Ao Nang or Railay Beach Long Tail Boats at Railay Beach Krabi

Is Ao Nang or Railay Beach Better for a Holiday in Thailand?

Should you choose Ao Nang or Railay Beach for a holiday in Thailand? Railay Beach is stunning but Ao Nang is cheaper and more convenient. Both have gorgeous beaches and you could choose either Ao Nang or Railay Beach and enjoy the stunning coastal scenery and tropical islands of the Andaman Sea. But there are a few differences between the two popular destinations in Krabi.

Railay Beach is breathtakingly beautiful and a rock climber’s paradise but Ao Nang is a busy seaside town with a lovely beach and all the conveniences that tourists need. So it will depend on your priorities and your budget, which destination is best for you.

This comparison looks at the similarities and differences to help you choose whether Railay Beach or Ao Nang is the best destination for your next holiday in Thailand.

Stunning limestone cliffs at Phra Nang Beach Krabi Thailand
Stunning limestone cliffs at Phra Nang Beach Krabi Thailand

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 Ao Nang vs Railay Beach for Scenery and Location

Either Railay Beach or Ao Nang is a great addition to a Thailand itinerary if you’re looking for beautiful scenery and a great beach location.

Railay Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, surrounded by tall limestone cliffs, karst islands, and jungle, the scenery is breathtaking. Railay Beach is located on a peninsula connected to the mainland but there is no access by road. To get there you must take a long tail boat and this gives Railay Beach the feel of a tropical island resort.

Ao Nang, on the other hand, is a small coastal town on the mainland, 15 kilometres from Krabi town (20 minutes by taxi). Ao Nang is a popular destination in its own right and it has an international airport.

Compared to Railay Beach, Ao Nang has more options for accommodation, restaurants, shopping, and sightseeing. And if you stay in Ao Nang you can easily visit Railay Beach by longtail boat on a day trip.

Ao Nang is very pretty and has easy access to transport and other facilities but it doesn’t have the wow factor. Railay Beach is simply gorgeous and wins for its breathtaking scenery. It’s the perfect location if you want to get away from it all on a romantic holiday and it’s also a popular spot for rock climbing on the limestone cliffs.

Winner: Railay Beach for scenery and Ao Nang for easier access to transport and other conveniences.

Ao Nang or Railay Beach Pros & Cons

Railay Beach ProsCons
Stunning coastal scenery with limestone cliffs & calm turquoise water  Many Long tail boats come & go from Railay West Beach and anchor on the beach  
3 beautiful white sandy beaches  Constant Noise from boats coming & going.  
Stunning beach sunsets at Railay West & sunrises at Railay East  Railay Beach has no access by road and you must take a long-tail boat or a ferry to go there.
Perfect for swimming & sunbathing  Boats stop running after sunset  
A romantic destination perfect for couples and honeymooners  At Railay Beach swimming is restricted to a small area on either end of the beach.
Upmarket resorts have a stunning beachfront location  Railay has Limited nightlife, restaurants, bars, resorts & shopping  
Rock climbing hot spot with beginner & advanced climbing routesThe small area between Railay East & West is very built-up & touristy  
A stunning viewpoint, tidal lagoon & limestone cave to explore  Overcrowded with day-trippers in the high season, November to February – Beaches and pathways can get very crowded.  
 Ferries leave from the pontoon at Railay East  More expensive with fewer options for food and accommodation. Even basic bungalows are quite expensive.  
Many options for tours and boat trips to nearby islandsNoisy nightclubs play music late into the night and the doof doof carries even to quiet areas on Railay East.  
Ao Nang or Railay Beach with colourful Long tail boats moored at the beach
Ao Nang vs Railay Beach: Colourful longtail boats moored at Railay Beach

