The Koh Yao archipelago is made up of a pair of islands, Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai, that make up some of the last undeveloped major islands in Thailand’s stunning Phang Nga Bay. Unlike neighbouring Phuket, Koh Yao is known for their low-key development and unspoiled nature, although this is gradually changing. For now, its uncrowded beaches and contagiously slow pace of life provide a charming retreat from the modern world.
The smaller of the two, Koh Yao Noi, is more developed, with mountainous ringed with white sandy beaches. Koh Yao Yai has a more rustic vibe but is no less beautiful, with vast stretches of white sandy beaches and secluded coves. The landscape here is dotted with rice paddies and rubber plantations amidst the stunning coral reefs, jungles and mangroves. The island is also home to several Sea Gypsy villages, who still manage to maintain their traditional fishing and farming lifestyle in the face of non-stop development.
Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai are an untouched island paradise in the heart of Thailand's spectacular Phang Nga Bay. If you prefer isolated beaches and a chilled-out atmosphere to crowds and parties, then this is the place for you.
When to Go
With its tropical climate, Koh Yao is visitable all year round, although the best season is between November until March. March to May are the hottest and driest months, which is ideal for beach-goers but may be too hot for land activities. During the monsoon months of June until September the sea is unsafe for swimming, and many smaller boats may not operate. Christmas and Chinese New Year are peak tourist season -- it is advisable to book months ahead during this period.
Things to Do
Explore the island
With little traffic on the islands, both Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai are easily explored on a bicycle or motorbike. The East side is home to secluded beach coves that are ideal for swimming and snorkelling, while the West is a scenic blend of rice flats and mangrove trees. The mountainous interior is also full of jungle hiking trails and waterfalls that are ideal for walks and picnics.
Rent a longtail boat and explore the surrounding uninhabited islands and islets that make up the Koh Yao archipelago. Don’t miss the spectacular Hong Islands or the award-winning Bileh Bay, noted for its environmental conservation efforts. Pak Bia Island, Lao Ra Ding and Nok Island are other notable destinations where you can go swimming, sunbathing and snorkelling without seeing another person.
Koh Yao’s surrounding waters are rich with marine life. An ideal place to do so is the nearby Khai Islands, which are ringed with coral reefs and crystal-clear waters.
Join a local fisherman
Koh Yao’s resident Sea Gypsy population rely on fishing as their main source of food and income. Head out for a day on a long-tail boat with a local fisherman and learn how they cast their nets and traps.
Kayak through the mangrove forests
One of the most unusual and biodiverse environments on the planet, mangrove forests are home to all sorts of unusual flora and fauna, including mudskippers, crabs, macaques, monitor lizards and birds. A slow kayak through the waterways is the best way to spot wildlife.
Visit the local villages
Many villages welcome tourists as a way of generating income and sharing their traditional way of life. Tour rice paddies, fish farms and rubber tree plantations, and learn about their unique culture and lifestyle practices, which are more similar to neighbouring Malaysia than the majority Thai population.
Explore Phang Nga Bay
Koh Yao is just a short boat ride away from the world-renowned Phang Nga Bay National Park, home to soaring limestone cliffs and uninhabited islands. Soak up the beauty on a longtail boat or sailboat cruise, or explore its hidden caves and beaches on a sea kayak tour.
The closest airports to Koh Yao are Phuket International Airport on Phuket, or Krabi Airport on the mainland to the northeast.
Public boat ferries make daily journeys from Bang Rong Pier on the east coast of Phuket for approximately THB 100 per person. Boats depart every hour from 7:30am onwards and take approximately one hour. VIP shuttle transfers with private companies can also be booked in advance. These generally cost around THB 1,200 per person one-way and include a pick-up from the airport or your hotel.
Public ferries depart from Ao Thalane Pier to Koh Yao Yai six times a day for approximately THB 150 per person. The ferry journey takes approximately 40 minutes. Private transfers can also be booked through travel agents.
Koh Yao Yai is relatively undeveloped, with few roads and traffic. The easiest way to get around the island is by renting a motorbike, usually from your hotel. Mountain bikes are also a good option, although be warned that the islands' mountaneous interior has some punishing hills and curves! Tuk-tuks can also be hired on a trip or daily basis.
Most nationalities can enter Thailand without a visa or by obtaining a visa upon arrival, although we advise visiting the Thailand Immigration Bureau website for current guidelines. Entry permit duration will depend on nationality and entry point; however most people are permitted to remain for either 15, 30 or 90 days.
Thailand uses the Thai Baht (THB), which tends to fluctuate wildly in value. As a general indication, US$1 is roughly equivalent to 30 THB. For up-to-date exchange rates, visit xe.com.
Restrictions & Laws
In spite of its freewheeling image, Thailand has very strict anti-drug laws. Possession of marijuana will result in a prison sentence and heavy fine, while amphetamines and ecstasy are regarded as Class A drugs on the same level as heroin. Like most South-East Asian countries, Thailand enforces a mandatory death sentence for Class A drug trafficking and possession of over 20g; a rule that also applies to foreigners.
Thailand's Lèse Majesté laws make it a criminal offence to make critical or defamatory comments in any form about the King or other members of the Royal family in Thailand. This is a law to be taken seriously as it is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 15 years, with foreigners having been convicted in the past.
Learn the Lingo
Hello - sa-wat-dee kap (male speaker) / sa-wat-dee kha (female speaker)
Thank You - kop-khun kap (male speaker) / kop-khun kha (female speaker)
What is your name? - kun cheu ah-rai?
How much is this? - anee tao rai?
Excuse me / sorry - kor toht
Goodbye - laa gon na