Koh Yao Yai is the largest island in the Phang Nga Bay. Home to a friendly Muslim population of more than 8,000 people that live off fishing and coconut farming, the island is wedged in between Krabi and Phuket and provides an incredible sea view over the uninhabited and rocky islands lying on the horizon. Busy? On the contrary! Many well-known tourist guides will tell you Koh Yao Yai isn’t worth visiting because it doesn’t have any decent sandy beaches. Well, we can tell you that that’s absolutely not true.
YES! Koh Yao Yai!
So are there no nice beaches at all? Uhhh… yes, there are!
Koh Yao Yai’s atmosphere
Once in Koh Yao Yai, don’t expect any kind of big reception. Think more along the lines of a single cab driver pointing you in the way of his open truck in a friendly manner.
We thanked the good man in our best Thai but decided to go for the adventurous option. We rented two motorbikes at the pier and, before we knew it, we were surrounded by palm plantations, friendly locals in fishing villages and children waving along the road.
No shopping malls here, instead, small wooden cottages serving as the local shop where everybody meets. No gas stations with 18 pumps, only an old lady giving directions, in English (?), while focused on pouring petrol through a funnel from a one-liter bottle.
As we had just spent a month on Phuket, only an hour away from Koh Yao Yai by boat, it was like arriving in a parallel universe.
Authentic is the correct word to describe Koh Yao Yai. Even though Koh Yao Yai (roughly translated as Big Long Island) is a long, and narrow island measuring 30 kilometers in length, it’s unspoiled and small-scale.
It’s never busy, not even on the beaches. On Son Bay Beach on the west coast, beaches are particularly deserted and empty. There’s almost nothing to see here, save one shop, where you can buy a lukewarm coke, some chips, and a fresh papaya salad.
Everything is completely untouched.
Koh Yai Yao unspoiled beaches
No deckchairs or beach umbrellas; just a towel in the shade of the trees.
To reach Son Bay Beach you can choose the adventurous off-road way, or the safer option, by road, accessible from the north pier.
Unfortunately, we only discovered this on the way back. Oops…
Even more beaches
What about Hua Lam Beach, at Koh Yao Yai’s northeastern tip?
This is a long beach with white sand where, likewise, you won’t find anything else.
You’ll encounter fishermen and local kids, playing in the shades of the palm trees.
Finally, we would like to mention Loh Paret Beach (even though there are more beaches).
One of the most developed parts of the island, it has a few massage parlors, a couple of restaurants, one luxury resort and some middle-class hotels.
It’s also a great beach for watching the sunset and the departure point for boat trips to nearby tropical, uninhabited islands.
Boat trip to the Khai Islands
It’s possible to rent a private longtail boat at Loh Paret Beach. Make arrangements a day in advance with the operator himself or at Heimat Gardens, the hotel we stayed in.
Book a boat trip to the Khai Islands (2,500 baht for 4 people) and make sure you leave early. Like, really early; as in, 7:00 AM or even earlier!
If you’re willing to do that, you’ll be able to enjoy an exotic private island with white beaches and crystal clear water that’s also a great spot to go snorkeling.
If you decide to leave after 10:00 AM you’ll be sharing the island with hundreds (!) of Chinese people… which we wouldn’t recommend.
Restaurants & Hotels on Koh Yao Yai
Koh Yao Yai has several resorts and middle-class hotels. We haven’t been able to discover any good budget options.
We stayed at Heimat Gardens, a very nice place to use as a base, for € 25 a night (breakfast included). Expect clean, spacious rooms and a restaurant that serves good food. The staff is friendly if a bit chaotic at times. It’s a five-minute walk from Loh Paret Beach.
A luxurious option with literally everything you would expect from a tropical paradise, you can stay at the Koh Yao Yai Village Resort from 3200 Thai Baht per night. It has upscale (family) bungalows, a private beach right in front of it and a swimming pool with a view over the Hong Islands. This is the best place if you’re looking for a restful holiday!
For a good Thai meal, go to the Baanrimnam Restaurant, right near the Klong Hia Pier, and have a lovely dinner at the waterfront. The Fried Cashew Nuts with chicken and the Pad See Ew come highly recommended!
We can also recommend the Chill Chill at Pai Restaurant, near the entrance of the aforementioned Koh Yao Yai Village Resort, to everyone. It has a beautiful garden where you can seek the shade and enjoy the best Thai classics. Great atmosphere, nice staff!
The easiest way to get to Koh Yao Yai is from the Bang Rong Pier in Phuket. This pier is a twenty-minute drive away from Phuket’s international airport. Long tail boats and speedboats leave every hour from about 7:00 AM until 6:00 PM. The long tail boat will take about an hour and costs 120 baht per person.
You can also travel from Tha Len pier near Krabi. Long tail boats leave every hour between 7:30 AM and 5:00 PM and cost 120 baht per person, per ride. From Nopparat Thara Pier in Ao Nang speedboats leave at 11:00 AM and at 3:00 PM, with one ride costing 650 baht per person.
Lastly, you can also take a long tail boat from the Ta Dan Pier near Phang Nga. It leaves once a day at 1:00 PM and a one-way trip is 150 baht. It will take about an hour and a half to get there. You’ll be dropped off at the neighboring island of Koh Yao Noi, but you can cross over to Koh Yao Yai at any time for 150 baht per boat.
Koh Yao Yai is the perfect island for…
This island is perfect for travelers that don’t want to do anything for a couple of days, except to stay in a resort and enjoy the calm that reigns supreme on this island.
But it’s also fun to go out and explore the island, with its many miles of paved and dirt roads, on your own. There’s not a lot of traffic and taxis are expensive, which is as good a reason as any to rent a motorbike and see even more of this island, something we always love to do!
No matter what your preferences are, this is the best island to avoid the tourist crowd and to enjoy an authentic piece of Thailand!