A Guide to Visiting the Lesser-Known Koh Yao Yai 

A Guide to Visiting the Lesser-Known Koh Yao Yai 
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Koh Yao Yai is one of Thailand’s most peaceful and beautiful islands. Surrounded by the Andaman Sea, this serene island is known for its unspoiled beauty and tranquillity. If you’re looking to escape the crowds in Thailand, Koh Yao Yai offers a relaxing atmosphere in a stunning setting.

Koh Yao Yai was the last island I visited on my trip to Thailand. I’d been in the country for over a month at this point and I was keen to see a quieter side to the country. Thailand is beautiful, that’s no lie, and I enjoyed my time there. However, I went during the peak season and the country was packed. It felt like there was no escape from the crowds.

I had one week left in Thailand and I wanted to see its true beauty without the chaos. Thankfully, Koh Yao Yai was the answer.

Koh Yao Yai in Thailand
Koh Yao Yai Views

In this post, I’ve shared everything you need to know about visiting Koh Yao Yai, a true hidden gem in Thailand.

About Koh Yao Yai

Koh Yao Yai means ‘big long island’. It’s a stunning island paradise right in the Andaman Sea. The island is so close to the popular destination of Phuket, I can’t believe more people don’t visit here. Koh Yao Yai is right next door to its sister island, Koh Yao Noi. This island is known as “small long island”. The two islands are so close it feels like you can walk there during low tide. A day trip between the two is also possible.

Koh Yao Yai’s population is 95% Muslim. The locals work hard to stop it from becoming another party island, so you’ll find it has a completely different atmosphere to other islands in Thailand. There are a few restaurants which are mainly kitchens in people’s houses and gardens, there’s the odd bar and absolutely no nightlife.

This makes it a unique place to visit in Thailand and gives you the chance to see Thailand’s true beauty without the commercialisation. A short drive around the entire island gave me more insight into local Thai life than my entire month in Thailand beforehand. 

Koh Yao Yai - Laem Haad Beach
Laem Haad Beach

If you want to experience a more authentic side of Thailand, Koh Yao Yai is the perfect option. It’s easy to get to, there are ample accommodation options, but not many people visit there at all.

For another peaceful option that’s off the beaten path in Thailand, consider a visit to Koh Phayam.

How do you get to Koh Yao Yai?

Getting to Koh Yao Yai is incredibly easy considering how few people seem to know about it.

To get to Koh Yao Yai, you’ll need to take a 30-minute speed boat from Phuket. The boat goes from Bang Rong Pier. In the peak season, this cost 400 baht (12 USD) each way. It’s easy to get a taxi to Bang Rong Pier. I had previously come from Khao Lak and the total journey took about four hours.

There are a couple of operators which take passengers between Phuket and Koh Yao Yai. You can book your ferry tickets through 12Go.

There are two piers in Koh Yao Yai which are Klong Hia Pier and Chong Lard Pier. The latter, Chong Lard, seemed to be the pain pier with scooters to hire on arrival. I’d advise getting the boat from Phuket to here.

If you’re spending time in the popular Phuket before to after, here’s a great guide to visiting Phuket on a budget.

How long to spend in Koh Yao Yai?

How long you want to spend in Koh Yao Yai depends on what you want to do. You can easily see the island in an entire day, but it’s the perfect place to slow down for a few days and embrace that island life.

I stayed for four nights which was more than enough time to see everything (and visit Koh Yao Noi), but could have easily spent longer there. 

If you want to make the most of seeing a slightly more authentic side to Thailand, I’d suggest spending at least three days there. It’s an easy place to relax.

It would be possible to see Koh Yao Yai as a day trip from Phuket, but it would be very rushed so it’s not something I would recommend.

How to get around Koh Yao Yai

There really is only one way to get around the island – a motorbike or scooter. There are a few taxis but they’re very expensive and difficult to find. As soon as you arrive on the island, there will be people waiting to rent you a bike. Nearly all the accommodations offer bike rentals too.

I hired a scooter to get around, and it was a great way to explore the island at my own pace. Most of the restaurants are quite spread out so without a bike, you might struggle. It was the first time I had ever driven a scooter so I was very nervous, but it was absolutely fine. The roads are in good condition and easy to drive on.

I did see the odd person with regular pedal bikes so this is an option too. There are a lot of hills though and it can get very hot. 

When is the best time of year to visit?

As with most of the Thai islands, the best time of year to visit is from December to April when there is very little rain and almost guaranteed sunshine.

One thing to note is that the population of Koh Yao Yai is 95% Muslim. I visited during Ramadan which meant a few of the restaurants weren’t serving food during the day.

Koh Yao Yai or Koh Yao Noi?

Koh Yao Yai is right next to Koh Yao Noi, another small island off the beaten path.

I had researched both islands and it took me a while to decide which to visit. Both looked equally as stunning and what I was looking for. In the end, I opted for Koh Yao Yai as it seemed just that little bit more unexplored.

