There’s a reason for the high season of tourism on Thailand’s islands that lasts from late October through approximately April, and the reason in RAIN. Thailand has three seasons: winter, lasting from October to February; summer, lasting from approximately March to May; and rainy season, that lasts the rest of the year. Aside from the still largely “undiscovered” Koh Chang, hotels, restaurants, resorts, and the tourist economy thrive on the hoards of tourists that flood the famous beaches during dry months. These tourists, despite sometimes wielding a shabby, backpacker appearance, pay a premium for the experience of staying on a piece of paradise. And most people’s idea of paradise does not include the word “monsoon.”
Image modified from Google Maps.
This week we’ve ventured to fabled stretch of shoreline known as Railay West with three of our friends from Austin, Texas, just as the rainy season has started to reveal its true, temperamental nature. For those of you who don’t follow the travel blogger circuit or work in the industry, Railay is the beautiful, isolated stretch of sandy peninsula hanging off the end of the more substantial island of Krabi, on Thailand’s coast bordering the Andaman sea. Completely isolated from Krabi proper by thick mangrove forests and aggressive limestone formations, Railay essentially functions as an island; you can only get to the beaches by boat.
And the beaches are amazing. Protected through governmental action that works (yes, it happens in Thailand, stop hating), all the beaches on Railay are public. Even the five star Rayavadee Resort cannot claim a section of the sand for their high-brow guests. No beach chairs, umbrellas, or other structures that degrade the sand are allowed on the beaches, and the Krabi Province has even started planting seedling mangrove trees on the eastern tidal flats, recognizing that the trees are not the scourge of sandy beaches, but biological protectors, perfectly attuned through evolution to preserve shorelines and provide a habitat for the area’s animal life. Despite lots of tourist foot traffic, Krabi’s Railay Penninsula is not a paradise lost.
Longtail boats at high tide on the tidal flats of Railay East.
To be blunt, there is no way we could have afforded an enjoyable experience on Railay during the dry months, when hotel prices often double. For context, our clean, simple bungalow runs at about the price of the upmarket Lonely Beach hotel we stayed in during the dry season. By deciding to put up with a few hours of showers each day, and a torrential downpour or six, we can access the cliffs, monkeys, sand, and crabs of Railay West. For us, the trade-off works.
Generally, the mornings are nice and clear. We have a free hotel breakfast buffet that we can enjoy just steps away from the beach. It’s not unusual for one or two strong rain storms to pass over the island in the afternoon. These come on fast and strong, and can mean a surprise flash drenching if you haven’t been paying attention to the clouds, the wind, and the visibility at sea. The clouds are heavy, and their rain is intense, but they’re islands, too, separated by stretches of bright blue sky and strong sun.
Andy enjoying a sunny morning despite having broken his pinky toe.
I carry my umbrella everywhere.
You cannot exist outside the cycles of nature here. The small stretch of shops and restaurant on Railay West fill up with wet sunbathers almost as fast as the turbulent water chases them off the beach. When the rain hits, the workers run and close the store fronts facing the beach quickly, stopping a lot of the rain, wind, and suspended sand from getting in while others run around and serve fruity drinks and overpriced Thai food to the folks taking shelter before the chance of the weather clearing will ruin a sale. Rock climbers watch the sky, always ready to repel down, always ready to pack up the heavy gear and hump it back to shelter or into a cave.
Macaques are very used to people and steal snacks.
The moody weather means added drama to an already striking natural scenery. Storm clouds crown limestone peaks and obscure islands in the distance. The color of the sea changes from green, to turquoise, to grey, depending on the cloud cover above. Plant life loves the rainy season to the point where enterprising hotel and tour operators have renamed it “green season.” You could also call it “bug season,” as insects, beetles, ants, and mosquitos thrive in puddles that never quite drain.
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