Thailand is a brilliant destination to travel around with kids and it’s unquestionably a firm Tribe family favourite. Finding the right destinations to visit can however be a real challenge as certain areas have developed too quickly and without much thought for long term sustainable travel. We were looking for a quiet and secluded island, with beautiful beaches and incredible karst scenery, access to a reasonable selection of amenities and perhaps a few non-beach related activities to do too. All that, with a spacious, boutique-feel villa to call home that was decent value and within easy reach of one of the international airports. Too much to ask?! Step forward the twin islands of Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai, where we were lucky enough to visit for four days as part of our recent South East Asian adventure.
Located directly between Phuket and Krabi, the two islands are part of the Ao Phang-Nga National Park, meaning development has been carefully restricted and tourist numbers have remained relatively low. Despite their easily accessible location (a 30-minute speed boat from Phuket for example) they remain that rarest of things in Thailand; an unspoiled and somewhat hidden beach paradise. Phang Nga bay with it’s towering limestone karts provides a stunning vista from the island’s eastern coasts, while a mountainous, jungle-clad centre drops to secluded golden beaches around the perimeter. We planned to spend our four days exploring some of the nearby beaches at a very leisurely pace, enjoying some traditional Thai food in slightly ramshackle cafes and taking the odd stroll around quiet fishing villages and along jungle-clad pathways.
Our adventure began with a bumpy thirty-minute speedboat ride from Phuket's Bang Rong pier that leads you out past tiny uninhabited islands into Phang Nga Bay. On arrival into Koh Yao Noi we were whisked onto a large tuk-tuk and, after announcing our destination, began our first journey across the island. The tuk-tuk gently rumbled past fields of rubber trees and the tangled roots of giant mangroves as we made our first drop-offs in one of the tiny fishing villages that dot the coastline. One more drop and around fifteen minutes later and we were bouncing along the track that led to a small collection of locally designed and crafted villas on the southern tip of Yao Noi, our base for the next four nights.
Having spent the majority of the day travelling, we downed our welcome drinks, served on a floating wooden deck overlooking a large pond surrounded by mangroves and small paddy fields, and headed back to our private pool for a swim and a play. The afternoon drifted by as we played games on the large veranda overlooking our pool and garden, swung lazily on hammocks or read nestled in comfy beanbags. It was soon dinner-time so we opted for ease and headed back to the pond-side restaurant for a delicious Thai meal. The kids enjoyed a couple of stacking games and space to play on a nearby sofa while we sat back and enjoyed the peace of our surroundings.
Our next day was a classic pool and beach combination, with only a morning market trip and a lunchtime stroll to a nearby restaurant offering any distraction to the fun and games. We had come in green season and, as expected, had to take cover from a few passing storms. The private pool became invaluable as we could gather kids in towels when necessary and leave the various accompanying toys and games scattered around the spacious garden. The accommodations private beach was located back by the restaurant, so we decided to head down in the afternoon as the kids were desperate to build some sand sculptures and chase waves up the beach. The sun was out and views over the incongruous jungle-green Koh Hong, Koh Nok and Pa Koh archipelago were beautiful. The beach rolls on and on in both directions eventually leading to the larger Pasai beach to the north and a tiny fishing community around the headland to the south. Just as I was eyeing up a stroll the latest batch of grey clouds rolled in and the winds picked up chasing us back to the comforts of our villa, some home-cooking and a couple of Chang beers as the sun set over the ocean.
One of the best ways to explore the Koh Yao islands is by moped – generally a no-go for families for obvious reasons. However a selection of sparkling moped plus side-car combos, as well as mini side tuk-tuk’s are readily available to hire from around eight pounds per day and are a brilliant way for families to cruise the island. With our family-of-five deemed to large and too young for any combination of side-car we opted for a rather battered and bedraggled looking side tuk-tuk and went exploring on day three. There’s one well-paved continuous road that loops around the entire Yao Noi island so navigating is completely unnecessary. We fuelled up in traditional south-east Asian style, a re-used plastic water bottle full of fuel purchased from a shack at the side of the road, and headed north along the island’s eastern and most picturesque coast. Trundling past solitary oxen sitting comfortably in well watered paddy fields we marvelled at the total lack of other vehicles on the road, let alone tourists, and it really did feel like we’d found a forgotten corner of this beautiful country. Our journey took us past the cosy beach-style Cafe Kantary, where we stopped for an early iced coffee and some delicious cakes, past Klong Jark beach, before a lunch-stop at the excellent Chaba Cafe. Here we enjoyed a delicious beetroot falafel bowl and picked up some souvenirs from the on-site gallery which sells crafts from local artists and school children.
We then made a pit-stop at the northern end of Klong Jark beach between the Koyao Island Resort and Six Senses Resort. This was a beautiful strip of golden sands, one of the wider ones on an island characterised by fairly skinny stretches of beach, with a stunning backdrop of karst islands stretching up into what was thankfully now a clear blue sky. The kids had a wander and a play, enjoying their near private spot on this glorious bit of Thai beach. A little further north, a right turn leads to a short trail to Hornbill view point, a great option if you want to park your vehicle and stretch your legs, with glorious panoramic views of Phang Nga Bay as reward. If you continue north you’ll venture into the official Phang Nga National Park which covers the northern end of Yao Noi. The beautiful Long Beach and Mankei Bay are here, while the aptly named Big Tree is exactly that, a huge and very old tree thought by locals to be the home of an ancient female spirit. The giant tree looks over Ao Kian Bay, a beautiful cove sitting at the islands most northern point. Older adventurers can go out on a kayaking trip from here, exploring the surrounding limestone spires and caves. The journey back south along the western side of the island meanders past fields of rubber trees and through little fishing villages before reaching the main town, perfect for stocking up before heading home after a day well-spent exploring this fantastic island.
We kicked off our final full day with an early morning stroll along our local beach, ducking between gentle waves, clambering over fallen trees and through ‘sinking’ sand, soaking in the stunning backdrop. The kids revelled in the deserted sands, sprinting ahead before rushing back to tell us about the next ‘obstacle’ we’d need to cross. The rest of the day played out in a similar fashion to those that came before, with the toughest decisions being whether to snooze or play and when to transition between pool-side hammock to beach-side lounger. A final take-away pad-thai from our now local, Kaya Restaurant, and we got some sleep before our speedboat ride the following morning would take us from the secluded tranquillity of Koh Yao Noi to ‘normal’ Thailand and Phuket.