Ao Nang Pros & Cons

Ao Nang ProsAo Nang Cons
A wider range of accommodations for all budgets  Ao Nang Beach is very pretty but doesn’t have the breathtaking beauty of Railay Beach  
Better for budget travellers. Hotel prices are much cheaper & you get more for your money  Long Tail boats come and go from Ao Nang Beach and the water is not so clean  
A wider selection of restaurants, bars, markets, and shopsThere’s constant noise from the Longtail Boats  
More options for nightlife with a choice of bars and nightclubs  Swimming is restricted to small areas of the beach  
Ao Nang has easier access to a variety of tours, bus & boat trips, & Krabi AirportAo Nang is very busy and full of tourists in the high season, from November to February  
Transport hub for boat trips, taxis & tuk-tuks with set prices to the most popular destinations.  While Grab cars take bookings the local taxi mafia prevents them from picking up passengers in the main tourist areas of Ao Nang. I ended up getting a local taxi.  
ATMs & cash exchange booths are easy to find & the exchange rate is better. 
Stunning beach sunsets at west-facing Ao Nang Beach   
Fire twirling shows on the beach at night   
Close to Railay Beach. Ao Nang is only 10 – 15 minutes away from Railay so it’s easy to visit for the day.   
Longtail boats leave regularly from sunrise to sunset for Railay Beach & other popular destinations   
Ao Nang has a backpacker/traveller vibe and has everything tourists need   

Winner: Ao Nang

Solo Travelling to Thailand
A gorgeous sunset at Ao Nang Beach in Krabi

Things to do in Ao Nang

  • Relax on the beach, swim & sunbathe
  • Sunset beach walk
  • Look out for monkeys at the Ao Nang monkey trail at the end of Ao Nang Beach
  • Watch a Fire Show on the beach after dark
  • Ao Nang Night Market – food stalls and live music from 4:00 – 11:00 PM
  • Thai Massage or beauty treatment
  • Shopping for souvenirs at the shops and market stalls
  • Have your photo taken with a ladyboy dressed to the nines in outlandish evening wear.
  • Tailoring – buy suits, dresses, and shirts made to measure by a local tailor. (Allow a couple of days for fittings and for your garments to be made)

TIP: Whether you’re staying at Ao Nang or Railay Beach, watch out for scams and don’t believe everything you’re told.  I had a dress made at a tailor in Ao Nang and I was disappointed to find that the fabric melted when ironed. It was a cheaper synthetic fabric that had been sold to me as silk and cotton…very annoying!

  • Snorkelling boat trip to the Hong Islands, Ko Kai (Chicken Island), Koh Phi Phi, Ko Poda, Bamboo Island
  • Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi – Climb the 1200+ stairs to the golden Buddha and enjoy panoramic views from the top of the mountain.

TIP: Go early to visit the Tiger Cave Temple to beat the heat. I took a taxi from Ao Nang (cost 500 Baht) The climb is very steep and hard work but the views are fantastic. The monkeys on the stairs can be aggressive. A monkey jumped on my backpack and tried to open it so leave all food behind and hold onto your hat and your bag.

  • Krabi Walking Street in Krabi town comes alive on weekends with market stalls, street food and shopping.
  • Emerald Pool, a beautiful freshwater pool surrounded by nature (1.5 hours by car from Ao Nang)
  • Hot Spring in Khlong Thom district around 40km from Ao Nang
  • Ao Nang Elephant Sanctuary
Golden Buddha at the top of the mountain at the Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi Thailand
Ao Nang vs Railay Beach: Karst mountains & stunning views at the Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi Thailand

Things to do in Railay Beach

  • Enjoy the beaches – Swimming, sunbathing and relaxing
  • There are 4 beautiful white sandy beaches to enjoy: Railay West, the main beach where the longtail boats arrive
  • Railay East, a quieter beach with mangrove swamps and cheaper accommodation and restaurants
  • Phra Nang Beach: a stunning beach with a limestone cave and shrine located around the point from Railay Beach and accessible by a walking trail through the jungle.
  • Ton Sai Beach: a much quieter beach next to Railay West accessible by walking over the rocks, swimming, or by boat
  • Kayaking around the limestone cliffs and sea caves – hire a kayak at Railay West or Phra Nang beach
  • Go Rock climbing – beginner & advanced climbing routes are available
  • Climb the cliff path to the Viewpoint & Princess Lagoon. The climb is quite difficult, steep and muddy. It requires fitness and physical strength to haul yourself up the cliff using ropes.

TIP: Wear covered shoes (not flip-flops) and take a backpack as you’ll need your hands free for climbing. My calves were very sore after this steep climb up the mountain.

