As we rolled up our Thai pants we took one last look at the beautiful stretch of beach that had been our playground for the past nine days, before wading through the warm waters and hopping aboard our private long-tail boat back to Phuket. Or perhaps we should say clamber aboard, as there was never anything graceful about us getting in and out of long-tails *queue painfully hilarious memories of getting half-drenched by an unexpected wave after a trip to some neighbouring islands*. Reclining against the wooden backboard, we had to resist the urge to jump off as the boat reversed and we were forced to wave goodbye to the beautiful and wonderfully remote island of Koh Yao Noi.
Our holiday had begun 11 days earlier when we arrived in Phuket dog-tired from our long journey and paler than a couple of people who hadn’t even seen the sun for months (uh, well actually…). We spent our first two days hanging around Mai Khao beach at the SALA Phuket Resort & Spa. Quite literally a place that makes you feel like you died and went to Heaven; upon arrival our wrists were draped with phuang malai (jasmine garlands) and we were given the choice of four different types of pillows to sleep on and a whole array of personalised lotions and potions. The SALA brings a whole new meaning to luxury and excellent customer service.
Now, when I say we spent the first couple of days “hanging out”, what I actually mean is exploring James Bond Island and the breathtaking Phang Nga Bay on the Jit Jai (a traditional junk boat tour from the guys at Asian Oasis, shout out to Sudjai who was an amazing guide!) and racing through Phuket’s Old Town on e-bikes. We did, however, have some time to relax in our outdoor bathtub and swim a couple of laps in our private pool. We also managed to squeeze in some fresh coconut cocktails on the beach as we watched the sunset. Ok, ok, we’ll stop.
On the afternoon of our third day, after we spent the morning cycling around Phuket’s Old Town (in high-vis jackets so bright it’s a miracle we didn’t blind anyone) exploring markets and museums with our fantastic Exotissimo travel guide Nuya, we boarded a long-tail boat at Bangrong Pier and, about an hour later, we arrived in Koh Yao Noi.
In the middle of Phang Nga Bay, with the ever-crowded Phuket to the west and the bustling Krabi to the east, it’s hard to believe that such a tranquil and largely unknown haven could exist between the two of them. Often referred to as Thailand’s last untouched island, Koh Yao Noi caters to only a handful of tourists and, lusciously green and mountainous in the middle with stunning palm-lined beaches along the coast, it is a true island paradise.
The boat bumped and bounced along the water and we watched with eager eyes, trying to figure out which island was ‘ours’. It was high tide so instead of getting dropped off on the beach outside the Koyao Island Resort, our home for the next eight nights, we went to a nearby pier. Now, climbing out of a boat and stepping up a good metre onto a thin concrete pillar is no easy task and if you thought getting swamped by a wave was the most unfortunate long-tail incident of our trip, you are sorely mistaken. As I stepped up, taking the hands of two unsuspecting dock workers for support, I lost my balance and almost pulled us all into the water. Whoops. Roxy, however, managed to maintain her dignity.
After a short ride on a songthaew, we arrived at the Koyao Island Resort. With the hotel set back just metres from a never-ending beach with warm turquoise waters, white sands and stunning vistas of Phang Nga Bay’s iconic limestone pillars, we once again had to pinch ourselves. The resort has only a handful of open-air villas and studios, all beautiful and all with facades made of bamboo blinds that roll up all the way to allow for uninterrupted sea views, not to mention insanely beautiful views of the sunrise from bed. Luckily for us, we were able to get a taster for the different accommodations they had, spending the first five nights in a sea breeze studio before relocating to a villa for the final three nights.
We spent our first day on the island doing absolutely nothing. We chilled by the pool, walked on the beach, swam, ate and indulged in a pina colada or two, making sure we took full advantage of the hotel’s two happy hours. We also enjoyed a heavenly massage at the hotel’s spa. Over the next few days, we went kayaking, took to the dirt tracks on mountain bikes and spent a full day zipping around on a scooter, exploring the island and visiting a couple of great restaurants including Chaba café and the Rice Paddy.
On the third day of our stay in Koh Yao Noi, we were reunited with the lovely Nuya from Exotissimo for a community visit. We learned how to tap rubber trees and build traditional fishing traps, watched the local women’s group batik painting, ate lunch with a local family and visited a farm where we tasted coconuts just moments after they were knocked from the tree.
The next day, after a morning of reading and relaxing, we decided to check out one of the island’s most loved attractions, Mina’s Cooking Class. Picked up in a songthaew, we were taken to Mina’s beautiful home. You can select from an impressive array of different menus to cook and, whilst we opted for the vegetarian menu, we were allowed to swap a few dishes out in favour of some from other menus.
We started the lesson learning about herbs and vegetables, many of which Mina grows in her garden. Next up, Mina sits me down on a giant wooden lizard, a traditional coconut grater, hands me a coconut and asks me to get to work. We go on to make fresh coconut cream and milk, a green curry, a mushroom and chilli stir-fry, a pad Thai and sticky rice with coconut custard. We also made an amazingly refreshing (not to mention tasty) lemongrass juice.
Mina is super friendly and she wasted no time getting us stuck in. We felt at home instantly and, after the class, we asked her to join us half-way through our meal. We ended up having an epic conversation about food, health, her hopes for the island and her life, family and business.
On Saturday morning, the Koyao Island Resort put on a complimentary boat tour around the nearby islands. We huddled aboard and circled some of the giant limestone pillars, even spotting some people actually living inside the cliff faces, before docking at Koh Lading. Unfortunately there were lots of other tourists already there so it was a little cramped. Our next stop was Pak Bia and, as we approached the island, our small group let out a synchronised sigh of disbelief. A powdery white sandbar protruding from gorgeous green-fringed rock formations, Pak Bia is out of this world. We strolled around the island before lazily bopping around in the warm, turquoise shallows. Top marks, Koyao.
On our final night in Thailand, we treated ourselves to a private dining experience on Koh Nok, a tiny island just 15 minutes away from the hotel by boat. Our personal waiter and chef Jak set up our dining spot and lit the barbeque whilst we sipped our wine and watched the sunset. We feasted on dish after dish of beautiful soups, stir-fries, curries and seafood. At the end of the night Jak brought us a kongming lantern and, after writing down our dreams, we lit it and released it into the star-studded sky. It was the perfect ending to a perfect holiday. We both left a little piece of our hearts on Koh Yao. It will forever be our island, our very own slice of paradise.
Head to Far Out East with Emma & Roxy to find out about our booking experience and our holiday.
You can also read more about our travels here and on Twitter using #ExpThailand.