This Island – Koh Yao Noi

Koh Yao Noi is such a praiseworthy and adjective-iable island that James Austin Farrell finds it hard to avoid constituencies of cliché.

By | Mon 27 Dec 2010

It would be tempting to swamp this story with hundreds of dazzling adjectives, to wring out a litany of worship and praise for the island of Koh Yao Noi. It would be easy to do that. No doubt the discerning reader is somewhat unmoved these days with ‘friendly smiles’ ‘spectacular sunsets’ ‘charming people’ and ‘sparkling waters’. But because Koh Yao Noi is such a praiseworthy and adjective-iable island, it will be hard to evade the constituencies of cliché. Here goes:

First off, it would be better to treat a trip to Koh Yao Noi as an adventure, or a long repose, rather than total indulgence. The island has a spattering of places to eat, drink, and be merry at, though beach raves, suit wallahs and ‘ladies’ of the night are not a sight to be seen. There are plenty of off-the-road little beaches, several villages where you’ll find locals keeping it real, and a sprinkling of eye-catching islets around the bays of Krabi, Phang Nga and Phuket. There is one main road, somewhat battered at various points, that goes around the whole island, so it’s fairly hard to get lost if you don’t concertedly try to. You can ride a motorcycle around the island in about 45 minutes, depending of course on how many small roads you explore. The Island’s 3,500 (Muslim majority) population are mostly fishermen, though you will also see rice paddies and rubber plantations all over the island. As tourism remains safely bounded by the island’s ethos to keep insatiable and unpredictable developments out, those businesses that do operate on Koh Yao Noi advocate and encourage eco-friendliness. It has been referred to, by those few who have written about it, as Thailand’s (island-wise) last bastion of unspoiled beauty. Local landowners did express how they were reluctant to sell their land to big hotels. The inhabitants of Koh Yao Noi seem very aware that they have a paradise on their hands, and they don’t want to lose it.

Laid back might be an understatement when referring to the pace of life on Koh Yao Noi, it seems that for about every second that passes you get about 1.5 second’s worth of time. The views of Krabi Bay and Phang Nga Bay are mesmerising, the kind of scenery that might give people reading waiting-room magazines in places like Detroit and Dundee an oracular orgasm. The many small uninhabited islands of the bays change colour and form as the sun moves through the sky, making sunset and sunrise two very different experiences. Tranquilised in your hammock, looking out over the archipelago at the expanse of green, blue, azure ocean (unattended by giant bananas or jet skis), you might be persuaded to condemn your iPhone with its insistent Facebook alerts to the bottom of the sea, forever.

What makes Koh Yao Noi better, above, and beyond its touristic predecessors is the island’s ‘genuine’ feel, it’s natural feel, the feeling you’ve arrived at a place on earth that deserves your respect. There are no touts, no droves of generic tattoos, no essence of negativity emanating from locals whose habitat has been rearranged and deranged, and invaded by men on the pull or rude housewives expecting English fluency from baggage handlers. Koh Yao Noi is still primarily a fishing community, it’s an island, not a theme park. The people really are about as laid back as anyone you’ll meet outside of an opium den or a Zen monastery. Talking to local fishermen, business owners, and the few bungalow entrepreneurs, some of them acknowledged that as fishing stocks have become depleted, and after the fall of the rubber price, excessively heavy rainfalls, tourism revenue has become vital for some families. Though sensible tourism, tourism with limits, with a conscience, and even more important, homegrown tourism, is what they would prefer. What they have already: small bungalows near the beach, a few hidden away resorts, a handful of bars, small restaurants, all scattered around the island and so not always easy to find (all the better for it), is just about enough.