  • Explore the limestone formations at the Diamond Cave – a 200 Baht entrance fee is charged.
  • Spot monkeys on the Jungle path to Phra Nang Beach
  • Discover the fertility shrine at the Cave temple on Phra Nang Beach.
  • Take a boat trip to nearby islands for fishing, snorkelling, or relaxing
  • Take a day trip to Koh Phi Phi, Hong Islands, Ko Kai (Chicken Island), Koh Phi Phi, Ko Poda, Bamboo Island
  • Enjoy a Thai Massage or beauty treatment

While Railay Beach has a gorgeous location there are more things to do in Ao Nang and you can always visit Railay Beach on a day trip if you stay in Ao Nang.

Winner: Ao Nang

Railay Beach viewpoint over jungle and beaches
Railay Beach viewpoint

TIP: April in Thailand is uncomfortably hot and the rainy season falls from May to October. If you want to travel at this time, why not consider visiting Bali instead? May to October is the best time of year for Bali. Learn more about Bali vs Thailand and how these popular Southeast Asian destinations compare.

Getting to Railay Beach from Ao Nang

It’s easy to get to Railay Beach from Ao Nang.  Long tail boats leave from either end of Ao Nang Beach and you can buy a boat ticket at the ticket booth (100 Baht US$3). The longtail boats wait to fill up before they leave and are moored at the beach.

You’ll have to walk into the water past your knees to climb the ladder into the boat. I enjoyed the experience but taking luggage can be a challenge as you’ll have to carry a suitcase across the sand. A backpack is much easier to manage but I found getting my backpack on the boat was a bit challenging and I got quite wet when a wave came in & I was only halfway on the boat.

The trip around the point from Ao Nang to Railay Beach takes around 10 – 15 minutes.

TIP: Wear shorts & flip-flops or sandals that are easy to remove. The swell can increase the water depth so that you may get wet getting on and off the boat.

Railay Beach vs Ao Nang for Restaurants

You can enjoy a good selection of restaurants that serve both Western and local Thai food in either Ao Nang or Railay Beach. Expect to pay more for Western food but eating out in Thailand is relatively inexpensive.

Railay West is where you’ll find the more expensive Western restaurants, bars, and cafes that cater to the tastes of tourists like the Summer Fresh Breakfast café.

This area is busier and noisier than Railay East. I preferred the quieter side of the resort. There were more options for local Thai food and I enjoyed a happy hour cocktail and some laid-back live music at the Avatar Bar & Bistro at Railay East.

At Ao Nang, there’s a lively area opposite the beach with many restaurants and bars to choose from. Look out for the ladyboys outside the bars in the evening.

In Ao Nang, restaurants near the beach tend to be more expensive and geared towards tourists but further away from the beach, there are some good options. Ao Nang also has some inviting cafes that serve smoothie bowls and eggs Benedict for breakfast and you can even get a Sunday roast.

The Ko Dam Kitchen in Ao Nang is one of my favourite restaurants. Located in a back street around 10 minutes from the beach, this outdoor restaurant serves delicious Thai food. I enjoyed the Pad Thai Goong with prawns.

Another great place to eat in Ao Nang is the Night Market where there’s a selection of food stalls selling local Thai dishes like Pad Thai, satay skewers, barbequed fish, fried rice, and fruit juice smoothies. You can eat here for as little as 100 Baht (US 0.75 cents).

There are also lots of stalls that sell clothing, hats, jewellery, and souvenirs. The Ao Nang Night Market is a colourful place to visit.

Ao Nang has a wider selection of restaurants and bars than Railay Beach and the Night Market is one of the best places to enjoy a cheap local meal.

Winner: Ao Nang

Ao Nang vs Railay Beach: beach view with karst mountains at Railay East
Ao Nang or Railay Beach: Breakfast view from Rapala Rock Wood on Railay East

Railay Beach vs Ao Nang for Accommodation

In the comparison of Ao Nang vs Railay Beach, the choice of hotels is one reason to choose Ao Nang. Accommodation at Railay Beach tends to be upmarket and more expensive and you’ll pay a premium for the beachfront location, a swimming pool and a comfortable room.

Although there are some less expensive options in Railay East and further away from the main beaches, accommodation is still quite expensive here by Thai standards and even a basic bungalow is not cheap.

