Ao Nang or Railay Beach can be a bit confusing at first but there are quite major differences between the two. Deciding on which one really depends on what sort of vibe you are looking for.
We are going to give you things to do in Ao Nang and Railay Beach, as well as some amazing pictures to give you a better feel for each one.
By the end of this blog, you will know which suits you better depending on what your interests are and we will give you our suggestion of the best beach and area to spend most of your time, based from our multiple trips to each beach.
So, Ao Nang or Railay Beach…which one is better? Let’s dive in.
Ao Nang is a small town within the Krabi provenance of Thailand. It’s an area that is very popular with tourist because of how much it has to offer. You have a multitude of longtail boats providing you access to an array of nearby Islands, an option for cheap local cuisine or western food such as Burger King & Starbucks and of course, Ao Nang Beach.
All the above makes for a great attraction for the western tourist who wishes to have all this in close proximity, which Ao Nang offers with ease.
With that in mind, let’s head straight in on why Ao Nang is such a great place to visit and how to keep you occupied on your visit.
Things to do in Ao Nang
We have visited Ao Nang a handful of times and wouldn’t hesitate to go back again.
Chill on Ao Nang Beach
Approximately 1.5km in length, Ao Nang beach is a popular tourist destination spot in Krabi, Thailand. It has a lot to offer such as Ao Nang Beach itself, a chilled-out vibe and is plentiful in cafes and restaurants. As well as this, it has an abundance of accommodation ranging from the cheap backpacker stays to the glamourous hotels.
Despite this, it still manages to keep the feeling of ‘Thailand’. The locals are really friendly and local cuisine can be found almost anywhere.
First things first, just how good is the beach? Well, compared to other amazing beaches in Thailand it’s just ok, but these are to Thailand’s standards which are very high.
It’s a good spot to take a dip and do a bit of sunbathing, but it’s not the biggest beach in the world, as it’s quite short in width from the sea, so spaces such as shades spots are limited. There are a few longtail boats coming in and out of the beach too because it’s a popular spot to take tours or hop onto another Island.
Don’t let this put you off though, it still has a cute little charm to it. The beach is also walking distance to bars, cafes and restaurants so it is very convenient. There are hardly any if any at all, people hassling you to buy things, so rest assured you won’t be disturbed during your time of getting that vitamin d.
Ao Nang Beach sunset
What we can promise you on Ao Nang Beach is an amazing sunset. We have witnessed many sunsets at Ao Nang Beach, and we are still amazed at the sight of them. The sun radiates a deep red tinge, coating the canvas sky in purple minutes later.
An even better way to enjoy the sunset at Ao Nang Beach is to get there 30 mins before sunset. Pack a few snacks or a picnic, claim a spot on the stairs leading down to the beach and relax.
Do the 4 Island Tour
The 4 Island Tour is probably the most popular tour to do from Ao Nang. The tour takes you around, you guessed it, 4 Islands. These Islands include visiting Phra Nang Cave Beach, Chicken Island, Tup Island and Poda Island.
Each of these Islands are unique and have their own individual qualities. Some of the best snorkelling spots, smooth silky sand and transparent waters.
Read more about the 4 Island Tour in our in-depth blog.
Visit Krabi Town
If you’re staying in Ao Nang it would be silly not to check out Krabi Town. It has a more traditional touch than Ao Nang Beach because it’s not as touristy, and this comes to light with the Krabi town night market.
If you have your own motorbike you can get there in around 30 mins from Ao Nang Beach. Alternatively, you can catch the local Songthaew bus which takes you there for 60 Baht per person, but it takes around 45 mins due to picking up other passengers on the way.
Ao Nang Seafood Street
Pretty self-explanatory! The word of mouth is, this is the place to get some of the best seafood around. Unfortunately, we didn’t visit here, but with so much hype around it, we couldn’t leave it out and suggest checking it out for yourself. Let us know if the restaurants there live up to the hype.
Getting to Railay Beach from Ao Nang
There’s only one way to get to Railay Beach from Ao Nang Beach and that is by longtail boat.
