Railay has an ample supply of traveller-oriented eateries and resort restaurants, usually serving standard Thai dishes along with pizza and burgers under the same roof. Even basics like fried rice often fetch 100 baht or more. Some very laidback bars are also found in small pockets of nightlife.
Many of the freestanding (non-resort) places to eat and drink stand on Walking Street, a brick-lined lane running inland from Railay West. Closest to the beach you’ll find a few makeshift stalls dishing out kebabs, grilled meat skewers, roti, sandwiches, coffee and smoothies, with most of the sit-down restaurants located a bit further up the lane. Every resort on Railay West except for Railei Beach Club offers sea-view dining as well—and you pay a premium for it.
After sampling flavourless Thai dishes at several Walking Street eateries we finally hit the jackpot at Local Thai Food. Easy to miss at the far back corner of the strip, it was the first eatery to open in this vicinity and the welcoming owners have been in business since 2003. The gai bai toey (chicken grilled in pandan leaf) was outstanding, filling the whole place with the aromatic scent of pandan as it was being prepared. We also enjoyed the spicy beef salad and a “set” of fried chicken, som tam and sticky rice for 150 baht. If going cheaper, Local does hefty plates of khao man gai (chicken rice) and khao na ped (roast duck with rice) for 100 baht. Though ubiquitous in most parts of Thailand, street-style dishes like these are hard to come by on Railay.
Across the lane from Local sits Kohinoor, the peninsula’s only Indian restaurant at the time of writing. It has a classic British-style Indian menu including vindaloo, tandoori-grilled meats, saag paneer, garlic nan and other classics. Expect to part with some cash—350 baht for some meat dishes and 200 baht for some vegetarian options—but you will leave full and the flatscreen allows you to catch up on cricket and soccer action.
Walking Street also hosts Railay Cooking Class, offering several classes per day in which you’ll learn to make Thai dishes typically adored by Westerners such as pad Thai and tom yum, for around 1,200 baht per person. We’ve not tried the class but the open-sided kitchen looked like a fine place to learn.
The majority of Walking Street’s bars sport Rasta colours and play reggae tracks as part of a scene that has spread beyond its native habitat of Tonsai in recent years. Skunk House is a large, two-floor spot that often hosts a Thai singer/guitarist whose voice sounds an awful lot like Bob Marley’s. Dreadlocked dudes tend the wooden bars and floor-cushion lounges and lofts at several smaller bars—and we were surprised by how out in the open the stoner scene has become around here. You’ll also find a few pubs that play 1980s hits and modern electronic beats while focusing on cocktails rather than doobies. (As a reminder, the green stuff is still illegal in Thailand and you never know when the police will decide to show up and enforce the law.)
The east side hosts Railay’s largest number of restaurants and bars, including a handful of freestanding spots joining the eateries attached to almost every resort. You’ll also find stalls serving the same sorts of goodies (fried chicken, kebabs, grilled corn) available on Walking Street. Outside of the resorts, food prices tend to be a little cheaper here than Railay West.
A solid bet for a Thai meal is Mom’s Kitchen, one of several open-fronted eateries overlooking mangroves along Railay East’s concrete walkway. We first tried it soon after it opened in 2011 and have found the food consistently flavourful on subsequent visits to Railay. The Thai woman (that would be Mom) who runs the kitchen is a native of Krabi province and the grill man handles giant prawns like he’s Edward Grillerhands. Prices are reasonable, with simple dishes running below 100 baht, and both the panang curry with squid and garlic-pepper seafood that we most recently tried were very good. Next to Mom’s is Phra Nang Cuisine, which has a similar menu but with the additions of fresh coffee and floor cushions on a breezy seaside deck.
Keep walking east down the coast and you’ll reach a cluster of bars serving buckets of booze to the young backpacker crowd in a scene that feels like a scaled-down version of Ko Phi Phi’s party strip. For a raucous night out that comes with 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 the wee hours, The Last Bar is your place. Its name comes from the location far down in the northern corner of Railay East.
But Last Bar is not, in fact, the last bar on the footpath—keep walking to reach Tew Lay Bar with its hammocks and floor cushions set on seaside decks affording a good westerly outlook covering much of Railay East. Serving fresh coffee along with cocktails, smoothies, beer and some light bites, it’s a fine spot to just sit back and chill.
If you’re looking to chat up some of Railay’s resident climbers over drinks, head to the hole-in-the-wall Bang Bang Bar on the lane that cuts inland next to Avatar Resort, or Highland Rock Climbing’s coffee shack and bar on the inland lane just beyond Phra Nang Nai Cave.
Haad Phra Nang has no freestanding restaurants due to Rayavadee Resort’s control of the entire beachfront, but this is still Thailand and the Thais always find a way to sell food. Here the locals stock longtail boats full of cold beer, fresh coconuts, blenders and fruit for smoothies, woks to whip up simple Thai dishes and grills for churning out burgers and corn on the cob. Do wade into the emerald water for a plate of pad Thai with a Chang beer in paradise.
The other, far more expensive option is to head into The Grotto, an upscale beachfront restaurant within the grounds of Rayavadee that serves Mediterranean fare beside the limestone walls of a natural grotto. The resort’s high-end Thai restaurant, The Terrace, is also open to non-guests. Expect to pay a minimum of 1,000 baht for a meal for two at either of these spots.
Options are more limited on Tonsai but there are enough small eateries and bars on the lane leading back towards the jungle to keep the climbers satiated.
One of our longtime favourites, Mama Chicken, was still going in its humble shack at research time. With virtually every option costing 80 baht or less, the big-boned proprietor (that would be Mama) churns out great grilled chicken along with 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 came with two huge filets fried to a crisp and stuffed into an oversized bun with chilli sauce—delicious, filling and cheap.
On our last visit to Tonsai, the marvellous scent of a curry paste being hand pounded with a mortar and pestle drew us into a little eatery called Maxi. Enjoyed on a plastic stool at a long table that’s shared among patrons, our huge bowl of massaman curry came stacked with chicken and various roots including taro and Thai pumpkin—pure climber’s fuel.
Tonsai hosts a few bars that have anchored the area’s reggae/stoner scene for decades. Out near Mama’s on the jungle lane, Sabai Sabai and Sunset Pirate are both thatch-roofed spots that hit with a barrage of Rasta colours, loft seating and signs advertising “mushroom shakes” and “Bob Marley cigarettes”. For a livelier scene and fire spinning shows that we’ve heard are fabulous, head to the similarly reggae-fied Chill Out Bar.
Bang Bang Bar Inland footpath just west of Avatar Resort; Mo–Su: 10:00–22:00.
Chill Out Bar At Chill Out Bar and Bungalows; .
Highland Bar and Coffee At Highland Rock Climbing between Phra Nang Nai Cave and Phuthawan Resort; .
Kohinoor Indian Restaurant: Walking Street; Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
Local Thai Food Back corner of Walking Street; .
Mama Chicken Jungle trail behind Tonsai; Mo–Su: 07:00–22:00.
Mom’s Kitchen Railay East, just east of Anyavee Resort; Mo–Su: 10:00–23:00.
Railay Cooking Class Walking Street; T: (095) 035 7778, (091) 034 1235; 1.5-hour classes start at 11:00, 14:00, 18:00 and 20:30.
Skunk House Bar Walking Street; Mo–Su: 10:00–24:00.
Tew Lay Bar Far east end of Railay East near Railay Grand View Resort; Mo–Su: 07:30–23:30.
The Last Bar Railay East just east of Rapala Rockwood; Mo–Su: 08:00–02:00.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.