Could expectations of Phuket sometimes lead visitors to some undo stress
Many people have envisioned Phuket – the Pearl of Andaman – to be their unforgettable tropical holiday paradise by way of those vivid colour brochures, views of spectacular scenery and isolated white beaches. But many go home disappointed. Why? We cannot not deny the fact that Phuket is maturing and becoming increasingly crowded by rapid growth and mass tourism industries. Even though the island is still worth visiting… things change…
Don’t be stressed. Just less about an hour away from Phuket, the islands of Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai (Small Long Island and Big Long Island) are considered hideaways from the bustle.
Located in the south of Phang Nga Bay between Phuket and Krabi, the Koh Yao islands are two of the largest islands in the area. Their total area is 137.6sqkm. Koh Yao Noi is half the size of its counterpart but all of the government offices and most of the population are located on this island. More than 85 per cent of the locals are Muslim seafarers, engaged in small-scale fishing and rubber plantations. It is interesting to know that the islands have been enjoying 24hr electricity only few years.
Somehow the Koh Yao islands have only been minimally affected by booming development on nearby Phuket. They have retained their traditional Muslim culture; and therefore travelling to the islands is like travelling back in time.
In the past half-century commercial fishing has stripped coastal resources so the locals have organized several conservation groups aimed at protecting the natural resources that they rely on. The members have developed a small-scale ecotourism project to share with the world their struggles and successes with sustainable tourism.
The name of Koh Yao seems to have gained worldwide attention in 2002 after receiving the World Legacy ward for Destination Stewardship from Conservation International and National Geographic Traveler magazine for the eco-friendly homestay programs offered by its local residents.
Now you have an idea of the best way to immerse yourself in a culture. Homestay is a budget wise and fun way to get to know local residents.
There are a couple of organizations providing homestay packages by the local population. Most of the houses are on Koh Yao Noi and you will be taken care of from the time you first step on the pier to the island. This can be organized before you arrive.
There is no car for rent on Koh Yao, but motorcycles are available at 200 baht per day. You can either buy an all inclusive package with transportation, accommodation, meals and activities, or only accommodation.
What else to see or do on Koh Yao
Remember the Koh Yao islands are simple and to explore yourself is fairly easy. If you ride a motorbike, the road circling the island is mostly paved concrete and shaded from the rubber plantations. Feel the sea breeze on your face and enjoy the natural charm. Tuktuks are also available if you prefer.
Kayaks are available for rent at some local shops and hotels. Also many day tour kayaking packages are available from Phuket
Only on Koh Yao Noi there are many beaches left still untouched.
Tha Khao Beach is about five kilometres away from the Koh Yao District Administrative Office. This beach has many colourful rocks and pebbles. A short distance away from the beach is a small island called Koh Nok which can be reached on foot during low tide or by canoe during high tide.
Pa Sai Beach has a long stretch of white, pristine beach and is a place where you can swim. It is shady with lots of trees.
Klong Jaak Beach is great for its panoramas. From a viewpoint on this beach you can see almost the whole of Koh Yao.
Ao Kian is located on the north of Koh Yao Noi. It has a lush forest with many large trees, along with a white beach and a perfect swimming area.
Only less than 10 minutes across to Koh Yao Yai there are many interesting beaches awaiting exploration.
Loh Pa Raed Beach is located on the west coast in the middle of the island. Its long, white beach is parallel to coconut plantations and is an ideal for camping, swimming, and seeing different types of shells, along with the lifestyle of the Hua Tong boat fishermen.
Klong Son Beach is where it is possible to go camping amidst the wilderness where you can see various kinds of birds.
Ao Thi Kud is located on the west of the island and offers a beautiful view from the north of the bay.
Ao Laan has deep waters so going ashore by a boat is convenient. The waters are suitable for swimming.
You can visit the other famous islands from Koh Yao by chartering a local long-tail boat. The price could be from 1,500 baht per boat per day.
Koh Kai Nok has beautiful beaches with clear water and is ideal for snorkelling.
