© Istock/davincidig
© Istock/davincidig

Climbing the karst in Railay, Krabi

3 minutes to read

The cliffs surrounding Railay Beach crawl with human figures, like chunks of cheese discovered by an army of ants. This is a good example of karst landscape typical for the entire Krabi Province: towering rocks and pinnacles, interconnected caves and dolines. Heavily eroded limestone fits very well for rock climbing, and Railay offers climbing tracks for all levels of expertise, as well as courses for beginners. Hikers can take the steep trail to a viewpoint providing a beautiful view to reach a hidden valley. The most experienced ones may continue to Princess Lagoon, a doline accessible by tackling a sequence of shear walls.

© Istock/khunpepe
© Istock/khunpepe

Up to the viewpoint

Roughly halfway along the trail linking East Railay with Phra Nang Beach, a track goes up the cliff face. It is signposted, but the sign is as easy to overlook as the path itself. It just does not fit the posh, touristy ambience. It is not a walking trail – nothing bipedal could walk up a mountain as steep as this one. This is easy, non-technical climbing, with rope-attaches for support in the more difficult parts, and handy lianas here and there. It gets muddy, too, unless you visit in the height of the dry season. Not for the faint-hearted, weak or injured, the ascent nonetheless can be managed by anyone healthy -and either dauntless or absent-minded enough to forget that the only way back will be to climb down the same track. The cliff is perhaps a hundred meters tall, or about that. Then a red-clay trail begins and winds through the jungle to terminate at a precipice with a wide, if not entirely panoramic, view over the Tonsai Bay and East Railay. The barbed wire prevents reckless base jumpers from tempting fate and the patience of local authorities. A sign explicitly prohibits launching drones, but everyone does it anyway. Well, the view is worth capturing from different angles.

Phra Nang Beach, Railay, Krabi
Phra Nang Beach, Railay, Krabi
Ao Nang, Mueang Krabi District, Krabi 81000, Thailand
© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Princess Lagoon: a dangerous climb

Warning: this chapter is for the fit and sportive travelers only. If you cannot scale a vertical wall, feel free to skip it. You may think that dealing with the steep rocks on your way to the viewpoint was difficult, but compared to the climb down to Princess Lagoon it is just a warming-up exercise. At the top of the mountain, another track branches off from the viewpoint path, heading down at a similar incline. Soon it leads to a hidden valley where a flock of dinosaurs would not be out of place, a beautiful “Lost World”. Immediately beyond that, a crevasse in the cliffs shines with a narrow strip of green: water, far below. And the way down there is not just steep, it is 90 degree. There are three sections of what must be a perennial waterfall in the monsoon season, but becomes merely muddy, slippery rock walls in other months. Rumors claim there used to be bamboo ladders, but if so, they must have rotted away. Foot and handholds are plentiful though, and more ropes have been attached in the worst areas. Each vertical section is 10-20 m high, and then it gets more gradual, almost walkable. Your reward is a natural pool of slightly murky water; a karst doline surrounded by sheer cliffs – like a monastic begging bowl with some soup still sloshing in it. Caves of various sizes radiate from the lagoon, and at least one of them connects to the sea – although you would need diving equipment to find out, which one.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Practicalities

East Railay can be reached by boat from the town of Krabi; the price was 5$ at the time of research. For details, check out the last paragraph of the general story on Phra Nang Beach, KrabiClimbing courses can be booked in Krabi or Ao Nang. If you plan to hike independently, make sure you have proper footwear, or be ready to climb the karst barefoot. Take snacks and water: there are a few simple shops near the boat pier, but the prices are doubled. Outside the rainy season, there is no potable water along the hiking trail.

Princess Lagoon, Railay, Krabi
Princess Lagoon, Railay, Krabi
princess lagoon Tambon Ao Nang, Amphoe Mueang Krabi, Chang Wat Krabi 81000, Thailand

The author

Mark Levitin

Mark Levitin

I am Mark, a professional travel photographer, a digital nomad. For the last four years, I am based in Indonesia, spending here roughly half a year and travelling around Asia for the other half. Previously, I spent four years in Thailand, exploring it from all perspectives.

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