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Backpackers Hostel Story
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Koh Yao
Story By: Jamie Monk

We have been meaning to take a trip to Koh Yao for years, but you know how it is, when you live in a place you keep putting it off in favor of going shopping or having a lazy day at home. I had a couple of weeks holiday in April and with my parents visiting from the UK, we made an effort to be active. Too active - by the end of the holiday I needed a holiday! Koh Yao was one of the many places we visited - some are in the blog already, others may appear later.

Koh Yao consists of 2 main islands - Koh Yao Yai (Big) and Koh Yao Noi (Small). The small island has the main population, though you can also visit the bigger island. Koh Yao Yai is big - about the same size as Koh Lanta. Koh Yao Noi is less than half that size, but anyway too big to really explore on a day trip with my parents and 2 kids. One day we'll go back again and leave the kids with my wife's mother. You can rent a motorbike on the island for just 200 Baht a day.
View from the ferry to Bang Rong
The ferry to Koh Yao Noi leaves from Bang Rong, on the NE coast of Phuket. Coming from the south on the main airport road, turn right at the Heroines monument, and drive another 10km or so. You pass the entrance to Bang Pae on the left and after another few km come to the Bang Rong road on the right. Ferry departs at 8am, 9:30am, 11am. The last one back to Phuket is 4pm. If you want a full day, start early! We thought there was a 10am ferry, arrived before 10am and thus had a 1 hour wait. Luckily, there is a small restaurant there floating in the mangroves where we have eaten before. The ferry is not huge. An oversized longtail with a roof. Along with about 30 people were several motorbikes.


Tuk Tuk on Koh Yao (photo by Bill)Other large baggage was loaded on the roof. Last year one of these ferries sank in rough water during a sudden storm due to overloading. I noticed that a uniformed officer (coast guard?) was on hand to make sure everyone had a life vest... The ride to Koh Yao Noi took about an hour. The scenery is great on the east coast of Phuket. Koh Yao is on the edge of Phang Nga Bay and you can see some of the limestone rock formations across the sea. It was a sunny old day. We sat outside with the motorbikes (all seats inside were taken, see below). Aside from us, there was an English couple heading over for a day trip. They were Phuket fans and (as we do) enjoyed renting a bike and exploring the back roads. Pictures on the ferry below:

Inside the ferry to Koh YaoOnce there, we found several tuk tuks on the pier ready to take people around the island. We chose the most beat up looking one, and agreed a 200 Baht fee to take us to a beach. We were not fussed where exactly, just A beach where the kids could dig in the sand. Stopping off at the islands 7-11 for a drink, we rattled along the tidy road through the village and then through the fields and trees until we reached the shoreline on the east side of Koh Yao Noi with views over towards the islands and limestone formations to the North of Krabi. Along this coast there are several small resorts such as Lom Lae Beach Resort, Sabai Corner etc.. We found a stretch of beach. Nobody else there. Nice beach although the tide was quite low and there were rocks just under the water, making it hard to even go for a paddle. What is important here is the peace and quiet. Just a small dirt road. Saw a handful of vehicles in the few hours we were there, and had a kilometer of beach to ourselves. Kids played in the sand. We walked along the beach picking up shells. The view across the sea was great, looking across to some small islands such as Koh Hong, just to the NW of Railey beach (Krabi).


a walk on the beach, Koh Yao NoiWe ate some decent food at the Lom Lae resort (see link below), where they didn't seem to have any guests for their bungalows. They were charging 1500 Baht, though I think low season would be much cheaper, and this coast is protected from the SW winds during the summer, meaning no big waves on the beach, so would be a decent place to stay in low season. They were friendly folk and gave us the key to a bathroom in the resort so we could shower. Too soon time to leave and our rattly tuk tuk returned. Rattling back to the ferry (not so crowded this time), and back to big bad Phuket. Koh Yao is a great get away even for just a few hours. We'll be back...

ORIGINAL source, which is Jamie's Phuket Blog -


Miracle-vision on Koh Yao Noi
Story by Rolf Potts

Just over a month ago, there was a miracle on Koh Yao Noi, an island one hour east of Phuket in Thailand's Phang-Nga Bay. As the story goes, a blind man from the mainland visited Koh Yao Noi, bathed in a freshwater spring on one of the tidal flats and suddenly found his vision restored. Word has spread, and now the daily ferries to Koh Yao (which has never been much of a tourist destination) are full of hopeful Thai seekers looking to get a piece the of the miracle. A couple weeks ago, I was one of those seekers.

