Heading down south to one of our favorite places on the planet for five fun-filled days with four of our favorite people on the planet.
Vientiane to Bangkok
No clue where the past three months went, but here we are, boarding a short flight to Bangkok to see Grammy, Grampy, and family friends, John and Shirley. While we’re there, we might as well board another short flight to one of the most stunning places in Southeast Asia — the Railay Peninsula!
Railay was one of our favorite stops on our six month backpacking honeymoon through East Asia in 2012, and we knew we had to get back there at some point while living in Laos. A family visit with friends seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Boarding our outbound flight from Vientiane, they couldn’t quite get the port side turboprop fired up, so we all hopped off and a short time later, they had the next ATR-72 fired up and ready to go. Always nice when they figure these sorts of things out on the ground before takeoff…
Less than an hour later, we’re peering over the mass of concrete and people that is Bangkok — 300 miles as the crow flies, but might as well be another planet.
All checked in for our flight to Krabi, we manage to run into Grammy, Grampy and company a bit early. No one is as happy about this turn of events as Noe, of course. Grampy!
When Noe last saw Lori’s parents, he wasn’t quite walking. Now, he walks everywhere — quite the change in just 90 days.
Bangkok to Krabi to Railay
Our Bangkok Air flight is all dolled up and ready to head to the beach.
So is our minivan shuttle to our hotel — quite the assortment of gadgetry (including a GPS jammer, apparently, making it virtually impossible to follow along on our devices. Fortunately, this ride was part of a package transfer through our hotel, which meant we hopefully wouldn’t be charged for the “scenic” tour).
Railay is located on a rugged peninsula accessible only by boat. Given that and the fact that it was low tide, our airport transfer ended up including FIVE different vehicles, from the arrivals area at BKK to the reception desk at our hotel:
1. Minivan from BKK to pier office (30 minutes);
2. Tuk Tuk from pier office to end of pier/ boat (2 min.);
3. Longtail boat from pier to Railay Beach East (20 min.);
4. Tractor from boat to land at Railay East due to low tide (2 min.);
5. And finally, golf cart from waterfront to front desk.
Better yet, if we hadn’t booked it as a package transfer through the hotel, there would have likely been a couple more legs, and even more waiting.
The service from the airport to hotel (door-to-door) cost about US$35 one-way total for the seven of us, which is actually a great deal considering it would have cost nearly just as much to piece it all together independently, and we still would have had to walk our luggage nearly a half kilometer from the end of the Railay pier to the front desk of our hotel.
Tuk Tuks from Railay Bay Resort pier office to boat.
The Railay Bay Resort boat to Railay!
As the outline of Railay’s famous karst peaks came into view I got goosebumps.
We’re on our way, Railay! Yay!!!
I think Noe could sense the excitement too.
Five years ago, Lori and I sat on that very shoreline and watched in amazement as the upmarket lodges ferried their guests from boat to shore at low tide utilizing tractors. Not us! We budget backpackers had to settle for humping our heavy packs and gear 300 meters over mangrove muck to reach land, occasionally losing a flip-flop to the muck along the way.
We were stunned to see that they’ve now constructed a floating dock to bridge the distance at low tide, so even lowly backpackers can reach land while maintaining an ounce of dignity. But they haven’t retired the tractors…
So, yeah, a slightly different experience than our last time here, but we figured this particular crew probably didn’t want to waste their time hiking back and forth from the highlands into town and carrying their gear a mile to get there in the first place. We scoured the options on the peninsula and found (at least for our group) the best balance between price, comfort, and location: Railay Bay Resort.
Railay Bay Resort (and Spa)
Railay Bay is a huge complex, stretching from one side of the peninsula to the other. Consequently, the property offers a range of options across the mid-range budget spectrum — everything from older and simple, yet well-appointed, bungalows set 5-10 minutes back from the beach, to brand new luxury options near the beach and/or around one of their two large swimming pools. They’ve also got large multi-room properties (“Privacy Cottages”) set in a private compound, some even with small private pools (“Pool Villa”).
Lori, Noe, and I opted for one of the more basic bungalows set away from the beach (the “Deluxe Cottage”), while Lori’s parents and friends were in newer “Deluxe Doubles” set around one of the pools. The pics below are from our bungalow/cottage.
Guard monkey included in the nightly rate.
Lori’s parents’ and family friends’ second-floor rooms overlooked the rear pool area.
By Thailand beach standards, Railay is not cheap. But it is not crazy expensive either. While you won’t find US$15/night budget bungalows here, you do get a lot of value for the money. Also worth remembering is that in terms of costs, the peninsula is practically an island, as everything has to be brought in by boat from Krabi town or Ao Nang. The vertical cliffs surrounding you on all sides also greatly limit space for new construction — and, unlike many other beach locations in Thailand, there is not accommodation that directly fronts the water, which gives public beachgoers priority access to the water here in Railay.
I was able to snag an early bird deal for our three bungalows, bringing the final cost of the bungalows to around US$100/night each, including an excellent beachside all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast. I’ve seen these bungalows as cheap as $80/night in low season, but knew we wouldn’t get anything close to that in December.
All in all, we were very happy with our stay at Railay Bay and highly recommend it for what it is. If you’re looking for something more budget-minded, it appears that the options up in the highlands might still be a good option, though many of those (including where we stayed in 2012) have been upgraded and prices have increased as a result. Ton Sai beach is still a good option for budget travelers, but still very isolated from the amenities on the rest of the peninsula. Alternatively, nearby Ao Nang offers a lot of good budget accommodation, and Railay Beach West can be reached by a 10 minute long-tail boat ride from the Ao Nang pier.
With that said, nothing in the area compares to a stay on Railay proper, and if you can swing it, there are few better places in Thailand than Railay West or Phra Nang beaches to catch a beautiful sunset, even in the midst of an unseasonable weather system.
More from Railay to come!