Monday, November 26, 2012

Ko Raya/Racha


White sand, clear turquoise water..........
.......good diving, snorkelling, closeness to Phuket and a small number of resorts from top-end to budget makes Ko Raya Yai (aka Ko Racha Yai) a pretty attractive location. No dogs and virtually no motor vehicles are bonuses. And I can't remember seeing any jet-skis either visit. Not everything is perfect - you have to search hard to find true budget by Thai standards food. (You can click most of these images to expand them).

Ko Raya Yai is maybe 20-25km south of Phuket. Best access is by either your resort's own boat or if that is not a goer, the day-trip speedboats out of Chalong pier, half an hour on a calm day - I paid 1500 baht return (which included van transfer from and back to Phuket resorts) in early Dec 2010 on a daytrip boat, but I later saw offers as low as 1200. Look for fares at all the Phuket travel desks and online. In 2014 I came by Bungalow Raya's speedboat at 1000 return - a pretty good deal considering it contained some extras like the snorkelling trip and the buffet luncheon the daytrippers do plus free transfers from/to Phuket resorts. It seems one-way transfers on the speedboats were going at 600b in 2014. 
Some people get their transport by paying for a ride on a dive-boat. You can also do the trip by longtail, but unless you have a bunch of friends to share this will be more expensive. And way rough in the blowy conditions in which I made the trip in Dec 2010 - Feb 2014 was pretty calm which fits the usual mid-late dry season pattern.

Raya Noi has no accommodation but at least one nice beach. 

Raya Yai is small, barely 2km at its widest east to west. The developed part takes up less than 25% of the island. The arrivals pier is on the west-facing Patok Beach.

I modified this Google Earth image to show the roads (white) and tracks (blue). There are a few others, but unimportant to visitors.
The red symbols represent the resorts: 1-THE RACHA 2-RAYABURI 3-BAN RAYA and the budget accommodation 4-RAYA BUNGALOW RESORT 5-RAYA FATHER 6-RAYA GARDEN 7-RAYA SEAVIEW (closed at the time of my visit).

The arrivals beach, Patok, is the busiest and maybe the most attractive if you don't mind a few rows of beach lounges. It is home to 2 resorts, the budget/flashpacker BUNGALOW RAYA RESORT with fan and aircon bungalows behind camera, and the very high-end THE RACHA which has a large number of attractive chalets ranging up the slight hill behind the beach and out of frame top left.

Patok attracts a large number of daytrippers from Phuket. The southern side of the pier is most attractive for swimming and snorkelling. There is only a bit of coral but the sandy bottom and the headland rocks attract a good variety of fish easily spotted in the crystal-clear water. This beach does not suffer too-shallow water at low tide, but hey those beach lounges (mostly owned by the local community althoght THE RACHA of course has its own exclusive area) aint cheap (200baht Dec 2010) but there is plenty of sand to spread a towel or sarong. Some shade from trees to left of camera past mid-day. The arrivals pier (right) is one of those low-impact floating jobs. The main cross-island road starts immediately behind camera.

Patok is a west-facing beach meaning good sunsets and very sheltered dry season conditions. At dusk the daytrip boats are replaced by cruising craft seeking a calm night anchorage. Many dive boats return to Phuket but some live-aboards over-night in the bay. I'm wondering how exposed this beach is to the wet season westerlies and the associated big sea-swell. The floating pier could be a bit of thrill at such times.

Locals have set up a couple of beach bars and a cheap massage place on the north side of the beach - hoping to attract high-rollers from THE RACHA. These dudes in shot enjoying a sunset beer are paying 100 for a small Chang - YIKES! Certainly didn't attract low-rollers like me (av price I payed for a small Chang in beach bars in Nov/Dec 2010 trip was 60).
The lights low on the headland behind belong to BUNGALOW RAYA RESORT'S restaurant. Real nice beach/bay views from the tables here but they have also been infected by big payers from THE RACHA and maybe all those Russian mafia daytrippers with 90baht small Changs. YIPS!! So in the interest of research I wandered into THE RACHA'S beach bar - small Changs 140! Hell, that's Austalian beach resort prices. Oh yeah, they coud sell me an Aussie beer - at 220. Tell 'em they're dreaming.