Actually, I didn't go to Koh Yao Noi to get healed, but to research an unrelated magazine story. I did, however, manage to learn a lesson about vision -- not from the tidal-flat spring (though I did bathe there), but from the Thai Muslim fishermen who live on the island. Indeed, when I went out fishing with these folks, I was amazed by their ability to spot wildlife in the islands of the bay. Where I saw tangled jungle and rocky shoreline, the fishermen saw gibbons, hornbills, sea eagles, fruit bats, and the telltale tracks of monitor lizards. I was raised by a biologist -- and I've been living near the Thai rainforest off and on for the last couple years -- but it still took me upwards of ten minutes to spot what the fishermen could see in an instant.

The subject of vision has been in the news of late, primarily in a well-circulated story about how video games have been found to improve one's visual skills. Perhaps there is some validity to this, but I think that true vision is simply a matter of what you condition yourself to see. For an American suburban kid, it's a video game bad-guy jumping out from nowhere; for a Thai Muslim fisherman, it's the intricate details of the natural world upon which your survival depends. I'd like to think, of course, that -- after years of Backpackers Hostel -- my vision is closer to that of the fisherman, but I'd reckon my eyes still have a suburban American tint. After all, I may see the jungle every day outside my window, but my survival still depends on ATMs and market stalls.

Nevertheless, I have resolved to keep exercising my eyeballs as I Backpackers Hostel -- to look for patterns in the wilderness as well as the city. After all, the true miracle of vision is often the simple ability to spot what's right in front of your eyes.



Thai Sea Village Fishes for Tourists, Traditionally
By Rolf Potts, National Geographic Backpackers Hosteler

Koh Yao Noi, Thailand
Cruising Phangnga Bay with a sun-browned Thai fisherman, Dusit Buttree, it's hard to believe that we're just an hour from some of the biggest mass-tourism destinations in Thailand.
Unlike nearby Phuket, with its souvenir vendors and go-go bars, Buttree's home island of Koh Yao Noi retains its fishing villages and mangrove forests. Gibbons still haunt the outlying islands here, sea eagles soar in the skies, and the seas yield enough fish to give Buttree's family a stable income.
It nearly wasn't this way.
Just over a decade ago, trawlers from the mainland were illegally overfishing these waters, and mass tourism from Phuket threatened to disrupt the cultural traditions of Koh Yao Noi's 4,500 mostly Muslim residents. Afraid of being overwhelmed by outsiders, villagers sought the help of the Responsible Ecological Social Tours project (REST), a Bangkok-based group that works with locals to develop community-based tourism, promote conservation, and develop a sustainable economy.
REST encouraged the Koh Yao Noi villagers to organize tour programs, host visitors in their homes, and share with them their traditional way of life. Buttree isn't just taking me on a tour of Phangnga Bay, after all—he's also fishing for his day's keep. He can host tourists on his own terms, while I can experience a slice of Thai life in a way that no beach resort could provide.
What's more, the REST arrangement has instilled Koh Yao Noi villagers with a sense of confidence and grassroots power that benefits the community long after tourists have gone home.
"We welcome our visitors like cousins," Buttree tells me as he hauls in his nets. "When they go home, our village has a face to the rest of Thailand and the rest of the world. That helps us resist those who want to overfish our waters and develop our island for their own interests."
Thanks to its empowered community, Koh Yao Noi should be able to offer visitors an authentic Thai Backpackers Hostel experience for years to come.
That night, we return to Buttree's stilted wood house, where his wife, Busaba, prepares a sumptuous dinner of blue crab, red snapper, and lobsterlike mantis shrimp. As I dig in, I tell Buttree this is the freshest seafood I've ever eaten. I should know: I watched him catch it.
If you're in Phuket, you can take one of the daily boats to Koh Yao Noi from the Bang Rong Pier on Phuket's northeast coast.


