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Reaching Railei

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Lisa King takes you on a personal journey of Railei Beach, Krabi
Model Ilona Novacek
Photographer Gui Martinez
Text Lisa King
I was seven.  I remember getting on a 24-seater bus at Bangkok, destined for Krabi town.  They said it would be a long journey.  My parents had bought a house they’d never seen, on a karst rock peninsula without road access, that was seemingly impossible to get to.  They said we would only have electricity for three hours of the night, and we’d have to keep our bought market produce on ice. Despite all that, we went in search of paradise.
Twenty seven years later, the moment where the long tail boat turns the corner from Ao Nam Mao, still takes my breath away.  The hum of the motor echoes off the dramatic limestone cliffs as the sun glistens on the emerald sea.  Houses with green and red roofs are nestled between the sand and rock amongst the lush foliage of the jungle.  Railei was then and still is the home of the rock climber; the very best come from all over the world to scale its stalactites.  The bay is full of activity; people paddleboarding and kayaking in between neighbouring Ton Sai and Phranang beach, moored white yachts visiting from Phuket, and a scattering of local fishing boats. 
It’s almost lunchtime when I arrive, having taken the 9am flight from Bangkok.  I head up to our place in Railei Beach Club on the West side of the peninsula, a Balinese style house originally designed by my mother and am greeted by manager Khun Mee and the familiar friendly staff.  Ours are two of a community of privately owned homes.  I think to myself, thank goodness my parents made a crazy decision all those years ago. The beach is teeming with people, but by sunset most of the sunseekers will have dispersed back to the neighbouring town of Ao Nang.

If you, like me, are rarely able to escape the city for more than a long weekend, you’ll want to make the most of your time here. If you rise with the sun the days are long. Here’s how I would spend it;
6.30am, wake up just after sunrise for some early morning exercise.  Railei West is deserted apart from a few early risers. From the jungle you’ll hear the gibbon calls; follow their sound through the back of Railei Beach Club to try and capture a photo of a macque monkeys playing in dew kissed trees. Take a run of the bay, yoga on the beach or a hike up to ‘viewpoint’  On the path between Railei East and Phranang Beach is a moderate climb up a red soil cliff, which comes to a lookout over the three beaches.  If it’s dry enough, you can carry on down to the lagoon at high tide – but beware, don’t wear anything you don’t mind getting covered in clay!  After a shower or swim, take a table at the front of the Flame Tree restaurant, and start the day with a fresh coconut.

You’d be sad to miss an afternoon trip with Krabi Sunset Cruises.  Leaving at 1pm each day their beautiful refurbished Siamese junk will tour you around the islands between some of the best snorkeling points. You’ll be sipping cocktails as you watch the sun go down.  They also provide a delicious lunch, all snorkelling equipment and paddleboards. Advanced booking is recommended and it’s always fun with a large group of friends.

On day two, I like to take a sunrise walk to the East of the peninsula, the path busy with monkeys.  There lies a shrine to the Phranang Princess, a goddess of health and fertility who resides in a towering cave.  Locals leave brightly coloured offerings in the form of wooden linghams for luck, before setting out to sea.  The water is crystal clear on that side, so definitely worth a swim. 

Equally Ton Sai Beach is an interesting excursion, it is notably less developed than Railei but arguably less picturesque.  World class climbers gather to boulder up the dramatic overhanging rock and I love sitting on the bamboo deck of Freedom bar overlooking the volcanic landscape at low tide.    

By the afternoon I like to relax a little more, and spend time sitting on the deck with a sketchbook or good read. I’d recommend booking Railei Beach Club’s in house masseuse Elle to come to the villa for a traditional Thai massage, I’ll have mine under the shade of our sea-view pagoda.  Blissfully relaxed by early evening, I slip on a kaftan and head over to the Railei Beach Club Sunset bar for a signature Thai-jito.  Inevitably you’ll meet someone new and relish sharing stories.

Dinner will be cooking up a feast with my family and friends at the house, or a neighbour’s, (Chef Kevin Ching of Yangon hotspot Port Authority is a regular). If you’re not much of a cook don’t worry - you can ask the clubhouse to arrange for someone to cook at your villa for you. Alternatively try the fresh seafood at one the of spots; Local Thai Food, Mangrove or any of the restaurants at the Rayavadee.  The day ends with a night swim before going to sleep to the sounds of the lapping tide and singing cicadas.
Born a native Thai with a British / Indonesian heritage, I regularly return to Thailand from London in search of renewed inspiration for prints, scarves, and my swimwear line. I swap coffees for coconuts, my Nikes for bare feet, wooly hats for Zanzans and British commuters for smiling Thais. 
I shared my last trip to Krabi with longtime friend and collaborator, Gui Martinez, a Brazilian who specializes in medium format film photography and Australian model Ilona Novacek.  In this shoot, we hoped to capture the essence of the Railei beach lifestyle; a laid back place where you can go from sun to sport whilst surrounded by nature’s beauty.
I am always inspired and rejuvenated when it’s time to leave, to return to the city, that just like this paradise, has made me who I am.


When to go
November to January promises the best weather but a busier beach. Go in August for a deserted beach but with a strong risk of an occasional tropical storm.
The Railei Peninsula comprises of four beaches; Railei West, East, Phranang and Ton Sai. Accomodation is preferable but more expensive on Railei West.  It’s also limited so if you’re going I would suggest booking early. There are places to cater for a variety of budgets but these are my top two choices;
Railei Beach Club is designed as a home away from home.  The owners, who range from film directors, to National Geographic Photographers, chocolate makers, world class rock climbers and treasure hunters, rent the houses out when away and no two houses are the same.  They sleep from two to eight people, are self catered and the club house will help you with transfers and recommendations for the area.  This unique mix of people attracts an equally diverse crown of discerning travellers and it’s a great place for couples, groups of friends or families alike.
The Rayavadee; for a very different experience and the ultimate in five star luxury.  The hotel has really tried to preserve the integrity of the native National park within its unique architecture of private eco-villas and landscaping.  Combine that with an infinity pool, gym, spa, gourmet restaurants and some of the best service in Asia and you have an amazing experience. They also have a great boutique stocking both local and international designers.
How to get there           
Thai Airways fly from Suvarnabhumi and Air Asia from Don Mueang direct to Krabi airport.  From there it’s a 30 minute hotel van ride to Ao Nam Mao or Ao Nang depending on where is best to get the long tail boats onto Railei Beach.
Where to eat
Flame Tree
Local Thai Food
The Rayavadee
Joy’s Pizza
Southern thai street food at Krabi town market
Rock Climbing           
Hot Rock Climbing School
King Climbers Climbing School
Half day courses start at 9am from Railei East.
Other things to do
Rent a kayak or paddleboard in front of the Flame Tree.
Take a long tail boats for half or one day trips to the nearby islands, such as Chicken island or Koh Poda. You can rent snorkels on Walking Street.
Walking Street
The Rayavadee Boutique
Ao Nang

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