Why You Should Visit Koh Yao Yai in 2023
Nestled between Phuket Island and Krabi Town on the mainland, Koh Yao Yai is one of Thailand’s lesser-known island destinations. This idyllic, peaceful island sits at the entrance to the picturesque Phang-Nga Bay on Thailand’s west coast and is starting to see a steady trickle of Western tourists looking for the next Thai island paradise with deserted beaches and a relaxed pace of life.
- How to Get to Koh Yao Yai
- Koh Yao Yai Map
- Getting Around Koh Yao Yai
- When is the best time to visit Koh Yao Yai?
- The Beautiful Beaches of Koh Yao Yai
- Other Things to Do on Koh Yao Yai
- Where to Stay on Koh Yao Yai
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Koh Yao Yai is a perfect place to get a glimpse of real Thailand as you explore this quaint tropical paradise. Between the coconut palms and rubber plantations, you will find traditional fishing villages, authentic local restaurants, and plenty of white-sand beaches with barely a soul on them.
Koh Yao Yai offers you the perfect opportunity to stray from the well-trodden tourist trail and enjoy the laid-back vibe of traditional Thailand, as it was before mass tourism arrived.
How to Get to Koh Yao Yai
The good news is that Koh Yao Yai is pretty straightforward to get to. You can easily reach the island from either Phuket or the Krabi area by ferry. From either location, the mode of transport will be a speedboat ferry service.
If you are in Phuket and looking to escape the hustle and bustle for a more relaxing destination, head to Bang Rong Pier in the northeast of the island for departures operated by Koh Yao Sun Smile Speedboat.
Tigerline also operates speedboat transfers. The Tigerline service departs from a different ferry pier – Ao Por Pier, a short distance from Bang Rong Pier.
If you are on the other side of Phang-Nga Bay, in or around Krabi Town, there are also speedboat taxis to take you across the Andaman Sea to Koh Yao Yai. Tigerline also operates along this route. Their ferry service leaves Chao Fah Pier, in the center of Krabi Town.
Krabi Town is the administrative hub of Krabi province and is not the most popular destination in this area for tourists. Often, your hotel will be in Ao Nang, a few kilometers outside Krabi Town.
From Ao Nang, you can also jump on a Koh Yao Sun Smile Speedboat to head over to Koh Yao Yai. This service will usually also pick up guests from Railey Sunrise Beach (Eastern Beach) as it cruises past.
If you want to see how the locals get to Koh Yao Yai, take a long tail boat—Thailand’s traditional type of boat. There are public longtails running from Ao Thalane Pier, a thirty-minute journey north of Ao Nang by road.
The public longtail service takes around one hour for the crossing and should cost around 200 baht per person. If you take the longtail option, make sure you don’t get off accidentally hop off and visit Koh Yao Noi instead – ‘yai’ means ‘big in Thai, and ‘noi’ means ‘little.’
If you are in Koh Lanta or Phi Phi, the easiest way to get to Koh Yao Yai is to first head to Krabi Town or Ao Nang, and then join the ferry services outlined above. And of course, if you’re in Koh Yao Noi, then Ko Yao Yai makes a great day trip.
Koh Yao Yai Map
Getting Around Koh Yao Yai
The name ‘Koh Yao Yai’ translates as ‘Big Long Island’, but don’t worry, it’s relatively small and easy to get around the entire island.
Koh Yao Yai has mountains, beaches, the ocean, and rice fields for visitors to explore, and the easiest way to move freely around the island is to rent a scooter or a bicycle.
If you have never ridden a scooter before and are not comfortable doing so, there are also plenty of tuk-tuks and songthaews available to taxi you around the island.
If you are exploring the island with a rental scooter, please drive carefully, wear a helmet, and don’t forget to put sunscreen on your face and arms! You must also be a licensed motorcycle rider in your home country and carry an international driver’s license at all times.
And, depending on where you are from, remember that in Thailand you should drive on the left-hand side of the road.
When is the best time to visit Koh Yao Yai?
Whilst the weather on Koh Yao Yai is hot throughout the year, there are times when there will be more rainfall compared to other times.
