Ever the critical travelers, it’s difficult to sway us when a resort claims to boast ‘the best view in Asia,’ even moreso, when said view is to come from a tent on a hill on an island we hadn’t formerly really heard of. Yet we’re fools to have ever dared to question the 9 Hornbills Tented Camp.
Located on the smaller sibling of Koh Yao Yai (or ‘long big island’), the luxury villa-only resort sits on Koh Yao Noi (or ‘long little island’) as a relatively new addition to the Ko Yao Island Resort. It is a striking and original experience for anyone looking to spruce up their regular island retreat, and is reminiscent of why glamping was very recently so very in vogue. Where authentic simplicity meets an eco-conscious spirit with a sense of relaxed adventure in mind, we recently checked in to 9 Hornbills for the weekend. Read ahead for our full review.
[All images courtesy 9 Hornbills Tented Camp]
Getting to the 9 Hornbills Tented Camp almost feels like half the fun. The secluded sanctuary sits nestled atop a private hill overlooking its older sister property, Ko Yao Island Resort. Upon arrival, you’ll check in at this resort, before being taken on a 7-minute golf buggy ride to the 9 Hornbills camp and your tent villa for the night. Sweet, but by far the least exciting part of the journey.
9 Hornbills Tented Camp is located on Koh Yao Noi Island, which means that it can only be reached via boat. Guests who come from abroad by plane will need to land at either Phuket or Krabi airport, before a car transfer takes them to the local pier. From here, you can embark on either a scheduled speedboat or a private longtail boat. Either option is very scenic as you cruise past the many limestone islands, and the whole ride takes about 30 minutes to an hour. From here, you’ll be picked up by another transfer to take you to the camp. If you’re feeling adventurous, ditch the classic limousine or van, and definitely take the snazzy 9 Hornbills white cream songthaew instead.
The total journey time from airport arrival to tent villa arrival is approximately 1.5-2 hours. It’s surprisingly smooth and efficient, and not exhausting at any point, and if you think long and hard about it, it’d probably take the same amount of time to get from Sathorn to Sukhumvit in a cab on a Friday evening.
9 Hornbills Tented Camp is a haven for those who crave space, serenity, and scenery. Each of the villa tents lies enclosed in its own little 108sqm compound of sorts. You enter via a wooden door that leads down flower-framed stone steps, before following a footpath to your private garden, and the tent itself.
‘Tent’, of course, is the understatement of the weekend. The villa’s exterior is made of tent material, whilst the interiors feature warm wooden accents and charmingly exotic touches. The large bed and dreamy mosquito net are the centre points of the room, with a lounging area on one side, and an open bathroom on the other. A stand-alone bathtub sits by the window overlooking the view outside, and a rainforest shower is located outside of the tent itself for a rinse beneath the sun or stars.
Still, there are true camping elements to the villa. There is no real air conditioning because there aren’t any ‘real’ windows, but rather netting to cover the window-like holes in the tent. There is also no television (though there is WiFi, fret not), but a small library for books to read by the pool. It’s not just reminiscent of simpler times and eerie romance, but good for the environment, too. Low-energy fans are also provided for gentle breezes of air.
Outside, an arctic-blue private 28sqm swimming pool invites to a dip throughout the day, with an outdoor lounging and dining area and two sunbeds for naps. Enveloping it all is that infamous view: little peaks of the Koh Rong archipelago, a sprawling greenery below you, and an interplay of the moving clouds throughout the day.
Foodies have long had a soft spot for Instagram, and luckily for them, 9 Hornbills has a soft spot for foodies. For the most photogenic breakfast of your year, opt for a ‘floating breakfast’ from the room service menu, which will come served with complementing flowers and accessories to ‘gram. The taste of the meal itself may seem to come second place to its appearance.
Beyond in-villa dining, 9 Hornbills does not as yet have its own restaurant, though it is in the works. Instead, guests can call a buggy to take them to the main resort for dining, where they’ll find Pumpui, a Thai restaurant serving specialty southern dishes and seafood. For a more personalised experience, private dining may also be arranged, be it an intimate barbecue or a dinner boat trip to marine park island. Granted, dining options at 9 Hornbills or even Koh Yao Noi are limited, but the menu covers just about enough to ensure you have sufficient to excite you over a long weekend stay.
It’s rare for us to recommend doing nothing, but when at 9 Hornbills, the topmost priority almost feels so. Take in the view. Breathe in the air. Feel the impeccably soft (and rare) white sand beneath your feet. All cliched, but still wonderfully effective, it is refreshing to find a Thai island escape that still delivers in these aspects.
Of course, after you’ve soaked up the sun and had a snooze in one of the beachside hammocks, there are still plenty of activities to partake in. The resort offers complimentary kayaks and paddle boards to use on the beach, and you can also rent motorbikes or bicycles to explore the island. For those hankering for a pampering, there is also a spa at the Ko Yao Island resort.
As Bangkokians, we are often spoiled for choice when we’re looking for a fast fix to unwind. Be it after-work massages in town or a quick trip to Hua Hin or Phuket, finding relaxation isn’t really a challenge for the savvy city dweller. And yet, something about 9 Hornbills captures a tranquility that makes it worthy of a journey across three modes of transport.
At 9 Hornbills, you’re staying in a tent on a hilltop in a tropical jungle on a tiny island. There are no real locks on doors; there are no actual room keys. Nevertheless, the environment is trustworthy, and its guests feel warm and safe within it. It’s an interesting observation.
As more and more resorts that deem themselves to be ‘glamping’ destinations, yet focus more on the ‘glam’ than the ‘camping’, 9 Hornbills manages to keep it real — albeit with luxury edge. The appeal, however, lies in its honesty. Organic, unworried, and deeply respectful of the nature around it, it is an escape that is as peaceful to experience as it is to remember once you leave. Physical views there are plenty, from the beach to the rock formations to the tall palm trees, yet your view on how you experience and appreciate these elements is exactly why 9 Hornbills leaves a serene and lasting impression — even long after the last slew of likes for that breakfast ‘gram.
9 Hornbills Tented Camp, 24/2 Moo 5 T., Koh Yao Noi, A. Koh Yao Phang Nga, Thailand. +66 76 410 782.
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Bangkok on 12 September 2019.