Just when we thought we had seen it all in Thailand, we were shown the Koh Yao Islands. What I believe to be some of the last remaining Thai Islands not completely ruined by tourism. It’s almost like a secret I don’t want to share here, but I must. It’s just too good not to share.
The locals have seen what’s happened to islands like Phi Phi & Koh Samui. They don’t want that to happen to their home, so they are rather vocal about their dislike for drunk tourists. 90% of the island is Muslim, which drives this lack of booze & drugs even further. And this was exactly why we wanted to visit.
Because of this almost exclusive nature of the island, accommodation and general prices are more expensive than your typical Thai island getaway. This drives the party-going backpackers away even more, putting smiles on our faces as we arrive at the dock with not a single Westerner in sight.
Koh Yao Noi vs Koh Yao Yai
We visited both Koh Yao Noi & Koh Yao Yai. To cut to the chase, we preferred Koh Yao Noi. Even though it is the smaller of the two, there are more activities and restaurants around, and we found the beaches to be nicer.
How to Get to the Koh Yao Islands
You can take a 30 min fast-ferry from Phuket for 150 baht per person, or a 40-min fast ferry from Krabi for a bit more. You can organize both when you get there, no need to pay in advance. It moved to be cheaper that way.
To get to and from each island, you take a short 10 min long tail ride for about 100 baht per person. You just show up at the dock and there’s typically a boat coming and going every 10-15 minutes.
Koh Yao Noi
We stayed at Awana Resort, which is about a 5 min drive from the docks. This is on the other side of the island, away from the main street (east side), but we liked the peace and quiet. They offered to drive us around when we needed rides as well for a small price. Beautiful rooms with private plunge pools. There’s a nice infinity pool overlooking the lake on the property. Staff were incredibly friendly, and the food was really good & reasonably (however be prepared to wait 30-40 min for your food). Would 10/10 stay there again.
What to Do on Koh Yao Noi
Island Day Tour – Our favorite day in Thailand so far was the day we spent with Bass on his speed boat. The main activity on the island is to actually take a boat (longtail or speed; group or private) out for the day and see the surrounding islands and lagoons. We opted to pay for a private 1-day tour with Bass on his speed boat between me, Sam and our friend who was traveling with us. This was 5,000 baht for the day. Pricey, but worth every single penny.
Because we were on a speedboat, we could zip from island to island quickly and see so much more in one day. The cabin underneath the boat proved handy too when a heavy storm came through in the afternoon. He took us to lagoons we had all to ourselves, islands we could hike to the top of and through caves to see the inner workings of an island. Go check out him out at Bass House when you’re there, or ask the owner at Awana to hook you up!
Beaches – There are heaps of beaches to stop at and relax for the day. We rented a motorbike & side-car one day and stopped along the way at several beaches.
Kayak – A top activity on the island. We kayaked from the beach to Koh Nok, which would have been lovely except we got caught in an epic thunderstorm and were stranded on the island for an hour. Then we kayaked back in the rain. It was hysterically funny & slightly concerning all at the same time. Either way, highly recommend you do it, and maybe check the forecast before you head out!
Yoga & Fitness – Apparently Koh Yao Noi is known for its famous yoga retreat centre & also a may thai camp. We did neither, but worth checking out if you’re into it. We met the Muay Thai group one Saturday night at their community dinner.
Where to Eat & Drink
Our favourites are bolded 🙂
- Parabar – inside a wooden ship up on the hill, great food, friendly family-run business, sugary cocktail jugs, jenga, & really good food
- Awana – our hotel had some of the best & spiciest food we ever had, and so reasonably priced
- Charlie Bar – head here for drinks, pool & live music
- Passion Beach Restaurant – right on the beach, rents kayaks
- Sabai Corner Bungalows – Cute bungalows with hammocks over the water with decent food & drinks. You can also stay here as well for cheap
Koh Yao Yai
The bigger of the two islands looks much more isolated. You truly felt like you were the only tourists on the island. Despite having 3 days of monsoon rain, we really enjoyed the peace & quiet, moving slow & softly each day.
We rented a motorbike all 3 days from our hotel. As the island is so big, its the best way to get around. Again, it’s a predominantly muslim island, so there isn’t crazy nightlife. We also found the beaches to be much more polluted and not as well taken care of as Noi. But it had its gems for sure.
We stayed at Better View Hotel, near the main pier. It had big spacious rooms, a huge jacuzzi tub in the room, rainwater shower heads, room service, a big pool & lawn area. It was pretty pricey for our budget, but most of Yao Yai is expensive if you are after air-conditioning & a pool. Owners are nice, food is good, oceanfront views. Watch out for the resident water monitors & water buffalo!
What to Do
We zipped around the island on motorbike to check out the beaches. We were sadly disappointed at all of the rubbish on the beach, literally a mountain of plastic at some beaches. While this isn’t necessarily their fault, it does leave a bad taste in your mouth as you can’t really lay down on the beach and relax. Laem Had Beach being the best for sunset.
I read some reviews on a Blind Healer that seemed pretty promising, but my hour massage was less than 30 minutes. He also pushed me to schedule 2 more appointments for the healing to really work. I’m all for trying new things, but I didn’t get the best vibe from this one.
Other than that, we did a lot of reading, relaxing and enjoying our surroundings.
Other things to note:
ATMS – there are a few ATMs on both islands. One ATM on Yao Noi took money out of our account, and then said error and didn’t give cash to us. 2 months later and we are still trying to get $800 back from the Thai bank. We didn’t have any other issues with the ATMs on Yao Yai, but to be safe, it would be smart to just bring as much cash you can with you.
Are you heading to Koh Yao Islands soon? Let me know in the comments below!