Thailand has always been a top Southeast Asian destination. Bangkok, Phuket, and some of the more well-known islands are popular among tourists, because the cost of enjoying all Thailand has to offer is friendly on our foreign pockets. I went for the first time, and we decided to spend a few days on a lesser known island, Koh Yao Noi, and had an incredible time.
Koh Yao Noi is a half hour speedboat ride from Phuket. It's a small friendly island, and mostly Muslim, therefore quieter, because those who come to Thailand to party will find that alcohol is scarce and everything closes by around 9pm. However, while it is still somewhat under the radar, it's just over the radar enough to warrant a minimum $785/night luxury resort. The beaches are rocky, the water warm, and the people warm as the tides that bring the boats in.
My husband and I went with another pair of friends, and we rented an Airbnb. for four nights and five days, and our stay was full of ocean swimming, scootering around the island, Thai iced teas, and mango shakes. So, let me give you a full review with tips should you ever find yourself looking for a little island vacation in Thailand.
When you arrive in Phuket, you'll need to take a taxi to the dock that will take you to the island. Be sure to barter your taxi fee. They initially tried to tell us it would cost us 1200 Baht ($36 USD). They even showed us a map with all the "standard" rates depending on the area you were headed. Thankfully, this was not our friends' first rodeo in Thailand so they knew not to let that fly. We eventually got them to flip the page to their "locals" rates page, and it was half of that. So, barter your taxi rides. We were told to barter everything in Thailand, but I have to say that there was only one other time this worked and it was while we were buying some clothes.
Next we got to the dock where we were to pick up the speed boat that would take us to the island. We tried bartering there, but that did not work. The price per person is 300 Baht ($9). They did have a local price, but they wouldn't give us that. The local price is 200 Baht.
Once you get to Koh Yao Noi, you'll need to take a "taxi" to your location. Our Airbnb arranged this for us, and I believe it is likely that wherever you stay, they will also arrange this for you, because the taxi is more like a little truck and it carries about ten people. So, we rode with other passengers and the taxi dropped each of us at our destinations.
To get around the island, I highly recommend renting a scooter--it's 300 Baht per day. It's too hot and humid to walk, and you can probably find another way to order another form of transportation, but there's not going to be any shared rides or taxis just waiting around. The easiest and funnest way to get around is a scooter. All the tourists rent them, and all the locals ride them. Trust me, it's so worth it. And for $9USD a day, it's super affordable.
As mentioned, we stayed in an Airbnb, and it was a gorgeous, open house. Literally, the only fully closed room was the one room with AC, which thankfully our friends let us stay in, because I'm terrified of and severely allergic to mosquito bites--and even that wasn't fully closed, but as a result of a need for upgraded maintenance. Our Airbnb cost $250USD/night, which was more than I expected in Thailand, but when you divide it up amongst four people or two couples, it was the more economic choice. The house was beautiful, had a great view, was in a great and convenient location, very clean, and came with daily cleaning. It also came with a welcome plate of fresh fruit. You do have to be one with nature though as there are geckos all over the walls, and they love waking you up at 6am with the strangest sound that they make. I didn't even realize what it was at first. Between the geckos and the variety of birds, every morning was like waking up in Cinderella. Oh, and let's not forget the monkeys. Whenever we went out, we had to make sure to close everything up, because otherwise the monkeys would come and eat or take our belongings.
There are other luxury hotels, like the one I mentioned earlier. Six Senses is BEAUTIFUL, and we went there for a drink. It's like a secluded paradise on the island and I can't imagine people leaving the resort. We were able to view one of the villas, a two bedroom villa with a private pool, equipped with AC, and just absolute island luxury. This villa was $1400 USD, and it was one hidden among trees, so I can't even imagine what one of the ocean front villas cost.
There are other hotels you could check out to, some maybe slightly more expensive than what we spent on our Airbnb, or much lower cost bungalows. I would recommend making sure you book a place with AC, especially if you're like me and severely allergic to mosquito bites. Also, while we went during the "dry season," it was still very hot and humid for those of us not used to that level of humidity.
The best meal we had was on the other side of the island, where it seemed more of the locals lived. It was called, "The Rest Calm." It was a traditional local and halal experience with a lovely view. We sat on the floor with these Thai triangular pillows for back support, and indulged in incredible Thai cuisine. Sort of similar to Ethiopian dining, everything was served on one large (and beautiful) plate, but in separate smaller dishes. Everything was so good. The greatest surprise was in the dessert we ordered. We ordered "Coconut Pudding," which turned out to be an entire experience. They brought over a large clay pot with burning charcoal inside to heat the pot. On top was like an aebelskiver dish, and in each pocket we poured coconut milk, mixed with rice flour, and then topped each with green onions and corn. We cooked them for about 10-15minutes, and I had never had anything like it. It was delicious and so fun to make. If you ever find yourself on this island, I highly recommend taking a scooter and finding this little restaurant. You have to walk down the dock to find it, and you can watch the tide drift away. When we started our meal, the water was up and reached the edge of the island. By the time we were done, the tide was so far gone.
Believe it or not, our second best meal was at an Italian restaurant, run by an expat-Italian, called Pizzeria La Luna. The pizza was so good, and the restaurant had a lovely ambiance. We went in the evening, and while they had fans and I wore long loose pants under my long dress, I still got bit by a mosquito. They even keep bug spray on the table with the other condiments.
