Koh Yao Yai is one of our favorite places in Thailand. We discovered it a couple of years ago, and we go back every time we are in the country. It’s got long sandy beaches, gorgeous mangroves, green hills, cute monkeys, epic sunsets, and the warmest guests ever!
Koh Yao Yai Island is part of the Koh Yao Archipelago, made of two islands and several islets. It’s bigger than its sister to the north, Koh Yao Noi. That’s what the name means in Thai. The archipelago is near Phuket and Krabi. However, it’s completely different.
You won’t see big towers, urban centers, western chains, or malls here. The island is still underdeveloped, and that’s why we love it. In Koh Yao Yai, you get to experience the real Thailand, the one before tourism exploded. And you do it with class. Some of the best hotels in Thailand are in Koh Yao Yai.
How to Get to Koh Yao Yai
It’s very easy to go from Phuket to Koh Yao Yai. The island is 20 miles (30 km) miles east of Phuket. Therefore, to get there, you need to take a boat. Boats depart from Bang Rong Pier, on the eastern shore of Phuket Island. The port is 15 miles (23 km) north of Phuket city.
Transportation in Phuket is well organized and pretty standard. You should be able to hire a shared van to the port without a problem. Boats leave from 8 AM to 3 PM approximately. Be sure to ask your hotel for the exact times. These vary depending on the season and tide.
You can go directly from Phuket International Airport to Bang Rong Pier, some 10 miles (15 km) southeast. Ask at the airport for a shared van or hire a taxi. The journey to Koh Yao Yai takes 45 minutes and is incredible. You cross crystal blue waters and travel next to incredible karsts and isles.
Krabi is only 30 miles (50 km) east of Koh Yao Yai. Therefore, we strongly recommend going from Ao Nang to the Koh Yao Archipelago. It’s the easiest way to visit the less crowded and more authentic islands of Thailand. Boats depart from the Nopparat Thara Pier, 2 miles (3 km) east of Ao Nang Beach.
No matter where you are in Krabi, you can reach Nopparat Thara Pier in no time. There are direct boats to the pier from Railay and Krabi Town. You can take a shared van from Krabi town. The same boats that go to Koh Yao Yai go to Koh Yao Noi.
The journey takes some 45 minutes. Boats arrive at Chong Lard Pier, north of the island. From there you can take a taxi everywhere. However, the hotels we recommend offer complimentary pickup, so let them know in advance. You can go to Koh Yao Yai from Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi too.
Where to Stay on Koh Yao Yai
Loh Pared Beach
The best beach to stay in Koh Yao Yai is Loh Pared, on the island’s western coast. It’s approximately in the middle of the island. It’s one of the best beaches in Thailand to swim and for children. Killer sunsets are guaranteed. There are no rocks, and the floor is pure sand!
The best hotel in Loh Pared Beach is the Royal Yao Yai Island Beach Resort. The beachfront property is set in a huge garden with a massive pool in the center. Every room is big, plush, and comes with a big bathroom and a balcony. The service is warm and professional!
Another great choice is the Yao Yai Beach Resort, next door. The large villas are spread in a garden with tall trees. The best one has a private pool. There’s another pool and an onsite restaurant. It’s a quiet resort perfect for friends and couples.
South of Lam Haed Beach
We don’t recommend staying south of Lam Haed Beach. The views are gorgeous, and the area is very quiet. However, it’s not a proper beach. The water is too shallow, and the floor is mud. The only sandy part is next to the tip, in front of Koh Yao Noi.
That’s why we recommend staying in Koh Yao Yai Village. It’s the only one with a private beach. The big rooms and villas include a seating area. We loved the lush garden and the infinity pool. The onsite restaurant offers top-quality western and Thai food. Have your favorite cocktail while enjoying fantastic sunsets.
Another great option is Esmeralda View Resort. The beachfront property is great value for money. The simple yet comfortable bungalows are separate from each other. The best offer sea views. What sets it apart is the service. You will fall in love with your hosts.
Loh Had and Nearby Beaches
Loh Had Beach is on the western coast, south of Loh Pared. It’s an isolated area full of nature. The beaches are pretty, but some have stones in the sea. Probably the best beach is Ao Muong. The views are great, and there’s a cute local restaurant to refresh.
The best hotel in Loh Had and nearby beaches is the Elixir Koh Yao Yai. The fancy property features a fantastic pool and lots of nature. It’s the only one there, so you will always enjoy the sandy beach. You won’t get better villas at this price anywhere on the island.
If you are looking for clean and comfortable budget accommodation, book a bungalow at the Activities Resort. The property is in the middle of the jungle, some 8 minutes walking to the beach. There are hammocks, bikes for hire, and an onsite restaurant. The beds have mosquito nets!
Experience Thai Luxury
We believe Thailand has some of the best hotels in the world. In fact, nobody does luxury like the Thais. Koh Yao Yai has a hotel that’s in a class of its own. We are talking about the one and only Santhiya, on Loh Pared Beach.
The hotel hangs on a cliff overlooking the sea. Thus, it offers breathtaking views. The rooms, suites, and villas are wooden and feature intricate carvings and traditional Thai decorations. The fabrics, linens, and toiletries are top notch too. It’s got two incredible pools and tones of trees.
The rooms have a big balcony with a tub. Book a sea view room to enjoy unforgettable sunsets. If you have the money to splash, do so in a villa. The two-bedroom one with its own seawater pool and tub is perfect for families. You won’t want to leave!
Koh Yao Yai: Things to Do
Indulge on the Beach
We like to swim in the sea. Therefore, we always look out for beaches where there are no rocks, the depth is good, and the floor is sandy. If swimming is your thing, head to Loh Pared. The beach is one of the longest on the island and is all sand.
