Ko Yao Yai

Ko Yao Yai

A bay all to yourself.

Ko Yao Yai, or "Big Long Island", running about 30 kilometres in length from top to bottom, sits halfway between Phuket and Krabi in the middle of Phang Nga Bay. Though only a 25-minute speedboat trip from Phuket’s east coast, this long, narrow island ringed with thick mangroves and white-sand beaches has somehow avoided becoming another hectic island resort. It’s more than twice the size of neighbouring Ko Yao Noi, but tourism development here lags behind its sister island.

More on Ko Yao Yai

Yao Yai’s slower pace of change likely rests with its local population, mostly conservative Muslim Thais who seem largely content to keep with a more traditional way of life. Though the island is now home to more than a dozen resorts and guesthouses, fishing and farming remain primary means of income for Yao Yai residents.

Life is simple here yet there’s a feeling of fertile abundance, as seen in Yao Yai’s lush landscapes of coconut groves and rubber plantations, and its tidy villages of mostly handcrafted stilted wooden homes surrounded by tropical potted plants and bougainvilleas. The island’s infrastructure is good, being on the electrical grid with decent internet and mobile phone service throughout. The scenic main road that runs the length of the island is mostly smooth and easy to navigate, and more of the dirt-track side roads are being upgraded.

With its accommodation mix mostly in the mid-range to luxury level, Yao Yai tends to attract a more serene type of traveller, couples on a romantic escape and families seeking a quiet beach holiday. Beyond the occasional privately organised event, there’s certainly no party scene here. Alcohol is largely only available within the resorts, though one liquor store has now opened near Chong Lad village and, perhaps inevitably, some Reggae dudes have raised their Rasta flag at a bar just outside the Yao Yai Village resort.

Beach-hopping and exploring the island by motorbike or bicycle are among greatest pleasures of staying on Yao Yai. The beaches here are mostly narrow strips of white sand in calm, shallow bays that transform into mud flats at low tide – thus for most beaches you’ll need to time your swim sessions with the shifting of the tides. Loh Paret beach along the west coast is a notable exception, and with its appeal of all-day swimming and sunset views, this is where much of Yao Yai’s (limited) resort development is taking place.

If swimming and sunbathing at deserted stretches of sand starts to wear, a number of local operators are on hand to take you out on karst island or mangrove kayaking trips, ATV offroading, fishing or diving excursions or agricultural tours. Inland, between Chong Lad and Klong Hia piers, you’ll find the island’s best views atop the Ko Yao Viewpoint, reached via a steep pathway that the landowner Khun Coco hacked out from his rubber tree plantation. He charges nothing for going up there, though you could stop for a meal or drink at the roadside restaurant run by his daughter. He also runs private kayaking trips through the mangroves.

Snorkelling is possible off some of Yao Yai’s beaches, or on boating trips out to the nearby islands of Ko Khai Nok and Ko Khai Nai.

The above two gorgeous yet speedboat-infested islands swarming with daytrippers are hopefully not hints of what’s to come for Yao Yai, but, sadly, a jet-ski operation has set up near Loh Jark pier on the island’s southeast coast. Loh Jark beach is where you can find a bit of the "Hello my friend!" hustling more commonly seen on places like Phuket or Ao Nang, but so far it’s the only beach here with this kind of scene.

Loh Jark’s worrisome developments aside, Ko Yao Yai remains one of the most unspoiled, truly tranquil islands of the Andaman coast.

If you have your own transport Ko Yao Yai is easy to get around, with one main road that runs up the centre from south to north, then makes a loop at the northern tip to reach two of the main piers of Chong Lad and Klong Hia. Several smaller roads radiate off this paved "highway" to the east and west, some of which turn from tarmac to red dirt as they lead towards the coast. Though you’ll probably reach a lot of dead-ends in exploring these roads (that’s part of the fun!), it’s nearly impossible to get lost on Yao Yai, especially now that the main junctions and turning-off points are all well signed in English.

Loh Paret beach in the central west coast and Loh Jark beach on the southwest coast are the two busiest beaches here, though they’re in no way frantic. Three resorts are now found along Loh Paret’s soft sands, while the blinding white Loh Jark beach is split into two by its pier. So far Loh Jark has only two beachfront resorts, The White House and Heaven resort. A sprinkling of resorts offering views of the sunrise and the islands of Phang Nga Bay lie along the sandy northeastern coast of Yao Yai, on the way to Chong Lad village.

The only way to Yao Yai is by boat from Phuket, Phang Nga or Krabi, and there are several ferries a day, plus many resorts and tour operators run private speedboat or long-tail boat transfers. Klong Hia pier in the north is the launching point for ferries and boats to Phuket and, via Ko Yao Noi, Phang Nga and Krabi. Loh Jark pier at the southwest coast is another main launching point for car and passenger ferries to Chianvanich pier near Phuket Town, while the pier at Laem Yai near Loh Paret beach is where the ferry to Phuket’s Laem Hin pier departs.

Yao Yai has no banks but ATMs may be found at each of the government offices in Chong Lad and Prunai villages, and at a shop at the junction leading to Loh Jark pier from Prunai. Currency exchange is available at the higher-end resorts.