Head to Ao Nang beach and go to the ‘Long Tail Boat Tourist Information’ desk on the corner, from there you can enquire about many different boat ticket prices and times. You can’t haggle here as all ticket prices are set. No need to buy tickets beforehand as you can just buy them on the same day.
A longtail boat to Railay Beach from Ao Nang Beach is 200 Baht per person return. You will receive 2 tickets, one to get you to Railay Beach and one for the way back. Make sure you keep the return ticket safe because you won’t be able to get back without it.
The longtail boat times from Ao Nang Beach to Railay Beach are 8 am – 6 pm. This means you must return before the last boat departs Railay Beach at 6 pm.
Fear not though, if you do miss it you won’t be stranded on the Island. Railay to Ao Nang at night can be achieved, but it will cost you 150 Baht per person one way. The times are from 6 pm – 12 am. It is best to buy the ticket from the Ao Nang Beach ticket office before your journey if you think there may be a chance you will be on Railay Beach longer than the last day time longtail boat at 6 pm.
Once you have your tickets, you will have to wait until there is a minimum of 6 or 8 people ready to depart from Ao Nang Beach to Railay Beach. Waiting times aren’t long at all since it’s a popular route and the maximum time you’ll be waiting is about 10 mins. We only waited 2 mins as we were the last 2 people to make the 8 person group.
Once everyone is ready you will walk through the shallow waters of Ao Nang Beach and climb on board the longtail boat. The journey from Ao Nang Beach to Railay Beach is about 15 mins and is a pretty smooth ride.
Sailing on a longtail boat in Thailand is an experience in itself. Enjoy every moment of it while you can and soak up all the beautiful views of the limestone cliffs stretching out of the Andaman Sea.
Once you arrive, you will land on Railay West. If you didn’t know already, Railay is split between Railay West and Railay East.
The famous Railay, home to the equally famous Railay Beach. Railay is split into 4 parts, you have Railay West, Railay East, Phra Nang and Ton Sai.
No cars, no buses and no roads, only marvellous limestone cliffs soaring through the ocean, magnificent viewpoints, a bunch of caves and roaming mischievous monkeys. It’s the perfect scenery for the Island life.
However, Island life does have its limitations. There aren’t as many restaurants and cafes compared to Ao Nang and the only ATMs are located next to the only supermarket in Railay.
What is the difference between Railay West and Railay East?
First, let’s clear up some confusion. You actually arrive on Railay West coming from Ao Nang Beach and you arrive on Railay East coming from Krabi.
Railay West has a nice beach. You will see this as soon as you arrive because this is where the longtail boats drops you off from Ao Nang Beach. People generally tend to sunbathe and soak up the rays, intermittently taking a quick dip in the gorgeous sea. There’s plenty of space for everyone.
In Railay East, there’s no sand to lay around on and enjoy, just a few shells surrounded by mangroves, with a pier being the main access point for longtail boats carrying people coming from Krabi. So if you want to enjoy the beach, don’t relay on Railay East.
The major difference between Railay West and Railay East
The majority of stores, restaurants etc. Are located at Railay East, which is also easily connected to Phra Nang Beach and the Railay Viewpoint. However, Railay West has the beach with the sand and sea to enjoy accompanied with 1 or 2 restaurants, which are relatively expensive compared to other restaurants on the Island.
Things to do on Railay Beach
Chill out on West Railay Beach
As mentioned before, this is where you will arrive via Ao Nang Beach, so it’s a good place to start. This is one of those postcard picture beaches you’ll come across in Thailand. Hence why it is one of the most popular beaches as it is so beautiful, the water is crystal clear and its surrounded by limestone cliffs. It’s not overcrowded though so you could easily perch yourself here all day, wander off to a restaurant for some food, have a little swim every now and then and just chill.
West Railay Beach is the most popular of all the beaches, it’s very long and wide allowing plenty of space for everyone to enjoy.
If a hotel with a pool and beach views is your thing, then have a look at Railay Bay Resort & Spa
Grab a bite to eat if you wish, from the restaurants on the beach. You’ll have to pay a bit of a premium though since it’s right there on the beach.
