Thailand’s lucky to be bordered on either side by two vary different bodies of water. A few weekends ago we explored the Gulf of Thailand on the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangnan. Recently, on Mother’s Day weekend with a class-free Friday, we headed to the other side of the isthmus to explore the Andaman Sea.
We headed out to the coastal town of Ao Nang, just outside the town of Krabi, a main port to a host of famous islands off Thailand’s coast. It’s also the port to the grapevine-famous Railay Beach. Railay is the droplet of land just barely connected to the mainland and only really accessible by longtail boat.
So, encouraged by our last excursion to Koh Phangnan’s secluded beach, we decided to trek over to Railay, meeting up with our friend, Dave, who teaches in a town near ours.
First stop: Night market in Krabi town, then Ao Nang, where we booked a beautiful room with a balcony overlooking the misty cliffs towering nearby. Ao Nang, a bustling touristy strip of beach, was reminiscent of Koh Samui with its tattoo shops and bar/restaurants galore. Far less obnoxious though and easier to relax.
After noshing on Indian food for dinner (hooray for edible diversity!) we woke early the following morning with two purposes in mind.
One purpose: of course, hitch a longtail to Railay Beach. But first: Snag a geocache hiding on the beach nearby. Without giving away too many details, we discovered a wooden boardwalk and steep rickety stairs leading to an adjacent beach to Ao Nang, just on the other side of the hill. The cache was nestled along the path with a spectacular view of the beach below.
After our successful find, we hopped into a longtail boat to Railay, washing up on the beautiful shore just before the misty rainstorm settled along the beach. The main beach, Railay West, is nestled perfectly between gorgeous thundering cliffs on either side in an elegant half-moon shape of soft pearly sand.
A short walk into the jungle from Railay West leads to other, less classically beautiful and less expensive waterfronts. We settled ourselves in a bungalow in the jungle close to Railay East, just a short, five-minute walk from Railay West and a two-minute walk from the the mangrove-laden beach of Railay East. The mangrove trees have encroached completely on the beach, occupying all swim-able waterfront property. When the tide comes in during the middle of the day, it’s almost impossible to walk along the beach without having to wade through the lapping waters between the trees and the resorts.
We met our friend Dave and the three of us meandered along the main beach for the afternoon. Then, encouraged by our early morning Geocache find, decided to seek another cache tucked between Railay West and a nearby, less popular beach. The cache was meant to be a difficult find, only accessible during low tide when the sea retreats away from the shore and reveals the jagged, slick black rocks beneath its waves. Only during low tide can you walk along the coast’s spiky rocks from one beach to the other. Otherwise it’s a bush-wacking hike through the jungles from beach to beach.
The cache was unfortunately missing, so we simply enjoyed seeing the curious sea creatures suddenly revealed by the retreating ocean. Floppy brown sea cucumbers, skittering snails, shy white crabs… It was a perfect afternoon for just walking and walking and walking.
We walked, watching the ocean, watching the sea slowly peel back the waters to show off the fascinating landscape invisible to beachgoers during high tide. We walked, listening to the chatter at the local bungalows in various languages, the rock climbers sharing their latest forays along the cliffs. We walked, hearing faint hums of guitars from the bungalow porches, overcast by the rumble and shush-shush-shush of longtail boats zipping through the waters, shuttling travelers between nearby beaches.
In the evening we sat down for dinner on Railay West. Best view for dinner was sitting cross-legged on a thin mat, right on the beach. With full bellies we watched as the encroaching waves crept up the sand as the tide rode back in. Once the rolling waves licked our sitting mat, we scrambled to gather our sandals in the waning twilight, and bounded back onto dry sand as the waves inched closer and closer.
The following morning we decided to climb up the steep and treacherous path to the lagoon, nested in the nearby mountain. The climb involved pulling yourself up a series of ropes and slippery ruddy brick-colored rocks to a viewpoint, then further along the slick trail to a crest that descended into the most gorgeous green-turquoise lagoon. The climb down and back up required a bit of technical footwork and a heavy dose of bravery. I stayed on the crest, watching the lagoon from above while Sam and Dave lowered themselves down the rope-lined rocks to the cool calm waters in the center of the mountain. Perfect for a secluded swim.
On the way back from the lagoon, we stopped at the viewpoint again. From the small opening in the trees, you could see Railay West to the far side, its clear beaches opening up like wide arms to the Andaman Sea. On the closer edge, the mangroved Railay East shielded the spot of land from a gaggle of seafaring vessels lingering just in the deeper waters, waiting, ready to depart into the open sea. And just on the beach below, we watched the tiny figures of beach walkers, walking and lazily enjoying the sand through their toes, stopping to examine even tinier sand creatures, and listening to the quiet, azure waters lapping against the sand.