We needed an island getaway, and we found it on Koh Yao Noi. Traveling there had to be the smoothest transfer we’ve had thus far, despite using four different methods of transportation.
Instead of taking the easy route (taxi) to get to Bang Rong pier across Phuket Island (an hours’s drive), we chose to take the local buses, also known as songthaews. Utilizing “maps.me,” an incredibly useful map app in which users can update maps wiki-style, we found the local bus station about a mile from our hostel in Phuket. The songthaews are small trucks with wooded roofs on the back. Long narrow benches fill the bed with open sides. Below is a picture of a songthaew on Koh Yao Noi. They all look like this for the most part.
For 40 baht (roughly $1.25), we hopped in back and took the hour ride to Phuket Town. What was smooth about it was when we arrived at the bus station and hopped on, we departed for town within a couple of minutes. Same with the transfer in Phuket Town. We were dropped off where the other songthaews waited to bring passengers to the beaches, we asked which was going to Bang Rong, we hopped on, and it departed almost immediately! Another cheap 40 baht ride. The stars were aligning. We made it to Bang Rong pier, asked for the longtail boat to Koh Yoa Noi, hopped on, and you guessed it, left within five minutes. What could have been a long, stressful morning of travel (just to save a few dollars) turned into a morning that made us feel real travel savvy! We spent 160 baht instead of 900 baht to get us to the pier, roughly $25 in savings. We love having nothing but time on our hands so we can take the the more exciting routes.
The longtail boat was packed and sweaty, but lasted less than an hour. Once we got to Manoh Pier on Koh Yao Noi, we rented a scooter right away and zoomed off to our beachside bungalow. Renting a scooter straight from the pier eliminated yet another need for a taxi ride. You could say we are figuring things out!
Our bungalow was on one of the nicer east side beaches. We were across the street from a soft, white-sand beach almost completely empty of people. There were simple smoothie stands and massage huts dotted along the beach nearby. It was far less crowded and developed than Phuket, and we knew we’d need to spend the week here.
Our week was filled with sunbathing, swimming, hiking, and island hopping. We rode our scooter all over the island finding hidden, untouched beaches and narrow trails leading to stunning sunset views. We rode through acres and acres of rubber trees neatly planted in rows with small buckets nailed to the trunks collecting the rubber. It smelled of rubber, too!
We rode down an incredibly long, dangerous gravel road to the island’s climbing spot on the northern coast. The hills were steep and the gravel loose in some spots. I am surprisingly graceful with the scooter in the tough spots, but still I managed to put the scooter in the ditch a couple of times. I wasn’t injured though!
The crag was a hike down a steep hill from where we parked our scooter. Once there we met a couple from Oregon that had been climbing there for a few days. We made friends with them, and Marc was able to accompany them the next day on a climbing adventure even further north on the island. The crag was only accessible by boat. He had a marvelous day cutting up his hands on the glorious seaside limestone.
It was our first full day apart, and I spent many hours sitting in the lovely “Chaba Cafe” sipping beet juice and munching on paninis. I also did some shopping in the local market and bought these groovy linen pants seen in the photo above.
Chaba Cafe was so good I had to bring Marc back a couple days later…
For my birthday we went on an island hopping trip to five islands nearby. We took off on a longtail with eight other travelers. We were finally able to boat amongst the stunning rock formations we had been seeing in the distance!
We went to Ko Hong first to admire the hidden lagoon in the center. We were in a parade of boats filled with passengers each on their own boat trip. It’s quite a popular activity to do for tourists in this area because there are so many tiny islands to explore. With no accommodations or food on these islands, a day trip on a boat is the only way to see them! After Ko Hong we were off to Ko Pak Ka for some snorkeling. I feel like a brat for saying this, but ever since our snorkeling trip to Crystal Bay in Bali nothing else compares. Ko Pak Ka was sort of murky and the coral half dead. There were large schools of tropical fish near the surface so the interactions with those cuties made the stop worth it. Also, the amazing backdrops of the huge limestone cliffs weren’t too bad to look at either.
Next was Ko Lao Ladding, a small pristine beach for swimming! We spent the most time here floating in the cool water. It was very crowded. Again, I wondered if all the boat trips go to the same islands in the area. There must have been 10 boats beached up on shore.
