The first time I visited Railay beach in Krabi was in 1993, I was 19 and couldn’t have been more thrilled to have ‘discovered’ this hidden spot in the world. I ended up spending nearly a month in one of the few basic bungalows dotted along the beach; 150 baht a night, if I recall correctly.
Most days the beach was virtually deserted, and by night fall, when the generator kicked in for our twelve hours of electricity, most people were ready to have a quiet dinner and retire early. It was idyllic.
When I returned in 2004, this time staying in Ao Nang and only visiting Railay for the day, I was pretty horrified at the development and sheer volume of tourists – such as myself – who crowded the beach. Telling myself that I had enjoyed the best Railay had to give, I knew that I probably wouldn’t return.
And so it was that when my friend and I decided on an impromptu long weekend this past weekend, she chose Krabi and while I was again to spend our time in Ao Nang, I did want to revisit Railay, where I had so many great memories.
As anyone knows who has travelled within Thailand over the past few months, we are so lucky to be able to visit our country, unspoilt by mass tourism…while being heartbroken at the obvious economic devastation across the nation.
On our last day in Krabi we hired a boat from Ao Nang for the day to do some snorkelling and to visit Railay. While there were four or five other tourist boats – all filled with Thai sightseers – at each pretty cove and bay we snorkelled in, I have not seen this part of the world less crowded in over twenty years. We snorkelled freely, without the annoyance of banging into another bobbing tourist, and enjoyed seeing a healthy, varied and vibrant number of fish and other exotic sea creatures swirling around us. When we stopped off on tiny beachlets and coves, we would be the only people present; having the white sands and crystal waters to ourselves. And after a vigorous morning of snorkelling, we headed to Railay for an early afternoon lunch, only to find that we were virtually the only people on the beach (Railay West), the beach typically littered with bodies was instead litter-free and as pristine as it was when I first arrived in 1993.
“It is mainly government officials, high-so Thais and farmers who come these days,” our longtail boatman told us of his financial woes. “No one else has money. Thankfully my boat is paid for already, or I would be in deep trouble.”
Those who can, should take this opportunity to travel and to spend, spreading the wealth to those in dire need. Chiang Mai itself is in dire need. So even if you don’t leave the city, if you can please try to eat out (leaving the Food Panda and Grab middle-man cut to the restaurants themselves) and shop at markets for food rather than at 7-11 and other stores of convenience, every baht would help. Perhaps on weekends you can visit some of the lovely attractions nearby. Our neighbouring provinces are also opening up all sorts of attractions which are worth taking the time to check out.
Sadly, the government’s various schemes to “help” promote Thais to tour Thailand are not working very well. After days of trying to apply to redeem my promised 40% back from the government I failed to do so. In fact, the system is so complicated, convoluted and useless that it is hardly worth the effort. It appears that one needs to book accommodation, flights and meals far in advance, and of course only at “partner” businesses, in order to be eligible. If I were more cynical I would accuse the government of setting up this scheme to benefit big businesses – a tour company for instance could easily book these packages and resell them as tour packages and “partner” businesses…well, you can guess where I am going with this.
So, go indie. Go explore. Go support and go and take advantage of this unique time. For once, taking advantage of a bad situation is a good thing. Go for it!