Battle of the Beaches: Tonsai vs Railay
Two beaches next to one another. The same beautiful blue sky, the same turquoise water. What’s the difference, and how can you choose?
The Krabi coastline glitters with golden sand beaches, limestone karst cliffs and tropical seas. The two jewels in the crown of this coastal paradise are Railay and Tonsai beaches, both long-time favourites of holiday-makers and both famous in their own right.
A brief glance at the map could leave you thinking that these two beaches must be alike, but that’s not the case at all. They each have their own unique characters and are wonderful in their own way, so what are the main differences between Railay and Tonsai Beach?
If you’re looking for resort accommodation and bigger, more family-oriented hotels then Railay is the place for you. Take your pick from the pricier options at the west end of the beach or the cheaper digs near the mangrove zone in the east- think simple rooms with bathroom and fan for around 500 baht.
In contrast, Tonsai Beach is all about the laid-back backpacker vibes and boasts a ton of bungalows starting at around 400 baht for a double unit with fan. One thing to note about Tonsai however is that there is no accommodation on the beach at all. Instead it’s all located one block back, in the jungle. The downside to this is no beach sunsets from your veranda. The upside is a front row view of the monkeys swinging through the trees!
Food and Drink
Despite its small size, Railay covers all the bases when it comes to restaurants. All the big hotels have restaurants serving western and Thai food and there is a good selection of other cuisines too. The bars cluster in Railay East and are more upmarket compared to Tonsai, however they’re certainly pricier when it comes to cocktails and wine.
Tonsai, in contrast, is more of a barefoot hippy kind of place. There are a handful of restaurants serving good value food, but you won’t find the choice here that you do in Railay. Tonsai does win at relaxed partying though! Long-established favourites like Pirates Bar turn the reggae music up, chill the beer down and party the night away under the stars. Once again though, most of the bars are set back from the beach and the view of the sunset isn’t quite as good as at Railay. You’d better grab another beer instead!
Activities on Railay and Tonsai Beach
Railay is all about the relaxation. Boat trips abound, sunbathing is the done thing and there are multiple spas and wellness centres to help you enjoy your stay. There is easy access to beautiful Phranag Cave from the west end of the beach and there’s a short jungle trail to a viewpoint above the beach.
Tonsai? It’s all about the climbing! A mecca for rock aficionados from across the globe, it’s a great place to meet like-minded people if climbing is your thing. If you’re after a cliff-based adventure then places like The Rock Shop and Basecamp Tonsai will be able to sort you out.
Which one is for you?
Railay is certainly a more polished place. The accommodation costs a bit more and gives a bit more back in return. There’s also a much wider choice of restaurants and bars. In contrast, Tonsai is a little rougher around the edges and lacks some of its neighbour’s poise, but it’s a lot of fun for all that. Those who love it come back year after year to soak up the slower pace of life and enjoy the parties in those jungle bars with the monkeys swinging past.
And with only 20 minutes walk between the two, maybe you don’t have to choose after all!