On my first visit in 2010 I thought BUNGALOW RAYA RESORT was by far the most attractive of the budget places on the island. The fan bungalows range along the headland beyond the restaurant - most with some kind of bay view. They were the same price as my smaller RAYA FATHER bungalow at 1000 baht per night in early Dec 2010 - still overpriced in my view. Restaurant food prices were 0 to 20% higher than my 2011 digs at RAYA FATHER which itself at at the time was 20 to 50% higher than typical budget bungalow resort restaurants (the 2014 revisit saw this reduced to 0 to 20% higher). Ko Raya/Racha is an above average island price wise for access, accommodation and food. Note the most distant of BUNGALOW RAYA RESORT'S bungalows was less than 5 minutes from the sands of Patok and slightly more than 5 minutes from the northern end of attractive Siam Beach by a not-too-steep back-track across the headland.

In 2014 Lady Tezza and I decided to stay at BUNGALOW RAYA. That's our fan bungalow closest to camera. Fantastic views - the bungalow itself was no different to thousands of fan bungalows in the Thai islands. At 1250b without breakfast I consider it overpriced compared the average 600-800, even some with, believe it or not, better views (see PLAAS and SILVERVIEW on the Ko Phangan pages). But compared to the 1000 RAYA FATHER was charging for similar standard bungalows at the time, the above were certainly worth the extra 250 on views and closeness to the beach.
I've done a TRIP REPORT with lots more pix and info on my 2014 visit..

These dudes gathered frequently on the rocks opposite the entrance to BUNGALOW RAYA RESORT for a hand-out from the restaurant. Some were the biggest monitor lizards I've seen in Thailand, approaching 2m long - must be good tucker they get. The netting is not an enclosure, they could crawl underneath with a bit of difficulty - more to keep the tourists a safe distance. Be careful, monitors use their tails as a weapon - one swiped me across the chest when I tried to hurry it off a pathway soon after taking this shot. I had no idea I was close enough to swat.


A little over 10 minutes walk from Patok Beach is the northern facing Siam Bay, longer and way quieter. Sand is as white, water pretty clear although the bay was catching a bit more of the dry season easterly wind on a very blustery day which can increase turbidity in shallow water. We found a fair bit of coral lumps and rock underfoot when wading. This beach suffers a bit from the low-tide blues - you can wade a considerable distance from shore at such times. Note too the shot shows that high tide leaves only a strip of dry sand - however I found the beach very pleasant at such times.
The stream in the foreground is not polluted but tannin-stained on its journey through the rainforest.
I was not whelmed by the snorkelling. A lot of the bits of coral close to shore was broken, but enough fish to interest non fanatical snorkellers. There were some better lumps of coral and fish about 100m out from the high tide mark (you could wade out here easily at low tide) but although I swam a good 300m out from shore I never found a reef drop-off - the bottom instead gradually deepens. Some coral and fish out there too but not mind blowing.

There are 2 resorts on this beach - the mid-range+ RAYABURI RESORT which owns the beachfront restaurant and sun lounges mid beach, and the budget RAYA SEAVIEW on the hill behind the far end of the beach which unfortunately was closed when I visited early Dec 2010 and seemed to be housing locals in 2014.

RAYABURI RESORT has most of its chalets spaced some distance behind the beach with a nice parkland-like expanse between. A creek runs behind the chalets in shot and forms a small lagoon before emptying out at the far end of the beach shot above this one.
Work was going on with a new wing about equal distance behind the camera. THE RACHA back on Patok had much more extensive new work being added to an already expansive joint.

