We spend five days on the Railay Peninsula with Grammy, Grampy and friends, soaking up the beach life and warm company, despite an unexpected visit from Old Man Winter.
It wasn’t a total surprise. We saw rain in the forecast for the next several days for the Krabi area. What was surprising was that extended gloom is unseasonable for this part of the world in this time of year. It may have also made it harder for Lori and me, leaving behind clear blue skies and temps in the 70s and 80s in Vientiane for a rainy season revisit in paradise. The first evening of our stay, we were treated to a beautiful sunset (we overheard others around us saying it was the first in several days). We didn’t catch another sunset for the rest of our stay.
What also made the weather a bitter pill to swallow for us was the amazing weather we had (and our memories and photos of it) during our first stay in October of 2012, which made everything on Railay seem that closer to perfection.
Despite the weather, we thoroughly enjoyed our second stay in this magical place — due in no small part to the company we had this time around. Traveling with us in 2017, we’ve got Grammy and Grampy back for their second Southeast Asia round in 2017 (along with longtime friends John and Shirley), and of course…Noe.
Now, just a word of warning, here. As you may begin to notice with this post, I’ve divided our Railay posts sort of by various themes rather than by Day 1, 2, 3 and so on. You won’t see a lot of Noe, or even Grammy, Grampy, and friends in this one, but just stay tuned.
For those missing Noe, here’s something to tide you over…
I was up early the first morning, so I went for a stroll along the mangrove-lined Railay East. It was just after 6am and I was all alone for the most part, but for a handful of workers arriving on boat. I had hoped to catch the sunrise, but no sunrise was to be had this morning (or any other morning of our stay), so I started to make my way towards the highlands — the area where Lori and I stayed five years ago. I got about half way when I realized I’d rather save the trek for when Lori and Noe are up, so I returned to the bungalow and fetched the pair who were up and raring to go.
When I was trying to figure out where the seven of us should stay this time around, I came across our old digs from 2012, which appeared to have gotten a significant facelift. They had added some nice new hotel blocks but it was unclear what had become of our beloved bungalow and its friends. This morning, we were eager to find out, and headed straight that way.
This was our bungalow in 2012:
We loved our stay at Phutawan Bungalows five years ago, and didn’t have enough great things to say about them. So, it was with a heavy heart that we discovered the bungalows have since been razed, with only the decorative lamp posts remaining.
The macaque still remain, though, but we only saw them up in the highlands this time around, unlike literally everywhere during our last visit, including nearly every trash can on the peninsula.
This particular macaque seemed to materialize out of nowhere to offer sage advice throughout the duration of our stay. I like that in a beach.
Railay Beach West
We met the fam back at Railay Bay Resort for the delicious beach buffet breakfast included in the stay, before heading for a stroll down the beach. It was difficult to tell what the weather was going to do, but easy to see it was not exactly beckoning us for a swim.
By mid-morning, the picture was a bit rosier, so we headed to the pool to take advantage of a nice little sun break. Then, it was back to the beach for lunch.
Railay is a day tripper magnet, with the bulk of the crowds arriving between 9am and 3pm. Nowhere on the peninsula is this more evident than on stunning Phra Nang beach, but still, here on Railay West, it can get pretty busy with longtail boats and sunbathers. The good news is that it seems the authorities have made a conscious effort to mitigate the congestion, allowing only a handful of boats to anchor at the water line in a marked off area. All others must anchor farther out in the bay, leaving the majority of Railay West for pedestrians and swimmers.
A stroll inland down the newly developed “Walking Street” reflects the peninsula’s growth in the past half decade perhaps more than anywhere else on Railay. Where there were a handful of shops and tourists services in 2012 is now a long street stretching from the beach to the highlands lined with restaurants, reggae bars, and souvenir shops — a mini Khao San road, of sorts.
While it certainly received its share of day visitors, the Railay of late 2012 was still very much off the radar in terms of being an overnight destination, save for a handful of exclusive resorts and a healthy community of rock climbers. The rusty supply barge still made its daily deliveries right on Railay West, and there just wasn’t a lot on offer in terms of restaurants and shops.
Those days are long gone, it appears, and Railay is busier than ever, and the number of local businesses on the peninsula has grown tenfold. Yet, thankfully, even with the number of reggae bars and burgeoning night scene on the upper walking street, the peninsula is nowhere near having the party vibe of better-known Thai beach destinations.
Railay also seems to be a popular place for young families. There were few couples with young children when we stayed here before. Obviously, if you don’t have kids, you don’t tend to notice others’ kids as much. But, comparing photos and our memories across many destinations we’ve visited and re-visited, Lori and I often get the sense that the world (or at least travelers) seem to be growing up with us. It’s odd, really. When we were in our early 20s, traveling, we would encounter a multitude of gap year 20-somethings at every turn. When we traveled as a couple, the majority of other foreign travelers around us — on buses, trains, in cafes, on beaches, in museums, etc. — seemed to be couples. Now that we have a kid, we’re encountering more families than ever, and very few gap-year travelers, even in more ultra budget destinations across Southeast Asia. It could simply be our perception and perspective. But we can’t help but feel like there’s an eery truth behind the observation.
Railay Beach East
Railay East has also changed quite a bit over the past several years, but the changes are not as obvious. Fortunately, it still seems to retain its funky thatch and mangrove vibe. In 2012, this was THE place…really the only place…for cheap eats and drinks, and a slice of nightlife. It now seems a lot of that crowd has shifted to the Walking Street’s reggae bars, leaving Railay East a chill shadow of its former self — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for patrons.
It’s clear, however, that a handful of the reggae bars along this stretch have survived.
A luggage tram at a hillside guesthouse — you don’t see that every day.
Strangely, we have no recollection of this path or where it led. The peninsula is not big and we thought we had seen it all, but nope. Turns out we missed a good chunk…or just don’t remember it at all. Initially, we thought it might be a new path leading to a new resort, but the path seemed fairly aged, and it appears on older maps of the area. Needless to say we followed the path to feed our curiosity. It’s a long walk to get to the resort at the end, and quite a nice little resort at that (with surprisingly many guests), but certainly very isolated with a 15-20 minute walk back into the village, and a 20-30 minute walk to the beach.
Phra Nang (Princess Beach)
We were excited to finally get to take the crew along the winding cave trail to the other side of the peninsula to see our favorite (and everyone else’s favorite) beach on Railay: Phra Nang!
And sure enough, everyone else within a hundred miles had come out to welcome us back.
We remember it being a squeeze when high tide happened to coincide with day trip visiting hours. This time around, the full moon gave us some extra high tides, meaning even less beach to share with the masses.
It also meant some insanely low tides as well, making it possible to literally walk out to the island.
Kayaking the Peninsula
Some of the most fun we had last time involved kayaking around the peninsula. Grandpa and friends weren’t so keen to join, but were kind enough to keep an eye on Noe during his afternoon nap while Lori, Grammy, and I hit the water.
It ended up being a perfect time for kayaking too, as the water level was just right for exploring the various caves dotting the peninsula.
More Phra Nang
We couldn’t help but visit Phra Nang more than a couple of times during our stay, though we avoided going before 3pm after the first day. We frequently tell friends and family planning to visit Railay that Phra Nang is totally crazy, but by far the worst between 9am and 3pm when the day trip boats make the bulk of their stops. Otherwise, things are pretty chill, even in peak season. I’m happy to report that after five years, our advice still holds true.
The Phra Nang food boats are a destination in themselves. One boat burger, please!