Let’s be honest! Thailand is probably the most accessible country to travel in South East Asia. You can easily travel on a budget there. And for us, it was also our first exotic country. It provided us with an unforgettable backpacking experience. And it also introduced us to a quiet place which I am now presenting you, the island of Koh Yao Yai. Things to do, where to sleep, how to get there, when to go, I’ve tried to cover it all. Everything you need to know before heading to Koh Yao Yai. Thailand sure has plenty of hidden gems, but go ahead and discover this one.
How did we find Koh Yao Yai Island?
When we started researching on where to go in Thailand, we asked all of our friends who happened to have visited it (and gosh, were they plenty) for suggestions. Wrong! After a couple of these “interviews,” there was complete and utter chaos in our heads. Each one had a recommendation – “Go to Phuket, that is a must for your first time! You should try Pattaya! Do not miss Bangkok! Definitely, Koh Samui is the place! Try to reach Phi Phi! You guys should clearly not miss Koh Phangan”.
But none of these places seemed to be what we were searching for, there were too many conflicting reviews, and some places seemed too chaotic for us just from the texts. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And I thought “Oh, f**k it! Let’s just go there without any plans!”. However, Brad from Tedoo told us about Koh Yao Noi Island and given that nobody had mentioned it before we started to look it up.
And this is how we found Koh Yao Yai. Ok, so now I’ve jumbled you. Is it Koh Yao Yai or Koh Yao Noi? The Koh Yao islands are two islands right in the middle of Phang Nga Bay. They actually mean Big Long Island (Koh Yao Yai) and Little Long Island (Koh Yao Noi).
They are difficult to miss as they are right between the famous Koh Phuket and Krabi. However, we chose to stay in Koh Yao Yai as it seemed to have fewer accommodation options which usually means fewer tourists. And we were right. But we also visited Koh Yao Noi during our stay. And as I will show you, there are plenty of Koh Yao Yai things to do, even though it’s a quieter island.
Is it Koh Yao Yai or Ko Yao Yai?
As you might have noticed, the only difference between the two names is the spelling of koh – ko. However, they both mean the same thing in Thai, island. So yes, if you see it written like Ko Yao Yai Island, don’t get confused. However, you might be right judging that there is no point in using the term island together with ko or koh, given that they mean the same thing. But it is a very commonly used pleonasm, and the whole internetdom is filled with it.
How to get to Koh Yao Yai
Merely looking at the Koh Yao Yai map, or even at the Koh Yao Noi map, you will realize that there is only one way to get there: by boat! And given the island’s location, you can either go from Phuket to Koh Yao Yai or from Krabi to Koh Yao Yai. This depends on where you are located before getting there.
In our case, we flew from Bangkok to Phuket, as we wanted to visit Krabi after our island getaway. From the airport, we took a taxi to Bang Rong Pier to catch our Phuket to Koh Yao Yai ferry. There are around 12 ferries per day, and the price for the journey is either 120 Baht per person if you choose the longtail boat (takes about an hour), or 200 Baht per person if you go for the speedboat (30 minutes).
The boat will drop you at the Koh Yao Yai pier, Hlong Hia. And in case you are wondering how to get to Koh Yao Noi, the same boat that drops you will afterward head to the neighboring island. So, the Phuket to Koh Yao Noi ferry is the same boat that that first stops at the Hlong Hia pier.
From Krabi to Koh Yao Noi, respectively Koh Yao Yai, public longtail boats are departing from the Ao Thalane pier, next to Ao Nang in Krabi. The journey will take about an hour and cost you 200 Baht.
And of course, some boats will take you either from Koh Yao Yai to Krabi or from Koh Yao Yai to Phuket.
What about the Koh Yao Yai weather?
Nobody wants a holiday with no sun included. We all dream of those perfect sunny days with no amount of rain whatsoever. And imagine there are more things to do on Koh Yao Yai, as are in any place if there are no raindrops involved.
The best time to enjoy the island would be from December to March. We’ve been there in January, and we had perfect weather. You could also try the shoulder months of November and April, but the weather is a bit unpredictable at that time.
Where to stay – Koh Yao Yai Accommodation
Whereas the Koh Yao Noi accommodation options are plenty, its sister has fewer places to stay at. However, things are changing, and each year new places are popping out. Unfortunately, at the time we were there we weren’t able to find any homestays. There were some options on Koh Yao Noi, but for Koh Yao Yai we couldn’t find a genuine homestay.
However, if you want to spoil yourself, then head to the Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort&Spa or the Koh Yao Yai Village. Both are high-end resorts that are ready to pamper you. There was one place which we liked as we enjoyed a great dinner at their restaurant, the Glow Elixir Koh Yao Yai. What is great about this place is that it’s facing west, so it’s an excellent option to enjoy the sunset. Thailand is just so full of incredible places to stay. You just need to find the right one for you.