Thailand: Ko Yao -- the islands you've been looking for

If you're looking for trackless forest and untamed wilderness, the best advice is usually to head to northern Thailand, or better yet, northern Laos. But just an hour away from Phuket, lie two islands where KFC has yet to even think of opening up its doors, where dirt roads turn unexpectedly into cow paths before being engulfed in forests of wild coconut palms and mangroves, where tourism is still an after thought, and where the clamorous din of commerce is nowhere to be heard. Welcome to the Ko Yao islands.

Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai (Little Long Island and Big Long Island) remain one of the last refuges for Backpackers Hostellers who kick it 'old school'. While the vast majority of Backpackers Hostellers consider these islands to be too far out of the way, we think Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai just about top the list of places you absolutely positively must visit during your trip to Thailand. To those who feel that their wanderlust has been thwarted by the islands and beaches elsewher, listen up, this is where you've been looking for.

The Ko Yao Islands have been spared until now for a few simple reasons. For one thing, the beaches aren't as perfect as they are on the Andaman side of Phuket -- at low tide, they full of rocks and no good for swimming. The Thais here are observant Muslims, and while there is certainly no separatist violence, they aren't quick to give up their land and their ideals to Western encroachment either. Alcohol consumption is still frowned upon in most restaurants -- at least those not oriented towards tourists, of which there are precious few. Finally, the low-quality of the eastern beaches of Phuket Island have pushed developed west and to the north, not to the east.

Ko Yao Noi beach scenes

The Yao islands are technically part of Phang Nga province and while accessible by boat from both Krabi and Phang Nga, the cheapest, easiest way to get there if from the eastern ports on Phuket Island -- with those showing up looking for girlie bars and night clubs quickly put on the next boat going back to Phuket. A trip is taken on a public ferry, nothing like the spiffy cruisers that ply their way daily to Phi Phi, and at a fraction of the price. The pier on Ko Yao Noi is not crowded with shops, touts, nor tuk-tuk drivers waiting to nab tourists the minute they step off the boat. In fact, it's a long ride to the centre of town. Once there, it's hard to believe this is the 'centre,' but this is where they put the lone 7-eleven two years ago, so it must be the centre. Otherwise, a few Thai shops and stalls, only one centrally-located guest house, and one bar/restaurant for expats and tourists to hang out in.

Ko Yao Noi, to date, has hosted most of the guesthouses and resorts, which embodies the state of transition in which the Island now finds itself. For the most part, the bungalows and guest houses here seem to be more oriented towards enjoying quality of life rather than quantity of income. Those 'in the know' make their way here faithfully, mostly in high season, and stay for the whole summer. That's been enough to keep the local tourist business afloat, and few here want that to ever change.

Ko Yao Noi beach scenes

True, the Ko Yao Island Resort has been operating for a while, with its unique, open-plan luxury bungalows, but the owners have been working hard to fly below the radar, and keep it special. There's one true luxury resort, The Paradise, in an stunning location amid limestone cliffs on the northern tip of the Island. But most of the guests there arrive and depart by boat, and rarely see the rest of the island. Investors may own the patch of land upon which the resort sits, but the jungle still has possession of the six kilometre dirt road leading overland towards it -- treacherous hills, creased by deep runnels and pocked with mires of mud big enough to swallow a tuk-tuk whole. Up until now, in the battle between the Island and its would-be developers, the island has been winning.

This would seem to be even more true of Ko Yao Yai, which despite its size, has far fewer places to stay. The bungalow operations around the Lohjak pier are so scraggly and misbegotten, it's hard to believe some of them are even in open for business. The Yao Yai Island Resort, with its collection of modest thatch bungalows giving on to the beach, has been the only prime destination for foreign tourists.

Ko Yao Yai beach scenes

But all this is about to change. The Evason is undertaking a huge project on Ko Yao Noi, and this time, between the site and the town, there's no buffer of jungle. As many as eight luxury resorts are set to be built on Ko Yao Yai in the next two years. New boat departures are already being added to the ferry schedule in preparation for the construction phase and the subsequent boom in tourism. The Koh Yao Islands represent something of a final frontier, and the rail road is a comin'.

Hopefully the lessons of Ko Phi Phi and Patong have been learned, and the tourist industry will work with the local population to preserve its character and way of life. Not to mention its dignity. But just in case that doesn't happen, you better head here now before it's too late.


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