Turquoise water, pure-white beaches of soft sand and swaying palms are never too far away when you’re in Thailand, with hundreds of islands dotting the Andaman Sea, the Gulf of Thailand and the edge of Cambodia. Exploring the Kingdom’s paradise has never been easier, thanks to the expansion of domestic flights and ferries that makes travelling from inland to the lesser-known beach destinations possible. However, that also means finding the perfect unspoiled Thai island away from tourist crowds has become more difficult than ever.
For those who are willing to venture a little further to find footprint-free sand, don’t fret — we’ve done the research for you. Situated in Phang Nga Bay and right between the country’s two most visited islands, Phuket and Krabi, Koh Yao Noi is one of Thailand’s most untouched retreats, with clean shallow bays, pristine tropical forests and string of limestone cliffs jutting out of the waters of the Andaman Sea.
From a once-in-a-lifetime stay at the ultra-luxe Six Senses Yao Noi to a range of adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities, Koh Yao Noi may just be the perfect island getaway you’ve been looking for.
Where to stay
Perched on a cliffside with jaw-dropping views over limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay, Six Senses Yao Noi is a luxurious resort that offers a rustic, cosy escape in one of the world’s most beautiful destinations.
Built using local teak, topped with palm-leaf roofs and decked out with stylish bright cushions and simple mango wood accessories, the 56 villa accommodations are either tucked away in the rainforest, located along the shore, or set high on the hill. All villa types come with plenty of space, a private pool and a 24-hour personal butler. Ocean Panorama Pool Villas is the most stunning of them all, with unobstructed views of Phang Nga Bay from the bedroom, bathroom and private infinity pool, an outdoor shower and a terrace for lounging and alfresco dining.
Reinforcing the Six Senses philosophy of sustainability, Six Senses Yao Noi practices an eco-friendly policy that focuses on environmental and social sustainability. For example, the resort produces its own drinking water through reverse osmosis, with reuseable glass water bottles. Another notable endeavour is the interactive farm-to-table concept, which involves a chicken farm where guests are encouraged to collect freshly laid organic eggs for breakfast.
What to do
The Big Tree
Unmistakable for its size and beauty, the Big Tree is a hidden gem located far north of Koh Yao Noi, which makes it lesser known to tourists as accommodations on the island are mostly in the south. Get a longtail boat from the south bay to Ao Kian Bay, a small beach at the northern end of Koh Yao Noi. Take a short hike through the untouched jungle where you will spot indigenous plants and wildlife before you reach the Big Tree. The magnificent tree is about 30 meters tall and it takes at least 20 people to create a human circle around it. Scientifically known as Hopea Beccariana, the Big Tree is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the locals believe that it is also the home of the female spirit Nang Da Kian, who will bring to bad luck to anyone who cuts or damages the tree.
Those looking for a less busy alternative to Railay beach or Tonsai Bay, the rock climbing mecca in Krabi will find challenging climbs in Koh Yao Noi, some of which are only accessible by boat, ensuring that you will climb well away from any crowds. With over a hundred routes of varied grades, all in pristine condition and affording wonderful views from the tops of its semi-deserted crags, Koh Yao Noi boasts some of the best rock faces in Thailand.
Offering a full spectrum of face climbs, multi-pitch climbing and stalactites, Koh Yao Noi boasts more than 50 bolted routes of varying difficulties to explore. Perched five meters above the sea, The Grateful Wall on the north side of Koh Yao Noi is possibly the best wall for moderate climbing in the whole of Thailand — plus you’ll get unbeatable views of the islands scattered throughout Phang Nga Bay. Other phenomenal crags include The HD Wall, the Dump Wall and the Big Tree Wall, which are located a stiff hike away from Paradise Beach.
The best way to start rock climbing on the island is a stop at The Mountain Shop at Tha Khao pier, which offers guided trips and useful tips on current safety and access issues. A detailed guide book is also available for those looking to do some vertical exploring on their own.
Koh Yao Noi is surrounded by a cluster of serene islands nearby including Koh Lao Lading, Koh Nok, Koh Khai Nok, Koh Pak Bia, Koh Khai Nai and Koh Hong, offering sparkling white bits of sand and teal-toned waters for snorkeling.
Rent a kayak for the day and paddle into the caves of the karst islands, make a stop at Ko Pannyi, a Muslim fishing village in Phang Nga Province, and the picturesque ‘James Bond’ island, Khao Phing Kan. Most resorts on Koh Yao Noi organise daily excursions to the islands of Phang Nga Bay, or you can simply hire a longtail boat for the day to explore the area at your own pace. A must-visit is Koh Hong, where you will find appealing stretches of golden sand, limestone cliffs and some of the most spectacular underwater environments for snorkeling.