Our time on the Railay peninsula had us looking for a quieter place to relax a bit while still retaining some of the beautiful scenery that we had quickly become accustomed to. A lady that worked at a tourist stand suggested a little visited island called Koh Yao Yai, which is the largest island in the Koh Yao archipelago. Reading up on the island, it sounded just right, with 8,000 residents (compared with 600,000 on Phuket) and close to Ao Phang Nga National Park and a number of other islands, we booked our ferry ticket and headed off.
Koh Yao Yai
When we arrived on the majority Muslim island we grabbed a pickup truck that had the bed converted to benches to act as a taxi and rode south to our accommodation. On the way we noticed that the vibe was much more quiet than anywhere we’d been in south Thailand, with very few tourists around and virtually no other traffic on the road. When we arrived at our hotel we found hot water and flushing toilets, unlike our time in Railay, and banana trees, coconut palms, and tons of other plants surrounding our rooms. Just a few minutes walk was Loh Paret, a beautiful, quiet beach.
There are ATMs on Koh Yao Yai, but when we visited the only two near where we stayed were out of order. Luckily an employee at our hotel was nice enough to drive Sissy to another ATM so we could withdraw some cash, but it had been a few weeks since we had been anywhere that working ATMs were in short supply, so we were caught off guard. The island has a couple of roads and residents generally drive or motorbike around, but due to the low population density it was incredibly quiet and peaceful wherever we went.
Renting motorbikes and driving around the island proved how quiet and rural it was. We visited Laem Haad, a thin strip of sand that juts out into the ocean toward Koh Yao Noi, the smaller sister island of Yai. During low tide Laem Haad is a great place to observe thousands of crabs scampering about, and in high tide it’s a beautiful palm covered beach. A lookout on the road is a good spot to see some of the nearby islands that make up the bulk of the scenery near Koh Yao Yai.
The Hong Islands
While it’s easy to hire boat driver to take you to James Bond Island in a private long-tail boat from Koh Yao Yai before the day tours start showing up, we were more intrigued with visiting another chain of islands, which center around Koh Hong. Koh Hong, or Room Island, is a karst island east of Koh Yao Yai with a narrow entryway to a huge lagoon in the middle. Day trips are by private long-tail from Koh Yao and aren’t nearly as busy as James Bond Island. We paid 4,500 baht for the day including lunch (not cheap but divided by four was doable) and excluding the park fee of 300 baht per person. Heading toward the islands we were greeted by a familiar sight of towering islands poking out of the water.
Once we arrived at Koh Hong we sailed through the narrow gap in the cliff walls and into the shallow lagoon inside of the island. The water changed from ocean blue to a light turquoise and our boat driver stopped and motioned for us to hop in. Inside of Koh Hong is like a massive swimming pool, and the water was a perfect temperature. A few other boats were nearby, but nothing like the mass tourism that had swamped a lot of Phuket and parts of Krabi.
Outside of the lagoon around the side of the island was another beach, where we paid the 300 baht park fee and joined a lot more visitors. I think our timing, leaving early in the morning and approaching from Koh Yao kept the lagoon enjoyable. Now on the beach we were sitting with a hundred other tourists who would be heading into the lagoon shortly. While we were at the beach a monitor lizard walked by and my dad came face to face with a spider the size of his fist, but there wasn’t a very wild feel to the place due to the number of visitors.
Our friendly boat driver stopped at a few more islands on the way back toward Koh Yao Yai and he told us stories in Thai that we didn’t really understand, but he laughed a ton as he told them anyway! The final island we visited had a steep hike up a cliff where we saw a couple of people on top looking out over the ocean. Our boat driver pointed toward the treeline and we came upon a rope leading up the steep path. Fifteen minutes of pulling ourselves up the trail brought us to a small pinnacle where we could look out over the tiny island and back toward Koh Hong.
While the trips wasn’t as adventurous as some of the activities we got to do in Railay, it fit in well with the vibe of Koh Yao Yai – understated, quiet, and nice. Minus the one beach on Hong Island, the entire trip was very low key and scenic, and even that beach wasn’t anything like visiting James Bond Island with its throngs of tourists. Swimming inside of Koh Hong was one of the highlights of our time in Thailand due to the beauty of the place and very peaceful vibe.
After a few more days of relaxing on Koh Yao Yai we hopped on the half hour long ferry ride back to Phuket to say goodbye to my parents, who were heading back to the US, and hello to the big bustling city of Bangkok! For more on the tons of amazing islands in Thailand, head over to our friend’s post and read up!