Things to do in Thailand.

Highlights of Thailand, Part 4: Railay Beach – One of the Most Beautiful Places on Earth

I know there are a lot of amazing sights in this world, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing many of them. One place that is now definitely on my list of “most amazing sights” is Railay peninsula, located on the eastern shore of the Andaman Sea, about 80 kilometers straight east of Phuket. Phuket is probably the most well-known resort and beach location in Thailand, but we decided to go to a bit quieter area. My nephew and his wife had visited here about a year earlier, and based on their recommendation we decided to make the Railay beaches home for a few days.

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My wife and son upon our arrival at Railay peninsula. Typical long boat transportation to/from the peninsula is right behind them.

What a good choice! The peninsula (with its beautiful beaches) is isolated from the mainland due to rugged terrain and high cliffs and is accessible only by boat.

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A view overlooking Railay peninsula. West Railay Beach is in the distance and East Railay Beach is in the foreground. (Phra Nang Beach, shown below, is to the left and not visible). This view required a very steep, short hike.

There are several hotels on both West and East Railay beach, and some guest houses hidden up in the hills. We decided to stay in a pretty nice resort on West Railay Beach, and we were glad we did.

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Our bungalow on West Railay Beach.

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Our hotel’s pool, overlooking West Railay Beach.

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There are lots of restaurants near the beaches.

The setting was gorgeous – a wide crescent shaped sandy beach with high cliffs at either end. Walking paths take you across the peninsula and up into the cliffs.

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An early morning view of one end of West Railay Beach.

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An early morning view of the other end of West Railay Beach.

There are lots of things to do here. You can spend your whole time blissfully on the Railay beaches, at your hotel pool, or hiking into the nearby cliffs and caves.

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A view of Phra Nang Beach, on the southern end of Railay peninsula, from some overhanging cliffs – a surreal spot.

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Sunset at Phra Nang Beach

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Near West Railay Beach there is a more rustic spot with backpackers.

Additionally day trips via boat take you to islands around the area. One day tour (on a speed boat) took us to a few other islands and included time for lounging and snorkeling. Hong Island was a favorite stop, with another stunning beach, and the island is a national park.

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The beach on Hong Island. A photo does not do justice to the beauty of this spot.

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A remnant on Hong Island of the huge Tsunami that devastated much of the region on December 26th, 2004.

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A stop for snorkeling on our speed boat day tour.

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Another stop on our speed boat tour, Koh Phak Bia island.

On another day we took a ferry to Phi Phi island. It is a pretty large ferry (foot traffic only), and is slow.

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A beach on Phi Phi island.

Phi Phi Island is a tourist hotspot because it is close to Maya Beach, the famed filming location for the 2000 movie The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio.

Railay Beach was our last stop in Thailand. On our final morning we took a long boat back to Ao Nammao pier, then a taxi to the Krabi airport (which we had prearranged) and then a flight from Krabi to Bangkok and another flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia (our next destination).

If you get the opportunity, do NOT miss this part of Thailand.

Getting There:

From Chiang Mai, we took a direct flight to Krabi, the gateway to many beach destinations. From Krabi, we took a taxi to Ao Nammao pier, a tiny port where you then take a long boat with your luggage (about a 15-minute ride) to East Railay Beach. It is then a short walk across the peninsula to West Railay Beach. Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the Krabi airport to Ao Nang, and get a long boat from there to West Railay. Ao Nang is a little busier port.

It is wise to prearrange your taxi back to Krabi airport, which can be done at Ao Nammao pier upon arrival from the aiport. Also note that long boats require a minimum number of passengers to depart from Railay Beach or you will have to pay the equivalent fare of a full boat. Allow yourself plenty of time for the travel logistics to catch your flight.

Highlights of Thailand – Part 3 (Chiang Mai)

One of the primary destinations in Thailand for most tourists is Chiang Mai, and this was no exception for us. This old, culturally rich city is located in the northern part of the country, about 689 km (428 miles) from Bangkok. We definitely noticed that the weather was slightly better than Bangkok—a little cooler and less humidity.

One option for getting to Chiang Mai is an overnight train from Bangkok. We decided to go this route.

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Our train to Chiang Mai. (Bangkok Station)

Having done an overnight train in Egypt from Cairo to Luxor, we knew what to expect and the journey was similar, although this trip might have been a slightly smoother ride. It took about 12 hours (7 pm to 7 am). Upon our arrival at the Chiang Mai train station, we got a taxi to our hotel, left our bags there and then took off exploring on foot.

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Our hotel in Chiang Mai. Great location, inside the old city.

There is an abundance of things to do in Chiang Mai, from visiting temples in the old city, to getting into the surrounding mountains for all kinds of adventures. We spent two days here, one day in the town and one day in the surrounding countryside.

