As with all the greatest discoveries, I came across Thailand’s best-kept secret by accident – literally (I was sent there to recover after a motorbike accident). But what a blessing it turned out to be. The island, Koh Yao Noi, and its sister island Koh Yao Yai, are only an hour away from the tourist-ridden resorts of Phuket and Krabi, yet no one seems to have noticed them. A good thing too, because that’s precisely what makes them such a find.
There are virtually no tourists, only one or two low-key bars and no one is trying to sell you anything – quite the opposite in fact, as they simply don’t need our money; the 4,000-strong community is self sufficient, thanks to the rice paddies, rubber plantations and fishing industry.
What the island has to offer
The locals are among the friendliest people you could come across, the scenery is second to none and the beaches are blissfully empty. Accommodation is a simple beach hut, and there is a law to prevent anything being built higher than two storeys, so the island will never be afflicted by mass tourism and package holidays. As you ride around the island on a bike (it only has one road, which simply circles the 10-mile perimeter of the island), you pass rice paddies and rubber plantations, which the neighbouring villages work together to maintain, as well as traditional fishing ports, the odd luxury villa and a quiet high street selling only the things you need. The locals live in wooden huts on stilts, and the community is predominantly Muslim. As I circled the island, school children playing football stopped to wave at me – such a rare sight that I was – and locals let me onto their land to pick their (unbelievably juicy) fruit.
There’s not much to do on the island, but that’s the beauty of it – you don’t need to do anything to appreciate the stillness and tranquility of the island. Of course there are some activities, but they use the natural elements, such as sea kayaking and rock climbing. None of that bungee jumping malarky, thank you.
If you don’t fancy getting wet or high, you can spend the days exploring the mountainous forested interior, meeting Gibbon and Macaca monkeys, hornbills, sea eagles, kingfishers, perfectly harmless snakes and wonderfully vocal geckos; lying on the isolated beaches; or joining the locals for a spot of yoga.
When your tummy starts to rumble there’s no panic about where to eat and whether it’ll be nice – there are few restaurants to choose from, and it’s impossible to have a bad meal in Koh Yao Noi. Thai curries are made to perfection and you won’t find yourself getting stung by tourist prices – a good, hearty curry will set you back a massive 30p.
Accommodation is simple – you don’t need anything more than the basics, and the worst thing that happens is the odd power outage during a fantastically dramatic thunderstorm – the whole island loses power and blackout literally means blackout. It’s an experience in itself.
Koh Yao Noi (translation: small island) is half the size of its sister island, Koh Yao Yai (big island), but most of the natives live on the bigger island, while they work on the smaller one. As such there is more to do on Koh Yao Noi, but both are equally beautiful.
Who is it for?
Chilled out travellers who appreciate the Thai culture. Also, rockclimbers love it here.
Who is it not for?
Anyone looking for a Thai bride or a boozy party holiday.
How to get there
From Phuket, head down to Bang Rong pier and hop on one of the boats to Koh Yao Noi. They leave from 7:30am and run roughly every hour or two until 5pm. The last boat back to Phuket is at 4pm.
Where to stay
These are small huts right on the beach and cost from £21-£70 per night, but you can haggle this right down.
These are bungalows near the beach, including a larger family hut. The owner, Mr Bean, speaks fluent English and is extremely knowledgeable on all things Thailand. A hut costs from £6-20.
Sabai Corner Bungalows
Bungalows from £16-£58.
Villagers are slowly discovering the benefits of tourists, so show them your appreciation for welcoming you onto their island by learning about their culture and joining them in their day-to-day life.