After a short drive by Ko Han Tu (there were monkeys all over the beach and other boats were throwing them food — big no-no), we landed on Ko Nok for our final stop. Ko Nok was the smallest island, but it had a large beach and a strenuous 10 minute hike up to a viewpoint. The trail was very steep and we needed to use ropes to pull us up most of the way. At the top we could gaze at the islands we just explored. We also had a better view of Koh Yao Noi and Pasai Beach, the beach we were staying at. We relaxed on the beach there and read our books for awhile before heading back to the pier.
My birthday activities continued with massages on the beach. I opted for an oil massage as my skin has felt a little scaly from frying in the sun day after day. Marc was beside me receiving his very first Thai massage! The oil massage was aromatic and soothing to my skin. About halfway through my bladder started getting my attention, and believe it or not my masseuse ended the session by massaging my abdomen. Specifically my lower abdomen. I’ve had many massages before and I have never, ever had someone do this. I had to laugh. Of all the times to massage my bladder. Of course being the shy person I am I didn’t ask her to stop.
We went to ‘Cocco Bello’ for dinner, an Italian restaurant run by an Italian who has lived on Koh Yao Noi for 14 years. I indulged in a four cheese penne dish and was so grateful to feast on real cheese. It had been much too long. We enjoyed a cocktail and the view from our boat booth.
After my birthday dinner we lazily drove back to our bungalow. Marc took the turns gracefully and I rested my head on his shoulder as I sat behind him. The cool air felt heavenly on my skin, and the constant breeze from the scooter zooming down the road felt even better. We turned the corner to drive parallel with the ocean and the temperature of the air changed immediately to a muggy warmth. So quickly it changed! I drew my head back and gazed at the bright stars tattooed in the sky while trees canopied over us. I love the scooter. Marc and I have resolved to buy one once we’re living in the US again. I had a wonderful birthday. I told Marc I was exactly where I thought I’d be when I turned 25: living out of a backpack on some remote island.
We couldn’t find cake after our dinner because it was getting late. The next day, however, I got my birthday sweets at a darling cafe next to the beach.
We rented a two-seater kayak from Cocco Bello one day because it was the furthest north establishment that rented them. We were to kayak to the small island off of the north shore, Ko Kudo. The kayak owner suggested we check out Ko Roi, too. It wasn’t too far out of the way, and he said it was his favorite. We spent the whole day exploring these two islands, circling Ko Kudo first and relaxing on the small private beach on the southern side.
The water was nice for swimming, but if you looked closely there were small, white jellyfish the size of softballs all around you. There were also barracudas and larger pink jellyfish, too, that some local fisherman warned us about.
Both islands were known for their deep water soloing spots, and Marc was able to climb up a couple of spots to enjoy the freeing feeling of landing in water when he fell.
The kayaking was easy, generally speaking, except for in between islands when the current was stronger and the water was deeper. We saw the large pink jellyfish we heard about in the channel. On Ko Roi we trekked to the center of the island which is actually a lagoon during high tide. Once inside we heard the screaming of hundreds of bats. Looking closely, you could see the large bats all trying to get their rest. We wondered if they were really trying to sleep because the noise made us think otherwise. Some bats were flying around and their wingspan was something like three feet. I think we kayaked around 10 km that day and my traps offered me proof a few hours later.
The food on Koh Yao Noi was pretty standard. It seemed we ate more western food on the island when I think about it, we craved burgers and pasta. We got it out of our system and then found our favorite place. It was a very simple restaurant run out of a garage on the main strip in town. A nice older lady made Pad Thai with chicken, shrimp, or vegetable. She may have also served fried mussels, but Pad Thai was obviously her specialty. We ate there two days in a row. The second day Marc learned his lesson and ordered two dishes at once. At 50 baht we got the most bang for our buck at this unnamed street side eatery.
After an adventurous, sun-soaked week it was time to head to our next destination via longtail boat.
Our backpacks have served us well, and we have complimented each other time and again for our light packing skills. Soon I will write a post on what we brought!
See? So light I can carry both our packs AND use the ATM.