Koh Yao Noi is the perfect base for exploring Phang Nga Bay’s mountainous waters.
The journey to Koh Yao Noi starts on a motorized longboat wavering across Phang Nga Bay – one of Thailand’s many beauties. And, it ends on a peaceful, barely-populated island sandwiched between two of Thailand’s biggest party hubs, Krabi and Phuket.
One of Thailand’s last true unspoiled island getaways, Koh Yao Noi is 147km² of lush rice fields, forests, a smattering of beaches, one or two small towns (no high rises here), and a community deadset on maintaining their peaceful lifestyle. Life is so slow-paced, in fact, that the island only got its first 7-11 in 2018.
Koh Yao Noi has only two ports, both of which consist of one pier each.
A population of 18 000, of which 90% are Muslim, keeps the island quiet. However, a visit here comes hand-in-hand with respect for the community’s customs. Dress should be modest, and drinking outside of the island’s few restaurants and bars – which are often empty – is generally frowned upon. But, a low-key lifestyle leads to a trusting and close community. Motorbikes are left unattended, key still in the ignition, and the bombardment of merchants desperate to sell their wares typical of other parts of Thailand is non-existent here. Unbeknownst to most, it’s the tropical island of your dreams.
Where to Stay
Your view when staying at Tha Khao Pier Bungalow.
While Koh Yao Noi’s rustic atmosphere has recently been punctured by a couple of luxury resorts, the best way to experience the wild island’s offerings is through its budget accommodation. Tha Khao Pier Bungalow is perched right on the edge of the island, facing Krabi. A narrow road is all that separates you from the tranquil milky blue of Phang Nga Bay. Complete with wi-fi, a private bathroom, a comfortable bed, and an awe-inspiring view (especially at sunrise), Tha Khao Pier Bungalow has all one needs for a restful escape from everyday life.
Enjoy dinner accompanied by the stars and the restful sounds of the sea at Ani Villas.
If luxury is your desire, then Ani Villas is a total knockout. Think private chefs, a beachfront swimming pool, a spa, as well as yoga lessons: a dream-worthy resort on a dream-worthy island. And, the aesthetics do not disappoint. Inspired by the temples of northern Thailand, the design of this stunning getaway is enough to contest even the iconic limestone stacks of Phang Nga Bay.
At Koyao Island Resort, hours can be spend gazing at the powerful view.
If you’re looking to experience something more in the middle – spoiling but relaxed – book a room at Koyao Island Resort. This barefoot-chic resort features 18 thatched-roof bungalows, all with open-air showers and private courtyards, as well as a much-advertised happy hour which can be enjoyed on giant cushions in the resort’s neat gardens, overlooking the rolling sea beyond.
What to Eat
Traditional Thai food is rich in flavor and makes the most of its underwater fare.
While the south of Koh Yao Noi is saturated with guesthouses, curio, and souvenir shops, as well as a large collection of restaurants and bars offering both Western and traditionally Thai food and drinks, we recommend exploring the Northern half of the island. How to get around? Rent a scooter from the pier as you arrive and navigate the island at your own pace. The only traffic you will encounter is a herd or two of water buffalo.
Scooters (or motorcycles) are Koh Yao Noi’s most popular form of transportation making for peaceful (and safe) roads.
Northern Koh Yao Noi is fairly undeveloped – and almost completely un-mapped. Google Maps will do no more than show you a large green space with one road running along the edge of it that leads to the tip of the island. The journey is filled with lush rice fields and small fishing villages – many of them on stilts over the mud flats. Pause your travels at a restaurant called Goya Sunset Restaurant and Bar, halfway along the Northern road. Half-built and barely-recognizable, this open wooden structure extends over the mud flats at low tide and into the water at high tide. The friendly owner (who speaks fluent English) will welcome you with a smile and a handshake. Ask him to surprise you with a meal and he will be sure to whip up something special, such as a wholesome King Prawn and Rice soup.
Cocktails are a-plenty on the island, however, make sure to enjoy them in the bar and not in public spaces.
At the end of the road, a small beach sits opposite a number of half-complete constructions, most of which will be transformed into tropical bars featuring a view of the stars and the sea paired with fruity and refreshing cocktails. For a visit to Koh Yao Noi in 2019, these will surely be the ‘it’ spots to hang out.
Things to Do
Relax your body and mind by taking part in a yoga class overlooking the famous Phang Nga Bay.
Like the island itself, activities on Koh Yao Noi are slow-paced compared to the rest of Thailand. Despite the laid-back trend, there is a still something for everyone.
Foodie fanatics can get a taste of and have a hand at cooking some local island cuisine with Mina’s Cooking Class. Born in raised in Koh Yao Noi, Mina will have you experimenting with local spices and flavors using traditional cooking utensils and recipes.
Those hunting for physical activity can join a number of yoga and Muay Thai classes around the island – most of them gazing over the beautiful bay of Phang Nga. For some more adventure, jump on a rickety long boat to visit Big Tree – a Koh Yao Noi landmark.
Long Beach features fresh coconut water and swings that hang right over the still turquoise water.
For those searching for pure relaxation, traditional Thai and hot stone massages are a-plenty. Or if you’re looking for the perfect Instagram shot, head down to Long Beach (beware of the bumpy dirt road that leads to it) to find a small stretch of sand decorated with hammocks and swings dangling over the water, complete with fresh coconut water (fresh as in the coconut gets opened right in front of you).
If you’re looking for a holiday saturated with wild nightlife and buzzing beach bars, then Koh Yao Noi should not be on your bucket list. But, if you’re craving a peaceful night under a sky dripping with stars, the only sound the waves lapping on the shore, and an abundance of nature around you, then rest awhile on Koh Yao Noi: Thailand’s last true unspoiled gem.