Our journey to Koh Yao Noi started with a 6 hour bus ride from Ranong to Phuket town. Although we asked to get dropped off at the airport (closer to the pier where we needed to catch the ferry), they didn't stop and by the time we noticed we had long passed it. Luckily the bus stops at any point so we hopped off at a random intersection in search of a taxi. Arrived just in time to catch the next speed boat over to the island.
Koh Yao Noi is the smaller of the two Koh Yao islands, 30 minutes off of north eastern Phuket. Definitely more built up than Koh Phayam, but still has a very local feel to it. A taxi pick-up truck with benches and an overhead cover drove us to our bungalow. Cars are allowed here, but motorbikes still seem to rule the road.
We stayed at a small resort called Hill House. Located on a very steep hill, hence it’s name, every bungalow on the property had a beautiful view of the Andaman Sea. They messed up our reservation so we got to spend the first night in a deluxe bungalow a bit higher on the hill for the same price.
Although we had become used to cold showers we were looking forward to a hot one, and a nice king size bed. Super firm beds are a thing here, and apparently so are towels for blankets. The biggest towel we had ever seen was spread out on the bed in lieu of a duvet. Makes sense considering the humidity here, but we were initially a bit confused.
Worn out from the all day travel, we strolled over to the restaurant across the way from our bungalow, owned by cousins of Hill House, which also had a spectacular sea view. On Koh Phayam there were many stray dogs, here there were loads of cats. A couple of the cats were chasing the tree frogs that were hopping around the deck as we ate. They had delicious food. Garlic and pepper shrimp, cashew nut stir fry and massaman curry so good that we ended up going back to eat there a few times.
Included in our room price was a light breakfast of fruit, toast and coffee. We were excited to find out this included mango sticky rice, mostly served in the morning or as a dessert in Thailand. It's exactly how it sounds, sticky rice with mango and it's sweet juices wrapped in a banana leaf.
The next day we rented a motorbike and explored the island. The beach we were staying on had very low tides, so we had to drive towards town a bit to find a proper swimming area.
After a bit of exploring, we finally got our first Thai massages of the trip. Thai massages are very different than a regular massage, they are a bit more of a workout, as they stretch and pull your limbs in every direction. Definitely not a massage you can snooze during.
The following day we were up for some adventure. One of the owners of Hill House mentioned a kayaking trip to Koh Kudu and Koh Roi, two very small islands off of Koh Yao Noi. Nearby is also the largest tree in southern Thailand, needing twenty people holding hands to go around it. We should have timed our trip a bit better because the whole way out we were going against the current and into the wind. It took us more than 2 hours to get to the tip of northern Koh Yao Noi and we still were a bit far from the islands. We found a small patch of beach where the mollusk fishermen post up and we paddled up to rest for a bit. After hanging out on the beach and realizing we still had a trek back to the resort, we decided not to go to the tree or the two islands as that would have taken another hour at the least. With the wind now at our back along with the incoming tide, we made it back to the resort in half the time, very sore and ready for lunch.
Despite the weather being a bit iffy we caught an amazing sunset that evening on Lamsai Pier, which had a view of Koh Yao Yai. It seems to be that the days you least expect to have a great sunset are the ones you will never forget.
The next day, sore from kayaking and hungover from the big Changs (Thai beer), we decided to take it easy and lay out on one of the beaches we saw while kayaking. To get to the beach we had to drive off the main roads and take a hilly dirt road the rest of the way. It was a beautiful trip through the forrest. Some of the trees in Thailand are planted in rows but you can only see the rows when looking from the side. The island locals harvest these trees for rubber. They attach small buckets and carve a spiral groove in the bark around the tree and then hammer a spout at the end of the groove. The spout directs the rubber into the bucket, then the buckets are collected for processing. Once fully harvested new trees are planted in rows. Very efficient and oddly beautiful. After reaching the beach it became very hot in the sun so we couldn’t stay out too long. We then hopped back on the motorbike in search of more great food.
While riding through town we saw a little hut overlooking the beach and decided to treat ourselves to some oil massages. Now these are the kinds you can fall asleep to, especially when you have the sound of waves crashing in the background.
The best way to describe the local people from Koh Yao Noi is friendly and helpful. You cannot walk past a local with out catching a Sawadee Ka/Kap (hello in Thai). They help with your bags, they pick up your kayak; even if you refuse and want to help, they insist. They are caring, and try to make you feel very comfortable and like you are a part of their community.
Don, one of the Hill House owners, was especially helpful when preparing for the next leg of our trip. We were to catch a ferry from Koh Yao Noi to Ao Nang then transfer to another ferry to get to Koh Lanta. The ferry departed the pier very early so they arranged a taxi to take us to the pier. We were worried about food options if any would be available to us as we would be on a ferry for the next several hours of the day in the hot sun. Don and his staff prepared us an extra to-go bag of mango sticky rice and a banana on the house. Hugs and smiles from Don and family and we were off to our next stop - Koh Lanta.
One hour away from Phuket International Airport or Krabi Airport and easily accessible by taxi and boat. For a cheaper option, you can take a bus to Phuket and catch the ferry at Baan Rong Pier in northeast Phuket. Speedboats leave almost every hour and take 30 minutes or you can take the slower ferry boats, about 60 minutes, but they leave less frequently.
Hill House - small resort overlooking Thakhao Bay, each bungalow has a sea view and a terrace equipped with a large hammock, light breakfast included.
Thakhao Bay View Restaurant - Seafood/Thai restaurant, just up the road from Hill House Bungalows, we loved the garlic and pepper shrimp
Rice Paddy - Thai and international food, even had an extensive wine list - rare for Thailand
Chaba Cafe & Gallery - Thai/French cafe with great fruit shakes and paninis, which you can take to go for the beach
Charlie Bar - small chilled out beach bar on the main strip of town near Pasai beach
Island hop - Koh Nok, Koh Kudu, Koh Roi - you will find small companies that run longtail boats out to these islands for day trips
Yoga - Island Yoga has daily drop in classes which hadn't yet started when we were there, but we met some people on the retreat and they highly recommended it
Massage - Nankanok Massage and Bungalow for an indoor air con massage, or look along Pasai beach for the huts offering sea view massages