I write these lines from the top of a peak on Koh Phayam island. Unexpectedly, the unknown hotel we booked online turned out to have excellent views over the island and the surrounding sea. In just a few hours we’ll leave the island by boat to Ranong, a city in southwestern Thailand near Burma. Then we’ll have a last leg of 8-9h on a bus until we reach our home in Bangkok.
We came to spend the days around New Year in Koh Phayam, and to disconnect for a few days from the bustle of Bangkok. I loved my stay on this island, and it has instantly become one of my favorites in Thailand. So of course this pretty and quiet corner of the Andaman Sea is well worth an article on InThailand. There we go.
There are no ATMs, so it is important to carry enough cash for your entire stay. Believe it or not, 7 Elevens have not made it this far yet.
Koh Phayam is quite a small island, although not enough to explore on foot. The best way to move around is to rent a motorcycle for about THB 200-250 a day. On the island there are quite a few motorcycles but no cars, and its narrow road (if a strip of asphalt strip two meters wide can be called a road) does not allow you to drive much faster than 30 or 40 km/h. Better this way, so the island stays calmer. Definitely, Koh Phayam is a still little exploited island in which there are not even ATMs, so it is important to carry enough cash for your entire stay. Believe it or not, 7 Elevens have not made it this far yet.
The 3 main beaches of Koh Phayam
1) Ao Yai beach, the best to stay
It is one of the longest beaches I have ever seen on an island in Thailand, about 3 km long. It changes a lot depending on whether the tide is low or high, but in both situations is great. Although the water is not turquoise blue, the beach has a charm that is difficult to match, and continues to convey the feeling of being surrounded by nature in its purest form.
It is the liveliest beach in the island, although no place on Koh Phayam can be really defined as “lively”. It is also the most recommended area to stay. Being so long, it is ideal for practicing sand sports such as running, yoga, juggling -some resorts even have a slackline rope for balancing-, playing Frisbee, renting a kayak and whatever comes to your mind.
It is also one of the few beaches in Thailand that allows surfing or bodyboarding, and there are several shops that rent boards for 50 to 150 THB an hour. We had fun like children surfing one afternoon and bodyboarding the next, taking advantage of the fact that waves are usually not too large, so it is not necessary to be an expert to enjoy them. The best time is from 16:00until the sun goes down around 18:00: as this beach faces west, each evening brings a spectacular sunset.
It is also one of the few beaches in Thailand that allows surfing or bodyboarding, and there are several shops that rent boards for 50 to 150 THB an hour.
2) Buffalo Bay beach (Ao Khao Kwai), the quiet one
It is also very long, similar to Ao Yai, but with a beautiful crescent shape. A rocky section by the sea splits the bay in two, giving the feeling that this bay has two different beaches. Buffalo Bay is quieter than Ao Yai, and is therefore perfect for those looking for total tranquility, gently swinging in a good hammock under a palm tree. The colors of the water in Buffalo bay are bluer and prettier than those of Ao Yai, and it also has calmer waters. Still, I personally prefer Ao Yai. Buffalo Bay also changes dramatically based on the tides.
In Buffalo Bay you’ll find the surreal ‘Hippie Bar’, a wooden bar that looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie, in which we met what looked like a regular crowd of Thai hippies smoking pot and drinking beer.
3) Pier beach, point of arrival and departure
The third and last large beach in Kho Phayam is where the only pier on the island is located. The main town in Koh Phayam is there too, but it doesn’t have any particular interest for the traveler, other than being where most shops and services are located, and the most recommended place to rent a motorcycle on arrival. Pier beach is actually one of the worst on the island.
Koh Phayam has quite a few restaurants and bars where they tend to serve all kinds of food, from grilled meat and fish to highly elaborate vegetarian dishes. Most restaurants are either on Ao Yai beach or on the main road to that beach. I want to highlight Cha Chai Restaurant, a small roadside restaurant offering incredible breakfasts and vegetarian dishes. If you go, do not miss the cashew nut butter toast. Delicious!