Given that we are not fans of resorts, we just wanted one of those enchanting Koh Yao Yai bungalows. And we found a nice one at Thiw Son, which is a quieter place, not so fancy, but nice and clean and with great views.
Koh Yao Yai Things to Do
Discover the Koh Yao Yai beaches
Koh Yao Yai is not exactly famous for its incredible beaches. However, the views offered from each part of the island and the quiet surroundings due to the low number of tourists, definitely make the experience more enjoyable. So there is no reason for which the first place among the Koh Yao Yai things to do to belong to its beaches.
There is one Koh Yao Yai beach which stole our hearts. The Ao Muang Beach or the Glow Elixir Resort beach is found in the Southern part of the island, and it is a tranquil one. We went there for a sunset, as it faces west, towards Phuket. The water was so calm that you could bet it was a lake. And the colors of the sunset made it a perfect honeymoon décor (or one just great for a proposal).
Another beach that is worth visiting is Laem Haad Beach. Located at the northeastern side tip of the island, it stretches into the sea giving you the impression that you will be able to walk all the way to the neighboring Koy Yao Noi.
Explore the island on a motorbike
When you are stuck on such a beautiful island, you probably want to discover it piece by piece. To see the villagers, the fishermen, the locals’ way of life. And what better way to do this than renting a scooter and just wandering around, exploring each corner. We actually got lost (more than once!), because it was difficult to follow the maps and not let ourselves get drawn to little heavenly pieces of nature.
Put your bargain skills to the test, and you will be able to find a scooter for around 200 – 250 baht per day, which is about 6 -7 USD per day.
The number one advantage of Koh Yao Yai is its location. That’s because it is conveniently located close to the stunning Phang Nga Bay where you can check out Ko Panyi, the floating village with a population of around 1,600 people, as well as the Khao Phing Kan, or James Bond Island. You can also check out another great set of islands close to Koh Yao Yai, that is the Hong archipelago, with great beaches and incredible snorkeling places.
Most resorts and guesthouses offer day trips to the surrounding islands. Depending on how much you are willing to pay, you will be spoiled more or less. We made our day trips with Thiw Son and with Koh Yao Yai Village. And I have to say that the trips from Koh Yao Yai Village were flawless and we have nothing wrong to say about how they organized them.
One day island exploring with Koh Yao Yai Village is around TBH 2,600 per person, that is USD 80.
Explore Koh Yao Noi
Yes, we know, not another island. But if you have enough time, then a trip Koh Yao Yai’s sister up north is too easy to be missed. Once you get off the ferry, rent a scooter and start exploring. The island is pretty tiny, so you can easily see it in one day if you really want to.
But you will instantly realize how different it is than so Koh Yao Yai as it is so much more developed. The number of tourists is also way more significant, as well as the number of facilities.
What you shouldn’t miss on Koh Yao Noi is a stop at Ao Kian, or the Big Tree, in the northern tip of the island. It’s more than 100 meters high, and it’s an impressive 300 years old tree. However, it is easier to ask a fisherman to take you by boat to it given that the road is not exactly friendly.
Do bear in mind that the local population, as on Koh Yao Yai, is Muslim. Therefore, try to respect their praying hours and avoid any activities on Fridays.
Try some kayaking in the mangrove forest
I don’t know about you, but for me, the combination of kayak plus mangrove is the recipe for a great afternoon. And yes, you can do it on Koh Yao Yai as it has some beautiful mangrove forests where you can easily kayak. Be careful though to bring enough water and to wear a hat.
This is also an activity which you will find available at one of the multiple resorts on the island. For example, at Koh Yao Yai, they organize two-hour trips for THB 1,200 (USD 36).
Try a healing session with Doctor Saad
Among the adventurous Koh Yao Yai things to do, it’s time to relax a bit. So, if you are looking for an unforgettable massage, then Doctor Saad is the answer for you. He will recommend the necessary number of sessions based on your affection, and for sure you will feel his magic healing. Don’t expect any tickling or caressing as this is really tough massage, but you will walk away a different person and with less pain.
Doctor Saad is a blind therapist who has been treating people for more than 30 years now. You can find more information on how to find him here. A one-hour session will cost BHT 700 (USD 21), but a package of 10 sessions will lower the price per session to BHT 600 (USD 18).
The people on Koh Yao Yai Island
Warm, kind, smiling and curious. I used to smile at them from the scooter just because I knew that I would get a warmer smile in return. They helped us when we got lost, although there was a definite language barrier, and sometimes we didn’t understand a thing and, in the end, got lost even more. They timidly laughed at us when they saw how clumsy we were on the scooter or when they saw me dancing around to flee the mosquitoes. They lured us in with all sort of fruit each evening when we passed the market; they did anything they could to help us.