Koh Kai Nai is a small island with beautiful white sandy beaches and shady trees. It is a popular tour sport during the day. Tourists visit the island by speedboats and are gone after lunch. It is a perfect snorkelling spot and fun place for kids to feed fish from their hands.
Koh Rang Nok (Li Peh) is one of the many islands where swallows make their nests. Swallow nests from Koh Yao are considered to be of the highest quality. Normally visitors are only allowed to see the island from the boat, as going on to the island would be disturbing the swallows.
Koh Phii (Pu Lao Hantu) has the skeletons of sea gypsies in a cave. Sea gypsies normally pass by this island. Visitors can go diving around the island.
9.00 Late morning departure by long-tail boat from Bang Rong Pier to Manoh Pier of KohYao Noi. You will be picked up and taken to an open air ‘office’ to introduce you to the host family, give you a brief history about the islands, and receive some rules of the community you shall respect during the stay. For example: revealing clothing like bikinis and tanks are not permitted; alcohol is not allowed; and you should take off your shoes when entering a house.
11.30 Then you are invited to have lunch with the family. Not every family on the island joins the programme. They would have had to submit the interest, and the accommodation including sanitation has to meet a standard. Don’t imagine something fancy; but you can rely on the superb local hospitality.
13.00 Take a rest after your first delicious meal before getting in a song-taew bus for sightseeing. You may find one of the unique characteristics of Koh Yao is the exquisite scenery where the natural shoreline is nestled between rice paddies and the forested hills. Along the coast, it is a pleasure seeing the buffalos taking mud baths while the birds are walking in the mangrove swamps.
You will stop over at another village to view their lifestyle and activities. Most housewives are skilled at handicrafts such as batik and creating products made of coconut shells. The villagers will try to explain details to you in their best English with a local accent, offering lots of humour and sincerity.
When the sun is almost set, it is good time to see a miracle. On Koh Yao Noi there is a natural freshwater spring on the tidal flat. There is a story that goes: a blind man from the mainland visited Koh Yao, bathed in the freshwater spring and suddenly his vision was restored. The spring is still being used today without any marvel, but what you can always expect is the stunning mangrove silhouette sunset.
Late evening, head back to the house and be ready for dinner. The American author James Michener said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” Enjoy your dinner and don’t worry, the people won’t give you a handful of chilli to eat.
br Day 2
8.00 Welcome on board a fishing boat to pretend as if you were a local fisherman. Join them and see how they catch the fish in traditional ways. You may be amazed by their ability to spot wildlife. People from a city see jungle and rocky shoreline while the fishermen see hornbills, eagles, bats and wild orchids.
There are more than 40 satellite islands surrounding Koh Yao, which offering striking limestone scenery and secluded beaches.
10.00 Explore some of the islands that you shouldn’t miss. Koh Hong (Room Island) gets its name from an eroded group of caves in the middle of the island which harbours a large lake with a small passage to the sea. When the tide is high, long-tail boats are able to enter the ‘room’ and visitors can swim around in crystal-clear water with a depth of around one metre or less.
Just adjacent to Koh Hong is Koh Lao Lading where people collect edible bird nests.
12.00 Go ashore for lunch on Koh Lao Lading
13.00 Visit Koh Lao Hunto or Koh Phii (Ghost Island) where over 1,000-year-old skeletons of Morgan are found and do some snorkelling at the rainbow coloured coral reef.
15.00 Return to Koh Yao Noi
19.30 Dinner with family
There is a special offer in case you come as a big group. Everybody can get together for a party. This provides a good exchange of thoughts and jokes with the locals, and is an insightful, enjoyable experience.
21.00 For the young, it is a bit too early for bed. If you wish, you are welcome to check out the islander’s night market and try their roti. Or sit on the beach amidst swaying coconut tress, listening to the waves.
8.00 Breakfast and pack
9.00 It’s always sad to say goodbye but you will smile for the beautiful memories.