Photo: Looking over West Railay.

Eat and meet

Railay has an ample selection of traveller-oriented eateries and resort restaurants that are similar to what you’ll find on many of the islands. The most abundant choices are found on Railay East. Prices are generally high, especially on Railay West. You’ll be able to find a decent meal, but don’t expect food to be a highlight.

If you’re on a budget, take advantage of the makeshift stands that are spread around Railay East and Walking Street near Railay West. Often for below 50 baht per item, these dish out goodies like chicken skewers, kebabs, roti, baguettes, burgers and smoothies. You might expect the cleanliness to be worse than at larger restaurants, but if you think about it, there’s more incentive to keep a kitchen clean when your customers can see it right in front of them. We tried several different food stands and didn’t have any problems.

As you stroll north up the walkway that skirts Railay East, you’ll notice a few freestanding restaurants that are usually full of budget travellers. At Mom’s Kitchen we enjoyed an 80-baht plate of pad prik gaeng, a simple chilli stir-fry with rice and crisp veggies. They also offer baguettes, pizza, pasta, breakfast and free WiFi. Next to Mom’s is Phra Nang Cuisine, which has a similar menu but with the additions of fresh coffee and a breezy seaside deck with floor cushions.

Near the entrances to Garden View and Great View resorts at the quiet northern end of the Railay East walkway, Tew Lay Bar serves fresh coffee, smoothies, beer, cocktails and a Western/Thai menu to loungers and cushions set up on semi-private platforms perched over the sea. The best of these is built onto the trunk of an umbrella tree that extends out over the water. Tew Lay is also home to Railay Cooking School, where twice-daily classes can teach you how to whip up a tom yum or green curry in an open-air roofed kitchen.

If you’ve worked up a major appetite, head to Viewpoint Resort for their nightly barbecue buffet. You can choose from items such as snapper, prawns, steak or chicken for 229 baht, which is a great deal considering you get unlimited access to a salad bar and buffet with a healthy selection of stir-fried vegetables, curries, fresh fruit and sweets. Our half of a barbecued chicken arrived along with corn-on-the-cob and barbecued veggies -- almost enough to fill up two. For a more refined dining experience, Bhu Nga Thani’s restaurant serves roasted duck salad, salmon rolls stuffed with prawn and blue cheese sauce, and grilled red snapper for between 120 and 550 baht.

Railay East also boasts Railay’s only real nightlife outside of Tonsai. For a raucous night out that comes complete with strong buckets, fire spinning shows, a muay Thai ring, billiards table and dance floor where you can flail and grind to blasting hip-hop and techno until 02:00, Last Bar is your place. It really is the last bar, too, located far down in the northern corner of Railay East. If you prefer a more intimate scene and some good conversation, stop by Bang Bang Bar, a hole in the wall just inland along the cross-peninsula walkway that begins next to Avatar Resort. With only enough space for six customers to sit at one time, it’s a favourite of local rock climbers.

Heading towards the other side of the peninsula, a cluster of restaurants are found around a sandy path just inland from Walking Street on Railay West. Two of the most popular are Local Thai Restaurant and Mangrove Restaurant, both large open-air affairs where the beer flows and the seafood barbecues keep smoking well into the night. This is also where you’ll find Kohinoor, a tasty (if expensive) Indian restaurant that uses its nan oven to bake crispy thin-crust pizzas.

Right where Walking Street meets the sand of Railay West, Flametree is a long-running bar/restaurant that practically every visitor to the peninsula patronises at some point. It nails the laid-back beach bar vibe while also offering an extensive Thai/Western menu that includes sandwiches on several types of house-baked bread. Serving noodle soup, Bud’s ice cream and roti, the stand across the lane is also run by Flametree. Prices are high, but you can’t beat the sunset atmosphere.

Haad Phra Nang has no stand-alone restaurants due to Rayavadee’s control of the entire beachfront, but this is still Thailand, and the clever Thais always find a way to sell food. Here the locals stock longtail boats full of cold beer, coconuts, blenders and fruit for smoothies, woks to whip up simple Thai dishes and grills for churning out burgers and corn on the cob. If you’ve never waded into clear emerald water for a plate of pad Thai and a Singha in paradise, we highly recommend it.

Over on Ao Tonsai, Mama’s Chicken Restaurant is thankfully still going strong along the forest road after being forced out of its old location closer to the beach. With virtually every option costing 80 baht or less, they churn out mouth-watering grilled chicken along with fiery som tam and sticky rice. You’ll also find a range of sandwiches, including a tofu burger for herbivores. The chicken burger that we ordered was probably the best meal we had in the area: two huge chicken filets deep-fried to a crisp with Mama’s secret seasonings and stuffed onto a soft oversized bun with salad and chilli sauce -- delicious, filling and cheap.

Tonsai also has its share of beach-bum nightlife, though it would be a hassle to experience it if you’re not staying here. Along the inland road, Sunset Pirate Bar gets it done with pirate flags, seating in an old longtail boat, guitars and a dilapidated bar that’s great for chatting up other travellers. For a livelier scene and fire-spinning shows that we’ve heard are fabulous, head over to Chill Out Bar.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Railay Beach? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Thailand.

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