After our brief stop in Phuket, we left early in the morning on a somewhat wrecked ferry towards Koh Yao Yai. Koh Yao Yai is a large island off the shore of Phuket, located right beside its sister island of Koh Yao Noi (“Yai” meaning big and “Noi” little in Thai). During our trip in the South of Thailand, we didn’t want to visit a too touristic island and wanted to avoid crowds. After a little chat with the owners of our hostel in Phuket, we opted for this island.
After roughly 30 minutes of ferry, we landed in a tiny desolate harbour in the middle of nothing. We would discovered later that we had arrived in the Southern side of the island, in a much less busy harbour than the main one in the north, where we left at the end of our stay to reach Krabi.
So we found ourselves in the middle of this little harbour where there were neither shops to rent scooters, nor restaurants, nor hotels..only fishermen. A man on a black jeep offered to drop us off at our hotel for 400 bahts (roughly 10€). But, since that very morning in Phuket a 10-minute ride on a taxi cost us 300 bahts, we decided that we were going to make it on our own, “it can’t be that far anyway”. Once we went around the corner, we stopped to check on Google Maps and discovered that our hotel was actually 12km away. Oh well, never mind, the damage was done and we could not go back to the harbour. Hence we started walking under the scorching midday sun, following the main route of the island; the black jeep slowly followed us like a vulture follows its dying prey. After 10 minutes of walk, the driver, maybe out of pity or to award our tenacity, agreed to lower the price down to 300 bahts and we got on the jeep, proud of our stubbornness.
We finally arrived at our hotel, a complex of nice bungalows close to a little beach. Since we were in the middle of nothing, we had to rent two scooters directly at the hotel, even if they were more expensive. Anyway, renting a scooter is the easiest way (if not the only one) to freely explore the island of Koh Yao Yai.
Beaches of Koh Yao Yai
Thanks to our powerful little scooters, we set off seeking the most beautiful beaches of the island of Koh Yao Yai. We started off with Ao Muang Phang Nga Beach. In order to reach this beach, we left the paved road and plunged into the jungle, taking a little road full of sand where our scooter got stuck multiple times.
The beach was deserted; you could only get a glimpse of a couple far away in the distance. A profound feeling of calmness reigned and we relaxed on a stretch of white beach in between some dried branches that had fallen from the nearby jungle. When the time had come to plunge into the sea, we realised that the tide was very low and that the rocky seabed had completely emerged.
So we got back on the saddle of our mopeds and went towards the north, where we stopped at Loh Jark Bay Beach. At first this beach didn’t’ seem as idyllic as the other one; it is located next to the Glow Elixir resort and there is a little harbour with some boats. However, the beach is very long and if you walk a little you can get far enough from the harbour and the boats of the hotel. The water was hot, even though a fresh breeze blew. We ended our day looking at a nice sunset on the beach.
The following day, we immediately set off again in search of the most beautiful beaches of the island of Koh Yao Yai. The most famous one is without any doubt Hua Lam Haad Beach, on the northern tip of Koh Yao Yai, next to the sister island of Koh Yao Noi.
With the low tide a strip of beach surfaces from the sea in between Koh Yao Yai island and the sister island of Koh Yao Noi. You can then almost reach the other island by foot, taking a little stroll on the beach or in the low water.
We obviously wanted to witness this phenomenon and went there when there was a very low tide. What we hadn’t realised is that, obviously, low tide means that the seabed which is usually underwater, resurfaces. So while we were peacefully walking on the beach strip, looking at the beautiful view, we realised that the beach was completely covered in little crabs, frantically running all over the place to avoid being crushed, that hid into little holes dug in the sand. We literally hopped back to the beach on the mainland trying not to crush any of them and both we and the crabs were safe at last.
The last beach of the island of Koh Yao Yai that we visited was perhaps our favourite one: Khlong Son Beach which is in the North-West side of the island. To get there we took a road completely plunged in the jungle. As soon as we entered this green tunnel - trees on one side and more trees on the other, we were hit by a wave of fresh air and all of a sudden we found ourselves in a forest animated by the sounds of nature. We even got a glimpse of a snake swiftly crossing the street trying not to get run over. The beach was right at the end of the jungle: white-yellow sand on one side and emerald green trees on the other.
A man with a sly smile swung on a hammock and asked us if we wanted to buy coconuts or marijuana (a very interesting combo, to say the least). We sat under the shadow of a tree; you could only hear the sound of the sea and the chirping of birds in the jungle. Absolute peace.
Since there was low tide, we had to walk quite far to swim a little bit and the hot water only reached our knees. While getting back to the hotel, we stopped at a panoramic spot where you can see many island-rocks emerging from the sea and getting swallowed by the sunset mist.
The Fishermen’s village
On our last day on the island we set off to visit the Fishermen’s village, tiny wooden houses built directly on the sea. We parked our scooter on the side of the road and we happily strolled along the village’s main road, while bystanders amusingly looked at us. The village includes a little dock to which many wooden boats called long tails are moored; a colourful tissue or flower necklace is tied as a symbol of good luck to the typical pointy bows of the famous Thai long tail boats.
From the dock you can enjoy a nice view of the wooden houses on stilts, that have the main entrance on the road and the other side built on stilts directly in the sea.
The fishermen’s nets, hung on the side of the houses, dried in the warm morning sun, while a cat dozed on a bench full of life vests and little red buoys.
Everything in the Fishermen’s village reminded of fishing, the livelihood of its inhabitants; the houses were full of nautical objects spread all over the place. Here it is nature that dictates the rhythm of life followed by the village’s inhabitants.
Restaurants of Koh Yao Yai
Last but not least, let’s talk about a very important topic: food. Although Koh Yao Yai is not a very touristic island, having a scooter will definitely allow you to find many little delicious restaurants. For example, we once randomly arrived at a little restaurant with a green sign on the road (everything is written in Thai, so you’ll forgive us if we don’t remember names) owned by a very nice lady. This restaurant offered one dish: chicken soup, a mix of broth, vegetables, noodles and chicken to be covered in lots of hot sauce. The owner even took a photo of us to remember that time when three foreigners visited her little restaurant.
Another night we ended up in a restaurant managed by two young women that prepared all the dishes in one pan, something that happens all the time here. But our favourite restaurant was next to the main harbour, on the Northern side of the Koh Yao Yai island. A very nice couple set up little bamboo canopies and prepares a delicious pad thai, the best of our whole trip in Thailand, to be accompanied with a phenomenal fruit smoothie (we tried and approved the mango and pineapple ones). The day we left for Krabi, since we were loyal clients (yes, we went there twice and were already considered loyal clients), the owner drove us to the harbour (500m down the street) with his scooter and his little sidecar without accepting our tip, even if we insisted.
To visit or not to visit Koh Yao Yai?
So, did we like Koh Yao Yai? Yes, for the jungle, the people, and its wilder side; a little less for the low tide because of which we couldn’t really swim. That being said, in this type of islands that are not completely developed from a tourism point of view, there are pro and cons to take into consideration before visiting.
The pros are, for people that don’t like crowds like us, the deserted beaches for sure and the calm, the possibility to explore an island with several big chunks of untouched jungle and the authenticity of people that are intrigued when they see a foreigner.
The cons are surely the many construction sites where new hotels are going to open soon and the prices of the services, like hotels and taxis, which is higher compared to other islands.
To conclude, we really liked this island and, in the hope that excessive tourism won’t end up completely upsetting the island’s life and ecosystem, like it happened in other Thai islands, we invite you to visit it, always respecting the nature and its fragile ecosystem, as well as its inhabitants.