Our daily go to, was the Green Coffee Shop that everyone seemed to go to, but it was never overcrowded. It was like a little restaurant/mini-mart, where, in addition to a good meal, you could get some snacks, eggs, fresh fruit, and other basic needs. The food was great--they serve Thai and western foods--and every morning I enjoyed a mango shake. The store is run by Mrs. Doh, who also happened to be the local manager of our Airbnb, and was a former sous-chef. Her coffee shop was just down the hill from our house, and it lies just in front of a lovely beach and right next to a great place for Thai massages. There's even wifi so you can upload all your necessary social posts. You can also get a few selections of alcohol there.
Now, what I know you all want to know is how the beaches are. The water, as mentioned is warm and great for swimming in. It's not the clearest water I've seen, but it's nice. The interesting thing was that each beach felt slightly different. Some waters were a little cooler, and one beach we went to was constantly alternating between warm and cool. It was strange. Overall though, even when I say cool, it was still like swimming in a nice bath.
The sand was not my favorite--it was rockier than I liked--maybe not as bad as many of the beaches in New Zealand, but it's not like the soft smooth sand I'm used to and prefer. And even when you're in the water, you need to be careful, because sometimes you step on sharp objects. On one of the beaches we visited on another nearby island, we wore our flip flops into the water, because otherwise it was too rocky for us. So, I might recommend investing in some swim shoes to protect your feet on certain beaches.
Also, while probably most people are fine with this, I'm a little weird and less one with nature, so for me, there was a bit too much "nature" on the beaches--too many leaves and such. It makes me uncomfortable, because I just think of all the little bugs that are around. On the beach across from Green Coffee Shop, there were a lot of red ants. There seem to be a lot of red ants on that island, so also beware, because they do bite.
So, Koh Yao Noi has nice beaches, but I wouldn't say it was my favorite. It is nice to be able to just swim and float in the ocean though.
Other TIPS & Recommendations
ISLAND HOPPING: Other than going to the beach, there isn't so much to do on the island, but one thing I recommend is an island hopping tour. We did one and it was so fun. By the end of the tour you get a little beached out, because it's basically just visiting a bunch of slightly different beaches. However, we did some snorkeling and kayaking, and hung out in an awesome lagoon.
Just be careful when snorkeling. On other beaches we saw jellyfish, but they were large and visible. Where we went snorkeling, we were not warned of jellyfish, and were all stung. It wasn't horrible, because the jellyfish were so small we didn't realize they were there. The funny part was we got to a point where all of us started to feel the sting and that's when we decided we had had enough snorkeling. Our boat guides, gave us all vinegar to pour on our wounds, so all was fine. While we were in the water, they also threw fruit into the water near us while we snorkeled so that the fish would come to us. That and kayaking into the lagoon were the highlights of island hopping. I had never been to a lagoon, and the lagoon was incredible. The water was also very warm, but it was so shallow you could walk across the entire lagoon.
BRING CASH: Bring cash with you, because other than the 7-Eleven, there aren't many places, if any, that take cash. If you do wind up needing more cash, the local ATMs didn't work for us, but there are ATMs outside the 7-Eleven that did work. It really depend on how much you think you'll do or buy, but we brought roughly $250-$300 USD for two people.
7-ELEVEN: 7-Eleven is the only sign of a commercial existence on Koh Yao Noi. If you're staying in an AirBnb and would like to get some groceries, this is where you'd get it, except for fresh produce. There are good snacks and a larger variety than what you'll find at Green Coffee Shop, One night, we decided to stay in so we cooked up some noodle soup packages that we got at 7-Eleven, and they were really good. 7-Eleven in Asia is great. Another night, I decided to stay in because I couldn't bare the mosquitoes anymore, and I picked up a 7-Eleven brand cup of noodles--green curry flavor--and it was delicious.
GET A MASSAGE: I have always loved a good massage, but I didn't know what I was missing out on not ever having had a Thai massage. Now, I know some of you will read this and automatically think or wonder about "happy ending" massages, but this is not what I am referring to. What I like about Thai massages as opposed to Swedish, or Deep Tissue, is that I find them more thorough and effective. There are numerous options on the island, but the one close to where we were staying is right next to Green Coffee Shop, called JJ Queen. You can get a foot massage, and/or mani pedi out on the front porch and enjoy a gorgeous ocean view while you relax and get pampered. I enjoyed a half hour foot massage for 225 Baht ($6,75 USD), and returned on another day for a full body Aloe Vera massage for 500 Baht ($15 USD). The Aloe Vera massage was a Thai massage using Aloe Vera. I thought that would be good for all the sun exposure my skin had had. I think if I had planned better or if we had spent more time on the island, I would have done a different treatment each day. Check out their menu here. The ambiance of this massage parlor was very nice, clean, and relaxing. Each table is separated merely by a curtain, so it's not as private as you may be used to, but you'll soon forget that. They also offer you a coconut tea at the end, which I didn't love, but if you know me, tea is always a nice touch. We weren't sure if this was necessary or not, but we did tip them (I think) 50 Baht each.
SHOES OFF: Most everywhere you go, you'll need to take your shoes off before entering an establishment. I'm not sure if this is the case across Thailand, or just because this is a mostly Muslim island, but I quite like this custom. It keeps every thing clean. No shoes, no shirt, no problem!
BRING MOSQUITO REPELLENT: We visited the island during "dry season," but trust me--there were still plenty of mosquitoes. If you want to refrain from DEET, try Tiger Balm's bug spray. I picked some up in Singapore, and not only did I enjoy the scent, but I think it did help. I was only bit twice instead of twenty times.
For a relaxing and fun island vacation in Thailand, I recommend Koh Yao Noi. You really get the sense of a chill and content lifestyle out there.
Have you been to Koh Yao Noi? Share your tips and recommendations!