I visited Koh Yao Noi as a day trip and honestly, I don’t think there’s a massive difference between the two. Both have unspoiled beaches with gorgeous views, both offer you that laid-back life and both offer similar accommodation options.

However, Koh Yao Noi does have slightly more going on. There are a few more bars on the island with a bit more nightlife. If you want somewhere with a bit more life, consider Koh Yao Noi.

If you’re looking for another idyllic and peaceful spot in Thailand, consider Koh Kood.

How to get between Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi?

Travelling between the two islands is really simple. You’ll need to go to the main piers on either island; for Yao Yai this is Chong Lard Pier and Yao Noi it’s Manoh Pier. There are long-tail boat drivers there who can take you between the islands. It cost 50baht per person (March 23) and takes just five minutes. The boats stop at around 6 pm so make sure you’re back in time. 

Things to do in Koh Yao Yai

If you’re looking for endless activities to do then you’re looking in the wrong place. Most people come to Koh Yao Yai to relax and explore at their own pace.

There are a few things that are a must do in Koh Yao Yai.

Hire a scooter and explore the island 
Hiring a scooter is the best way to explore the island. Koh Yao Yai’s coastline is home to some gorgeous beaches. There’s also several viewpoints inland. The island is very unexplored, so a lot of these places don’t even have names or appear on Google Maps. The best thing to do is hire a bike, follow the main road around the entire island and see where it takes you.

Relax on a beach 
It sounds obvious but if you’re coming to Koh Yao Yai it’s likely you’ll want to relax at least a little. Yao Yai has some stunning beaches so is perfect for lounging around and relaxing. Having said that, the tide here is very extreme and at low tide, the water goes very far out making it difficult to swim. 

Our favourite beach was Son Bay. We went at high tide and it really was beautiful with barely any other people. 

Visit Laem Haad Beach at low tide
Laem Haad Beach is one of the best beaches in Thailand. Also known as “sandbank beach”, this beach is magical when the tide goes out. As the water disappears, Laem Haad Beach turns into one giant long sand bar.

You can walk out onto this and look back at the island. I went as the sun was starting to set and it was so beautiful. Just watch out for those giant crabs. 

Boat trips
Koh Yao Yai is right next door to the popular tourist spots – it’s a great place to hop on a boat trip if you haven’t already. It’s possible to do day trips to many of the islands near Phuket.

I saw a couple of operators advertising the Phi Phi Four Island trip. You could also do a tour to Phang-Nga Bay where the famous Bond Island is located. Prices seemed a little higher here than elsewhere, but I imagine the boats are less busy.

Mangrove Kayaking 
The south of Koh Yao Yai is home to a mangrove forest and there are opportunities to kayak here. You can see wildlife including monkeys as a guide shows you around the streams. You can book this through your accommodation. 

Visit Koh Yao Noi
Koh Yao Noi is right next to Koh Yao Yai. I went over for the day and hired a scooter to get around. There are a few bars and restaurants as well as beautiful beaches and lots to explore. It’s a beautiful island and a fun day trip.

Where to stay in Koh Yao Yai 

Despite the island being slightly off the beaten path, there is plenty of accommodation in Koh Yao Yai. I wouldn’t say there is a specific area to stay in as such as everything is so spread out, but the few resort-style hotels seemed to be on the west side. 

Koh Yao Yai is the perfect destination in Thailand to splurge a little. Your money goes a lot further in Koh Yao Yai so if you’re a budget backpacker like me, this is the place to treat yourself.

Once of the nicest resorts in Koh Yao Yai is Anantara Koh Yao Yai Resort & Villas. There is a range of accommodation on offer including luxury villas with private pools.

I stayed on the east side at Hillside Resort, a lovely hotel for those with mid-range budgets. It was the end of my trip in Thailand and there were three of us so we decided to splurge a little. We paid £50 a night for a room with a private pool and sea view which really isn’t bad. 

Hillside Resort in Koh Yao Yai
Hillside Resort in Koh Yao Yai

There several budget options including hostels in Koh Yao Yai. Backpack Hostel KohYaoYai is one of the most popular hostels

Best restaurants in Koh Yao Yai 

There are plenty of restaurants serving delicious Thai food on the island. If you’re after western, some of the restaurants serve sandwiches or pizzas, but Thai food is the main option.

One of the best restaurants in Koh Yao Yai is Seaside Resort. This is a lovely setting on the beach. You’ll need to walk down quite a few steps to get there. It served authentic Thai food and it was certainly some of the nicer food I had on my trip. It is a little bit pricier than some of the other places but it was worth it. 

Chaba is another great option for eating in Koh Yao Yai. I ended up here twice as it was close to where I was staying. It’s reasonably priced and the food was delicious. 

Krouw Baanrow is another option for authentic Thai food. They also do delicious smoothies. If you’re a coffee lover, head to Chada Coffee for your coffee fix.

Check out my guide to Khao Lak, another stunning destination near Phuket.

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