There’s a hospital in Prunai village on the main road, just south of where you turn off for Yao Yai Resort, which is not far from the police station, and a medical clinic is found near the Chong Lad pier. Better-equipped hospitals are an hour away by boat to Phuket, where the nearest immigration office is also located. The number for the police station is (076) 597 123, but there’s reportedly no crime on the island, so you probably won’t need it.

Free Wi-Fi is available at nearly all places to stay on Yao Yai and at most traveller-oriented restaurants. A detailed and useful free map of Ko Yao Yai and Ko Yao Noi is published by Pakorn Photo Classic (T: 081 416 6343), which you can pick up at any resort around the island.

62 other destinations in Southern Thailand

Learn more about Ko Pha Ngan
Ko Pha Ngan

More to it than Full Moon Parties

Learn more about Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park

Wise old wilderness

Learn more about Ko Chang Noi
Ko Chang Noi

The other Ko Chang

Learn more about Ko Yao Noi
Ko Yao Noi

Leave the crowds behind

Learn more about Ko Lao Liang
Ko Lao Liang

Let’s keep this one a secret

Learn more about Ko Jum
Ko Jum

Ready to relax?

Learn more about Ko Surin
Ko Surin

Breathtaking above and below the water

Learn more about Ko Ra
Ko Ra

Unspoilt island wilderness

Learn more about Ko Phra Thong
Ko Phra Thong

Golden Buddha island

Learn more about Natai

Fancy pants beach time

Learn more about Ko Rawi
Ko Rawi

Pristine beaches and jungle

Learn more about Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park

Land of 300 peaks

Learn more about Ko Bulon Lae
Ko Bulon Lae

The tranquility runs deep

Learn more about Phetchaburi

Caves, beaches and a palace

Learn more about Ko Samui
Ko Samui

Dozens of beaches to choose from

Learn more about Ko Tao
Ko Tao

A popular spot to learn to dive

Learn more about Krabi

Lively gateway to the islands

Learn more about Railay Beach
Railay Beach

Rock climbing paradise

Learn more about Ko Phi Phi
Ko Phi Phi

Popular party island

Learn more about Ko Lanta
Ko Lanta

Where the beaches stretch for miles

Learn more about Ko Muk
Ko Muk

More to it than the Emerald Cave

Learn more about Ko Libong
Ko Libong

Great choice for the quiet life

Learn more about Songkhla

Relax by the sea

Learn more about Ko Phayam
Ko Phayam

One laid-back island

Learn more about Kaeng Krachan National Park
Kaeng Krachan National Park

Thailand‘s largest national park

Learn more about Ko Sukorn
Ko Sukorn

Settle into a slower pace

Learn more about Ko Kradan
Ko Kradan

Great beaches, pricey food

Learn more about Prachuap Khiri Khan
Prachuap Khiri Khan

Mountains to the west, ocean to the east

Learn more about Ban Krut
Ban Krut

Set your internal clock to Thai time

Learn more about Khao Lak
Khao Lak

A family favourite

Learn more about Ko Kho Khao
Ko Kho Khao

No need to leave that beach chair

Learn more about Khanom and Sichon
Khanom and Sichon

Just kick back

Learn more about Similan Islands
Similan Islands

Say hi to the sea turtles

Learn more about Takua Pa
Takua Pa

Crossroad between islands and mountains

Learn more about Ko Rok
Ko Rok

Unspoilt twin islands

Learn more about Hua Hin
Hua Hin

Mainstream tourist hotspot

Learn more about Trang

Before you hit the islands... Eat!

Learn more about Ko Lipe
Ko Lipe

Welcome to paradise

Learn more about Ko Tarutao
Ko Tarutao


Learn more about Ko Adang
Ko Adang

Ko Lipe’s wild neighbour

Learn more about Ranong

Wave to Burma

Learn more about Ko Ngai
Ko Ngai

A comfortable island getaway

Learn more about Nakhon Si Thammarat
Nakhon Si Thammarat

Unadulterated Southern Thailand

Learn more about Phuket

Thailand’s biggest and busiest island

Learn more about Narathiwat

Muslim fishing life

Learn more about Bang Saphan Yai
Bang Saphan Yai

Low-key beach town

Learn more about Phattalung

Mountains, lakes and no tourists

Learn more about Ko Si Boya
Ko Si Boya

Take a break from it all

Learn more about Phang Nga Town
Phang Nga Town

Your base for Phang Nga Bay

Learn more about Hat Yai
Hat Yai

Largest city in Southern Thailand

Learn more about Satun

Don’t miss the local iced tea

Learn more about Cha-am

Like Hua Hin lite

Learn more about Chumphon

Gateway to Ko Tao

Learn more about Ao Nang
Ao Nang

Beach holiday hotspot

Learn more about Pattani

Once a proud kingdom

Learn more about Betong

Almost Malaysia

Learn more about Yala

A low key spot

Learn more about Surat Thani
Surat Thani

Gulf coast island gateway

Learn more about Sungai Kolok
Sungai Kolok

Gateway to Malaysia

Learn more about Khuraburi

Gateway to little-known islands

Learn more about Pakbara

Gateway to the Satun islands

Learn more about Tak Bai
Tak Bai

Historic for more than one reason