Poul and I celebrated Christmas in Singapore this year. He was working, so he flew in on December 23rd, and my original plan was to join him after spending a couple of days in Bangkok on my way. That plan then turned into Phuket instead, because domestic flights in Thailand are so cheap, and while on board the plane to Phuket, the plans changed even further to also include a couple of days at Yao Yai, which is an island on the eastern side of Phuket.
I lost my faith in Phuket several years ago, after a Patong Beach mass tourism overdose. I know there are nicer, less touristy laces on Phuket, but I wasn’t in the mood to go looking for them.
Koh Yao, on the other hand, sounded very tempting. Koh Yao (koh=island) consists of the two sister islands Yao Noi and Yao Yai, which are known as some of the least developed islands in this part of Thailand. There are no big tour operators or large, all-inclusive resorts and the islands’ population primarily earn their income from fishing and rubber plantations.
The vast majority of Yao Yai’s residents are Muslims, and most of the local women wear a headscarf to cover their hair. Female visitors are not expected to wear one, but I noticed that most tourists on the island dressed respectfully, and I didn’t see a lot of mini skirts and cropped tops.
The hotel bars serve alcohol, but I didn’t see any of the beach bars you’ll find at most other islands in Thailand. I know some of you would probably see this as a major drawback, but I was traveling solo, so it suited me fine not having to bump into drunken tourists everywhere.
Except for enjoying the beautiful scenery, there’s not a lot of things to do on Yao Yai island itself, but there are plenty of opportunities to go on day trips to the neighboring islands.
Discovering Yao Yai was like discovering a piece of Thailand I thought was long gone. No banana boats, no jet skis and no tuk-tuk drivers trying to rip you off. Everything was so peaceful and everybody was so genuinely friendly. My heart skipped a beat for joy and I had to pinch my arm to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Though I’m afraid it will not last for long. The movie Mechanic: Resurrection, which premieres in 2016, was shot on Yao Yai and when I went on a scooter trip around the island I saw several construction sites, which looked like they might turn into hotels in a near future. If you’re planning to visiting Thailand, make sure to put Yao Yai on your list and go before it’s too late.