A Traveller's Guide to Koh Yao Yai, Thailand

Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort is an eco-friendly spot offering traditional luxury
Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort is an eco-friendly spot offering traditional luxury | Courtesy of Santhiya Tree Koh Chang Resort / Hotels.com
Photo of Vanessa Tai
22 July 2021

Escape to the lesser-known shores of Koh Yao Yai, sandwiched between Phuket and Krabi off the Andaman coast of Thailand. Here, you’ll find pristine beaches and gin-clear waters peppered with world-class scuba diving spots.

Koh Yao Yai, or Big Long Island in Thai, is one of 44 islands in the picturesque Koh Yao archipelago. While many travellers flock to tourist-friendly Phuket and Krabi, those in the know make a beeline for the unsullied beaches and wide, open spaces of Koh Yao Yai. Here, the pace of life is gentler and you get the same (or even better) food, accommodation and service standards than the main islands, all at a fraction of the price.

What to do on Koh Yao Yai

The beaches on Koh Yao Yai are its main draw, with the most popular being Laem Had Beach, located on the northern peninsular of the island. This is where you’ll find the spectacular Koh Yao Yai sandbank, a natural phenomenon that creates stunning curvaceous patterns in the ocean. While it might be tempting to while away your days on the sandy shores of Koh Yao Yai, there’s actually plenty to see and do during your time here.

Tourists relax at Laem Sing beach | © Simon Dannhauer / Alamy

Adventure seekers can rent a kayak to paddle out to Koh Nok, a lick of an island a short ride away, or explore the underwater world by booking a trip with a local dive centre. Scuba enthusiasts will have a field day at Phang Nga Bay, home to world-famous diving sites like Shark Point and the King Cruiser Wreck. The latter is a car ferry that sank off the coast of southern Thailand in 1997 and is now teeming with marine life such as soft corals, bigeye trevally, yellow snappers, barracudas and turtles.

For those who prefer something a bit more sedate, take a stroll through the tiny villages and plantations further inland. There is only one main road that encircles the entire island with just a few small side tracks, so no matter where you wander, you’re almost always accompanied by lush jungle scenery.

Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort offers luxurious yet eco-friendly lodgings | Courtesy of Santhiya Tree Koh Chang Resort / Hotels.com

After a day of activity, reward yourself with a sumptuous seafood feast. The island is known for its fish eateries offering fresh, delicious and affordable dishes, with most clustered around the piers.

Where to stay on Koh Yao Yai

Koh Yao Yai Village Resort

Resort
Koh Yao Yai Village Resort_b_300959125
Courtesy of Koh Yao Yai Village Resort / Booking.com
Tucked away on the western end of the island, this luxurious resort is the perfect hideaway for stressed-out city slickers. Surrounded by panoramic views of the Andaman Sea and pampered by friendly staff, it’s easy to be lulled into a state of pure bliss. The resort also organises daily excursions to nearby islands as well as a visit to the local village.
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Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort

Resort
4.4/5 (998 Reviews)
Yao Yai Beach Resort_68d2fe2c
Courtesy of Yao Yai Beach Resort / Expedia
Conveniently located just steps from the powdery white sands of Loh Paret beach, this resort is primed for relaxation. All villas come with their own private balcony overlooking the resort’s leafy garden, dotted with swaying coconut trees and brightly-hued bougainvillea plants. Some villas even have their own private plunge pool and rooftop access – offering unrestricted views of the sunset.
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Best restaurants on Koh Yao Yai

Isaan Fine Restaurant & Bar

Restaurant, Bar, Thai
Map View
Thai Drunken Noodles or Pad Kee Mao at white marble background. Drunken Noodles is thai cuisine dish with Rice Noodles, Chicken meat, Basil, sauces an
© Andrei Kravtsov / Alamy
This convivial restaurant serves up a delectable array of Thai and international favourites, located a stone’s throw from Santhiya Resort. Must-try dishes include their piquant salads, pad gra prow (Thai basil chicken) and barbecued meats. The staff here are especially friendly and the chef is known to emerge from the kitchen once in a while to entertain diners with his other talent – guitar-playing.

Dang Paradise Food

Restaurant, Thai
Map View
spicy soup or tom yum kung,tom yum goong
© Narinnate Mekkajorn / Alamy
The waiting time at this hole-in-the-wall restaurant can be a touch longer than usual but that’s because everything is prepared from scratch. Run by a friendly local couple, they serve homestyle Thai cooking such as pad thai, tom yum goong (prawn soup), grilled fish and fried spring rolls. Each dish is lovingly prepared and comes at a very wallet-friendly price.

Baan Rim Nam Restaurant

Restaurant, Seafood
Map View
Traditional Thai kaeng phet red curry with king prawns and vegetable as top view in a bowl on place mat. Image shot 10/2018. Exact date unknown.
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy
Satisfy your seafood cravings at this cheap and cheerful eatery. The menu here includes squid cooked in its own ink, garlic and pepper fish, tiger prawn curry, steamed crabs and many more dishes. This place is often packed with locals, so be sure to book ahead if you want to nab a table at peak hours.

How to get to Koh Yao Yai

There are three main ferry piers on the island, all of which regularly run services. From Phuket, the most popular and reliable way to get to Koh Yao Yai is via ferry. The ferry departs from Bang Rong Pier in Phuket and reaches Koh Yao Noi in under 30 minutes, with several departures daily. From Krabi, you can book a speedboat or longtail boat from either Ao Nang Pier or Thalen Pier to get you to the island.

A ferry passing the tiny tropical island of Koh Nok in the Phang Nga bay area of Thailand | © RDW Aerial Imaging / Alamy
These recommendations were updated on July 22, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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