    I went back again in 2010 and was shocked at the sheer number of people there. There had been a huge amount of development in a short amount of time too. very sad.

  9. “Everyone who goes to Thailand gets a photo of a longtail boat on a beach.” Haha this is so true.

    I think one of the reasons Railay has stayed in tact is because of its location and the degree of difficulty in getting there. The sheer foot/boat traffic that Phi Phi experiences is so much greater than that of Railay because Phi Phi is so accessible. Railay’s “not so easy access” (getting to Krabbi, taking the fishtail boat, having to walk through the water, etc) has actually been its saving grace.

    Great post, also enjoyed your post on, “Is Railay still the World’s Most Beautiful Place”?

    We were in Railay recently and shared our thoughts here:

    Given your interest in Railay, I think you’ll enjoy. Would be fun to compare experiences 🙂

    Cheers and keep up the great work!

    With positive energy ~


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