Saving this little slice of unspoiled Thai island paradise was the perfect cherry on top of our island hopping April vacation.
When we arrived at Koh Yao Yai's main pier, I found myself a little confused. Where were all the ferries and speed boats? Where were the loud taxi drivers crowding you when you stepped on the island, wondering where you needed to go? Where were all the tourists, anxious and sweaty, desperate for a cold drink? There was one other speed boat docked at the pier, along with two songthaew (truck taxi) drivers waiting by their trucks, but that was it. You could actually hear the soft lapping of the waves on the pier's stilts— it was that quiet. A small family of three and another couple hopped off the boat with us and we were off to sort a ride to our accommodations.
From the pier, it was an easy 30-minute drive to our bungalow. My first impressions of Koh Yao Yai were of its simplicity and tranquility. The houses along the road were far apart from one another, and mixed— some were one-floor, colorful concrete homes while others were more traditional, built with beautiful dark wood on stilts, and often multiple stories tall. Regardless of the style, almost all of them were adorned with sea shell wind chimes, driftwood pieces, or cozy hammocks. The island vibe was real.
Unlike most of Thailand we've seen, Koh Yao Yai is predominately Thai-Muslim. Almost instantly, I felt the richness of the religion on this island, and it was beautiful. Girls in glittery head scarves playing along the side of the road, boys in small white hats helping their families sell fresh coconuts beachside, the lulling, somber tone of the call to prayer throughout the day. Sure, there are a few swanky resorts hidden away in little coves, but most of the island lives and breathes Thai-Muslim culture. It didn't exactly feel like a step back in time, but rather an overall sense of steady community. I hope it stays that way.
Because the tourism industry hasn't really made its mark here, there isn't a laundry list of things to do or places to see. Other than relaxing on a quiet beach, cruising the island on a motorbike, or taking a boat out to explore the surrounding islands, that's about all that makes the itinerary.
Our first afternoon on the island, we settled into our bungalow and took a short snooze. Around 5:30 that evening, we took a walk behind the bungalows and down a rocky path to the beach. The tide was low, giving way to the sea-worn rocks and muddy sands. A couple huddled near the shoreline, collecting and cleaning clams.
We made our way further down the beach, admiring the handful of longtail fishing boats parked ashore for the night. We greeted the three men who sat beside their boats, getting things ready for the day ahead. Before turning a corner into the next cove, something in the woods caught our eye. Standing on the wooden stilts was the haul of a beautiful hand-crafted wooden boat. It had a ways to go before it was ocean ready, but the craftsmanship was still breathtaking.
We made our way around the edge of the cove and admired the long stretch of beach on the other side— equally as rocky as the first, but much longer in length. There was a little more activity on this side of the beach, with a resort of beach bungalows right on the shoreline. It was still peaceful though, with maybe a handful of people sitting at the beach or around the resort's pool, awaiting the sunset.
After admiring the fiery orange glow of the setting sun, we decided to take the main road back to our bungalow instead of traversing back through the hilly wooden path. We stopped along the way at a restaurant we heard good things about, but after finding out they weren't serving food that night, we opted to walk back to our place for dinner.
Right next to our bungalow was a small restaurant, all managed and run by the same family who looked after our place. We were sweaty and hungry by the time we got back so we happily devoured our yellow chicken curry, sautéed vegetables, and shrimp tempura. Everything was fresh, tasty, and cooked perfectly.
The next day was spent in a typical island fashion— we cruised the narrow roads on a motorbike, relaxed on a sandy white beach with a coconut, and watched the sun set on the same "private" beach we discovered the night before. The highlight of the evening was enjoying a "catch of the day" on the balcony of our bungalow. The lovely family who owned our bungalow cooked us another delicious meal of barbecued fish, sautéed veggies, and steamed rice. It felt wonderful sharing a meal together under the blanket of the night sky.
The next morning, we took our time, enjoying a cup of coffee on the balcony and a tasty omelette made by our favorite hosts. Our bags were barely unpacked for our two-night stay, making for a quick and easy pack-up and send off. Then, it was off in a taxi to the main pier. Our next stop? Koh Yao Yai's neighboring island, Koh Yao Noi.
Unfortunately, within a couple days of our stay on Koh Yao Noi, Justin and I came down with dengue fever, so we didn't get to explore more much of the island. We hope to make it back there someday.
Until next time...