The Best Island That Isn’t Actually an Island 23

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From Florence to Salerno

I lived in Bangkok, Thailand for just shy of two years, and spent an extensive amount of time visiting as much of the country as I could cram into my vacation time and long weekends. Because of that, I tend to be the go-to recommendation person for friends planning a trip to the Land of Smiles.

While I get asked a lot of questions of every topic imaginable (everything from “Are ping pong shows real?” to “How do I NOT get ripped off taking a taxi?”), there is ONE questions I get asked more than any other.

“Which is the best island in Thailand?”

It might seem like a difficult question – there are SO many beautiful and unique islands in Thailand, probably thousands, all with their own upsides and downsides and perks and quirks – but it’s not.

For me, the answer is easy. It’s Railay.

Which leaves most people a bit confused, as they’ve heard of Koh Samui, and Koh Phangan (Full Moon Party!), and Phuket, and Koh Phi Phi… but, Railay?

Well, that’s because Railay isn’t QUITE an island.


Interestingly, while Railay has all the makings of an amazing tropical island (you have to take a boat to get there, the beaches are ridiculously beautiful, and the pace of life immediately slows to island time), to be honest it isn’t actually an island.

Yes, of all the amazing islands to choose from… The best island in Thailand isn’t an island.

Railay is split off from the mainland by impenetrable cliffs, not by water, but in my mind, it’s still the best “island” destination in Thailand.

Here’s why:

Amazing sunsets

The stunning and unusual landscape of Railay creates a gorgeous backdrop for some of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever witness in your entire life. Whether you’re viewing it from the balcony of your guest house or rolling out your beach blanket for a seaside seat, Railay sunsets are not something you’ll soon forget.

The same beach you arrive on will later transform into the ultimate place to sit and watch the sky turn to red and the sun into a ball of orange fire.

Convenient and quick to reach

Because Railay isn’t isolated in the middle of the Andaman Sea (or on the opposite side, the Gulf of Thailand), it is much easier to reach than any other island destination in Thailand. Even Phuket, which has its own airport, will provide more of a hassle in actually reaching your destination, as you have to argue with CRAZY overpriced taxis and sometimes battle traffic.

Not so with Railay. After taking a plane to Krabi, and a 150 baht bus to Ao Nang (less than 30km from the airport), all you need is a quick long tail boat ride (about 15 minutes) and you’re on the beaches of Railay!

Stunning scenery

The karsts of Railay are incredibly eerie and pretty at the same time. For me, walking the beaches of Railay feels like being on another planet and in a movie at the same time.

Bonus – the crazy karsts make for extremely accessible (and affordable) rock climbing opportunities! Railay is one of the most popular places in Asia to go rock climbing, especially for beginners.


Compared to Phi Phi or Phuket (other nearby islands), Railay is a budget dream. You can rent a cute cliffside bungalow (with a direct view of the sea) starting around $25 a night. Restaurants are reasonably priced, with meals for just a few dollars.

Because you aren’t shelling out major cash for taxis (the reason why, I’ll touch on below), you’ll save money without even trying.


Because Railay is so small (and split off from the mainland), there are no cars or motorized vehicles (I did see a motorbike once, though). You need to walk everywhere. Thankfully, Railay is quite small, and you can walk from one side of the “island” to the other in around 20 minutes.

But don’t worry, Railay definitely isn’t too small. You have a decent variety of restaurants (including a great Indian spot) and bars, along with a few different beaches (2 or 3 big ones, depending how you count).



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About Stephanie Kempker

Steph is a freelance writer, travel blogger, volunteer, and serial expat living in Mexico City (prior: Bangkok and Rio de Janeiro). She is addicted to slow travel, cultural insights, and fresh veggie eats.

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