A very close alternative to Phi Phi, but without the crowds and fuss are the Koh Yao islands which also boast incredible karst scenery and pristine tropical paradise beaches. Located on the edge of the picturesque Pha Nga bay, the Yao islands are actually a chain of 44 islands, mostly tiny and uninhabited.
The experience on these islands is generally one of confinement to your resort, with an exclusive, peaceful and quiet atmosphere shared only with other guests. You can hire bikes and explore the island, getting a feel for a truly authentic fishing community in the Andaman, but don’t expect restaurant choices, internet cafes, shops and travel agencies. However, the resorts are able to organise diving, tours to Pha Nga and Phi Phi and several other activities.
Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai (Long Small Island and Long Big Island) are the largest and serve as great escapes for those in search of a truly peaceful holiday. The island chain has a combined landmass of about 138 square kilometres, and Koh Yao Yai is the largest island in Phang Nga Bay. The islands are located an hour by boat from the east coast of Phuket, and a cheap ferry runs between Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai.
Koh Yao Noi is the most developed of the two islands, although it maintains its sleepy fishing-village feel. It is only about 45 square kilometres in size and has a population of around 4,000 mostly Muslim farmer and fishermen. There are bungalows, homestays and a few resorts on the island.
Koh Yao Noi is an ideal honeymoon destination. Activities on the island are fairly sedate, consisting of a lot of swimming and lazing on the beach. There is also snorkelling, mountain biking and kayaking, and you can take daytrips to other islands in Phang Nga Bay. Agro-tourism (fishing and rubber tree tapping) is also offered.
The nightlife is virtually non-existent and is limited to quiet dining and resort bars. The beaches on the island are spectacular, yet to be ruined by mass tourism, and offering views of limestone karsts and beautiful sunrises.
Pa Sai beach is a shady beach with good swimming and views of the smaller islands. Klong Jaak beach is another good beach, as is Ao Kian (Kian bay) which is part of a national park and near to a large forest.
Getting to Koh Yao
Longtail boat ferries depart hourly to and from Bang Rong pier in the northeast of Phuket (about 45 minutes drive from Patong, 500-800 baht transfer) and take less than an hour to reach Koh Yao Noi, via Koh Yao Yai. From here taxis will spirit you away to the resorts. There is also a once daily connection to Krabi in the mornings, and an unscheduled speed boat service that connects Krabi’s Ao Nang to Phuket via these islands, usually in the mornings. Enquiring with your concierge or a local travel agent is the best way to arrange this.
Visitors on the island should remain respectful of local culture and dress modestly and refrain from drinking alcohol outside of their resorts as the population here is largely Muslim. Transportation is with hired motorbikes or tuk tuk; however most visitors to the island remain within their resort or take tours from their resort.
Koh Yao Yai is much larger than Koh Yao Noi, but is less developed for tourists. Here the accommodation is limited to small bungalows and homestays. This is a good island to go to if you love quiet beaches and staying in natural surroundings.
The main attraction is Loh Jaak beach which is home to Loh Jaak pier. Here, the water is still clean and clear in spite of the ferries and boats in the area. Nearer to the centre of this long island is Loh Pa Raed beach, which is up against coconut plantations and is popular with campers and eco-tourists.