Not the slightest bit off the beaten track, the cliffs and beaches of Railay are still beautiful enough to justify a visit. You may end up rubbing shoulders with quite a few other tourists, but you will get long strips of white sand, that visual cliché of the perfectly aquamarine sea, and surrealistic karst rocks framing all this. On Phra Nang Beach, a shrine of an ancient princess, now a marine goddess, adds to the experience. Aside from the spiritual significance, it is essentially two caves filled with wooden phalli, something you do not see every day. And the relatively remote location means the wildlife in the vicinity is not limited to the ubiquitous macaques – expect huge monitor lizards and, if you are lucky, spectacled langurs (the cutest monkeys ever) to come right to you.
As it is common for karst landscape, the entire area of Railay – and for the matter, of Krabi in general – resembles the proverbial Swiss cheese. Even the path from East Railay to Phra Nang Beach partially goes underground. On the beach itself, just beyond the princess' shrine, there is a track up a small limestone outcrop that leads to a “hidden” valley where rock climbers often practice. Once there, you can choose to explore a number of small caves or continue to the other side for a shallow reef with needle-like islets sticking out of it. More substantial limestone pinnacles stand in the water further out into the sea – one directly opposite Phra Nang, others far away, forming bizarre silhouettes against the sky. Sunsets are predictably beautiful.
As the most common legend explains it, Phra Nang used to be an Indian princess whose ship sank nearby; other versions tell about a loyal fishwife waiting for a vanished husband until her death, or a local femme fatale turned into stone by an angry sage, when a fight between her suitors disrupted his meditation. Either way, her human past now forgotten, she has become a deity, a matron spirit. Fishermen pray to her for an abundant catch, while their wives ask for fertility. The offerings are the same in both cases: large wooden phalli. Imagine a pile of giant dildos completely filling a cave and spilling into another one. Why? Well, first, a lot of female spirits end up responsible for fertility, and fertility implies genitals. Second, a cave is, after all, a cavity, a vaginal symbol. So, penises. Lots of them, with ribbons. And a lovely spirit house. It is interesting to see, but keep in mind this is an active place of worship, not a tourist attraction. And refrain from bringing your own offerings unless you want to get a deeper spiritual experience than you asked for, lasting for nine months. It is fertility she grants, remember?
A short footpath connects Phra Nang Beach to East Railay, which can be reached by boat from Krabi town; the price was 150 THB at the time of research. These boats run until 17:00, after that the only way to return from Railay to Krabi would be to wait (possibly for hours) until enough passengers gather for a trip to Ao Nam Mao (100 THB), and then hitchhike to Krabi. Boats also run between Phra Nang itself and Ao Nang, and also stop around 17:00. There is no real method to walk from Railay to the mainland – karst cliffs dropping vertically into the sea bar the way. Restaurants and hotels in Railay are prohibitively expensive. A few shops sell snacks and drinks at roughly double the normal price. During the day, food boats moor at Phra Nang Beach offering Thai dishes at tourist prices. Still, buying a plate of pad thai or pad krapao from them and having a picnic right on the hot sand, mere meters away from the tide, definitely beats spending your daily budget on a fancy meal in a beachside resort.
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