Ko Yao (เกาะยาว), sometimes written Koyao, is a group of islands between Phuket and Krabi. There are two main islands, Ko Yao Noi ("small long island") and Ko Yao Yai, ("big long island") with Noi being the more developed of the two.
Ko Yao Noi remains a beautiful island, where most people believe that the island should be preserved from human despoilation. It is often described as one of the last islands in the region to not be over-developed.
Ko Yao Yai is also a natural beauty, the less developed of the two islands. Ko Yao Yai is significantly larger than Ko Yao Noi.
Sea Gypsies (Moken people) inhabited the area before anybody else, except maybe other nomadic people like forest hunters and collectors (Sakai, Negritos). The 3,500 or so inhabitants of Ko Yao Noi are thought to be recent migrants from the Malay Peninsula (Satun, Trang).
The Mon population, linguistically and culturally belonging to the Khmer ethnolinguistic group, settled in peninsular Thailand ruling over maritime states like Ligor (Nakhon Si Thammarat). They melded with southern migrants from Malaysia and with northerners (Thai), over centuries of commercial exchange and political conflict. Most probably the Mon stock remains prevalent for most of the people living in southern Thailand today, including the people of Ko Yao.
Numerous cave paintings hidden in the many islands of the bay, extending from 2000 years ago to last century, attest to the influence of distinct communities in the emergence of a mixed origin population, living now in the provinces of Phang Nga, Phuket, Krabi, and Satun.
The most recent migrations (17th-18th century) from Satun and Trang to Ko Yao Yai and Ko Yao Noi is corroborated by the particular dialect spoken on the island. It bears obvious Malaysian lexical traces, particularly regarding toponyms and vernacular names of the flora.
The main industries on the island are fishing and rubber planting. A little rice farming and some fruit, palm, and coconut plantations are present. Boat building and farming techniques here have been passed from generation to generation and, while some of the youngsters leave Ko Yao to seek the bright lights of Phuket, most return to their tight-knit community.
Arrive at Phuket either by:
- By long-distance bus from Bangkok or one of the cities north of Phuket.
- By air to Phuket International Airport. Air Asia, Silk Air, and Tiger Airways have regular international flights from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Domestically, Bangkok Airways and Thai AirAsia fly from Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Ko Samui for generally less than USD30-50 one-way.
- Phuket (Bang Rong Pier): 12 different departure times between 7:45 to 17:30 of either slow boat (120 bath) or speed boat (200 bath). There is no ticket counter, tickets are sold on the boat. The ferry go first to Koh Yao Yai, then to Koh Yao Noi. The pier which is in he far north of the island Phuket can be reached by taxi for about 2000 bath from Phuket town or public bus (large Songthaew, takes about 60 minutes) for 50 bath.
- Phuket (Chianwanich Pier (near Ratsada Pier) - Only to Ko Yao Yai): Every day: 08:30, 17:00 (speedboat) | Sundays-Thursdays: 10:30, 14:00 | Fridays: 10:00 | Saturdays: 06:00, 10:30, 14:00
- Krabi (Tha Len): 11:00 and 13:00
- Phang Nga: 07:00
- Phuket (Bang Rong Pier): 07:30; 10:00; 13:30 and 15:00
- Phuket (Chianwanich Pier (near Ratsada Pier) - Only from Ko Yao Yai): Every day: 07:20 (speedboat), 10:30 | Sundays-Thursdays: 08:00, 15:00 | Fridays: 14:00 | Saturdays: 08:00, 14:00
- Krabi (Tha Len): 07:30
- Phang Nga: 07:30
All trips cost between 100-140 baht per person (except the speedboat), 120 baht to transport a motorcycle, one-way. Pay on the boat.
Regular longtails ply between Chonglad Pier on Ko Yao Yai and Manok Pier on Ko Yao Noi during daylight hours. 20 baht per person, 30 baht extra to bring a motorcycle, takes 10 to 15 minutes
Ko Yao Noi
Ko Yao Noi covers about 50 square kilometres. There is no accommodation available within walking distance of Manok Pier. There will generally be between ten and twenty tuk-tuks waiting to take you to accommodation for a fare of about 85 baht.
Ko Yao Noi has approximately 18 km of concrete and dirt road around it. The main road is a two-lane concrete road that rings the entire perimeter of the island, excluding the northernmost parts, where there are only dirt roads. There are several interior roads that are a combination of either sand/dirt or concrete.
