Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania. He prefers a slower pace to his travels to explore destinations more in-depth and to get a feel for what life is actually like there. When he’s not writing, he’s usually off exploring trails with his fiancée, Kaitlyn.
Discover the top things to do on Koh Yao Yai Island, Thailand! From stunning beaches to local charm, this non-touristy island awaits your visit.
Picture this: you’re in Thailand, a land of stunning beaches, mouth-watering cuisine, and tourists wearing elephant pants.
You want to escape the hoards of selfie-stick warriors in Phuket and find a slice of paradise where the biggest decision of the day is whether to have your Pad Thai with shrimp or chicken.
Enter Koh Yao Yai, an island so serene it makes a monastery look like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
But before you start picturing yourself as Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Beach,’ let’s explore some of the best things to do on the island of Koh Yao Yai.
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An overview of Koh Yao Yai island
Koh Yao Yai (also spelled Ko Yao Yai and meaning ‘big long island) may sound like your typical Thai retreat, but it’s not even close.
Nestled in Phang Nga Bay and the Andaman Sea, the island is an equal distance between Phuket and Krabi, making it a perfect getaway from the hotspots of both popular beach areas…for now at least. In 2010, it became one of the poster children for Thai ecotourism, and the island has developed a lot since then.
For now, though, the island is holding onto its small, idyllic charm. The locals all know each other, and ‘rush hour’ is still two motorbikes and a roaming cow — a drastic difference compared to Phuket.
On my first visit in 2019, I couldn’t get enough of simply coasting along on my scooter. I’d visited Koh Phi Phi and didn’t like how party-focused it was.
Koh Yao Yai was much more my vibe. And if you want a laid-back experience, it will be yours too.
8 Best things to do in Koh Yao Yai
1. Rent a scooter and explore the island
Renting a scooter is the unofficial island mantra.
And don’t worry if you don’t have much experience driving one. There’s arguably no better place to learn.
Clear roads, slow speed limits, and almost no traffic? You can take your time cruising. It’s the best way to take in the island anyway. My fiancee and I rode around on our scooter, passing through sleepy towns and occasionally stopping off for a snack. And even though Koh Yao Yai is nothing but an island of beaches, we still had most of them to ourselves.
So, at least one day, keep it simple. Just hop on your scooter and explore as much as you can.
2. Stay at Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort
Santhiya is one of the best resorts on the island.
And even though I don’t normally stay at resorts, it’s hard to turn down when they offer amazing COVID-19 prices. And it was WELL worth it for the views and the luxurious room.
If you have the cash to splash, I recommend booking a room (even if only for a night). But if not, at least head there and enjoy the sunset. Watching the sun dip below the horizon here is one of the most beautiful views you’ll have in Thailand.
Plus, the cocktails aren’t bad, either.
It’s located on the western part of the island and is pretty easy to find. Photographers will love the pier and all the photo opportunities it gives you. Enjoy the sunset!
Want to stay at Santhiya? 👇🏼
3. Visit Laem Haad Beach
A trip to Koh Yao Yai isn’t complete without relaxing at Laem Haad Beach (technically redundant because ‘haad’ means beach in Thai, but it’s fine).
Most people think it’s the best beach on the island. (I don’t get into these types of debates anymore.) But I can see their point. It is pretty beautiful. With a slim coast extending out into clear waters, it’s hard not to love it. Plus, the bank pokes out above the water at low tide, allowing you to walk further into the sea.
If you want peace and tranquility, this isn’t gonna be your place. Day tours pull up to the bank to dock and let tourists off as they crowd the small beach. So you’ll share some space here, especially during high season.
But it’s hard to beat this beach if you want that classic tropical feel.
4. Go to Koh Yao Noi for a day trip
Koh Yao Noi (also spelled Ko Yao Noi) is like KYY’s smaller, more outgoing sibling.
You step on the island and feel like you haven’t left Koh Yao Yai. Sure, it’s slightly more developed, but it’s still clinging to its rustic roots for as long as possible. You’ll find a few more restaurants, bars, and things to do on Koh Yao Noi (so things will feel mostly similar).
