Updated: Jul 16, 2022
Railay is a small town located in Thailand between Ao Nang and Krabi. Accessible only by boat and known for its towering limestone cliffs, this small peninsula is a magical mecca for both rock climbers and beachgoers alike. I spent 6 nights/7 days here in December 2021 on my solo travel adventure in Thailand and it was the turning point in my 4-month journey.
After my adventure on a liveaboard in the Similan Islands, I was ready for a new scene. I made a quick pit stop to spend the night in Phuket and picked up some things I had left with Captain Mike. I woke up early the next morning and took a speed boat to the Krabi area of Thailand. The boat made unexpected (to me) stops at Koh Yao Yai, Koh Yoa Noi, and Ao Nang in the Andaman Sea.
To say I entered Railay beach with a bang would be an understatement. After almost 24 hours of traveling 200km via minibus, taxi, and speedboat with very little sleep, I was already pretty grumpy when the boat made the final stop on the floating dock in East Railay Beach. I knew Railay was only accessible by boat, but I thought for sure there would be some kind of scooter or tuk-tuk transportation service from the pier. I was wrong.
I had booked a villa room at Railay Bay Resort and Spa on Agoda at the crazy low rate of less than $30 a night, but I had no clue where it was located. Balancing my backpack and my 2 other bags carefully on my body, I just started walking down what appeared to be the main street which was more like a one-lane jungle alleyway. After a while of walking and sweating, I said fuck it and went in the direction of a resort on the beach.
When I finally got to a beach, I stepped off of the pavement to the sand, and with all of my travel gear on me, misjudged the step and fell. I had rolled my ankle and all of my bags and myself were covered in sand. I picked myself up and just started yelling "fuck" at the top of my lungs. The beach was full of European tourists and not a single person on the beach paid attention or offered to help. I was alone covered in sweat and sand and was pissed!
I left my 2 bags in the sand and walked down the beach with my handbag to find my hotel. At the time, I didn't give a hoot if anyone tried to steal my stuff, but in hindsight, subconsciously, I think I realized the chances of anyone messing with the crazy American girl or her stuff were highly unlikely due to the scene I just caused. I had either scared off any potential thieves by my lunatic-like behavior or I had died and was invisible like I felt so many times in Patong. Either way, I found my hotel which was 100 feet away from my current spot and the kind bellman went to grab my bags from the beach while I checked in. Once I cleaned off and calmed down, I realized had I turned left at the pier my hotel was right next to it. Hello, Railay!
Here's the thing with Railay, east is west, and west is east. Or at least it was in my brain the entire time I was there. Also, let's just say Railay Bay has a lot of masculine energy with caves everywhere filled with millions of stalactites. Railay is a rugged jungle town with lots of local wildlife. The sign on my villa said to keep the door looked so monkeys don't come in! There are no roads or motor vehicles of any kind, and you walk everywhere you go. The water is every shade of blue and green and Thai longtail boats are along the white sand beach. With the towering limestone cliffs lining the ocean, Railay is the picture-perfect Thailand postcard. Had it been the last stop on my Thai adventure, I may have never left.
After finding the only pharmacy in the town and resting up a day from my sprained ankle, I decided to go hobble around and check things out in Railay. I explored so many caves and even had the famous Diamond Cave all to myself. Creepy and totally cool! I walked miles down the beach and found my own private beach and lots of hidden caverns. This day may have been the turning point for me in Thailand. I was able to get myself out of my head and just be; enjoying my own company. I remembered why I ditched my life in Boise to come to Thailand alone.
That night I discovered the Jamaica Bar on the main walking street. It was basically a few shipping containers welded together. The inside was painted in traditional Rasta colors with red, yellow, and green stripes throughout the place. I became friendly with the bartender who owned the place with his wife and the very talented Filipino in-house musician. The Jamaica Bar served craft cocktails, beer, food, joints, and mushroom shakes. I asked the owner one night how they were able to do it because any kind of pot was still illegal in Thailand at that time. He told me that since COVID there was not a single police officer in Railay, and the Thai cops on either side in Ao Nang and Ao Sane hardly ever came to Railay. There were no roads and as far as I could tell, and very little crime besides smoking a little ganja which everyone seemed to do.