The most efficient way to get around the island is to hire a motorbike, and cost 200-300 baht per day. No licence is required and helmets are provided. Enquire at your hotel.
Tuk-tuks are available to give you lifts across the island. Simply flag one of these vehicles down as they drive past. Failing that, if you simply wait most locals will be happy to give you a lift. That may mean squishing onto a motorbike that already has three Thai adults and a baby on it.
Bicycles are also an excellent mode of transport and the main perimeter road around the island only has one large hill that must be navigated. The flat terrain makes it perfect for leisurely rides. Bicycles can be hired from Sabai Corner Bungalows or most accommodations.
Ko Yao Yai
As with Ko Yao Noi, the must efficient way to get from the Chonglad Pier to any accommodation is to make use of the tuk-tuks that will be awaiting your arrival. As Ko Yao Yai is larger than Ko Yao Noi, there is no exact fare, but anything over 150 baht is usually too much.
Once at your accommodation, most larger resorts will have motorcycles or bicycles for rent. Due to the terrain on Ko Yao Yai it may be wise to hire a automatic motorbike for travelling longer distances (>10 km) and using bicycles when travelling shorter distances.
You can also walk along the roads and either flag down a taxi or try to get a lift from the locals. Ko Yao Yai, like Ko Yao Noi is a very safe island and vehicles rarely travel above 15 km/h, so hitch-hiking is not exactly a dangerous pursuit here.
Ko Yao Noi is mountainous in the centre and has beaches to either side. The east side has beaches suitable for swimming and snorkelling and the west is a picturesque blend of rice flats and mangrove trees. The island is a sanctuary for at least 4 species of hornbills, very commonly seen around.
The beaches on the east side are (from north to south): Haad Ao Loh Ha, Haad Sai Kaew, a nameless beach south of Haad Sae Kaew, Haad Tha Kao, Haad Klong Jaak and Haad Pasai. Haad Ao Loh Ha is occupied entirely by The Paradise Koh Yao Resort and not open to public. It can be reached by boat or over a about 10 km long rough jungle path. Haad Sae Kaew and the nameless beach just south of it are absolutely deserted and beautiful. They can be reached by a 4 km jungle path by foot or motorcycle (if you have proper drivong skill) but not by car (at least in off-season the path is in dire condition). Haad Tha Kao, Haad Klong Jaak and Haad Pasai are literally next to the main road and equipped with bungalows, bars and shops.
- DragonHeart, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Indonesian Pinisi sailing boat with day cruises to surrounding islands, includes a full Thai-style buffet meal prepared on-board, fresh fish and Thai curries, music, lots of pillows, plenty of breeze and friendly crew.
- Ko Yao International Diving School (Ko Yao Noi). Diving at Lam Sai Village Hotel in Ban Laem Sai.
- Koh Kayak Expeditions. This small operation is fun and friendly and they help you design your own adventure away from the crowds.
There are some restaurant and food stalls on Ko Yao Noi and some more opened just recently, including really good seafood restaurants near the beach.
- Cha's Noodle Shop (Ban Prunai).
- Coconut Island (Along the main road between accommodations and the town). Delicious seafood suited to budget travellers.
- Good View Restaurant. Daily, 10:00-22:00. Really good seafood.
- Je t'aime Restaurant, 21/1 Moo 1 (At the market just opposite the 7-Eleven), ☎ . 09:00-22:00. French- and Danish-owned restaurant. At the centre of the island. Serves daily specialities, French and Thai dishes, fresh seafood, freshly made coffee, beer, wine and cocktails. Free Wi-Fi is available for guests.
- La Luna (Pizzeria & Bar), Ko Yao Noi (Between Baan Thakow and Pasai Beach), ☎ 087461612. Real Italian wood-fired pizza. Romano, the owner, serves other Italian dishes, homemade bread, fine wines and sweet desserts! An open and friendly atmosphere, good music and a great place to hang out.
- Lam Sai Lobster Seafood, Ko Yao Noi (At the very southeast corner of the island, 500m after the inactive Tha Laem Sai Pier.). High quality seafood restaurant with almost no meat dishes (Tom Yam Gai and vegetarian dishes are available). Porch is built onto the sea. Dishes come in the different sizes and prices (e.g. Tom Yam Gung for 180, 250 or 350 bath). A medium sized dish with rice is enough for even a hungry westerner. 150 to 500 bath.
