Many people who travel to Thailand bypass Ko Yao Yai Island. Often, they are in pursuit of the more popular places such as Phi Phi Island, Simlan Island, and Coral Island. However, if you prefer more off the beaten path destinations, great value, and super chill Thai island culture, you’ll want to spend some time on Ko Yao Yai Island located a mere ~20km from Phuket in the middle of the turquoise blue Andaman Sea.
Ko Yao Yai Island in Thailand
And, while Ko Yao Yai might not boast postcard worthy white sand beaches, on our recent visit to this tropical gem, while exploring on motor-scooters, we found countless stretches of beautiful and secluded beach. Often we were the only people there. Only once, we encountered a spot where there were a handful of other folks. However, in all of our 10 days on Ko Yao Yai, no matter what we were doing, we never found a place that was crowded or touristy. By the time we had to leave, we melted into the relaxed island life on Ko Yao Yai, and we were completely mellowed out.
There is Plenty to do on Ko Yao Yai
But don’t worry! Just because we were mostly keen for simply relaxing on the beach and melding into the chill local vibe doesn’t mean that you have to do the same. There are plenty of other things to do on Ko Yao Yai Island even if you’re visiting Thailand on a budget. From kayaking, to SCUBA diving to ATV tours, to island hopping tours and more, if you’re eager to have a more active time on Ko Yao Yai that is certainly an option. And, as long as you know what to pack for Thailand, you’ll be good to go whatever you want to do.
Below we’ll share with you all the information you’ll need to craft your own off the beaten path experience on Ko Yao Yai Island in Thailand. If you have any questions, feel free to leave us a message in the comment section below!
How to Get to Ko Yao Yai
While you can’t take a bus the entire way from Phuket to Ko Yao Yai, a bus can help you get close to the piers. Then, in the map below we have placed numbers at some of the main piers from which you can board a ferry and travel the rest of the way to Ko Yao Yai. Depending on where you’re coming from and going to, you’ll want to select the appropriate pier. (1) Talen Pier (2) Nopparat Thara Pier (3) Klong Hia Pier (4) Baan Larm Yai Pier / Laem Yai Pier (5) Loh Jak Pier (6) Chianwanich Pier (7) Bang Rong Pier
How We Got to Ko Yao Yai Island
We found getting to Ko Yao Yai Island to be quite easy. Ferry boats leave regularly, we did not need to make an advanced booking, and we did not have any problems getting a seat at our preferred departure time. We simply took a taxi from the Phuket airport to #7, Bang Rong Pier, for ~฿400 Thai Bhat, bought a speed boat ticket in cash for ฿300 Thai Bhat per person (they don’t accept credit cards), and we were on our way to Ko Yao Yai. The ferry ride took ~40 minutes given the calm seas we experienced. If you happen to be flying in from Bangkok, make sure to check out these non-touristy Bangkok sites.
Ask A Local
TIP: Since the ferry schedules change seasonally, ask the proprietor of your accommodation for the most current ferry schedule and price information. We talked to Pond, the owner of the Esmeralda View Resort*. She told us all the information we needed to quickly and affordably get to her resort. As an aside, there are a number of websites offering online bookings for the ferry. However, at the time of writing, all of the online booking options were considerably more expensive than what we paid.
The Ferry Ride to Ko Yao Yai
Within minutes of departing from Bang Rong Pier, we were able to see some of Thailand’s iconic limestone islands off in the distance. We found the scenery around us stunning.
TIP: If you’re prone to sea sickness, plan ahead by taking appropriate precautions. Also, for the smoothest ferry ride, sit in the back near the motor. For the most scenic (but bumpy) sit up in the front of the boat.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the family owned and operated Esmeralda View Resort, and we HIGHLY recommend it. The owner, Pond, was a total sweetheart, and by the end of our 10-day stay on Ko Yao Yai, we had made a new friend in her. For sake of full disclosure, we are NOT affiliates of Esmeralda View Resort. We simply had an amazing time there, so we want to share!
