Note to Reader :: This travel dispatch was posted from Washington, DC covering travel on the Rai Leh peninsula in Thailand, 5-9 October 2012.
As the temps hover around freezing here in the mid-Atlantic, I thought I'd take a break from Laos and head back to the warm, tropical beaches of Thailand.
This article is devoted to hangin' out, Rai Leh style. For a full overview of the Rai Leh peninsula and our lodging there, read our post here.
Raiiilay, mawn. I don't use the word magical very often, but this place is just that, magical. Promise me, if you go to Thailand and head down south to the Andaman beaches, don't be lame and base yourself out of Ao Nang, Phuket or Phi Phi (where EVERYBODY stays). That's not why you came 5,000 or even 10,000 miles to this stunning part of the world. NO! Head directly to the Rai Leh peninsula and anchor yourself their for a few days. There's more to see and do than you'll have time for, and you can always take a day boat trip to Phi Phi, Ao Nang or any place else in the area.
If you do happen to run out of things to do in Railay, GREAT!, cause that's the point afterall, isn't it? You suddenly find yourself on one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere in an isolated village only accessible by boat (no roads, no cars, no planes) but with all the amenities tone could hope for for travelers on every conceivable budget.
Trust me, Rai Leh is paradise. And if you can avoid December and January (high season) you'll have most of the peninsula mostly to yourself.
In this post (click to go there or scroll on to see it all):
Viewpoint & Lagoon Rope Climb and Hike
If you walk south along Railay East (the mangrove side) down to the climbing wall where the monkeys scurry down the rock face and leap from tree to tree in the afternoon — (ok, I know this sounds a bit like a tropical acid trip, but this place really does exist!) — you'll come across a stone path that connects Railay East to the white sands beach of Princess Beach. It's a really cool path, hugging the sheer karst cliffs, winding through caves and frequented by more monkeys than you can shake a palm frond at. About half way down this path, Lori and I came upon a rustic shelter. On the shelter hung a sign with the words "viewpoint" and an arrow pointing over to a worn knotted rope leading straight up a rock face into thick jungle 30 feet above. Now, who wouldn't be intrigued by a random ratty rope disappearing high up into jungle in the tropics?
Later, we returned with shoes and headed on up the rope, cause why not? We had been wearing flip-flops and thought they might not be the best footwear for scrambling up and over rocks, through jungle, you get the idea. Yet, every other adventurer we came across didn't appear to care all that much. It seems we are far less impulsive than the average crazy person who decides to follow a random rope into the proverbial rabbit's hole as most other trekkers were wearing their beach flip flops or simply going barefoot. Some of the more chilled out rasta dudes seemed to fair just fine leaping from rock to rock sans footwear in a state of zen, but we saw quite a few others with mean gashes and scrapes and, given our general lack of dreads and tie-dye, ultimately concluded that good footwear was the way to go.
The first part of the trail involves ascending with the assistance of a few different ropes. This section is pretty fun as long as there aren't too many others going up or coming down as there's room enough for one in each direction and it can take some time to negotiate. Lori and I had felt a bit weird coming to Railay, the climbing mecca of Thailand, without doing some climbing ourselves, so this was a good compromise for us.
After a while, you reach the top of the ridge, which is actually a small pass between two large karst peaks. At this point the trail splits — left to the viewpoint and right to the hidden lagoon. We opted for the viewpoint first.
We continued on to the hidden lagoon. By this time, there were several other people descending the ropes that led into a dark, damp gorge with huge ceiba trees completely encircled by karst cliffs. It was very beautiful, but very slick and muddy. At the far end of the gorge, the trail dropped suddenly to the hidden lagoon far below. Everything was slick and the people coming up and going down this section were having a tough go of it. It was nearly midday and the temperature was quickly rising. We decided to save the hidden lagoon for another day and head back to the beach instead. Oh the tough decisions in paradise…
If you like monkeys Railay is monkey heaven, and monkey hell for those of you who don't. Regardless of your feelings, they are everywhere and regard the peninsula as their territory. Railay is home to two main types of monkeys, Spectacled Langurs, and the more common ill-tempered and clepto-maniacal Macaque.
While you are more likely to find spectacled langurs leaping whimsically from tree to tree with the rest of their posse (perhaps due to the assistance of eyewear?), the macaque is a different story. If you've ever spent any amount of time with a macaque, you'll know that these dudes are vicious troublemakers. Favorite hobbies include rummaging through trashcans, stealing food, bags, purses, and really anything they can get their grubby little hands on (I kid you not), and biting and scratching onlookers dumb enough to provoke the thuggish little fiends. Especially on Phra Nang, keep an eye on your stuff, and don't leave food out while you're in the water.
If (or when) you tire of the tough life of chasing monkeys and lounging on the perfect white sand beaches of Railay, there's always kayaking. For about $9 USD for two hours, you can rent a kayak from any number of vendors on Railay West and paddle around the peninsula. We went out in the evening, hoping to catch one of the amazing sunsets we saw the previous evenings. Unfortunately, the overcast skies never cleared this particular evening, but it was a pleasant paddle nonetheless.
We started from Railay West, paddling into Ton Sai bay, then across Railay West bay and around the bend to Phra Nang. We stopped for a while on the tiny beach of Koh Nok which is only exposed at low tied. We continued on about half way around to Railay East before turning back. On our way back, we paddled through the narrow gap separating Koh Nok and its sister island before returning to Railay West.
More of Phra Nang (Princess Beach)
And…if you didn't get enough of fabulous Phra Nang in our last Rai Leh post, here are some more pics.
I'd imagine this would be really frustrating if this was your only time to enjoy Railay and this amazing beach. Luckily, we decided to park ourselves here for five days, so before 11am and after 4pm we essentially got this beach to ourselves. The rest of the time, we resigned ourselves to people watching, climbing sketchy ropes into jungleness or relaxing at our fabulous bungalow.