Southern Thailand offers an array of beaches for those seeking some sun-filled days. We spent most of our last days in Seattle trying to decide which beach appealed to us most. Hearing good things about Hat Rai Leh, we set our sights on it. Although it seems like an island in and of itself, Hat Rai Leh is actually a peninsula divided into four beaches: Hat Ton Sai, East Rai Leh, West Rai Leh, and Phra Nang. We spent the past few days relaxing on each of these beaches.

Hat Ton Sai
Hiking a steep path through the jungle from our bungalow in East Rai Leh, we worked up a nice sweat before reaching the climbers beach of Hat Ton Sai. Regardless of whether you are a climber, this is a beautiful beach. Limestone cliffs with vertical and overhanging walls offer the novice and most experienced climbers challenging routes. Having no desire to rock climb, we were content to watch the climbers and soak up the sun. Sculpted, bronze bodies litter this pebbled beach, but it seems less crowded than the other beaches. To my delight, it is also void of hawkers and topless sunbathers. Hat Ton Sai emits a nice, relaxed vibe. Of all the beaches, it is our favorite.

West Rai Leh
Lined with upmarket resorts, its flat, sand beaches and emerald waters attract the crowds. Unlike Hat Ton Sai, hawkers walk the beach in endless search for customers wanting beers, cokes, massages, or sarongs. To my surprise and Chris’ delight, topless sunbathers also inhabit this beach. The hawkers seem to bypass all topless women though, so perhaps it serves its purpose (Thai culture frowns upon such displays of nudity). West Rai Leh is probably the best swimming beach if you can deal with the crowds. It offers beautiful sunsets as well as crisp, clear water and sandy beaches.

Phra Nang
Located off East Rai Leh by a short trail, Phra Nang is the most scenic beach with its limestone stalagmites and stalactites. The beach is nearly as popular as West Rai Leh, but broken coral and shells make it slightly less feet-friendly. Unlike Rai Leh and Ton Sai, pear-shaped women and beer-bellied men abound. At the other beaches, our soft bodies were not the norm. But at Phra Nang, we fit right in. Those with chiseled bodies, however, choose to sunbathe topless. Surrounded on all sides by topless sunbathers, I more than once scolded Chris for starring.

Differing from the other beaches, Phra Nang is flanked by only one obnoxiously expensive resort and restaurant. Luckily, longtail boats fill the void of cheap eats by selling pad thai, shakes, and sandwiches over their bow. After endless sun mixed with bouts of swimming, we noshed on chicken sandwiches and chips for less than $4. If we ate at the one and only sit-down restaurant, the meal would have easily run us $20 for basically the same thing and without the unique experience of wading out to sea to grab a meal. If you are not in the mood for longtail-boat eats, BBQ hawkers of corn also walk the beach. With a pole resting across their shoulders like a pendulum, corn weighs down one side while the BBQ pit balances the other.

Phra Nang in an interesting beach to visit because it is so different from the others. Along the trail to get there, you can climb to a viewpoint and secluded lagoon. We planned to hike this trail on our route back, but some monkeys had other plans for us. As we walked the trail home, a group of beachgoers were happily snapping photos of a family of monkeys, so we grabbed our cameras and started snapping too. At some point, I spotted the dominant male looking at me and focused my attention on him. However, it became quite clear that he noticed me long before I saw him. If a monkey can charge than this one did. Terrified he was going to leap on me and sink his teeth into my hard-earned tan, I scrambled backward into the middle of the pack. Of course, the group all saw what was transpiring and moved away from me. Great, survival of the fittest I guess, except that I was the one being offered up. When I cleared a good enough distance from the monkeys, the male stopped but he never took his eyes off me. Chris captured the picture to the right as the male was charging “some girl” (he didn’t realize it was his wife). If you think those eyes look menacing, trust me they were. He was out for blood.

East Rai Leh
Protected by a muddy, mangrove forest, East Rai Leh does not offer the beachgoer any swimming opportunities, but it does grant the traveler cheap eats and accommodation. This is basically where most people choose to eat and drink because of the numerous options and friendly smiles. With pillows for lounging by candlelight, the outside bars emit a laid back vibe. A few restaurants play movies at night as well. We were lucky enough to catch Superman (the one with my sort of look-alike, Margot Kidder) and Alvin and the Chipmunks (ugh). Indiana Jones played the night we left (the one with┬ámy other look-alike Karen Allen); two look-alike movies in less than four days, what’s a girl to do but feel welcomed.

On East Rai Leh, several affordable accommodations can be found between 700-1000 baht (US$20-28) during high season. We checked out a few above this price range and nearly drooled. For only 1800 baht (US$50), a luxurious room can be had featuring beautiful teak furniture, a hand-crafted rock-tiled bathroom spa, and incredible views. Perhaps, when we return ….

As usual, our most recent photos can be found on Chris’ and Jodi’s flickr pages.

3 Responses to “The beaches of Hat Rai Leh, 4 for the price of 1”

  1. Chris Cannon says:

    Wow. Those beaches are unreal.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I was forced against my will to see “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” I’m disappointed to learn that its reached its awful tentacles to Southeast Asia.

  3. nathy452 says:

    merci pour ce topic, si sueulement vous etiez un peeu plus claire :)