The old city (founded in the 1200’s) is laid out in a square with a moat surrounding it. It was the capital of a tributary kingdom to Siam, and hence its many monuments and temples. We arrived on New Year’s Day, but it seemed to be pretty much a normal day around town.

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At one of the temples we visited in Chiang Mai, they had a breakfast social going on and offered us a treat (noodles in banana leaves).

Temples were open, restaurants were open, and tour companies were open for business too.

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Wat Phan Tao temple. This was a very unique temple, made out of wood. We almost felt like we were in Norway with the wood structure.

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Wat Tung Yu temple.

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A procession at Wat Phra Singh temple.

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Donation station in Wat Prah Singh. Buddhist monks are revered in Thailand and receive many donations.

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Wat Chedi Luang, from the 14th century. Earthquakes from as far back as the 1500’s have taken their toll on this old structure, also known as the Ancient Pagoda.

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A reclining Buddha from the 15th century. It faces the Ancient Pagoda above.

About 30 minutes outside the city is the golden temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most famous temple. Traffic up to the temple was busy and slow, but we managed to make it just before dusk.

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You climb 309 steps up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple. This beautiful temple is gilded in gold. The whole complex sits on a hill overlooking Chiang Mai.

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Buddha images at Doi Suthep temple.

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The lovely ornate terrace overlooking the city of Chiang Mai at Doi Suthep temple.

On our 2nd day, we knew we wanted to get up into the mountains, and there were lots of tour companies who offered various treks. We arranged day trip that did the following: A visit to a butterfly garden, and a visit to a Karen Long Neck tribal village, a hike up to a falls, lunch, an elephant ride (which was personally quite a story), and a raft trip down a river. A lot in one day, but it was a perfect blend of activities.

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The women who wear these brass rings are from a sub-group of the Karen people, called Padaung. The ancestral home of these people is believed to be Burma, but others believe it to be China. The long neck is considered to be of great beauty and attractive to a potential husband. Many Padaung have migrated to Thailand from Burma to escape the physical and political oppression of that country’s past regimes.

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My son on the trail to the falls.

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Another view on our hike. Some backpacker shelters.

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At the falls – there was a great little pool at the base to cool down and enjoy after the hike.

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I was asked to ride “bareback” on the elephant’s neck. My first experience at doing this – I was just hoping I wouldn’t fall into the river!

From Chiang Mai we flew to Krabi for a beach adventure, I’ll cover this in my next post!

Highlights of Thailand – Part 2 (A Day Trip to Ayutthaya)

On our 2nd day in Bangkok we decided to take a day trip to Ayutthaya Historical Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is an incredible set of ruins, covering a large area. Visiting them was almost an afterthought. How crazy of me. It would be a huge mistake to miss this impressive sight on a visit to Bangkok.

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A view in Wat Chaiwatthanaram. (Wat means temple). This is one of the temple groupings in Ayutthaya.

The ancient city of Ayutthaya was the original capital of this region of Thailand, and dates back to 1350 AD. It was razed by the Burmese in the 1700’s, leaving behind a wealth of interesting ruins. Ayutthaya is located 85 km north of modern Bangkok, and can be reached via auto, bus, river boat (on the Chao Phraya river) or train. We chose to take the train from the main (Hua Lamphong) Bangkok train station.

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Hua Lamphong Train Station in Bangkok.

This was a convenient way to go since we were planning to take the overnight train to Chiang Mai that evening, and we just stored our bags at the train station during our day trip.

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We had to laugh at this sign in the baggage storage area at the train station – there are rats!! Luckily our bags were intact when we got back from Ayutthaya.

It was about a 1.5-hour journey to the town of Ayutthaya.

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Our train to Ayutthaya.

Once you exit the small train station, you then take a little boat across the river to the ancient ruins.

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The Ayutthaya Train Station.

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The Chao Phraya River crossing the far side is where the ruins are located.

I highly recommend a visit to Ayutthaya – the old temples, palaces and other structures are massive and interesting to visit. We were able to visit 4 major groupings in about 4 hours.

The ruins are spread out, in groupings scattered over a large area and require some sort of transportation to visit – walking would be impractical from site to site, especially in the heat. All kinds of transportation rentals are available, from bicycles, to tuk tuks (motorized rickshaws), to mopeds. Or, you can arrange a day bus tour from Bangkok. Once we crossed the river, we rented mopeds and had a blast zipping from one site to another.

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Our son and daughter on one of the mopeds.

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Wat Maha That. Our first grouping of ruins at Ayutthaya.

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A main thoroughfare in Wat Maha That.

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Another view of Wat Maha That.

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Wat Chaiwatthanaram. The second set of ruins we visited, and perhaps the most impressive. They are located the furthest away from the other ruins.

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What Phra Si Samphet. Our 3rd set of ruins. It was the holiest temple in Ayutthaya (the temple itself was destroyed). These Stupas (or Chedis, as they are known in Thailand) housed the ashes of kings.

