Introducing Ao Krabi
Towering above the Andaman Sea, a rock climber muscles her way up one of the impenetrable limestone cliffs that cut Railay off from the rest of Krabi province. At sunset, the exhilarated climbers descend to lounge alongside top-end luxury travellers and scruffy backpackers on brilliant beaches. Not an island, nor a beach town, the Railay peninsula is one of a kind.
Also spelt Rai Leh, this breathtaking mainland destination can only be reached by boat, making it feel like you’re actually on an island. Rimmed by four beaches, including one — Haad Phra Nang — that often appears on “best beaches in the world” lists, it’s a prime place to soak up scenes of emerald water lapping onto powdery sand framed by karst cliffs.
Railay is perhaps best known as one of the world’s great rock-climbing destinations, with over 700 routes bolted to dozens of cliffs pegged with crags and caves. Several climbing schools operate on the peninsula, though in 2016 a new national park chief instituted strict guidelines for overseeing climbing on the peninsula. He also banned deep water soloing (DWS), a hugely popular activity that entails free-climbing a cliff and then plummeting back down into the sea.
While there’s a lot to love about Railay, it’s also one among many of Thailand’s natural gems that have been hastily developed and irresponsibly managed. Your first impression might be one of concrete walls, low-hanging wires and macaques picking through garbage. Though it’s partly overseen by the Hat Noppharat Thara – Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, Railay is not exactly pristine.