An island with beautiful beaches, a relaxing atmosphere and lots of nature, one that hasn’t been discovered by tourists (yet) and truly represents what Thailand’s all about. Does it actually exist? It sure does! Welcome to Koh Phayam, our new favorite Thai island!
No electricity 24/7.
No cash machines.
No huge crowds of tourists.
Good, because we’re really looking forward to sharing with you all that this island has to offer!
Koh Phayam is a small island off the west coast of Thailand, near the border with Myanmar. It’s only 10 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide and nature there, with long beaches and lots of jungle vegetation, is still largely unspoiled; something that has (unfortunately) become all too rare in Thailand.
Most of the time, the beaches are pretty much deserted – even during the high season.
White sand beaches?
Koh Phayam may not have the whitest beaches or the clearest sea water. But then again, that’s not why it stands out.
No, visit Koh Phayam if you’re looking for a chilled out and relaxing atmosphere. Or to admire the overwhelming beauty of the rock formations along its coastline, or its mountains which, covered by jungle forests, are home to monkeys and rare bird species such as the hornbill and the sea eagle. Or just come to enjoy the peace & quiet.
On the beaches you’ll find little bamboo huts and small reggae bars churning out one Bob Marley classic after another at night. There are also little shops that sell handmade clothing, jewelry and paintings. All these things contribute to the laid-back island atmosphere.
The island is visited by an interesting mix of hippies, backpackers, peace seekers, retirees and people staying for the winter.
This isn’t the island for big parties and noisy jetskis.
No, Koh Phayam is all about simplicity, rest and relaxation.
Right up our alley.
The perfume of Koh Phayam
When you arrive on Koh Phayam you’ll almost immediately notice its peculiar smell, which we weren’t able to identify right off the bat. The smell is pleasant and sweet at first but then changes into something more akin to decaying acid.
Very curious, indeed.
Koh Phayam is partly covered in cashew trees, ornately sporting their green/yellow/red fruit. At its extremity is the nut – which is the seed – we all know and love so much. Just don’t try and crack them, the shell is extremely hard to break and poisonous as well!
The fruit itself is edible, but we didn’t manage to taste them as the locals seemed to disapprove. Perhaps there’s a reason…?
Beaches and bays
Koh Phayam’s most popular beach is Ao Yai (Long Beach) on the southwestern part of the island, which is where you’ll find most bungalows. Besides the beach being incredibly long (hence the name), it’s very wide as well. Here, huge swaths of the coastline still haven’t seen any construction activity whatsoever. So some parts of the beach have been overgrown by unkempt jungle vegetation.
When the tide is high you can hire a bodyboard and enjoy the waves. Cool!
Despite the fact that it’s the island’s most popular beach, it’s quiet and calm even during the high season.
Another popular beach is Ao Khao Kwai (Buffalo Bay) in the northwest, which is divided in two by a group of rocks. The northern part is a quiet backpackers’ beach with golden sand and several surrounding bungalows that are pretty basic but do provide you with a pleasant and laid-back atmosphere.
The southern part is pretty much deserted, although the beach is blessed with some spectacular rock formations, providing ample opportunity for some nice snapshots.
The northern part of Buffalo Bay
In the southern part of Buffalo Bay you won’t have any trouble taking pictures without tourists.
At night, the water in the south recedes, which means you’ll be able to go to nearby islands by foot
Koh Phayam also has several other, lesser known beaches.
Like Ao Kwang Peeb (Monkey Beach) in the north, for example. It’s a relatively small, but gorgeous, beach near the jungle where lots of wild monkeys live. On the beach are a few bungalows with a restaurant that offers tables on the sand, so you can enjoy the view.
And unspoiled Ao Hin Cow, in the northwest. It’s gone completely unnoticed by tourists and has beautiful white sand and green trees. Unfortunately, it’s also littered with waste, washed ashore from the mainland.
Koh Phayam: less is more
Although a few resorts and more luxurious accommodations have managed to find their way to Koh Phayam, it remains a small-scale destination. Because its high season (November to February) being relatively short it’s considered less lucrative. Consequently, it has been largely ignored by big investors and hotel chains.
Much to the relief of the local population who would llke nothing more than for it to keep its authentic and laid-back atmosphere.
So don’t expect any long roads or 24/7 electricity supply any time soon!
On Koh Phayam energy is generated via diesel generators and a surprising number of solar panels. Many of its inhabitants want to see Koh Phayam become Thailand’s first self-sufficient island, although that means the construction of windmills. Something not all of the islanders wholeheartedly agree with.
Until that day, electricity on Koh Phayam will remain a scarce product and therefore won’t be supplied continuously throughout the day – with exception of a few luxury accommodations.
And, don’t be alarmed:
There is little or no wifi.
The internet connection is unreliable and slow because it comes from a mobile hotspot with a 3G SIM-card. If you’re really in need of a stable internet connection, we recommend having dinner at vegan restaurant Cha-Chai Home – where we could be found daily. The food is amazing and the wifi connection is good enough to enable you to reply to your emails and watch a video on YouTube.
Oh, and the peanut butter (homemade) and banana sandwiches are divine!
Take the bus to Ranong. Direct buses to Ranong leave every day from Bangkok (± 9 hours), Hat Yai (± 7 hours), Phuket (± 5.5 hours), Krabi (± 4 hours), Chumpon (± 4 hours), Surat Thani (± 3 hours) and Phang Nga (± 3 hours).
Ranong has its own airport that receives incoming Nok Air flights from Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport. At the time of writing (26 February 2016), we would advise against booking with Nok Air because flights are canceled on a regular basis. Better to fly to another airport (Surat Thani) or travel to Ranang by bus.
In Ranong you can get a (motorbike) taxi or the songthaew to take you to the pier, where you can buy tickets for the local slow boat (200 baht, ± 2 hours, leaves twice a day at different hours) or a speedboat (350 baht, ± 40 minutes, leaves every hour)
There are no cars on Koh Phayam and the motorbike is the main mode of transport.
As soon as you arrive at Koh Phayam pier there will be taxi drivers waiting to take you to take your hotel by motorbike. They operate on a fixed price system. It’s also possible to rent a motorbike yourself at one of the shops near the pier or at your accommodation.
Koh Phayam’s roads can be quite challenging and consist mainly of concrete slabs, clearly unsuitable for cars. The roads that lead to the bays are often sandy dirt roads. Still, renting a motorbike on Koh Phayam is an absolute must, as distances are far too big to walk, especially in the scorching heat!
Best time to travel to Koh Phayam
The best time to travel to Koh Phayam is from November until March. Most restaurants and accommodations are open from the end of October until the end of April, although some remain open all year round. Keep in mind that from May until October the island’s pretty much desolate and that, due to heavy rainfall, boat service will be limited.
Koh Phayam has not gone unnoticed over the last couple of years. The island gained a lot of international attention after being branded “Thailand’s last paradise”.
Still, I don’t believe this will cause Koh Phayam to change very much in the coming years. Sure, there will be a lot of tourists. But with the high season being so short, the very basic provisions and the lack of impersonal resorts being built, Koh Phayam will be able to preserve its charm.
Of that I’m convinced!