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Rai Leh

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Krabi Province : Rai Leh
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Rai Leh, also commonly known as Railay, is a tourist area located on the Andaman Coast of Thailand, in Krabi Province. Rai Leh is primarily known as a rock climbing hot spot, attracting climbers from all over the world to its superb towering limestone.

The mighty Thaiwand Wall with Phra Nang Beach on the right

Get in

Rai Leh Beach (West)

As Rai Leh is a peninsula surrounded by ocean and mountains, final access can only be by boat. Long-tails depart from Ao Nang (10 minutes, 60 baht/person) and Krabi (30 minutes) on demand, making those towns the gateways to Rai Leh. It's also possible to access Rai Leh via regular ferries that run between Ko Lanta, Ko Phi Phi, and Phuket (more frequent in the November-May dry season - times available from local travel agents, or check online ferry schedules).

The Krabi, Phuket, Ko Lanta and Ko Phi Phi articles have information on reaching the gateways to Rai Leh from throughout Thailand. From Bangkok there are flights to Krabi and Phuket, direct bus services, and trains to Surat Thani with onward connections by bus.

Get around

Rai Leh Beach (East)

Rai Leh is considered to be all of the peninsula, which has four primary areas:

  • Phra Nang: a fine white sand beach, on the southern tip of the peninsula
  • Rai Leh East: the mangrove side of the peninsula, used by long-tails to/from Krabi
  • Rai Leh West: a fine beach of white sand and shallow water, where most long-tails arrive from Ao Nang
  • Ton Sai: a cove around the corner from Rai Ley West where rockclimbers and backpackers hang out in cheap accomodation and practice climbing

It's a 5-10 minute walk between any of these landmarks. The village itself is a pedestrian's dream, as there are no cars, and the uneven bumpy walkways make even bicycles impractical.

See

Phra Nang Shrine
  • Phra Nang Cave, also known as Diamond Cave, on the east side of the peninsula, to the north of Rai Leh East, is an interesting place to explore and one of the few strictly sight-seeing destinations at Rai Leh. A nominal entrance fee pays for a short walk along the lit boardwalk through formations that glitter as if they were full of diamonds. Though not breathtakingly large (and thus easily viewed in about fifteen minutes) it is quite beautiful. The cave is a common stop for day trips from Phuket and Ao Nang.
  • Phra Nang Shrine, north end of Phra Nang Beach. Dedicated to the spirit of the drowned princess (phra nang) who gave the beach her name, this small shrine in a small cave is notable primarily for the dozens of carved red-tipped phalluses donated by fishermen seeking her favour.

Do

Climbing

Thaiwand Wall

Rai Leh is perhaps the best winter sport rock climbing area in the world, with over a thousand bolted routes up limestone faces with breathtaking views over the ocean. If you are an avid rock climber, chances are you already know about this place and the spectacular cliffs are the reason you are here.

Climbing is graded on the French scale, most is steep and challenging with only limited possibilities for beginners. Due to the corrosive nature of the seaside location, the steel bolts may be of questionable integrity, bolt failure is not uncommon here, and threads (rope tied through holes in the rock) may be of questionable integrity as well. Overall the rock quality is superb; however, like everywhere else, you will find the occasional loose section including the famed Rai Leh stalactites.

Required climbing gear: Rai Leh and around is all sport climbing. Beyond a 60 metre (200 foot) rope, sixteen quickdraws, your harness, shoes and a lot of chalk, you won't need much else. Anything you forget or don't have can be rented at the climbing shops.

Guides: Rai Leh and Tonsai have several guide operators with services ranging from introductory rock climbing courses to rent-a-belay partner.

  • Phra Nang Adventures [1] - on Ton Sai Beach (50m from Rai Leh). American, British, Swedish, and Australian guides. Exclusive guide to Ko Lao Liang for climbing/diving/camping.
  • King Climbers [2] - on the east side of Rai Leh, next to Ya Ya's accommodation.
  • Cat's Climbing Shop - sells guide books and chalk in addition to their guide services and intro courses. You'll likely find a cat and small kitten or two wandering around the shop which is located on the west side of Rai Leh near Railay Village Resort.
  • Hot Rock Climbing School [3] - on the west side of Rai Leh, near The New Scholar Real Coffee shop, and the owner Luang has been around the area for over 15 yrs.


