Monday, March 20, 2017

Magnificent Railay Beach

March 18 - 20, 2017
Railay Beach, Thailand

Railay's two shorelines from above, at the top of a jungle hike/climb
After a long and trying day getting from Koh Tao to Railay Beach, we were rewarded with a magnificent karst landscape, perfect turquoise waters to swim in, amazing jungle hikes to viewpoints and hidden lagoons, macaque spottings, delicious food, a beautiful hotel, and a most gorgeous sunset.  There's no point in trying to get around a run-on sentence when describing even the shortest visit to Railay.

The only downside of our visit was the fact that we had only planned two nights, since we had to move on to our next beachfront accommodation in Koh Lanta - woe is us :-(.  This is one destination that made us think we'll need to plan a return visit someday, and next time, book ourselves a week.... or a season?

We arrived to our most lux accommodations yet, at The Avatar Hotel. This newly built hotel in a lovely garden setting, had very nice modern rooms, each with expansive balconies looking out over the coolest feature of the hotel - the uniquely designed pool set between the two main hotel buildings, where the first floor units had steps directly from their decks into the pool.

Pool at the Avatar Hotel, complete with "swim-out" first floor rooms. 
We had a more private second floor room, with fabulous deck.
Arriving near dark, we didn't really know what was around, so we set off to explore.  Ignorant us quickly discovered there are no automobiles (or roads, really) in Railay, and we could easily walk across the peninsula to the two separate nearby beaches to the west of our hotel. The walk revealed a pleasant, low-key tourist pedestrian-way through the sand and lined with plenty of dining options, as well as some entertainment in the form of a (quite) young fire twirler.

If you play with fire, you're gonna get tips
After perusing the options, we settled into the aptly named "Local Thai Food" restaurant where we enjoyed some pretty, yet unmemorable tasting drinks and a delicious fried whole red snapper with cashews.

I'm sure Caroline's drink looked better than it tasted. But that IS a REAL orchid!!
Fried whole red snapper with cashews

Sunday was our only full day at Railay, so we set off on the early side (for us) to explore.  "Our side" of the peninsula had some lovely views and a functioning floating pier, but we had heard the other two beaches that we could walk to were much nicer. In fact, the "beach" on our side just mud stretching out at least 1/4 mile when we arrived the night before, as the tide was out.

At low tide, tractors tow trailers of people and goods to and from the distant long-tail boats
High tide, the water comes all the way to the boardwalk, which seems impossible just a few hours before
On our way to one of the beaches, we passed our first of several groups of rock climbers, which is what this karst-heavy stretch of land is famous for.  Apparently, there are over 500 bolted routes in the vicinity, which certainly sounds like a lot.  Next time we're in Railay for our week long getaway (let's hope), Scott intends to join a rock climbing group.

Lots of beginners, we suspect, and some more experienced climbers. 
More Asian climbers than Western.
Cutting across the peninsula on the walkway next to a very steep karst, we passed by caves, a sign for an enticing viewpoint trail, as well as many signs to not feed the monkeys.  We didn't see any monkeys on our stroll to the beach - that came later. 

Scenic walk to the beach by the caves - no monkeys during our time on the path - despite the warnings
Emerging from the walkway, we encountered one of the most stunning coastlines either of us had ever seen.  Tree-covered limestone karsts jutting out of either side of the bright and soft sandy beach stretching 1/4 mile into the distance, with calm, aqua blue-green water gently lapping against the shore. 

Looking to the southern end of Phra Nang Beach - our favorite of Railay's 3 beaches

Such clear water it was like swimming in a pool. A salty one. With a sandy bottom. I guess more like an ocean.
Numerous long-tail boats lined the beach, adding to the already picturesque seascape, several of which were set up as floating take-out restaurants, able to prepare and sell full menus of food.

Moms in the kitchen, their young sons charged with using the anchors to ensure the boats stay at the shore and stable
Thai food, western sandwiches, burgers, fries, fruit shakes - quite a variety for a tiny kitchen
The temperature and humidity was quickly rising, and the crystal clear water was impossible to resist (why would we?), so we threw down our beach bag and went for a swim, followed up by a bit of lazy time on our beach towels.

The view from our towels
At this point, that beautiful hotel pool was calling Caroline, while the intriguing view trail occupied Scott's thoughts.

So after a quick stop for lunch back at the Local Thai Food restaurant...

Delicious fresh spring rolls for her
and deep fried banana for him was back to the hotel, where Scott slipped on his hiking shoes, and set off.  The "trail" seemed to start straight uphill, requiring the use of a rope to climb the first section.

Some earlier hikers making their way up from the start of the trail
After climbing the first section, it led almost immediately to another steep, rope-worthy section... then another, and another, and another.  Arriving at the top, there was a short, flat trail through the trees that led to an overlook that was very scenic indeed - where the photo introducing this post was taken.  The trail then backtracks, where macaques were playing in the trees, and descends into the center of the karst - again with ropes to semi-rappel yourself down, changing into a bamboo ladder system - leading you down into a rocky, cave-lined crater with a lovely gray-blue lagoon at the bottom.  There were a pair of young women swimming in the lagoon when Scott arrived, but he decided it sounded nicer to go back and join Caroline for a float in the pool.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel...

Caroline seemed to be content without any climbing at all.

Scott didn't take long to join Caroline in the pool - and managed to figure out how to mount the tricky, unstable, hard-plastic floating pool chairs
We capped our fun-filled day with a plan to watch the sunset.  After over two weeks in Thailand, we had yet to see the sun set, as we stayed on the east sides of both Kho Phangan and Kho Tao, to take advantage of calmer waters.  Following a brief rain shower, we eventually ended up in some prime seats at a sandy beach bar, where the clouds made it seem like the sunset was going to be only mildly interesting.  But after the sun had disappeared, the reds in the sky kept getting brighter and brighter, and prettier and prettier.  Even the Thai employees at the bar were taking a break to take photos out on the beach.  Guess we picked the right night to finally watch the sunset!

At first, it looked like it was going to be a pretty ho-hum sunset...
But after waiting and watching like a pair of starving hawks, we did score a pair of great seats at the bar!

And then this happened!!!
Wow...just wow!!
The next morning, we set off again for the west beach, as our Railay adventure was over... or so we thought. Walking through the quiet restaurant zone, we glimpsed a group of macaques sitting at (on) the bar having a snack. We stuck around to watch them raise a bit of havoc, snapping some (ok, many, many) photos, before continuing on our way.

Macaque hijinks on the way to the ferry
They seemed a little mean and aggressive, but oh-so-cute!
We reached the beach, and climbed aboard a long-tail that took us to our boat that would ferry us to Koh Lanta.  We did a good job taking advantage of our solo day at Railay, and hope there will be more at some point in our future.

Sweatin' at the dock of the bay...
On the ferry - Goodbye Railay, Hello Kho Lanta

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