If Koh Yao Noi lacks in anything it’s the fact that the ocean at low tide can be rocky and so swimming can be difficult in some parts of the island. Though it has been said before, Koh Yao Noi is not really a beach island, if you’re a beach bum on a mission for ‘tan impress’, Phuket is only thirty odd minutes away. There’s also a conflict of interest at heart, as all those that enjoy the island hardly want thousands of tourists turning up mob-handed and in turn enchanting the Bangkok business families to transmute something unique and beautiful, as if with a magical stroke of a malevolent wand, into something ugly and generic – capitalism’s ironic reversal of the fairytale. Whether the island will eventually fold under monetary duress remains to be seen, money often gets its own way. I say – without demand from my Public Relatives – Koh Yao Noi is an ‘Amazing Thailand’ experience.

What you should know/do:

• Rent a motorcycle, but drive carefully as some of the roads would better suit the word ‘all terrain’.
• Go to Lam Sai Fishing village. Eat seafood, watch the fishermen working. Lam Sai also has its own Muay Thai training camp. Other popular sports in and around the island are mountain biking and rock climbing.
• Go into the small town centre. There’s one ATM, one 7/11, a few markets, local food, an internet café – Café de Tyara – fast internet, air-con. and a coffee shop.
• Not everywhere sells alcohol due to Islamic beliefs, but all restaurants, bars and hotels do, and there is one alcohol shop opposite 7/11 in town.
Have dinner at La Luna Pizza and have a chat with owner, Romano. Tel: 084 629 1550. The restaurant is located just before Tha Khao beach, just past Sixth Sense resort.
• Take a boat ride around Krabi and Phang Nga bays. Visit sand-spit beaches, float into incredible lagoons, swim with the fish. Learn about birds’ nest poaching. Some of the islets around the bays are home to caves where swifts nest. The nests, made from the swift’s saliva, are/were poached and sold to make Bird’s Nest Soup. Kayaking or boating around the islets you will see ropes and bamboo scaffolding that are used to climb into the caves. Some caves are now guarded by men who live up there alone! Go snorkelling, fishing. You can also rent your own boat or kayak.
• Go to Pyramid Bar (Klong Jark beach, open every day morning ’til late) – one of only a couple of places to go at night, besides in the resorts. Pyramid Bar’s owners are Thai and Canadian and are very helpful if you need to know something about the island. They also have pool, live music, good western and Thai food.

Where you might stay:

• A few of our readers have said that some of our hotel reviews are unaffordable, and then there are others who wouldn’t degrade themselves by pouring their own beer. So I stayed at the cheapest, most expensive, and somewhere in the middle, of price ranges on Koh Yao Noi. This ranged from incredible architecture, modern facilities, decadent comfort and startling views, to a simple bamboo hut that looked like it took about an hour to build.
• There are plenty of bungalows around Pasai and Klong Jark Beach (probably the more popular tourist part of the island). You can walk between the two. Sabaii Corner guesthouse has rooms from 400 – 2000 baht. It’s a very chilled place to stay, with a good Italian and Thai restaurant.
• One of the most cheap and cheerful backpacker places is Coconut Corner (Tel: 076 597 134), just after Pasai beach. 400 baht a night for a hut. Close by is Pasai Cottage where rooms will cost around 1000 baht.
• Tabaek Viewpoint Bungalow (Tel: 076 597 325) is popular. Also on Klong Jark beach, up a hill) at around 600 baht a night, and they also serve Japanese food.
• Baan Tha Khao Bungalows, further down the road, has bungalows right on the beach. Comfortable, but rustic. 600 baht a night., Tel: 081 676 7726.
• Koh Yao Island Resort is a bit more up market 7,000 baht + Fit for anyone’s standards.
• The Sixth Senses Hideaway, the epitome of luxury. 20,000 baht +++…review coming in next month’s edition.

Getting there:

Easy! From Phuket take a taxi (350 baht from the airport, about 600 from Patong) to Bang Rong Pier. At the peer boats leave throughout the day (300 baht for about a 30 minute trip to Koh Yao Noi). When you get to the pier on the island just tell one of the taxi, red car drivers, where you want to go. Price is about 60 baht. A hotel as up market as the Six Senses has their own way of getting you there. They will even bring you in a helicopter! You can also take boats from Krabi.