Koh Yao Yai literally means ‘long and large island’, and indeed it is one of the largest in Thailand, with a length of about 30 km. It is only 20 minutes from Phuket and 15 from Krabi by boat, but despite its size and easy access, it is very little known among travelers. This has allowed it to remain barely developed, and to be one of those islands that still retains a rural Thai atmosphere, welcoming tourists without obsessively trying to get every last baht out of them. The island has only one 7 Eleven, which is not even in a tourist area but at a road junction, so it seems more designed for local people than tourists.
To give you an idea of the type of island we are talking about, let me explain a little anecdote. As soon as I arrived I wanted to rent a motorcycle. When I couldn’t find any tour agency, I simply asked a family that was in front yard of their house. One of the family members offered to use one of their motorcycles. When I thanked him and asked how much I should pay, he replied in Thai to give him whatever I wanted. We agreed on 250 THB per day. Just that easy.
Koh Yao Yai is located in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, right next to its little sister, Koh Yao Noi island. Koh Yao Noi is smaller and a bit more developed for tourism, but it also remains very little known and basically quiet.
Both islands have a local Muslim majority population, so it is common to see mosques along the road. Locals seem to appreciate the tranquility of island life without wanting to attract large masses of tourists, contrary to what happens in nearby Phuket, the most tourism-developed island in all of Thailand —although even in Phuket there are still many beaches which remain quiet practically throughout the year—.
Koh Yao Yai’s Beaches
The beaches in Koh Yao Yai are probably not as beautiful as those of Phuket, and definitely are far from the perfection of the Phi Phi islands, but still they are not bad at all. And you can always take day tours from Koh Yao Yai to Phi Phi or any other of the many islands in this area of the Andaman Sea.
However, there is a gorgeous beach on Koh Yao Yai that would be a proud contender for the cover of any travel magazine:
⛱️ The jewel in the crown: Laem Had Beach
When I got off the boat that took me to Leam Had it was about 9:30 in the morning, and unexpectedly I found myself completely alone. I had all that amazing beach just for myself. Soon a couple arrived, but during the long hour I was there no one else came. It was a real luxury to be able to enjoy such an incredible beach with hardly any tourists.
Laem Had is a long, unspoiled beach backlined by coconut palm trees, which northern tip merges into an incredible sandbar that penetrates the ocean and, at high tide, borders on perfection. The waters surrounding the sandbar are greenish rather than blue. Several movies and commercials have been shot there, as it is truly amazing. Later in the day you’ll usually find the odd boat with tourists from neighboring Koh Yao Noi, Phuket or even Krabi, but this beach is rarely crowded with tourists.
You can get there by land following a small dirt track, by motorcycle or on foot. Once at the beach there is a bar where you can have a beer or the water from a coconut freshly collected from the surrounding palm trees.
⛱️ Loh Pared Bay Beach
This is the main beach on the island, the most developed and where you’ll find more restaurants, hotels and shops, although you better don’t expect much.
The beach itself is long and pretty, probably second best after Laem Had.
This beach is home to the best and most famous hotel in the area, the luxurious Santhiya Koh Yao Yai, an amazing hotel that has some of the most impressive pool villas I’ve ever seen in Thailand.
⛱️ Son Bay Beach
It was the second beach I visited on the island, recommended by locals. The truth is that I was a bit disappointed, although it must be said that the tide was low when I visited, and these beaches change completely with the tide. In its favor, it is unspoilt and calm. I would definitely like to return at high tide.
Things to do in Koh Yao Yai
🛵 Explore the island by motorcycle
Koh Yao Yai has roads in good enough condition to rent a motorcycle and go exploring. From what I saw, the local driving style is not reckless —something rather uncommon in Thailand!—, and there are not many cars. A good and common option for tourist couples is to rent a motorcycle with a sidecar. Don’t forget to ask for a helmet at the rental shop, as they may not offer it to you at first. Always drive very carefully, as accidents in Thailand are very frequent.
If you rent a motorbike, you can tour the entire island and go from Laem Had to White Sands Beach in about half an hour. Renting a motorcycle costs between 200 and 300 THB/day.
🚤 Take boat tours to other islands
If you have several days and Koh Yao Yai feels too small, or you simply take the island as a base camp to explore the Andaman Sea, then in Koh Yao Yai you will find agencies that offer tours to nearby islands such as:
- Phi Phi: The Phi Phi Islands are the most famous in Thailand, and they are definitely worth a visit if you have enough time.
- Koh Yao Noi: Koh Yao Yai’s little sister does not have super paradisiacal beaches, but it is a pleasant island to rent a motorcycle and do some beach hopping.
- Hong Island: Probably another of the most beautiful islands in the country. Its outer beach is as spectacular as the small saltwater inland lake.
- Phang Nga Bay: A spectacular bay filled with limestone formations emerging from the sea. It also has some mangrove areas which are ideal for kayaking, as well as the famous Muslim floating village Koh Panyee.
- Boat tour in Koh Yao Yai: In the surroundings of Koh Yao Yai we find at least 3 islets with white sand and transparent waters, in the authentic Maldives style. They are called: Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nai and Khai Nai, but they are already quite exploited by tour operators.
Where to stay in Koh Yao Yai
Koh Yao Yai offers a wide choice of medium and high-end resorts. One that I liked among the cheaper ones was Betterview, a small resort with bungalows and a nice pool facing the sea.
If you are on a big budget, then you better check out Santhiya Koh Yao Yai.
There are many more hotels on the island, and you’ll find most of them on the Koh Yao Yai section of Booking.com
When to go to Koh Yao Yai
Like the entire southwestern Thailand, Koh Yao Yai basically has two seasons: the rainy season that runs from May to October, and the dry season from November to April. Weather-wise, the best months would be December and January. I was there at the end of October, and the weather used to be just perfect until mid-afternoon, when from 4:00 p.m. it sometimes it started to rain.
How to get to Koh Yao Yai
🚤 From Phuket: Once you land at Phuket airport, you must take a taxi to Bang Rong Pier. From there, in high season you have boats at: 8:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 5:40 p.m. (in the rainy season there may be less). They cost THB 300 per person. On Baolau you can book transfers from Phuket airport to Koh Yao Yai, or you can also just buy the ferry ticket.
🚤 From Krabi: Phuket is better connected to Koh Yao Yai than Krabi, so if you can choose, you’d better go from Phuket. That said, if you must go from Krabi you will have to make an intermediate stop in Koh Yao Noi. You have at least one daily boat departing from Ao Nang’s Nopparathara Pier at 11 am in high season (November to April). In theory, from another jetty in Krabi, Tha Len Pier, there are direct boats to Koh Yao Yai (at least in high season), but we have not been able to verify this. On Baolau they also offer transfers from Krabi to Koh Yao Yai.