To begin, Esmeralda View Resort is located right on the waterfront. The views from their on-site dining area are spectacular, and are perfect for either a romantic dinner or even a family meal.
Full Service but Family Run
While they call it a resort, Esmeralda is certainly not as large and impersonal as a typical resort. Since the property used to be used as both a cashew and rubber farm, it’s nestled in some beautiful greenery. Esmeralda View Resort has a total of 16 bungalows and one main dining area. One of our favorite parts of the Esmeralda View Resort was the DELICIOUS home cooked Thai classics. They are available at a moments notice. Pond and her mother cook numerous ingredients in their dishes. They grow most of them on their own property! (More about that below.)
Moreover, Pond, the owner, is super friendly and made sure all our needs were met. With on-site motor scooter rentals, massage services as well as the ability to book tours with various other tour providers, Esmeralda combines the amenities that a large scale resort offers with the attention to detail and top-notch service that you can only get from a family owned and operated business.
Truthfully, the term “bungalow” does not do justice to the accommodations at the Esmeralda View Resort. We think they are better termed “suites”.
Of craftsman quality, and with ample attention paid to every detail, we were reluctant to get out of our air-conditioned suite each day. The full wooden interior made for a cosy yet beautiful feel which we found perfectly fitting for being beachside in Thailand. We also found the bed perfectly firm, and enjoyed the generous porch out front, as it allowed us to get some fresh air even when we didn’t want to go far. The bedroom was adjacent to a luxuriously large bathroom with a rainfall shower and bathtub (not pictured). Each day, the staff made our bed, and they even left creative towel art.
The Beach At Esmeralda View Resort
As we mentioned above, the beaches on Ko Yao Yai are not your typical white sand beaches. However, we still found them perfectly suitable for sunbathing and swimming.
Dining at Esmeralda View Resort
The majority of the food at Esmeralda View Resort comes from their own property, and the bit that doesn’t, isn’t from far away. Pond, the owner, showed us over a dozen different fruit trees and vegetables on their property that they harvest seasonally. Each morning, the folks at Esmeralda buy fresh seafood from local fisherman. And on top of the super locally sourced ingredients, Pond and her mother are FANTASTIC cooks.
Each morning there was also a delicious buffet breakfast, included in the price of our room.
(Photo credit: Esmeralda View Resort)
It included made-to-order eggs, and a variety of classic Thai breakfast foods. These included fried rice, fried noodles, a flat bread, steamed rice dumplings, and fresh fruit. There was also toast, cereal, coffee and tea.
In the evening time, the folks at Esmeralda’s set the tables out on the front porch area, and we enjoyed our dinner looking out over the Andaman Sea.
Esmeralda’s dinner menu included all the classic Thai dishes we’ve come to love over the years. However, it also included many other dishes that we had never tried before. No matter what we ordered, we had no trouble cleaning our plates. Pond’s Mom, the main cook, is quite skilled in the kitchen, as everything was DELICIOUS!
Things to Do on Ko Yao Yai Island Thailand
As we mentioned above, Ko Yao Yai is perfect for simply relaxing in the sun on secluded beaches. However, there are also many other active options, and we’ll share some of those with you below.
Motor Scooting on Ko Yao Yai
For us, the thrill of motor scooting makes it an activity in and of itself. And, on Ko Yao Yai it is also one of the most affordable and practical ways to get around. We rented scooters from Esmeralda View Resort for ฿300/day. We found it to be quite affordable. Having a scooter allowed us to explore Ko Yao Yai quite freely. The best part, it cost a fraction of the price of hiring a taxi to take us around.
While many of the roads on Ko Yao Yai are paved, there are also a number of dirt roads. We didn’t have any trouble navigating on either, but make sure you stay within your skill limit. You never know what you’ll see while motor biking on Ko Yao Yai!
Along one stretch of road, we nearly ran over a monitor lizard that decided to cross the road! And at another point, we saw a sea eagle tied to a humanmade perch. It seemed as though the eagle was injured and that someone was giving it some much needed rehabilitation.
