Dawn

Dawn breaks over Phang Nga Bay

Now usually I wouldn’t divulge my most favourite places until I’d swooped in and secured the real estate at a decent price, but I feel compelled to share this one right now.

I love holidaying in Thailand, and I’ve recently discovered another little gem that joins the River Kwai and Khao Sok in my list of perfect long weekend jaunts from Hong Kong.

Koh Yao Noi is smack dab in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, a gentle 45 minute boat ride from Phuket. It’s got all the charm of Koh Samui and Phi Phi back in the day i.e. limited numbers of tourists, a fair number of dirt roads, secret beaches, fantastic and cheap food, and a laid back local populace.

There are two upscale accommodation options on the island,  The Paradise Resort and the Evason Six Senses, and for this trip the Paradise checked all the boxes:

  • A decent hotel spa
  • My own terrace with sala and jacuzzi
  • A villa on a hill overlooking the marvelous karst scenery of Phang Nga bay
  • No large groups of Russian tourists (sorry Russian tour groups, but you’re noisy and tend to wander around inappropriately in speedos and thong bikinis).
  • Quiet

I’d say The Paradise has 80% of what you get at the Evason for less then half the price, (and the 20% that is missing is made up entirely of aesthetics, more sophisticated food and a wider range of spa treatments.)

Paradise Resort

The Paradise Resort

So, after a night in Bangkok at the Eugenia, we caught the early flight to Phuket and were picked up by the hotel at the airport. After a 15 minute transfer to a marina, we waited for a few other guests to arrive and then shortly after we set off for the island.

Transfer: THB2,200 per person, one way. To leave the island we took a huge public speedboat back to Phuket which was just as convenient.

The view from my bed

Villas:  We stayed in a Jacuzzi Deluxe villa, which was perched high on the hillside with a sea view. I’m not a huge beachy person, and much prefer having grandiose open views rather than being able to access the beach from my front door. I was expecting thunderstorms too which are always more exciting when you’re up high.

Good sized room, well constructed, nice natural materials; all wooden, stone and slate inside. Great little terrace with a covered sala one end and an unheated, sunken jacuzzi. Bathroom also opened one entire wall onto the terrace so you felt like you were showering outside, (Mr H was a little concerned he could be peeped at so wasn’t keen on opening up, but I was certain it was fine).

The room was excellent value for money.

Service: The manager is a friendly Swiss guy who’d been in the hotel trade for decades. Staff were helpful, although at times a little slow to respond.

Facilities: We made good use of the spa, which was well priced and very pleasant. There was also a yoga sala on the beach and a lot of watersports options. There was a good deal of wildlife around the hotel, from hornbills to monitor lizards.

Our guide kayaking on a tiny lagoon inside a limestone island

The hotel organised a boatman and guide for the day and we went kayaking around Phang Nga Bay which was an excellent excursion.

Because we were so much closer to all the best islands and lagoons than people staying on Phuket, we could get everywhere earlier than the hordes of braying booze cruisers.

The kayaks would be strapped to the side of the boat until needed and we’d zap off in our long-tailed skiff to each location. The hotel also organised a great picnic lunch and we had plenty of water, towels, extra dry bags for our gear and sunscreen etc. Very thoughtful.

We explored all kinds of hidden lagoons a la “The Beach” and generally just pootled around with our very nice guide.

Food: The food we had at the hotel was good if limited. Un-fussy, lots of fresh seafood and locally grown produce. Buffet breakfast was generous and surprisingly varied. You could eat in the restaurant or on the beach and there was also a beach bar with friendly staff and TV to watch if you wanted. Not sure how bonkers it would have driven me if I had stayed a week and only been able to eat at the one restaurant.

Beach: The tide goes very far out on the beach here and leaves quite a muddy bay behind it. That doesn’t bother me, and there was a well landscaped, large swimming pool to use. But I know that a lot of people who don’t have the same kind of daily access we do to beaches in Hong Kong need to have their beach expectations managed.

Getting around: The resort is barely accessible by road, and is remote from the rest of the island. It’s in a great location with wonderful views of the karst islands rather than just bare ocean. There are private speedboat transfers, or you can hop on the public boats that ferry staff over to the inhabited side of the island.

We took an eyeopening ride back to the hotel one evening in a taxi. From half-way the roads were just rubble and we had to get out and push the taxi up a hill at one stage. All quite fun!

Island: The rest of the island is super chilled. It’s a mainly Muslim community so it’s not a raucous party island. Apart from the Evason, the rest of the accommodation is very simple, low-budget backpacker style beach huts. There are no penny-pinching gap-year backpackers which is a blessed relief.

We had a fantastic meal at Sabai Corner, and would highly recommend sitting there watching the sun go down and eating supper.

We also had a spa treatment and lunch at the Evason Six Senses. It was very pleasant, very sophisticated and ever so hushed. Shhhhh.

The villas are impressive, but unless I was going to the island in high season and really needed the seclusion that money buys, I wouldn’t be tempted. The hotel also caused some upset in the community when they arrived, and so the locals were unimpressed for a long while. Apparently management are now more sensitive about their role on the island and relations are slowly improving.

Price: THB15,600 for four nights! That’s around US$500. Awesome value. This included one night free which was a special deal for patrons who lived in Asia.

We will definitely be going back to The Paradise. The hotel isn’t the plushest, most sophisticated in the world, but for the budget that they must have had to build it, it has been very thoughtfully planned and maximizes the stunning location. It sits gently in it’s surroundings and the atmosphere (at least in low season when we were there) is friendly and super chilled, and you just can’t argue with value for money like that.

Koh Yao Noi is a delightful island, and staggeringly unspoiled considering that Phuket is mere minutes away.