- The Pyramid Bar & Restaurant (Between Sabai Corner Bungalows and Tabaek Viewpoint Bungalows). This bar and restaurant is a thatched roof-style bungalow overlooking the sea to Krabi. It is open all year. They have an extensive menu serving everything from Western breakfast, wraps, pasta, to the best burgers and pizza on the island. Everything is homemade: bread, burger buns, tortillas. They also have a very good dessert menu. They serve a variety of beer, cocktails and have a good wine list. Live music on Fridays, when everyone comes out, including the local people, to have a great dinner and dance.
- Rice Paddy (Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlour), Pasai Beach (At the edge of the small rice field beginning of Pasai), ☎ . Small, simple place, but great atmosphere and background music. Quality of ice cream and food (Western and Thai) is amazing, prices reasonable. Gourmet-style meals with ingredients hard to find elsewhere on the island. All meals are available vegetarian with mock meat.
- Sabai Corner Bungalows. Owned by an Italian. One of the few restaurants offering delicious Italian food. However, make sure that the Italian, Nonna, is residing over the resort kitchen when you eat here. If not, you will be served the Thai chef's interpretation of spaghetti, tomato sauce from a bottle and cold pasta.
- Tabaek Viewpoint Bungalow. Owned by Paramote, the local police officer on Ko Yao Noi. His Japanese wife Kazuyo is an excellent Japanese cook. No sushi, but Kazuyo offers up authentic Japanese food for under 75 baht. The set of bungalows is up a dirt road. The top bungalow is Paramote's and this is where the restaurant is located.
- Thai Hideaway Restaurant, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A private pool villa restaurant with amazing views. Fresh seafood BBQs as well as authentic Thai food and sandwiches are available. Book in advance.
Many of the restaurants also have lively bars.
- Activities Resort, 106/8 Moo 3 Prunai (Ko Yao Yai, near Loh Jak Pier), ☎ . Many activities available. 1,000 baht.
- Elixir Resort (Ko Yao Yai). Hosts Elixir Divers dive centre on the resort premises.
- Esmeralda View Resort, ☎ . 900-2,500 baht.
- Hill House, 6/4 Moo 4 (Ko Yao Noi), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. New bungalows with double fan, fridge, private hammock on a big balcony and a family atmosphere. Set on a tropical hill with stunning view over the limestones. 900-1,100 baht.
- Ko Yao Bay Pavilions, 46/7 Moo 5 (Ko Yao Noi), ☎ . Three beachfront pavilions surrounding a swimming pool in a lush tropical garden. Surrounded by a white-sand beach and rice paddies with an excellent restaurant.
- Ko Yao Island Resort, 24/2 Moo 5 (Ko Yao Noi), ☎ . Bungalows designed in traditional Thai-style. Each villa faces the beach, has its own private garden. Rim Thalay Restaurant on premises is open from 07:30-22:00, and offers delicious and authentic Ko Yao dishes. Excellent BBQs in the evenings. -.
- Lam Sai Village Hotel. Pool and air conditioned rooms. Also has muay Thai training available.
- The Paradise Koh Yao, 24 Moo 4 (Ko Yao Noi), ☎ . A blend of boutique beach resort and health spa. Private villas and studios adjacent to 400 m of untouched beach providing year-round natural luxury.
- Six Senses Yao Noi Beyond Phuket, 56 Moo 5 (Ko Yao Noi), ☎ . Spa resort. 20,000+ baht.
- Tha Khao Bay View, 4/8 Moo 4, Ko Yao Noi (Hat Tha Kao Beach. From Tha Kao pier, turn right along the road and walk for about 10 min. From Manok Pier, take a songthaew), ☎ . , (mobile)The ultra-friendly and attentive Mr Ling and his lovely family run the Bay View. The huts have en suite bath, are clean, and are on the side of the hill about 20 m above the beach, and so have wonderful views across the bay. Mr Ling's brother runs a highly recommended, very chilled out bar made from a boat on the beach below. Food in their restaurant is consistently good. 500-700 baht, high season.
- Thiwsonbeach, 58/4 Moo 4, Ko Yao Yai (Phuket Town and Bang Rong Pier), ☎ . Check-out: 12:00. 12 beachfront bungalows. Views of Phang Nga Bay. Stunning sunrise. 800-3,000 baht.
Being one of the biggest islands in Phang Nga Bay, Ko Yao Noi is home to a hospital, several schools and a post office. 24 hour electricity supply, Internet access, mobile telephone connection and ATMs available.