This month Liz continues her island hopping in Thailand, with an account of her visit to Railay.
I took a leap of faith as I transferred from the ferry to the rocking, wooden longtail boat, but it only added to my sense of adventure. Railay feels like an island, but it is in fact a peninsular only accessible from the sea; a 100 metre soaring cliff separates it from the mainland of Krabi in Southern Thailand.
A swift scoot across the waves, and within minutes we reached the shore, flip flops in hand, wading through the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea. We crossed the soft sand and reached our hotel, which blended into the beautiful, natural environment that the area is known for.
Railay’s other-worldly limestone formations are a natural gym, ropes dangle over craggy stone façades, making a playground for rock-climbing fanatics. As there are no cars, well-trodden walkways lead across the island and isolated beaches are reached by jungle paths. This is a tranquil paradise with some of Thailand’s prettiest beaches that attract nature loving visitors and back-to-the roots tourism.
Longtail taxi boats anchor in a line off West Railay, the main beach. Colourful prayer scarves hang from their bows and twist like streamers in the sea breeze. With the easy beach access, accommodation on this side of the island can be more expensive. East Railay is very different; with its mangroves and at low tide, mudflats.
Follow a path through some very interesting rock formations, skirting the dense jungle, and you emerge onto the secluded Phra Nang Beach. With soft white sand, and limestone karsts, it is a hidden gem with secluded coves – and a view of the ocean, with its magnificent, verdant, rocky islands rising majestically out of the sea.
Visitors make a pilgrimage to the Princess Cave, or Tham Phra Nang No, a small cove which is home to a collection of large phallic symbols (lingams) carved out of wood and dedicated to the spirit of an ancient fertility goddess. Local fishermen leave offerings in the hope of increased potency and to preserve and protect their livelihood.
A second cave is also used for offerings and prayers, where colourful phalluses are draped in garlands of orange marigolds and floral offerings behind a veil of smoking incense sticks.
Tonsai Beach is only accessible by boat or by clambering over rocks from West Beach. A hike up through a tricky jungle trail, assisted through the toughest parts by rope handrails leads to picture- postcard views. It is less crowded and makes the effort worthwhile.
Limestone cliffs wrap themselves around the sandy bay, but it is not the best place for swimming or snorkeling but it is an idyllic place just to hang out and relish the quietness. For those that want a bit more action, it is a popular place for rock climbing.
Leading off from the beach at West Railay is a colourful bazaar known as Walking Street. This is the main shopping area, basically one lane of shops selling all you need for a beach holiday and gear for the more adventurous outdoor enthusiasts. It’s also the go-to place for booking trips, hiring canoes, souvenir shopping, snacks, food and drink. The sound of live music drifts into the open street from the numerous bars during the evening. You could easily be mistaken into thinking you had arrived in the Caribbean and not been cast ashore on a Thai island. There is a distinct reggae theme so expect to hear Bob Marley, see dreadlocks and maybe catch a whiff of marijuana infusing the night air.
As evening falls, West beach is transformed; crowds gather at the bars along the pristine sand, sundowners to hand. There is hardly a sound, apart from camera shutters clicking as the sun sinks into the shimmering sea, a magical moment.
Phuket to Railay Beach by Ao Nang Princess Ferry booked via www.viator.com
Accommodation Railay Village Resort and Spa www.railayvillagekrabi.com