Cliffs, Climbers, and Crowds – Railay and Ao Nang, Thailand

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Reluctantly, we left the island paradise of Koh Lanta after a little more than a week. Before packing our items and making it official, Heather gently asked “are you sure you don’t want to stay another week?” It was a tempting thought, but we decided to move on to new destinations.

We boarded the ferry for the two hour ride to Railay, a famous beach further up the Andaman Coast in Krabi Province. After settling in to our seats in the main passenger compartment, we noticed the boat was absolutely infested with cockroaches. They were crawling all over our seats, the walls, the windows…everything. A lot of other passengers joined us in retreating above deck, deciding to sit in the sun and the cool air. So, we spent the two hour journey with our feet dangling over the side, cradling a Singha beer. Not a bad way to travel!

Feet dangling over the side of the ferry to Railay.Feet dangling over the side of the ferry to Railay.
Feet dangling over the side of the ferry to Railay.13-Feb-2012 20:14
 

As we approached Railay, we started noticing the magnificent limestone cliffs this area is famous for. Rising directly out of the ocean, and covered in rich green vegetation, they are in a word…stunning.

Limestone rock formations approaching Railay, Krabi.Limestone rock formations approaching Railay, Krabi.
Limestone rock formations approaching Railay, Krabi.13-Feb-2012 21:29
 

Near Railay, we transferred to local longtail boats for transport the “final mile” to West Railay Beach.

On a longtail boat heading to the beach.On a longtail boat heading to the beach.
On a longtail boat heading to the beach.13-Feb-2012 21:43
 

Once again, we found ourselves in an extremely popular part of the country, at high season, without any reservations. We knew it would be crowded and expensive here, and got to work finding a place to rest our heads.

While West Railay has a beautiful beach, most of the budget accommodation is found on the other side of the peninsula, on East Railay. This area is really a mangrove swamp, reminiscent of the Louisiana Bayeux, with no beach to speak of. Luckily, it’s easy to walk from one side to the other in a matter of minutes. Since Railay is surrounded by tall cliffs, no roads or motor vehicles exist here.

Erik hanging off a vine near one of the footpaths that connect West and East Railay.Erik hanging off a vine near one of the footpaths that connect West and East Railay.
Erik hanging off a vine near one of the footpaths that connect West and East Railay.14-Feb-2012 19:29
 

In East Railay we found a fantastic bungalow at Railay Garden View Resort, perched high on a hill. While it was a little pricey, we didn’t mind shelling out for this quiet and relaxed option.

The great place we stayed on East Railay.The great place we stayed on East Railay.
The great place we stayed on East Railay.15-Feb-2012 18:08
 

The walk to the beaches of West Railay was actually all part of the fun. Along the way, there were mischievous bands of monkeys.

One of Railay's resident monkeys.One of Railay's resident monkeys.
One of Railay's resident monkeys.14-Feb-2012 20:27
 

In addition, there were strange phallic rock formations.

A stalagmite under an overhanging cliff near West Railay.A stalagmite under an overhanging cliff near West Railay.
A stalagmite under an overhanging cliff near West Railay.14-Feb-2012 19:35
 

The path ends at Phra Nang Cave, which features an entire cave filled with more phallic symbols – a temple of sorts for fertility.

Phra Nang Cave - home to a huge number of carved wooden penises.Phra Nang Cave - home to a huge number of carved wooden penises.
Phra Nang Cave - home to a huge number of carved wooden penises.14-Feb-2012 19:43
 

This part of the beach is also the most stunning. Here, it’s possible to swim directly next to and even under a tall limestone cliff, stretching high into the blue sky.

We enjoyed floating on our backs and staring at these amazing limestone cliffs.We enjoyed floating on our backs and staring at these amazing limestone cliffs.
We enjoyed floating on our backs and staring at these amazing limestone cliffs.13-Feb-2012 21:27
 

During the day, this beach is packed with people, mainly tourists visiting by boat from nearby Ao Nang.

Heavy crowds during the day at Phra Nang Beach.Heavy crowds during the day at Phra Nang Beach.
Heavy crowds during the day at Phra Nang Beach.14-Feb-2012 20:17
 

But as the sun starts to set, the beach clears out. This was our favorite time to go, with a beer or two in hand.

Enjoying the sunset on the cleared out beach with a Singha in hand.Enjoying the sunset on the cleared out beach with a Singha in hand.
Enjoying the sunset on the cleared out beach with a Singha in hand.14-Feb-2012 00:35
 

There was something magical about floating on our backs in the calm, turquoise water and staring up the limestone cliffs. As the sun continued it’s downwards arc, it was possible to see bats streaming out of caves higher up the precipice.

Railay is a world-famous destination for climbers, which flock here to scale the limestone cliffs. While we didn’t gear up and try to climb here, we had fun watching the climbers go to town.

Railay - a climber's paradise.Railay - a climber's paradise.
Railay - a climber's paradise.14-Feb-2012 19:39
 

There were even bars dedicated to the climbers, where the non-climbers like us could enjoy a drink from the base.

In addition to the cliffs and beaches, there was plenty of nightlife to enjoy on Railay, including nightly fire juggling performances (the best we’d seen yet!).

Fire jugglers on Railay East.Fire jugglers on Railay East.
Fire jugglers on Railay East.14-Feb-2012 05:27
 

Unfortunately, the place we were staying only had two nights availability. We inquired again on the third day, praying for a cancellation, but with our calm oasis no longer available, we decided to jump in a boat and try our luck at nearby Ao Nang.

Impenetrable cliffs separate Railay from busy Ao Nang.Impenetrable cliffs separate Railay from busy Ao Nang.
Impenetrable cliffs separate Railay from busy Ao Nang.15-Feb-2012 18:46
 

Unlike Railay, Ao Nang is open to traffic, and even more crowded.

We had heard a lot of bad things about Ao Nang, and were prepared for the worst, but it wasn’t that bad, really. The beach itself was nowhere near as nice as West Railay, but we still had a good time eating out in the restaurants and exploring the nightlife.

Blinged out songthaew taxi on the streets of Ao Nang.Blinged out songthaew taxi on the streets of Ao Nang.
Blinged out songthaew taxi on the streets of Ao Nang.16-Feb-2012 16:48
 

Finally, it was time to move on, to Southern Thailand’s biggest and most famous destination, Phuket Island…

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