If you’re looking for cheaper food, rock climbing and bars then you need to walk 10 minutes to East Railay.
Check out Railay East
If you are coming from Krabi town this is where you will get dropped off and picked up. It’s where the floating pier is for the boats and tractors lugging around people in low tides apparently.
An easy walking path connects East Railay and West Railay, taking 10 mins to walk.
With an abundance of low and high-end restaurants, you will be spoilt for choice. You can get 3 x cans of Chang beer for 120 Baht as well as many bars including a famous reggae bar.
It offers a different view, there’s no actual beach to enjoy, however, the mangroves with the many wildlife scattered around make it a pleasant sight.
From East Railay, you can make your way to the viewpoint, Phranang caves and much more.
Rock climbing at Railay
One of the most popular things to do on Railay Beach is rock climbing. You will see people walking about with their gear on anxious to explore the scenery from a different perspective.
It’s hard not to when you’re rewarded with the views. You can pretty much rock climb anywhere on Railay and there are shops scattered throughout for you to enquire about the activity.
Climb up to the Railay Viewpoint & Princess Lagoon
Now, most people when they say ‘climb’ they mean walk up a steep hill, but in this case, we actually mean CLIMB.
You have the use of ropes to climb up cliffs, and it’s not for the faint-hearted. We would not recommend doing this after it’s been raining and if the rock faces are slippery, it would be very dangerous.
In addition, we also wouldn’t recommend this for kids or the elderly, it’s very strenuous.
Unless you have climbing shoes, best to leave the sandals behind, but make sure you hide them well, as when Woody returned, they were gone. Whoever wanted to steal £2 sandals must have been desperate so I hope they served the person well…
Now all the health and safety warnings are out of the way, is it even worth it? Definitely.
There are 2 things that make this climb so good. The actual viewpoint but also a hidden beautifully glistening lagoon. There is nothing better than cooling off in this lagoon after a climb in which sweat is dripping from you.
After climbing up, to get to this lagoon you’ll have to descend with the help from a few ladders which you’ll have to climb down.
The whole experience will take a couple of hours depending on how long you stay at each place so don’t underestimate the time.
Visit Phra Nang Beach
We’re going to say it. This is our favourite beach in Railay. It is well connected from East Railay and takes 5 – 10 mins to get there.
The walk takes you on a curving path with protruding rocks coming out from the cliffs. To make things even more interesting, there are usually monkeys jumping around in the trees.
This is the first place we’ve seen dusky leaf monkeys; their faces stand out from the usual monkeys we’re used to seeing as they have white patches around their eyes, mouth and stomach.
Phra Nang Beach is our favourite for several reasons. The first is that the water is so still you feel like you could walk on it. No huge waves disturbing you, you lose the sense of reality whilst you float in the sea.
Secondly, is due to its quirkiness. There is, which can only be described as, a penis shrine here. Literally a little cave filled with carved penises. It is said this is a place where locals wish for fertility from the Princess Goddess, where she was killed in a shipwreck nearby.
Even though there is some humour to it from us westerners, please respect that fact that locals take these shrines seriously.
Lastly, there is a bigger cave to explore, depending on the tide you can either walk to it or swim to it with the assistance from ropes.
There’s nothing much to it, but it’s nice to explore, especially when you can swim there via high tide.
Visit Ton Sai Beach
The lesser-known Ton Sai is a beach accessed via Railay West at low tide with a few hotels located on it. It is probably the quietest of all the beaches but is very popular amongst rock climbers who wish to get up close and personal to those stunning limestone cliffs.
Witness a Railay Beach sunset
The last thing you can do on Railay Beach is to watch the sunset. Go back to West Railay Beach for the sunset as the sky illuminates orange, red and purple. This is where you will get your boat back to Ao Nang too, so it’s a win-win situation.
Unless you want to stay longer than the last boat at 6 pm you can actually pay extra to stay longer, but you have to make sure you have a ticket for the late evening longtail boats.
Otherwise, you could always spend one night on the beach if you have the money to stay there.
Ao Nang or Railay Beach – Which do we think is better?