While motor scooting, we also encountered countless rubber plantations. We found it quite interesting to see folks collecting the raw rubber sap.
Beach Hopping on Ko Yao Yai
Another beach we went to, Hua Lam Beach, was one of the best beaches to view the sunset, given that we were staying at the Esmeralda View Resort. The bottom line is, you’ll have plenty of beautiful beaches to choose from on Ko Yao Yai.
TIP: ~90% of the people on Ko Yao Yai are Muslim. Generally speaking, you’ll be fine wearing whatever bathing attire you’d like while you’re on the beach itself. However, getting to and from the beach, it is important to respect the local culture and make sure you’re covered by at least shorts and a t-shirt.
Island Hopping from Ko Yao Yai
If you come to Ko Yao Yai you should seriously consider doing an island hopping tour. The Esmeralda View Resort, where we stayed, was able to arrange the tour for us.
The boat picked us up right at their beach, so it was super convenient. The tour lasted for about 7 hours (9AM – 4PM) and went to about 5 different islands. The boat staff served us lunch (included in the price) on a beautiful sandy beach. They also provided snorkels and masks to use free of charge.
The front of the boat was open, so it was perfect for sun tanning. The back of the boat was enclosed, so that area was perfect for escaping the strong Ko Yao Yai sun!
Many of the islands surrounding Ko Yao Yai are made primarily of limestone. Over LOTS of time, stalactites form, and they are beautiful to gaze at!
On Ko Nok Island, one of the islands that will likely be included in your tour (but ask just to make sure), you can climb to to the top of one such limestone island, and the views from the top are SPECTACULAR! The climb, albeit ~15-20 minutes in duration, is more or less straight up. There are many ropes tied to trees along the route, and at a bunch of points I found them quite useful.
If you’re not particularly keen to work up a sweat and/or you have small children, you might want to simply enjoy Ko Nok Island right on its beautiful sandy beachside.
Take a Day Trip to Ko Yao Noi
After a few days of rest, relaxation and beach hopping on Ko Yao Yai, we decided to explore the nearby island of Ko Yao Noi.
While Ko Yao Noi is markedly more developed than Ko Yao Yai, especially on the southeast corner where there are numerous hotels, hostels and mini-resorts, it is still worth a visit. On Ko Yao Noi, again, we did some footloose and spontaneous wandering on our motor scooter, found a plethora of nice beaches and more broadly speaking, simply enjoyed the spontaneity that holidays allow for.
Other Things to Do on Ko Yao Yai
If you’re keen for some things to do on Ko Yao Yai you’ll have a number of options. While we didn’t do any of these, they are available for those who please! (Also, we are not affiliates and do not receive compensation from any of these businesses.)
Ko Yao Yai Mangrove Kayaking
Get in touch with Ko Yao Yai Mangrove Kayaking, and see what adventures may be in store! If you do decide to head out on an adventure with these folks, make sure to bring enough water, snacks, and sunscreen.
Ko Yao Yai ATV Tours
If you weren’t able to get deep enough in to Ko Yao Yai’s beautiful forests on your motor scooter, consider going on an ATV tour with Ko Yao Yai ATV.
Ko Yao Yai SCUBA Diving
There is only one dive shop on Ko Yao Yai, and that one is Elixir Divers. If you’re keen to explore the depths of the Andaman Sea, be sure to get in touch with them!
You Can’t Lose if you Choose Ko Yao Yai
Whether you’re looking for relaxation or adventure, Ko Yao Yai is a great choice! By the time we reached the end of our 10-day stay on Ko Yao Yai, truly, we didn’t want to leave. Pond, the owner of the resort we stayed at, the Esmeralda View Resort, had become a new friend of ours, and we were so mellowed out, we didn’t have a care in the world.
To end on a beautiful note, here are few more of the beautiful scenes you’ll get to see if you experience Ko Yao Yai. And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave us a message in the comment section below!
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