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Buddhist monks at Wat Phra Si Samphet, enjoying a day of touring.

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Wat Phra Ram, our final temple ruins in Ayutthaya.

Since our visit fell on December 31st, the ruins were open for free. Otherwise, there is an entrance fee to each location.

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New Year’s Eve at Ayutthaya – a great way to spend the last day of the year.

Our moped rental company provided us with a map of the major sites and suggested a route to follow. There are signs in English at each location giving a short history and explanation.

 

Highlights of Thailand – Part 1

We visited Thailand as part of a three week trip through Asia, which also included Cambodia and Vietnam. Although there is so much more that could be visited in Thailand we concentrated on three locations:

  • Bangkok (including a day trip to Ayutthaya)
  • Chiang Mai
  • Railay Beach (across the bay from Phuket, on the Andaman Sea)

All three places were wonderful and are highly recommended. I will do a post on each major location. Thailand is a great country to visit (friendly people, relatively inexpensive, great food and amazing sights) and someplace that we’d love to visit again. In particular, the beaches and islands of the Andaman Sea are beautiful and alone are worth the trip.

Central Bangkok

Since we only had a couple days in this huge city, we decided to spend one day in Bangkok itself and then one day in Ayutthaya, the old capital city (now in ruins), about a two hour train ride north of Bangkok (I’ll do a separate post on this fascinating place).

Since many of the main sights in Bangkok are along the Chao Phraya River, which runs through the center of Bangkok, we took the “hop on, hop off” river boat (known officially as the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat) and got off at several stops going one direction, and then enjoyed the ride all the way back to our starting point.

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One of the typical tourist river boats – lots of open air seating.

There is a subway (metro) stop (Saphan Taskin Station) near where you catch the boat, making the transportation connection easy.

Below are a couple of key stops along the river:

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)

This is a major Buddhist temple complex, a symbol of Bangkok and one of the tallest temples (76 meters) in the city.

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A view of Wat Arun and the surrounding buildings.

Wat Arun was built in the early 1800’s. It is decorated in thousands of tiny seashells and Chinese porcelain.

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The main edifice of Wat Arun.

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Detail of decorations of Wat Arun.

As the name implies, the views of this temple are best in the morning or evening.

The Grand Palace

Don’t miss the Grand Palace. Because we were visiting right before the New Year holiday, we were told by locals that the Palace was closed, but as we soon learned, this was a scam (they wanted to take us other places) and the Palace was indeed open (note: weekdays only).

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The main residential palace at the Grand Palace complex.

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The Grand Palace grounds contain a large number of interesting structures–some ornamental, others are functional and used for state events.

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Another view of the Grand Palace grounds.

The exterior décor of the palace buildings is quite spectacular and feels a little surreal; it gives one the idea of the wealth of Thai royalty.

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View of the exterior walkway around the Ordination Hall.

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Detail of the exterior decorations of the Ordination Hall.

The most important structure here is the Ordination Hall, which houses the Emerald Buddha.

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The Emerald Buddha (very small and hard to tell, but he sits at the top of the golden altar). I snapped a quick picture.

Note: It’s a good idea to wear long pants and modest shirts the day you visit the Grand Palace, otherwise you will have to stand in a long line and rent a pair of long pants and cover-ups, which is a hassle and takes time. We had to do this, and while the process worked it was a bit of a pain.

Temple of the Golden Mount (Wat Saket)

This was not a stop on the river, but is pretty close to the Grand Palace. We took a tuk tuk (motorized rickshaw) out to the temple, which sits on a small artificial hill, constructed in the early 1800’s. There is a fair held here in November of every year, following a Buddha relic worshipping ceremony.

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My wife and son getting a tuk tuk ride.

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The Golden Mount Temple.

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Lifelike miniture images of Buddhist monks at the Golden Mount with offering bowls below each.

Since Bangkok is flat, it doesn’t take much elevation to get a good view of the city. The temple itself was not all that exciting, but the walk up the hill was enjoyable as were the views from the top.

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A panoramic view of Bangkok from the Golden Mount.

Lucky Buddha

We made a quick stop here, with the local folks showing us how to make a proper offering at this Buddhist temple. It’s more or less a scam, but was still fun.

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My son making offerings at the Lucky Buddha.

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Another view at the Lucky Buddha temple.

Asiatique Pier

This a major hot spot for restaurants, shops and fish pedicure services. Nice setting on the river.

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A Bangkok evening hot spot along the Chao Phraya River.

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My daughter getting a fish pedicure at the Asiatique pier.

Just taking the boat ride along the river is entertaining as well. Here are a few views along the river…

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A view along the Chao Phraya river – a mix of the old and new.

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A typical scene along the Chao Phraya River.

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A view of the Bangkok skyline from the Chao Phraya river.