Staying in Phuket and looking for a quiet refuge that feels far removed from the crowds?
This place is nearer than you think.
Just a stone’s throw from Thailand’s largest and most popular island, sandwiched between Phuket and Krabi in World-Heritage-listed Phang-Nga Bay, you’ll find Thailand’s best island for empty sands and off-the-beaten-track adventures.
While Thailand’s top destination Phuket doesn’t need an introduction, the slow-life island of aptly named Koh Yao Noi, which translates to “Small Long Island,” is still pretty little-known.
Keen to experience Koh Yao Noi’s chilled-out atmosphere, I booked a trip from Phuket to Koh Yao Noi online in a few clicks, and a couple of days later, I headed for Phuket’s Bang Rong Pier, the starting point of my trip.
Killing time after a surprise
“Big waves. No boat,” the woman at the ticket office said flatly, barely looking up.
“No boat?!” I asked, wondering why then they were open.
“Come again at 3 pm,” she said as though she’d just read my mind.
My boat was scheduled for 3 pm, and I wanted to find out whether that woman was pulling my leg or badly misinformed. Green Planet – the tour operator, hadn’t canceled the trip after all. I gave Green Planet a buzz, but nobody picked up the phone. Gazing blankly into the distance, I realized that there wasn’t much I could do about it for now.
Then, I watched a local chugging past on his rickety longtail boat. He was heading for one of many sea inlets that meander through mangrove forests like slithering snakes. Apart from him, there were scarcely any Thais around, let alone foreigners.
The lack of travelers had prevented street vendors from setting up stall, and a blessing in disguise was the absence of monkeys despite eye-catching monkey warnings. They must’ve noticed that these were strange times with hardly any tourists around.
The near-deserted waiting area near the toilets that cost 5 baht looked like a bleak place to linger, but there were two café-like restaurants. Smiling to myself, I was like, Why not get an iced coffee?
Taking a seat at the only bistro that was open, I ordered my non-alcoholic livener, and said, “sai namtan, mai sai nom,” (add sugar, don’t add milk). The head-scarfed woman looked surprised, but she understood and pointed at the tiny little sweets on the table to go with my coffee. Of course, a coffee without some sweets would be like salad without a dressing.
Munching Khanom Pia, baked rice flour cookies with a sweet filling, I looked forward to the short speedboat ride across Phang-Nga Bay and the island of Koh Yao Noi.
Enjoying the sights on the quick ride
I was pleased to find that the ticket seller had another phone number and managed to get hold of Green Planet. It turned out that Green Planet was shifting their customers to other suppliers during this time as a result of the impact of COVID-19. I was glad they hadn’t shut down; they’d just rearranged their services, and that meant I didn’t have to pay extra.
The ticket seller handed me Koh Yao King Marine Co.’s ticket, and I sat down on an abandoned plastic chair that looked a little out of place. By the time it was 4 pm, some more Thai travelers had arrived, and virtually all were wearing face masks except a Thai kid.
Once people had put on their lifejackets, the engines revved up. The speedboat curved across the water at 4:03 pm and lifted my spirits, because I knew what was awaiting me. Phang-Nga Bay offers amazing views of limestone pillars jutting hundreds of feet out of emerald seas.
Koh Hong, Koh Pak Bia, Pakoh, Koh Lao Lading are just a few names of those sea pearls in Krabi’s Than Bok Khorani National Park.
Much as I enjoyed the sights of towering limestone rocks, the boat ride felt like sitting in a car with poor shock absorbers. Every jump over a wave was accompanied by a strange sound as though something had just been broken.
Arriving in Koh Yao Noi
Approaching Koh Yao Noi’s Manoh Pier, the drop-off point, I loved the sight of Koh Yao Yai’s Saw Hua Lam Haad, a long palm-fringed strip of white sand. Koh Yao Yai is so near from Koh Yao Noi, you can *almost* swim to Koh Yao Noi’s neighboring island.
The boat arrived at Koh Yao Noi after a quick 26 minute-ride. As though embodying the locals’ easy-going and friendly vibe, the staff helped everyone get off the boat by literally lending a hand.
Setting foot on this quiet refuge, eager to explore long sandy shores and little fishing villages, I was pretty sure that pleasant surprises were awaiting me around the corner.