So back to that masculine energy thing... After a few days in Railay, I could not stop seeing penises wherever I went. Everything in my hotel room started looking like a penis. That blot on the menu at the Indian Restaurant was a Rorschach penis. That cliff on the beach, at least 2000 penises on there. And that puffy cloud, definitely a penis! Now granted, there are intricate shrines to phallic symbols in some of the caves, but it was the strangest thing.
The massive mountainous cliff on the beach beside my hotel suddenly started to look like an old wizard or mountain man, but not in a daunting way. It seemed more protective. Like it could shield the whole town from anything evil. This energy was much different from the gross, misogynistic vibe of Patong. It was raw and powerful, yet oddly comforting. Shit was starting to get weird in this strange land that looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park.
After a few days in Railay, I knew I needed to try and stay in Thailand for as long as possible. I was still on a 30-day tourist visa and knew I would need to extend it, so one day I took a long tail boat from Railay to Ao Nane so I could visit immigration in Krabi. It took a while to find a place to rent a motorbike in Ao Nane, but once I did, I easily navigated with the help of Siri to the Thai immigration office in the town of Krabi. I paid my 3000 baht and got a visa extension good until March 11th, 2022.
I had heard about the Tiger Cave Temple nearby, so I motorbiked there next. I was disappointed to learn there were no actual live tigers, regardless I found it all to be amazing. I received a blessing chant from 4 monks in the temple and climbed the 1260 steps to the Buddhist monuments on top of the mountain. I thought I was going to die as more than half of the stone steps were as high as my knee cap. The views were spectacular, and the company was lovely as an elder Thai lady gave me a handsewn facemask that she had made when she saw mine was dirty and covered in sweat. My heart was full on the way down as I chatted with a monk and hung out with a pack of soi dogs on the wat grounds.
It was getting to be a bit later in the afternoon and I had to get back to the pier in Ao Nane before sunset to get the longtail boat back to Railay. I had seen a sign for a Shell and Fossil Beach on my ride to the Krabi immigration office. Feeling invincible and thinking to myself, "I like shells and fossils," I pushed the limit and decided to check it out. It was a national park and "technically" was closed, but there was no one around, so I decided to walk down to the beach. There were very few shells and no fossils to be seen and I slipped on a rock and cut my leg, so rode my motorbike back to the rental shop to return it.
After we settled the motorbike paperwork, and as the owner was about to give me a lift to the pier, I realized my brand-new iPhone 12 was missing. I started to panic. It was the only link I had to my people back home. The rental bike shop owner was so nice and agreed to take me back to Shell and Fossil Beach to look for it. We arrived at the beach in the dark in the pouring rain and spent about 20 minutes looking for my phone with the flashlight on the Thai man's phone in the mud. I knew I needed to get back to Railay that night, so I called off the search and paid way too much for a longtail boat captained by a driver with a headlamp to get me home. As we navigated our way back to Railay through the dark sea, I felt exhausted and defeated.
The next day I asked the owner of the Jamaica Bar if he could help me find a black-market iPhone, but apparently, that's not an option in Railey. Nor were there any stores to buy one the isolated town, so I took a long tail boat to Ao Nang that afternoon. Luckily, the songthaew driver I found at the pier knew of an electronic store that sells refurbished iPhones. I happily paid around $300 for an iPhone 7 and then realized I had no way to get into my Apple account without the lost phone. I chatted online with Apple support who told me he could put in a ticket but I was pretty much shit out of luck.