The western coast of Thailand experiences its southwest monsoon between June and October each year. Whereas it’s true that there will be more rainfall at this time of year, flights and accommodation will be cheaper, and at this time of year, the beaches will be less crowded.
During the monsoon, it’s common to have bright sunshine and blue skies during the day, with the late afternoon heralding the start of the rain, which cools everything down for the evening.
Between November and May, Thailand’s weather is much more dependable, with January through to Songkran (Thai New Year on April 13th) being very hot and dry.
This time of the year will also see the calmest seas and better water visibility for anyone looking to enjoy some snorkeling or scuba diving in the area. Perfect water sports and beach weather!
The Beautiful Beaches of Koh Yao Yai
The coast of Koh Yao Yai is lined with idyllic beaches. Whilst you may be a little hard-pressed to find kilometers-long stretches of sand, as in Phuket, the smaller beaches here are more secluded and tranquil.
These tranquil beaches offer the perfect opportunity for topping up the tan, but if you’re planning on hitting the ocean for a swim, you may need to schedule your beach time to coincide with high tide, depending on which beach you choose.
If you are looking for a picture-perfect beach with swaying palm trees, head to Laem Haad, meaning “cape beach” in Thai. This idyllic beach at the end of a headland is arguably Koh Yao Yai’s most beautiful beach.
However, you should visit this beach at low tide. The falling waters as the tide recedes reveal a hidden sandbar, angling out towards Koh Yao Noi, a mere kilometer away.
Loh Jark Beach
Loh Jark Beach is another favorite on Koh Yao Yai. If you are craving some powdery-soft white sand, like all those idyllic images of Thailand that are everywhere, this is the beach for you.
If you want some peace and quiet on this beach, settle down in the sand away from the pier in the center of the beach. This west coast beach is also perfect for a sunset photo and is located towards the south of the island.
Loh Pared Beach
To the north of Loh Jark, you’ll find Loh Pared Beach, near the Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort & Spa.
If you are looking to spoil yourself, this is an excellent resort, conveniently located on this stunning west-facing beach.
Loh Pared is an excellent swimming beach, and at low tide, the water is not as shallow as on some of the other beaches. It’s the most popular beach on the island.
Ao Muong Chan Beach
A short way to the south of Loh Jark is Ao Muong Chan Beach. If you want to enjoy this beach, you will need to stay at GLOW Elixir Resort, as it is a private beach for the guests of this fine resort.
The resort cleans the beach on a regular basis, and it’s a great spot for a sunset cocktail away from the madding crowds.
Son Bay Beach
Son Bay Beach is perfect for those looking for a quiet little bay to enjoy the sun. This bay is a twenty-minute scooter ride to the north of Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort & Spa.
It’s very peaceful here, and there’s a great restaurant for a spot of authentic Thai lunch—Sea Breeze Restaurant.
If you’re not too keen on spicy Thai food, just remember to ask the wait staff to prepare your food ‘mai pet’, which means ‘not spicy.’
Other Things to Do on Koh Yao Yai
Mangrove Forest Kayaking Tour
The eastern coast of Koh Yao Yai has areas covered in mangrove forests. Mangroves serve as the nurseries of the oceans, where juvenile tropical fish start their lives under the protection of mangrove roots.
A great way to get close to Thailand’s exotic wildlife is to join a Mangrove Forest Kayaking Tour, such as the one offered by Koh Yao Village Beach Resort. Their two-hour tours include transfers, fruit, drinking water, and an English-speaking guide.
Kayak and Camp at Koh Nok
This tiny deserted island is accessible when the tide is low enough by a sandbank that connects it to Ko Yao Yai. Otherwise, you can kayak or take a boat.
There is a sandy spit that you can swim from, but the tide can be strong at times. These kinds of tiny uninhabited islands are part of the magic of Thailand.
Of course, Koh Nok is not a hidden gem – lots of tour boats stop here for lunch during high season, but when they’ve gone for the day, you are alone with only the sound of the sea for company!
Book a spa day
If paddling through the mangroves sounds a little too energetic for you, why not pamper yourself with spa treatments? This island offers lots of pampering options!
Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort & Spa is one option for pampering. Their Ayurvana Spa offers an array of treatments, including body wraps and scrubs. They also have a massage center set up on the beach for perfect views as you relax. Koh Yao Yai Village House of Therapies (above) also offers rejuvenating spa treatments and massages by the water.
Learn to scuba dive
Ocean lovers may fancy taking a glimpse below the waves. Elixir Divers can help you out.
Whether you have a certification already or want to try scuba diving for the first time, they can help you out. Situated a little inland from Loh Jark Beach, they offer trips to local dive and snorkel sites to show you the underwater beauty of the region.
Na yone rice farming
For those who visit during the low season, you can try a pretty unique activity—na yone rice farming.
On Koh Yao Yai, one of the methods of rice farming employed by the locals is referred to as na yone, as the rice saplings are tossed onto the plowed soil, rather than carefully planted rice paddies, as is more common.
This one-hour workshop costs 70 baht and will also cover the preparation of the saplings before they are thrown onto the prepared soil.
Take an Island ATV Tour
If you fancy kick-starting your adrenal glands after a couple of days on this relaxing island, why not try an ATV tour? This is the best way to get off the beaten path.
A guided half-day tour will have you speeding and bouncing through rubber and coconut plantations, and past villages, and may even reveal a hidden beach tucked away from unknowing eyes.
Visit Dr. Saad a near-blind masseur
Got a few aches and pains from the rigors of exploring the island? Why not head to see Dr. Saad? Dr. Saad is a near-blind masseur and refers to himself as a ‘medical masseur.’
Touted as a miracle worker, his massages are infamous on the island, and a trip here will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Visit Laem Haad Viewpoint
Need a stunning panorama to bring your social media feed to life? Then you should head to the viewpoint, a ten-minute scooter ride to the south of Laem Haad.
This viewpoint on the island’s east coast offers some excellent views across Phang-Na Bay to Koh Yao Noi and over to the mainland.
On your way to or from the viewpoint, stop for a coffee at Chada Cafe. Especially if you have been out exploring the island in the heat of the midday sun, this coffee shop with air conditioning is a delightful respite from the heat.
Order an iced coffee and cool down whilst having a chat with locals and other tourists to find out where to explore next.
Where to Stay on Koh Yao Yai
This island is not like the large islands where there are thousands of hotel options. The accommodation is clustered around the northeast and the southwestern coastline.
There are a few lovely 4-star resorts, some charming bungalows, and a few ‘mountainside’ villas and bungalows.
Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort and Spa
Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort and Spa is a gorgeous property that sits between Baan Larm Yai Pier and Lho Pared Beach.
You can dine at the Titan Grill beachside, there are several other restaurants, pools, concierge services, and rooms with breathtaking views.
Koh Yao Yai Village Resort
On the east side of the island, this highly rated accommodation has a pool and a poolside bar that is the stuff of every tropical holiday fantasy. It has its own 400-meter-long private beach.
The rooms are air-conditioned private bungalows designed on a “semi-open” concept.
Koh Yao Modern Inn
Also on the east coast, this is a highly reviewed three-star property with modern, clean, individual bungalows.
Green Mountain Resort Koh Yao
With a garden terrace, amongst the lush vegetation but close to beaches, this three-star property offers modern, clean, cozy individual bungalows.
Our Final Thoughts…
This beautiful and serene island still offers visitors a glimpse of traditional Thai life. This tranquil island should be explored if you are in the region before mass tourism turns up to replace some of the views with big resorts.
Few unspoiled Thai islands remain, but Koh Yao Yai retains its natural beauty and charm. Spend a week or two here to refresh the soul, or add it to your island-hopping itinerary from Phuket,
It’s perfect for a couple of nights if you have been over-indulging in Phuket or Ao Nang, or for a romantic, peaceful getaway close to nature.
About the author: Richard (Rich) Reardon is a freelance writer and scuba diving instructor from England and now lives in Southern Thailand. “I have spent the last twenty years travelling and working throughout South East Asia. For around half of that time, I’ve been based in Thailand. Thailand stole my heart, and I hope my writing will encourage you to find out why!”