Koh Yao Yai has other types of beaches too. The beaches on the east are perfect for walking. You can walk from the pier next to the sea to the south. The floor is a combination of mud and sand. There are no buildings. Only lush green nature lines the coast.
Son Bay Beach is on the northwestern coast. It’s a secluded sandy beach with no bars or restaurants. Gorgeous views but hard to swim. You can walk from there to the south next to the sea. The southernmost beach is Ao Sai, on the eastern coast.
Bike around the Island
Koh Yao Yai offers tons of things to do. Biking is our favorite. We don’t like to drive when traveling. Actually, we never like to drive, cars or scooters. Therefore, we love places where we can bike safely. Since there aren’t many cars on the island, you can bike at your own pace.
Some hotels that we recommend have bicycles. Be sure to ask. If not, there are a couple of shops where you can rent a bike next to the pier. Another place where you can rent a bicycle is in the center of the island, next to the 7/11.
Please drive carefully. It can be very hot on the island all year round. Therefore, we recommend stopping at a coffee shop and chilling at noon. Don’t forget a recycled bottle of water or stop on the way to refresh. We do not recommend biking at night.
Go Kayaking between the Mangroves
Koh Yao Yai has more than splendid beaches. It’s one of the best places in Thailand to kayak between mangroves. As mentioned, the water around the island isn’t deep. There are hardly any waves either. Hence, it’s perfect for kayaking. All of the hotels we recommend have kayaks.
A fantastic place to rent a kayak with an expert guide is Koh Yao Yai Kayaking, near Bussarin Mansion. The shop is on the Lo Pa Lai River. They have all the equipment you need, including vests. Our guide took us everywhere. He told us funny stories and took good care of us.
Though you can kayak on your own next to the coast, we strongly recommend a guide when doing so inland. Not only because you can get lost but mostly to protect the mangroves. We don’t want Koh Yao Yai to follow the fate of other beautiful islands.
Visit the Local Mosques
The local population on the island is mostly Muslim. You will hear prayers booming out of mosques all through the island. Visiting the mosques will give you an idea of how locals live. We learned a lot! What a pleasure to see faithful people praying and following their customs while respecting other cultures.
There’s a green-domed mosque next to Loh Pared Beach. You can walk there from Santhiya and Royal Koh Yao Hotels. Ban Khlong Bon Mosque is south of Lam Haed Beach. It’s a simple mosque with a single minaret. Darun AMA Mosque is in the center of the island.
The biggest mosque is Darussalam mosque, also in the center. Darun Phiya Mosque is further south. The big dome is painted blue and silver! Our favorite is Mosque AlAabedeen, on the southernmost point of the island. It’s pink! The three domes are golden, and it faces the water.
Try Delicious Thai Food
Thai food is one of the best in the world. We can’t have enough! That’s why you find Thai restaurants in every major city on earth. In Koh Yao Yai you can eat the real thing. There are fantastic restaurants and all types of eateries all over the island.
One of our favorite restaurants for seafood is Baan Rim Nam, north of the Chong Lard pier. They serve delicious crab with sea views. There are a couple of good simple restaurants south of Lam Haed Beach, close to the hotels. The best is Bear Bar, overlooking the sea.
Karchang Bar & Grill is further south. It’s a fantastic place to dine under the stars and next to the sea. Take note that most restaurants close at 10 PM, so you have to order at the most at 9:30 PM. The best restaurants in Loh Pared are next to Royal Koh Yao Hotel.
Have a Relaxing Massage
We are addicted to Thai massages. Be it a foot massage, a full oil massage, or a good head rub, we really enjoy them. That’s why we get massages everywhere we go in Thailand. Though massages are great everywhere, nothing beats getting a massage next to the sea or with nature around.
Most of the hotels we recommend offer fantastic massages. All you have to do is ask and book. The ones at the Santhiya Hotel are in a class of their own. A bit pricier than other places, but so worth the money. Plus they have all sorts of treatments too.
There are a couple of massage parlors on the road next to the beaches south of Lam Haed Beach. You can also have a massage next to Loh Pared Beach. Remember that most places close at 11 PM at the most, so be sure to show up by 10 PM.
Go to Koh Yao Noi
Koh Yao Noi is the island to the north of Koh Yao Yai. You can see it from the eastern and northern costs. It’s so beautiful that you must spend at least three days there. The last time we went to Southern Thailand, we spent 10 days there and didn’t want to leave.
Though equally beautiful, Koh Yao Noi is quite different. The beaches to the east tend to be better for swimming. There are a couple of hotels, bungalows, and restaurants. That’s about it. There are rice fields, lush hills, and cute little restaurants all around. You will relax to the bone!
There are boats that link both islands in less than 15 minutes. From there, you can hire a tuk-tuk to take you around the island. Another option is to bike. If you are short of time, you can spend half a day there and come back to your hotel in Koh Yao Yai.
Best Time to Visit Koh Yao Yai
No matter when you go to Koy Yao Yai, you will fall in love with the island and wish to come back. You can visit the Koh Yao Archipelago all year long. February, March, and April are the hottest months. The average maximum temperature is around 90 F (31 C).
There isn’t any difference regarding average low temperatures. It’s always around 80 F (25 C). However, take note that it rains from May to October. Most of the time short thunderstorms, but it can sometimes rain for days. Since the sea temperature is good all year round, you can bathe in the rain.
Though November to March is considered high season, the island is still pretty secluded. You will always have a lot of space for yourself. Hotels and restaurants are open all year round. Therefore, you will never go thirsty or hungry. The charming local population is a pleasure to meet all year round.