Guide books: There are three different guide books published in a variety of languages by the local guide shops, each providing excellent directions and route finding. Most were updated around 2004 or more recently and can be ordered online, directly from the guide shop, or your local climbing store might carry stock.

  • Thailand: A Climbing Guide [4] published by The Mountaineers and written by Sam Lightner Jr. All the money earned from it is to be donated to the re-bolting cause:.

Diving & snorkeling

Rai Leh is not a major diving spot as the local coral and sea life is not as diverse or spectacular as other areas of Thailand. However there is a dive shop that will certify divers and take them on boat trips to decent dive sites, including a sunken wreck. Serious divers tend to prefer the Similan Islands, Ko Phi Phi or Ko Lanta for quality diving.

  • King Cruiser is a car ferry that sank in 1997, providing the area with its only wreck, located at 30 meters. Unfortunately its condition is deteriorating fairly fast in the warm waters. This is the most popular dive site in the area.

Snorkeling is not a major draw for Rai Leh though it is possible to swim out and see coral and fish a few meters off the sandy beaches. Beware of the ever present longtail boat traffic.

Most looking for some snorkeling fun rent a longtail and head for the islands south and west of Rai Leh, such as Poda Island, but even there the snorkelling is only moderate. Some hotels organize snorkeling trips or you may prefer to charter your own boat for the afternoon. A one way trip usually takes less than 25 minutes.

Kayaking

While not as good as at Phang Nga, the kayaking around the peninsula at Rai Leh affords a great alternative to climbing and a stunning view of the area. Several of the limestone islets off Phra Nang beach have sea caves eroded into their bases, including a few large enough to offer opportunities to beach the kayaks and explore. Paddling into caves and through subterranean passages is particularly interesting, but watch out for low, jagged ceilings. For those with more ambition, a short open-water crossing (about one hour of steady, heavy paddling) leads to the private island of Ko Poda which has beautiful and relatively isolated beaches.

Several bungalow resorts on the Rai Leh West side of the peninsula have sea kayaks available for rental for around 600 baht/half-day, 1000 baht/full-day (including life-vests). The kayaks are simple two-seat plastic models, but perform fine on the millpond-smooth water of the bay. A half-day is probably plenty long enough to explore the immediate environs of Rai Leh. A bottle of water, a hat and plenty of sun protection are essential!

Trekking

Rai Leh itself does not offer many trekking opportunities, as the peninsula is so tiny. The one interesting and undeveloped area is the jungle atop the limestone towers that make up the club-shaped southern end of the peninsula. Along the paved path that runs from Rai Leh East to Phra Nang beach, a so-called "trail" leads up a slippery, rocky embankment to the jungle-covered plateau. A narrow, indistinct trail circles the top of the southern tower, with a left turn offering access to the highest point (accessible via a sheer face and thus navigable only with climbing gear) as well as a fantastic lookout point over the peninsula. A right turn on the path leads downward into a hidden glen, which provides access to the secret lagoon called Sa Phra Nang or Holy Princess Pool. The route from this glen to the lagoon leads down a steep, rocky ravine, and the path is covered with slippery red clay, making it quite treacherous even for the experienced. The technique is not so much climbing as scrambling, and the knotted nylon ropes are often more dangerous than they are helpful. The lagoon itself is breathtakingly beautiful, but try not to step in, as the soft bottomless muck has quite a penchant for trekkers' footwear.

Buy

Rai Leh has many small general convenience stores with various essentials at reasonable prices, considering shipment costs to what is essentially an island. Though most shoppers (souvenir or otherwise) will be better satisfied in nearby Ao Nang, clothing, souvenirs, beachwear and such are all also available in various small shops in Rai Leh East and Rai Leh West. There are no real grocery vendors, so meals are limited to the restaurants, though some small snack items are available in the convenience stores.

Eat

Rai Leh has a variety of restaurants to choose from, although none are remarkable (for Thailand at least) in character or quality. In general however, the food is what you would expect for southern Thailand - tasty and inexpensive.

Rai Leh West has four restaurants: one for each of the three hotels on the beach, and a smaller restaurant near CoCo's bar. All offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner along the beach with a lovely view of the surroundings.

Rai Leh East has more restaurants and the variety is much greater, though none offer the scenery of the west beach (restaurants near Diamond Cave may be an exception where they offer an impressive view of the bay from their position higher up the hill).