And just like KYY, this is an awesome place to grab a scooter and motor around the island. It may be a bit busier than KYY, and you’ll see more people at the beaches. But it’s nothing compared to the beaches in Krabi or Phuket.
I really enjoyed Klong Jark Beach and Potsai Beach and recommend both. Klong Jark has a beautiful view but isn’t the best place for swimming or snorkeling, while Potsai offers a bit of both (plus it’s not very crowded!).
If it does get too crowded, just hop back to KYY for the silence. And that’s why this is the perfect day trip opportunity.
5. Explore James Bond Island and Phang Nga Bay
You’ve likely seen pictures of Phang Nga Bay, and you’ve most definitely seen James Bond Island.
Of course, it’s that James Bond — The Man with the Golden Gun. Officially known as Koh Tapu, it’s the perfect spot for a quick photo stop. If you’re a photographer, this is the perfect spot to fill up your SD card faster than you can say ‘Pad Thai.’ But it’s not the only attraction in the area. In fact, you can spend an entire day jumping from island to island and taking in the views of the area.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, follow what I did and rent a kayak to paddle into the bay. My fiancee, four friends, and I all rented double kayaks and began paddling out. However, we didn’t pay attention to the storm in the distance headed right for us.
What ensued was one of the scariest (but also most fun) moments of our lives as we paddled like hell to get back to the dock before the storm could reach us. Long story short, we didn’t. But no one got hurt, so that’s a win in my book!
Dangerous situation? Check. Great story? Double check.
Let’s hope your visit is equally fun, just less dangerous.
6. Get a speed boat to Phi Phi Island
Koh Phi Phi is the star of the area, made famous by Leonardo Dicaprio and ‘The Beach’.
Like Leo Dicaprio himself, you may not love everything about the island, but you love at least one part a lot. And it’s the same for me with Koh Phi Phi.
I’m not a partier, so I try to avoid that part of the island (which is like avoiding a Muay Thai fighter’s kicks). But I LOVE how beautiful the island is. Starting at one of the best viewpoints near Phuket. You get that iconic view out over the island, with the thin beach splitting the ocean like a thong between a Russian tourist’s buttcheeks.
And out to the ocean where it’s like bathwater — in temperature and clarity. Plus, I don’t think anywhere gives you that classic island experience like Koh Phi Phi.
So don’t skip a visit just because it’s a bit touristy. Despite the jostling you’ll do with the crowds, it’s still worth it.
7. Stay in a beach bungalow
Think waking up and sipping coffee from the balcony of your beach bungalow is only for millionaires?
Think again! KYY is your chance to live that life on a budget. You may not have a butler named Chives or a private yacht, but at least you have a cute gecko you’ve named Chives living on your ceiling. And Chives eats all the annoying mosquitoes, so you two are on good terms.
More seriously, you can find beach bungalows of all types here. I stayed in a relatively rustic (and cheap) one, but it was right on the beach. Only two rooms — a bedroom and bathroom — and a small balcony with two chairs. It wasn’t much, but it was all I really needed.
I just wanted a place to relax, do some work, and not really do anything else but lay on the beach. And when I only paid around $20 a night, there wasn’t much to complain about.
8. Take a kayak through the mangroves
This is about as authentic (and less touristy) as it gets.
A maze of mangrove trees trying to spin you in circles, a kayak that’s seen better days, and aching arms — if that doesn’t sound fun, I don’t know what does!
The best part is how quiet it is. It’s just you, your paddle hitting the water, and the occasional fish jump or bird song. Other than that, you’ve mostly got the place to yourself!
So enjoy a nice paddle and disconnect for a bit. You’ll thank yourself after.
Ready to visit Koh Yao Yai?
Now that you’ve added a few things to your itinerary, you’re probably itching to get to the island.
And I can’t blame you, I’ve had that same itch to revisit for a few years now. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to meet on your next visit!
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