This is the deserted beach restaurant of budget SEAVIEW RESORT on Siam. There is also a funky beach bar on the beginning of the headland rocks about 100m further west in less good repair. The restaurant above was in pretty good condition, unlike the bungalows below, scattered across the hill behind with tree filtered sea views.
These needed some work and were devoid of furniture - the boss at RAYA FATHER said in 2010 that he thought the place would be opening for peak season (sure gonna be busy), but the travel-agent I booked my trip thru back on Phuket said they had sold out to a bigger operator (um, no new joint in 2014). This is the place I originally intended to stay a in 2010.


Konkare is the most distant beach from the arrivals pier at Patok - but only takes a 25 minute walk. You aint going to write home to mum about this beach except for maybe the snorkelling which all the guide books say is very good. There were coral and fish but darned if I could find anything world class or even approaching the standards of the Similans or some locations at Ko Tao. Maybe the daytrip boats park further off the beach than the 150m I went. The one I came across to the island on had about 100 loaves of bread - seeing tropical fish in a feeding frenzy is mind-blowing for a first timer and would be enough to qualify any place as excellent snorkelling in their minds.
All the eastern beaches face into the prevailing dry season winds and so get a bit choppy - which means water clarity is not as good as at sheltered Patok. But they would be very sheltered beaches in the wet season prevailing westerlies.

Access to Konkare beach is thru the grounds of BAN RAYA RESORT (no problems), another nice midrange place. Its bungalows and chalets are widely spread across the low hill behind the beach. That's the restaurant top right.

Ter Bay's beach is more attractive than Konkare, but can't compare to Patok and Siam. You can see the blustery conditions in Dec 2010 were not exactly conducive to good swimming or snorkelling, so I gave them the big miss. According to the books snorkelling is okay but down a step from Konkare. There was a newly built modernistic beach bar just out of frame to the right, but it was not operating in early Dec shoulder season. A pile of building materials about 70m behind camera indicates someone may have plans for a resort here.

The crap on-shore 2010 slop didn't stop these Thai guys from doing the big Kelly Slater super-surfer routine. I hope they were local island guys and didn't come all the way from Phuket for this rubbish. Their transport suggests they were local bungalow guys.

My Feb 2014 revisit saw way nicer conditions - the early dry season easterlies had been replaced by an offshore south westerly (more common mid-late dry season and the usual thing in wet season) meaning smooth conditions along this beach. I could see patches of coral. plenty of fish and lots of divers working the area, so went for a snorkel. Not bad at all - nowhere as good as say Australia's Great Barrier Reef but better than my recent visits to the Similans and Surins which were supposed to have Thailand's best coral but have been hit hard by global warming. These "panoramic" shots click-expand nicely.

Another 5 minutes north is the 3rd east coast beach at Lar Bay. Well at high tide there aint too much of a beach. Some locals have set up COCO BAR a short distance further north. Snorkelling at Lar is supposed to be of the same standard as Ter Bay.

Still no real beach. But conditions similarly smooth to nearby Ter Bay. And snorkelling slightly better. At least 6 dive boats and 2 cruising yachts parked offshore. Coco Bar can be seen top of shot left of center - was catering to a big bunch of day trippers when I called in, transported the 2km or so from the main beach by tractor-hauled buggy. Beer prices higher than Bungalow Raya and way higher than Raya Father. Wierd tilt of horizon at right is due to "panoramic" setting on m new Olympus elcheapo - it has stitched 3 shots together here (although I have cropped each side). 

If you push on past COCO BAR you can pick up this track which goes about 3km around the island's north-east headland to Siam Bay. It is fairly flat in the first half and then has some moderate slopes with a few rough sections - an experienced mountain-biker would not have to dismount (BAN RAYA has bicycles and I think they are available at Patok Beach) and average riders would find themselves walking only a few rougher/steep sections. Hoof marks indicated BAN RAYA'S riding outfit comes this way and the twin tracks in the shot suggest the ATV's seen down page use the route. Not too much to see along here - a couple of small bays, occasional glimpses of Phi Phi and lots of bush. Towards the end is a fairly good viewpoint over Siam Bay. UPDATE - unfortunately someone had put up a barrier with NO ENTRY sign just past Coco Bar in 2014 - looks like the land has been bought by dudes with big plans.


