For decades the main epicentre of southern Thailand’s popularity for travellers, from the budget to the discerning, have been island destinations such as Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi and recently Khao Lak with its sandy shores. The tranquil beauty of the Andaman coastline and the Phang Nga Bay area are examples of their strong pull in drawing repeat visitors. Away from the shores and islands there is an almost unsaturated level of travel opportunities and activities, which fuels the wanderlust for renewed visits for passionate Thailand junkies.
Nestled comfortably north of Phi Phi Islands and slightly away from the aquatic paths the two main islands that form Koh Yao have managed to stay off the spotlight, remaining quiet and serene. It is as if the islands want to be forgotten. With this thought in mind I head out to Koh Yao Noi, the smaller of the two islands, to find out more about this idyllic isle.
Koh Yao Noi is only an hour by speedboat from Phuket or Krabi. A primarily Muslim enclave of Koh Yao Noi, it is an extension of a self-sustainable economy instigated by the Thai Royal Family.
The island is a serene haven for rest-seekers who may find themselves lost along the pristine shores of its eastern and western coastline. The inner sanctum is a wonderful mix of dense jungle landscape, a small farmer’s house inside a large plantation and a few unpaved roads meandering through the landscape. A place where there are more yoga centres and meditation retreats than 7-Elevens, and where the sands of time move at a rather slow pace. For me, Koh Yao Noi is the quintessential blissful island retreat.
I opt to stay at the secluded Paradise Koh Yao, situated in the north of the island. I am drawn by its location – magnificent mountain ranges on the left, right and behind the 70+ key (and counting) resort, as well as the ubiquitous limestone cliffs towering straight up in front of you when looking seawards. The resort is a magnificent example of a more barefoot luxury concept – freshly looking, nature-based rooms: some with pool, others with great views across the Bay.
Paradise Koh Yao’s stunning location comes, of course, with its operational challenges. Rough seas may see the smaller boat transfers cancelled. For travellers catching flights to onward destinations the overland transfer to the main ferry pier in the deep south of the island may find them moving in pick-up trucks over and through mud paths, deep holes and navigating unpaved sections towards its main road – providing a touch of adventure to an otherwise restful holiday.
In true island style, local officials are also taking it slow by placing concrete slabs from and to the main road. Rationale is, as there is no haste on the island why follow the usual path? There is no denying that once you get into the groove of chilling Koh Yao style, you tend to follow the no hurry way of the island.
The owners of Paradise Koh Yao have also embraced the blending-with-nature concept in the neighbouring Treehouse Villas Koh Yao Noi – another example of their endeavours to stay true to this philosophy. An out-of-this-world experience where child dreams of living, bathing and chilling in tree houses are realised, but only with a plethora of amenities that even makes demanding travellers grin and slow down without hesitation.
It is not surprising to find that the five star hotel and resort chain, Six Senses, has a presence on Koh Yao Noi. The properties in this luxury hospitality group are synonymous with a unique style – authentic, personal and sustainable – that match the island’s isolation away from their more activity-oriented counterparts. Don’t expect large-scale resorts dotting the green coastline; instead the villas are fairly small scale in line with the group’s philosophy that you unwind and forget what lies on the other side of the Phang Nga Bay waters.
Koh Yao Noi is not for everyone although it is a big draw for beach combers seeking new ways to satisfy their thirst for sun, sea and sand in the Kingdom. It may not have all the facilities that other island destinations offer; example, dining and wining are only primarily at your resort with tour options also organised from the resort – with quality guaranteed – and all delivered in a more personalised and intimate way. Biking and hiking in the inland areas crossing muddy roads is a true adventure, giving you the feeling that you are all alone on this charming island.
With the fabled islands off the Krabi coastline a short boat ride away, even these must-do’s are tackled with being on your own – the activity team behind Paradise Koh Yao knows exactly where not to go and meet fellow Thailand travellers. The values of seclusion on your holiday has proven to even go this far.
As I make my way back to the mainland after spending four nights on Koh Yao Noi, I realise this island paradise has a yearning to be forgotten. Despite developments of new projects to feed the traveller’s appetite for nature-based holidays, the residents are happy with their laid-back lifestyle void of stress, nightlife, Seven-Elevens and fast food joints. When the island is forgotten it can hold on to its traditions, its values and stay away from its bigger tourism brothers and sisters.
For a disconnection from the world and be away from the maddening crowd for a few days or weeks without losing the comfort of what modern travel has to offer, Koh Yao Noi fits the bill on every level.
By Niels Steeman – Group Director Marketing and E-Commerce