Ao Nang, on the other hand, has a wider selection of hotels and guesthouses and you’ll get more for your money here. There are some good budget options if you’re watching the pennies.

TIP: Book your accommodation for Railay Beach or Ao Nang well ahead as resorts book out and prices soar in the peak periods.

Winner: Ao Nang

Where to stay at Railay Beach

Budget: Rapala Rockwood Resort offers basic bungalows set on the rocks up a long steep staircase. I stayed here and found the accommodation pretty basic but the bungalows had a kettle, air-con, hot shower and a private bathroom. I liked the quieter location at Railay East but could still hear doof doof music coming from a nightclub at 3 am.

Upper Midrange: Sand Sea Resort has a perfect beachfront location, a pool and well-appointed rooms just a short stroll from the main beaches, and restaurants

Luxury: Rayavadee Hotel offers private luxury Villas with beach frontage onto Phra Nang Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Where to stay in Ao Nang

Mid-Range: Royal Nakara Ao Nang Hotel I enjoyed staying at this hotel. I had a huge room with a lounge area, a dressing area and a private bathroom. It was very comfortable, very reasonably priced and the hotel had a pool. The location was a 10-15 minute walk from the beach and much quieter than the beachfront and this was a plus for me.

Upper Mid-Range: Sabai Hotel Ao Nang gets exceptional reviews for its location, service, and cleanliness.

colourful Long tail boats moored at Railay Beach
Railay Beach vs Ao Nang: Colourful long-tail boats moored at Railay Beach

TIP: Want to see more stunning islands in Thailand’s Andaman Sea? Find out how Phuket and Phi Phi Island compare or consider Koh Lanta as a more chilled-out island destination.

How to get there

To reach either Railay Beach or Ao Nang, you can fly directly to Krabi International Airport from overseas destinations or book domestic flights from Bangkok. then take a shuttle bus or a taxi from Krabi Airport to Ao Nang (600 Baht) and a Longtail boat to Railay Beach (100 Baht).

Coaches and trains run from Bangkok to Surat Thani and take around 9 -12 hours. From Surat Thani, it’s another couple of hours on a bus to reach Ao Nang and then a 10-15 minute trip in a long tail boat to Railay Beach.

TIP: Buses, trains and flights in Thailand can be booked online with 12Go Asia

So is Railay Beach or Ao Nang better for a holiday?

You could choose either Railay Beach or Ao Nang for an enjoyable holiday in the south of Thailand, but if you’re looking for the best value for your money, Ao Nang is the better option.

For solo travellers to Thailand, either Ao Nang or Railay Beach are a good choice. I enjoyed them both and they offer different experiences. I found that Railay Beach was a lot more expensive than Ao Nang but I loved staying amongst the beautiful scenery away from the noise and bustle of Ao Nang.

In Ao Nang, the accessibility of transport, shopping, tours and money exchange booths was very convenient but I also loved being right on the beach for the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets at Railay East and West. It worked well for me to spend a few nights in both destinations.

Couples can choose either Railay Beach or Ao Nang for a beach holiday. Railay Beach wins for a romantic getaway although Ao Nang is also very appealing to couples.

Families prefer Ao Nang because it’s more child-friendly with better services and conveniences.

Phra Nang beach at sunset
Phra Nang Beach at sunset

Final Thoughts: Is Railay Beach or Ao Nang Better?

So is Railay Beach or Ao Nang better? In this comparison, Ao Nang is a clear winner for many reasons. Ao Nang has a lovely beach with a great choice of restaurants, bars, and accommodations. It’s more budget-friendly and has easy access to transport, tours, and a wide variety of activities, including day trips to Railay Beach and nearby islands.

But Railay Beach is an incredible place to stay with a breathtakingly beautiful location, a selection of luxurious resorts and some cheaper hotel options. While food and accommodation costs at Railay Beach are higher, this gorgeous holiday spot is unique offering a great selection of activities like swimming, snorkelling, rock climbing, and kayaking. It’s the perfect place to relax and do nothing much at all.

So, you can choose either Railay Beach or Ao Nang for your holiday in Krabi. But I think it’s worth spending some time in both of these amazing destinations if you have the time.

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