In 2010 I stayed at RAYA FATHER RESORT which is a budget place mid-island. Not a bad location in that none of the beaches is more than 10 minutes away (Siam 5). These were the least expensive huts, fan jobs at 1000baht per night, not including breakfast. This is expensive - I reckon bungalows of this standard off the beach were worth more like 600 tops in 2010. These bungalows were in good condition, and looked to have had a fresh coat of paint in the off-season. They were very clean and just big enough for 2 people and their gear. The king sized thin mattress was comfy, the insect screens in good condition. Towels, soap and toilet paper supplied (western toilet). THE RACHA'S big generator is about 200m away and kept up a constant drone thru the night, but this was less noisy than sleeping in the quieter part of an airliner cabin. RAYA FATHER has a big restaurant which caters for some daytrip groups. Food is pretty good and service excellent with prices the same or slightly higher than typical Thai island budget bungalow restaurants when I revisited in 2014. This turned out to be the cheapest feed on the island both trips - and made the 10 minute stroll along the cross-island road well worthwhile my latest trip (loved those 100b big beers). The restaurant area has wi-fi.
There are bigger fan bungalows of similar style to the above at 1200 in 2010 which seem better value (worth maybe 800) plus a row of new concrete,tile and tinted glass motel-like fan rooms at the same price as seen below.
These looked pretty nice inside but still not worth 1200 in 2010 - like a dope I didn't ask for prices in 2014. They are further from RACHA'S generator so noise is not a feature.

RAYA GARDEN resort is just across the laneway from FATHER. Bungalow standards and pricing seem similar The restaurant had several budget dishes but note this is a Muslim owned place and no alcohol is on sale.

These restaurants were adjacent to FATHER and RAYA GARDEN. Surprisingly prices were a bit higher - outside restaurants are usually competitively lower. But these catered for big daytrip groups so perhaps they don't have to chase business. Behind camera was a dive shop and several other touristy businesses.

A sign in the above area suggested a dive shop there had an ATM but when I inquired in 2014 this turned out to be an emergency cash place - they can advance cash on your credit card with a hefty charge (I think it was 10%!)

There is a cluster of shops where the cross-island track starts at Patok Beach - 3 small general stores (prices considerably higher than Phuket - booze available in one but prices no  cheaper than Bungalow Raya), a pastry/ice creamery, a beauty salon and a dive shop. Most resorts also have a shop selling basics.

Ko Raya is largely vehicle-free. Local individuals don't seem to have motorcyles except for a couple of sidecar outfits which the budget resorts use to shuttle passengers and supplies to and from the pier.
The only 4 wheel vehicles I saw were a few pickup truck/songthaew types used by BAN RAYA and RAYABURI as shuttles, a couple of trucks busy on the new constructions and a fair few staff-driven electric golf buggy type thingies gliding noislessly on the island tracks near THE RACHA.

These ATVs are available for day-tripper and resort guest hire but I saw them on only two occasions.

For some nice Patok bay and beach views follow the steps/path from the the far right corner (facing inland) of the beach - 3 minutes up the hill and then 5 minutes to the right, moderate to steep slopes in parts: you could do it in flip-flops etc but joggers are better.

Viewpoint route. You can continue west above the bay for a short distance (some side tracks down onto the rocks) and then loops back - you can return to the beach the short way or long thru THE RACHA'S staff area as seen. Vegetation etc very ordinary along loop routes.

