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Koh Yao Yai

Guide to Koh Yao Yai: where to stay and what to do

Discover Thailand's best-kept secret in picturesque Phang Nga Bay

Dewi Nurjuwita
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Dewi Nurjuwita
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The beautiful Phang Nga Bay is one of Thailand’s most iconic landscapes, often found splashed on postcards and tourism posters. It even served as the backdrop of Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun. It’s a sight to behold, with emerald green waters sprinkled with sheer limestone karsts – and beyond the surface, vibrant marine ecosystems are just a dive away. You’ve probably heard of its more popular islands, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Samui, but in the middle of the bay lies Koh Yao Yai, an underrated spot slowly stepping out of the shadows of its neighbours. Here’s why you should visit.

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How to get there

Photo by: Ang Tuan Kiat

Singapore Airlines operates direct flights to Phuket, starting from $201. From Phuket, take a taxi to Bang Rong Pier, a 30-minute drive from Phuket Airport. Catch a shared speed boat to Klong Hia Pier in Koh Yao Yai. The boat ride takes 40 minutes and costs approximately $18.

Things to do

Off the beaten track

Off the beaten track

If you’re looking for a peaceful retreat, Koh Yao Yai is the quieter of the two. The sleepy island is still relatively undeveloped; you won’t find any chain establishments here, save for a 7-Eleven closer to the pier. Wander around and you’ll find that it’s lined with quiet stretches of coastlines, thick mangrove forests, rubber and coconut plantations, and quaint villages that give an insight into the real Thailand. Time seems to stop here. You’ll meet locals who are warm and welcoming, smiling genuinely at you even though they barely speak a word of English.

Village life

Village life

The best way to explore the island is to hire a scooter and cruise around. The roads are newly paved with barely any traffic, so it’s easy to navigate. Village life and local Muslim culture is still dominant here. Five times a day, the call to prayer echoes from the mosques dotted around the island. As a sign of respect, be sure to dress appropriately. A rule of thumb: your swimwear’s best saved for the beach or resort swimming pools and have a cover-up ready for when you’re out of the water.

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Secret bays

Secret bays

Lined with many white-sand beaches, such as the popular Laem Had and Ao Muong beaches, Koh Yao Yai’s coast is ideal for a scenic stroll at sunset. If you’re lucky, you’ll chance upon secret sheltered bays with no one around but local children swimming in the sea and fishermen bringing in their catch of the day.

Dive deep

Dive deep

There’s no better way to explore the emerald bay than by kayak, as you admire the sheer cliffs rising from the sea and discover hongs (hidden lagoons) at their centres. Phang Nga Bay is also home to world-famous diving sites like Shark Point, Anemone Reef and the King Cruiser Wreck. Dive in and immerse yourself in the private world under the crystal clear waters of the Andaman Sea – with colourful reefs and thriving marine life. Check out Elixir Divers (elixirdivers.com), which has one of the closest dive centres located just 20 minutes away from popular diving sites.

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For seafood lovers

For seafood lovers

On Koh Yao Yai, seafood reigns. You’ll find family-run restaurants serving up fresh seafood straight from the fishing villages, alongside familiar Thai dishes like green curry, pad thai, and tom yum goong. Chill Chill @ Pai (78/5 Moo 4) is an intimate eatery located on the main thoroughfare. The menu is extensive and affordable, with highlights that include the Penang curry and prawns in tamarind or garlic. If you have specific dietary requirements, the kitchen can cater to your needs, like substituting meat with tofu for vegans. Another restaurant to visit is Baan Rim Nam (K23/3 Moo 1), conveniently located next to Klong Hia Pier. Most come for the view (it looks out to lobster farms in the horizon) and stay for the food.

When the sun goes down
Photo by: Santhiya Koh Yao Yai

When the sun goes down

Koh Yao Yai sunsets are breathtaking, characterised by warm hues of orange and pink against Phang Nga Bay’s famous landscapes. Don’t miss happy hour where you can watch the sun go down as you sip on a refreshing cocktail or an ice-cold Leo beer. By the Sea (Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort & Spa, 88 Moo 7) is an upscale beachfront bar with a swinging live band and a fabulous selection of cocktails, beers and bar bites.

Where to stay

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