Both areas are great, Ao Nang has everything you need and is easily accessible to every other Island. Although the beach isn’t as jaw-dropping of those on Railay, it is still nice in its own way.
However, Railay just wins it for us because it’s more dynamic with its beaches. East Railay, West Railay Beach, Phra Nang Beach and Ton Sai, there’s a lot more to choose from.
The sand is whiter, the sea is clearer and the landscaping is more impressive.
So if you have a choice or want to stay in one area more than the other, we would certainly recommend staying at Railay over Ao Nang, as long as your budget allows it, because staying on Railay Beach is significantly more expensive than staying near Ao Nang Beach.
We did the best of both worlds and stayed in Ao Nang for 5 nights and went to Railay Beach by longtail boat for a full day. It only takes 10 minutes, so why not?
Ao Nang or Railay Beach accommodation
Ao Nang has a lot more options for budget accommodation through to luxuriant, whereas Railay is mainly high-end resorts and villas. We personally prefer the accommodation Ao Nang has to offer because it fits in with our budget when we travel.
On the other hand, if you’re on holiday and want a memorable experience, Railay has some pretty sweet resorts. See below for our recommendations on Ao Nang and Railay.
Where to stay on Ao Nang Beach
Ao Nang budget accommodation
For couples on a budget or friends, we would recommend the place we stayed at, Golden Palm Resort. The rooms look like little concrete huts, having air conditioning and average Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi wasn’t the best, because they had high security on it making certain websites slow (no, not that kind of website).
The bed was massive and really comfy with an average shower for Thailand’s standards, it did the job.
Perhaps one of the best things about this resort was that there was a local restaurant literally down the path. It is run by a Thai woman who speaks little English, and the food is ridiculously good and ridiculously cheap. We bought dishes for 50 baht each and probably tried half the menu over a few days.
As a solo backpacker, we would recommend staying at The Moment Hostel. A hostel is just a better way to meet new people and possibly travel with other people. You don’t want to stay in a resort which is filled with families and couples, it’s less likely you will meet other solo backpackers.
A luxury resort in Ao Nang
Admittedly, we haven’t stayed in a luxury resort or villa, but we’ve done the hard work and picked out one of the best villas in Ao Nang, Pinthong Aonang Villa. It has great reviews and you can even have a whole apartment to yourself.
Where to stay on Railay Beach
Railay Beach on a Budget
For couples and friends on a budget, it’s going to be more expensive to stay on Railay Beach, that’s just something you have to deal with. However, there is a decent budget accommodation available, Rapala Rock Wood Resort. It will have everything you need, no-frills but perfect to rest at night. After all, you should be spending most of your time outside enjoying Railay.
For a solo backpacker it’s a bit of a struggle, there seems to only be one ‘hostel’ around and its located on Tonsai Beach. Chill Out Jungle Bungalows sells out quick due to this, so make sure you book in advanced if you wish to stay here. Otherwise, you will have to book a double room at the other suggested accommodations above.
Luxury stays at Railay Bay
We have already recommended Railay Bay Resort & Spa, and to be honest, it’s probably our pick of the bunch of resorts on the Island.
If you fancy something else, then check out Railay Princess Resort & Spa. We walked past this on our journeys and it looked sublime.
Top tips for Ao Nang or Railay Beach
- If you’re on a budget, stay in Ao Nang and get a longtail boat over to Railay beach for the day
- In Ao Nang, make sure you go to the Krabi Night Markets on the weekend, the food is so cheap and sooooo good!
- On Railay beach, if you do the viewpoint, head to the Lagoon in the morning while the sun is still on it. The sun was hardly there when we went in the afternoon.
- Don’t just lay on Railay beach all day, walk to the Phranang Caves, it’s amazing!
- Head to East Railay for cheaper food and drinks
- Head to East Railay for Rock climbing and bars
- Railay beach is more picturesque than Ao Nang, but Ao Nang is cheaper
Now that you’re all set on Ao Nang or Railay Beach, why not check out other things around Thailand? There is the 4 Island tour which is easily done from either of the beaches.