I am planning to spend some time on, or around Railay Beach in January and wanted to know if I should look for a place to stay on Railay, or stay in Ao Nang and boat over to Railay. I know West Railay in January is very expensive, so I'm not interested in that however I have heard it might be worth staying on East Railay and walking over to the beach on the west side?
Help solving this dilemma greatly appreciated! As is everything else I have been asking about :)
Either way would be fine... Staying in Ao Nang would mean more food options and conveniences, though Ao Nang beach itself is lackluster and it would be a bit of a hassle to boat over to Railay every day if you intend to spend most of your time there. Ao Nang is also not cheap in January, though bungalow spots like Anawin or Adam are reasonable, or else take an uninspiring but comfortable room at one of the two dozen cookie-cutter guesthouses that line the main drag. If you stay in Ao Nang, a day motorbiking up the coast to the quieter beaches is fun, and/or you could do boat trips to Ko Hong and other small islands in the area. You can also do tours from there to Ao Phang Nga.
Most who stay on Railay end up staying put on the peninsula and doing any tours at a different stage from Ao Nang or Krabi town. You could also stay at a cheap guesthouse in Krabi town and hit Railay as day trip(s) from there. But in either that or the case of Ao Nang, you would of course be paying the extra cash (and time) for the longtail rides -- not sure if it would balance out too much cheaper in the end.
Railay West is indeed expensive at any time of year. If you decide to stay on the peninsula, a couple of the inland spots like Puthawan and Cabana offer pretty good value and they're a manageable 10 to 15 minute walk from Railay West and Phra Nang beach (the latter is Railay's most spectacular beach). Of course, there are also a bunch of dirt cheap places to stay on Tonsai, though that's a 30 minute hike to Railay West and the hippie vibes are not for everyone.
I don't know what kind of time you have, but if it were me, I'd spend two or three days on Railay and then two or three days exploring the coast and inland national parks while based at a guesthouse in Krabi town. But Ao Nang is best if you're looking to party. Except for Railay Garden View, which is kind of far out of the way, the only budget options that are right on Railay East (Rapala and Railay Viewpoint) are nothing special for the price. Other than those it's all midrange to high-end.
Railay has poor food options and little to do apart from lay on the beach. I normally stay in Ao Nang. They have some good markets and you can hire a bike and ride around. Plus they have a songthaew (little ute like bus) that travels in circles to krabi town which is worth a visit. Krabi town is an authentic thai town with good food and there's a good leather shop there. it also has 2 food markets.