MORE SNORKELLING INFO - after my 2010 visit, having been hindered by the choppy conditions at Konkare, Ter and Lar Bays, I made a comment about the snorkelling on a travel website: "Not too much coral seen in most of the bays though, although the deep stuff out where the divers concentrated may be different."
Steve who is a dive instructor out of Phuket replied: "In the bays not much corals, but go a bit out of the bays along the coast and you'll see lots of corals, also very, very shallow."
So it looks like to get the best snorkelling at Raya you need to stick to a daytrip boat, maybe a dive boat or hire a local longtail to show you the good spots.
UPDATE - well as mentioned up-page, my 2014 visit had much better conditions on the far coast and I saw some reasonable coral and fish starting 50m offshore in Ter and Lar Bays. I'm not sure how much value a day-trip boat would be - BUNGALOW RAYA seems to be a big time day-trip operator these days, and despite promises in their brochure that they would visit Siam Bay and Konkare Bay for snorkelling, they gave these a miss and simply snorkelled the small bay immediately north of BUNGALOW RAYA bungalows (see pic below), not far off the main beach. Coral and fish there pretty ordinary. Then again when leaving Siam bay at the end of the 2014 trip I noticed several speedboats parked against the far eastern rocks, an area too far for the average snorkeller to reach from the beach - so maybe other daytrip operators are visiting the other bays.

Most bungalows/resorts have their own speedboats these days out of Chalong pier in south-east Phuket. See websites for times etc. If not, the day-trip operators at the pier will transport you for 1200 to 1500+b. In 2014 I found Bungalow Raya's transfers very good value because the 1000 return included free transport from/to Phuket resorts plus the snorkelling trip and luncheon the daytrippers do. Seeing they pay 2000b, my 1000 was not a bad deal. One problem - Bungalow Raya's return is at 1500 to 1600 which will not suit people heading for earlier flights etc. In this case they charge 600 one way and arrange for another operator to take you back to Phuket earlier. A second problem we had with Bungalow Raya's transfer is that they didn't answer my emails re where to get the boat at Chalong - a phone call the day before informed us they would pick us up at our Nai Harn resort and deliver us to their Chalong depot (which is NOT at the pier but in a laneway leading away from the beach maybe 400m north - I would have had a helluva job to find it and I have been to Chalong more than half a dozen times).
You could charter a longtail boat to bring you out, but for 2 or fewer this would be more expensive than the speedboats and could be really wet and bumpy on a blustery day.

If you are visiting Ko Raya you may be interested in:
- similar Coral Isand
- and of course Phuket itself

If you see mistakes or have extra info, please post it below. If you have questions, please post them in THE FORUM, accessed via the INDEX page. I don't get to check individual island pages all that often.


Jake miller said...

The views are so amazing, I really like watching all over the world so much that is why I find travel agents that was having a amazing experience in way of life that will not invest some time on my vacation with my family associates.

Ooze said...

Thank for sharing this blog. I love to go to the beaches. walking barefooted, and go swimming

Steve said...

Just back from my second visit to Ko Raya. Figured it might be worth mentioning that cicadas dominate this island in March / April and Bungalow Raya is hit particularly hard. They are bloody noisy (so much so you can barely sustain a conversation with someone two metres away) and they go from just before dawn until after sunset.

Fortunately they aren't as loud at the restaurant or on the beach, but hopes of avoiding the beach crowds during the day by enjoying the views from the bungalows during the day (or afternoon naps) were out of the question. Bring ear plugs, and even then, don't expect a sleep in!

I'd still stay for a night or two, just to enjoy the beach after the day-trippers are gone. But I wouldn't go for an extended stay at this time of year, because the insects are maddening.

Shoulder season prices at Raya Bungalows were 1500 THB with breakfast 1200 without. If you're a solo travelled, opt for without since breakfast is 150 THB. It is definitely the best spot to stay on the island for those who can't afford Racha prices.

Met a couple of backpackers who scored a day trip for 850 THB. You can get cheap deals if you bargain!

Great blog, by the way.

Tina Ryan said...

Another beautiful beaches from Thailand...

Sbipk said...

Thank you nice article.
your next trip…Phuket is the best choice for you!!
I love here Surin Beach Hotel This hotel is very nice clean and the people are friendly. VERY nice hotel with helpful staff.
And I really love white sand, crystal clear waters at Surin Beach too.
Thank again.