I asked the songthaew driver if I could pay him extra to take me back to Shell and Fossil Beach so I could look for my ridiculously expensive phone one last time. When I arrived at the National Park the visitor's center was open so I went in and tried to explain the situation to the lady working the desk. She motioned for me to have a seat. A Thai officer came out of an office and sat across from me. My brain went through a plethora of disastrous scenarios as I wondered what was happening. I had technically broken into a Thai National Park the night before and every story I had ever heard of corruption in Thailand came rushing to my thoughts. I was so relieved when the man smiled and explained to me in broken English that a boy had found my phone on the beach that morning and they were hoping to find me to return it. The officer radioed a colleague who brought me my phone. I thanked them all profusely.
On the way back to Ao Nang, I asked the songthaew driver to stop at a tour place in Ao Sane so I could find out the boat schedule back to Railay. I was pleasantly surprised when the lady recognized me as the farong woman who lost her phone and asked if I got it back. She mentioned several people in Ao Sane were trying to find me to return the phone. And they said Thailand was dangerous?? The Thai people are good and helpful and honest. Any one of those kind souls could have stolen my phone and not said a word about it. But they didn't and that's reason 1001 I love Thailand.
On my second to last full day in Railay, I rented a sea kayak and explored hidden caves on some of the nearby islands. I hadn't yet been to Tonsai which is the neighboring hippie village only accessible from the ocean during low tide. I walked to the end of the beach and somehow found the hidden jungle path from Railay to Tonsai. I had heard so much about Tonsai and the thriving bohemian community that I knew I had to see it before I left the Krabi area. I was sad to discover Covid had turned this amazing off-the-grid Thai town into what reminded me of an abandoned Burning Man if I had ever been to Burning Man which I have not.
I walked the stretch of the stunning beach alone, not seeing another soul. The theme song from Gilligan's Island was playing over and over again in my head. At the end of the beach, I took a right down a path that seemed to go to the center of town. I saw so many abandoned hostels, restaurants, and shops. I finally spotted a Thai man who walked out of a closed massage parlor and asked him if anything was still open. He kindly walked me to the only place open in Tonsai at the time, Capone's Pyramid Cafe. I was the sole patron and chatted with the owner named Allie. Allie is an awesome lady who is a cat lover from California and one of the handful of locals who stuck it out in Tonsai during COVID. She was quite hopeful about the future of backpacker climbers returning someday soon. And omg, her kitten was so playful and made my whole day!
It was starting to get dark, so I said goodbye to Allie and went back to the walking street. The street is lined with cement walls painted in graffiti and messages about ideas about the limitless present. I came to the end of the street close to the jungle path and found a 10-foot-locked metal gate. I immediately felt like I was on an episode of Lost or The Walking Dead. And it was getting dark.
Trying to calm down and look for a solution I went down a path that led me to some rustic jungle huts that appeared to be occupied. I thought "well this is it," but then remembered the kindness of the strangers in Ao Nane the day before, so I cleared my throat and asked a man who was living in one of the huts about the gate. He laughed and said the only exit on this end of the street was a ladder over the cement walls and offered to show me where it was. I thanked him and felt like I was in some kind of heavenly twilight zone as I climbed over the other side of the wall and made my way back to Railay through the jungle in the dusk.
My last night in Railay Bay was magical. I watched the sunset from the restaurant on the beach near almost the exact spot I had fallen upon entry 6 days prior. All of my clumsy injuries were healed, and I thought about the challenges I had overcome in Railay. I watched super-hot climber men play frisbee on the beach as the sun went down and the crescent moon, planets, and stars came out right above the majestic protector of Railay Bay.
The next morning, I made one last stop before leaving. I had become friendly with the Filipino musician at the Jamaica Bar. He lived in a hut beside the bar so while he was sleeping, I left 2 gifts. My Patagonia hat for him to wear and the Solo Girls Guide to Thailand Travel Guide I had purchased from Amazon that I no longer needed. It was time to lighten my load and Railay was the perfect place to do so.
To see my original photo NFTs from Railay, visit https://opensea.io/SawadeeKa