Drink

There are several other bars situated on the beach, each attached to one of the hotel restaurants, and all quite pleasant for a relaxing sunset cocktail.

  • CoCo's is the only stand-alone bar on Rai Leh West. It is quite small with only a couple of tables but they layout beach mats on the sand during the evenings which makes for an ideal location to enjoy the sunset.
  • Rai Lay Bay Resort Bar is attached to the restaurant at the Rai Lay Bay Resort and Spa Hotel. The bar is beachfront and is lined with stools and shaded by the nearby palm trees. As it is the largest bar on Rai Leh West, it usually fills up quite quickly prior to sunset. NB: Currently under renovation.

Rai Leh East offers more in the way of energetic bars with dance music. These bars can be found near the Diamond Cave Bungalows.

Sleep

Rai Leh is for two types of groups - honeymooners/families, or rock climbing backpackers - and has accommodation to suit both, either expensive four star resorts or two star guesthouses. Prices typically double during high season (November-April inclusive)

Budget

Most Rai Leh budget accommodation is found on the east side of Rai Leh. For the best variety of budget accommodation (wooden bungalows) try neighbouring Ton Sai Beach - a ten minute walk or one minute long-tail ride - where rooms can be had for a few hundred baht/night.

  • Railay Cabana Bungalows — The cheapest accommodation on Railay are a collection of bamboo bungalows, found behind Diamond Cave on Rai Leh East. Prices can be as low as 100 baht in the low season, July/August. Reaching 700Baht in high season. The savings does come with a price, expect a 10-15 uphill walk from the beach.

Mid-range

Rai Leh West has several beach front hotels/bungalow operators located on the west side of Rai Leh. While the prices vary greatly depending on room type, they're all priced a cut above your average budget operation.

  • Railay Village Hotel (currently closed for renovations, due to re-open in January 2007) has a collection of concrete bunglows, each with private bathroom and fan or air con, set back off the beach among a garden setting. High season rates 500-2000 baht for double occupancy.
  • Sand Sea Hotel [5] is similar to Railay Village Hotel in that it is a collection of concrete bunglows, private bathroom, choice of fan or air con and quietly set back off the beach among a garden setting; Although the included breakfast buffet is nothing special for Thailand, the rooms have marginally nicer decor, and has a nice swimming pool -- which attracts a more family oriented clientèle. High season rates 1950-2500 baht for double occupancy.
  • Rai Lay Bay Resort & Spa Hotel is the largest and offers a combination of concrete bungalows and two-storey deluxe hotel rooms with marginally nicer decor. The hotel rooms are slightly closer to the beach, while the bungalows almost stretch right across the peninsula through their gardens, and there's a nice swimming pool. High season rates 1950-5900 baht for double occupancy, including a good buffet breakfast.
  • Rai Lei Beach Club [6] rents private houses. The homes are located on the western side of Rai Leh, adjacent to CoCo's, and vary in size and quality. None have air conditioning or hot water but include daily maid service. High season rates begin at 3500 baht for a single room home and range up to 13,000 baht for a three bedroom home that sleeps tweleve.

Rai Leh East has no beach front hotels/bungalows; accomodation is either set back from the water or up on the hills. Many of the hotels offer fine views of the bay and surrounding mountains.

  • Diamond Cave Resort [7] is at the far end of Rai Leh east, weith steps from near the beach leading up to well maintained gardens with a pool, surrounded by a variety of concrete bungalows, several of them nestled into the jungle marking the edge of town. High season rates 2000-3400 baht.
  • Railay Princess is a new hotel located on the east side Rai Leh, near YaYa's Bungalows. It is a three story hotel style building that is set inland from the beach. While it lacks any beach front, it is quiet, and features a lagoon and pool with views of the surrounding mountains. High season rates start at 3000 baht, including breakfast.

Splurge

  • Rayavadee, Phra Nang; tel. +66-75620740 [8] is the only resort on Phra Nang beach, with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous view and prices to match - you'll be looking at upwards of 20,000 baht/night for a stay here. Alas, the would-be private beach is inundated daily with daytrippers from elsewhere in Krabi and hordes of vendors to cater to them, so if you want peace and quiet (during the day) you'd do best to look elsewhere.

Get out

Most exit Rai Leh as they came in. The Phi Phi Islands, Ko Lanta and Phuket are easy destinations from Rai Leh and transportation can be easily booked through any hotel or activity center.



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