Visiting Koh Chang Noi Island and Koh Kam Islet with Kai
On Buffalo Bay beach we got in touch with Kai, a sea gypsy (Chao Lei in Thai, an ethnic group of Thailand that lives on islands in the Andaman Sea) who offered us a tour to the neighboring island of Koh Chang Noi. Speaking in Thai (although he claims to speak some English) we agreed to pay him 2500 THB (4 people) to take us there. We met at 9:oo at the beach and jumped in his old boat to reach the main beach of Koh Chan Noi island, also called Ao Yai (big bay), in about 45 minutes.
Koh Chang Noi is a much calmer island than Koh Phayam, which is already laid-back, so you can imagine what depths of tranquility you can reach on Koh Chang Noi. There are not even motorcycles and, from what we saw, most of the few people staying there were tourists under a strict routine of smoking marijuana, eating, taking a nap… and repeating the same cycle over and over again!
Koh Chang Noi is a much quieter island than Koh Phayam, which is already laid-back, so you can imagine what depths of tranquility you can reach on Koh Chang Noi.
Personally, I prefer Koh Phayam since, in addition to being very little exploited, it offers more activities to do and has a bit of an atmosphere.
In Koh Chang Noi we walked from Ao Yai to Context beach, and then took the boat back to Ao Kiang beach, where we had lunch and played some ‘volleyball’ -or rather we did our best trying to-.
Since we liked Kai very much and enjoyed his company and services, we decided to hire him again next day to visit Koh Kham, an islet off Koh Phayam. It is quite a good tour if you have already visited the beaches of Koh Phayam and want to see something different. On that second day we also did some fishing from Kai’s boat. If you want to contact him you can call him, or ask your hostel to call him, since he only speaks Thai (although he assures that he also speaks some English), on 087 264 2423 (from a non-Thai phone number you should call +6687 264 2423).
Other tours and diving from Koh Phayam
Another boat tour that we didn’t take but must be very cool is Koh Surin island, although I don’t think Kai will go there since it is far away and his boat is too slow, you definitely need a speedboat for that. Good diving is also possible from Koh Phayam, and local agencies offer tours to the famous Richelieu Rock. Finally, it is also possible to do a day tour to Kawthaung, in neighboring Burma.
When to go to Koh Phayam, and how to get there
First you will have to get to Ranong city. From Bangkok, you can take an 8-9h bus from the Southern Bus Treminal station (Sai Tai bus terminal – phone 024347192), or you can fly with Nok Air for about € 30-75 each way. If you are in Khao Lak, Phuket or Surat Thani, you can take a direct bus to Ranong at their respective bus stations.
Once at Ranong station, you should take a songthaew to the pier for about THB 20-80. Once there, to get to Koh Phayam you can choose between taking a speedboat (350 THB, half an hour) or a slow ferry (200 THB, about 2 hours). There are about nine speedboat departures a day, from 9:50 to 17:00, while there’s only 2 ferries a day, at 9:30 and 14:00. Both speedbboats and ferries may only operate from November to May, or drastically reduce their schedules, since then rainy season begins and tourism drops sharply.
Accommodation in Koh Phayam
We booked online and stayed at Lamai Resort, a group of simple bungalows on top of a peak that offers very good views. They were fine: a clean and spacious room with a good mattress. They didn’t have hot water or air conditioning, but it wasn’t necessary either. As we visited during peak season (international New Year) and we didn’t book much in advance, there were not many options available. But we had the impression that even if you go without a booking it shouldn’t be difficult to find accommodation for 400-1000 THB on Ao Yai beach.
We saw that perhaps the most popular resort was the Bamboo Bungalows at Ao Yai. It is really worth staying on Ao Yai beach since, as I said, it is the one that offers the widest range of activities, restaurants and services, while remaining quiet and pleasant. If you want something even quieter, I recommend Phayam Cottage Resort in Buffalo Bay.
By the way, when passing through Ranong, if you have time to spare, make sure to visit the pleasant Raksa Warin hot springs, about 2-3 km outside the city. Some are free and others ask for a small entrance fee of only 40 THB. Besides relaxing and enjoying the place, we took the chance to take a shower before getting on the night bus back to Bangkok.
More pictures from our stay in Koh Phayam