Thanks to speedboats, propeller planes, and off-roading vehicles, few places in the modern world remain completely uncharted. But Koh Yao Noi, a small island off the coast of Thailand, may make you think otherwise. Located in the middle of the striking emerald green Phang Nga Bay, equidistant to Phuket and the Krabi mainland, this seaside paradise remains relatively untouched by human hands. Limestone karsts dot the horizon in place of towering buildings, and rice fields blanket the coastline instead of concrete. There is no traffic or chain stores, just a few local eateries and street venders pedaling Batik-painted sarongs and wooden trinkets on the side of the road.
But Koh Yao Noi isn’t for everyone—especially those who want to see and be seen. Teeming with lush mangrove forests, golden sand beaches, sprawling rice paddies, and yes, even mud-rolling buffalo, this low-key locale is a welcome refuge from the dizzying tourist traps of more populated islands. To guarantee that you make the most of your journey, Haute Living has rounded up the best things to do and see—from secluded hideaways, to serene spa treatments—to help you detoxify your mind, body, and soul.
GOOD TO KNOW
Though the temperature remains fairly constant all year long (it rarely drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit) and the water is always pleasurably warm, it’s best to visit Koh Yao Noi between November and April during the “dry season.” In the “rainy season,” which falls between June and November, visitors may experience bursts of rain and powerful gusts of wind, especially in the evening. But rest assured, the undesirable weather is typically intermittent, and it’s never more than an hour until grey clouds give way to sunny skies.
Despite its undeveloped aesthetic, getting to the island of Koh Yao Noi from the United States couldn’t be simpler. To make your travel experience as seamless as possible, it’s worthwhile to splurge on a first-class or business-class ticket on Cathay Pacific. Not only will you be treated to better food and more legroom, but you’ll also have access to the airline’s luxurious airport lounges equipped with showers, snacks, free WIFI, and luggage storage—perfect for long layovers. For the most direct route, we recommend flying from New York City (flights depart daily from Newark or John F. Kennedy) to Phuket, via a short layover in Hong Kong. Once you arrive in Phuket, hire a car service to take you to the Ao Por Grand Marina (about 20 minutes away), and take a 45-minutes boat ride to Koh Yao Noi. Those traveling with a group—or who are just eager to get there already!—may want to consider chartering a helicopter directly from the Phuket airport for an additional fee.
After spending a day swimming in the water and soaking up some rays, get the lay of the land like the locals do—on bike. Pedal along the eastern side of the island, home to the island’s best beaches—many of them without a soul in sight—before heading to the west side brimming with rice paddies and rubber plantations. Though you won’t encounter many cars, be prepared for steep hills, dusty roads, and maybe even a water buffalo or two! As you cruise along the twisting trails past fields lined with mangroves, head towards the center of the island to check out the mountains and rainforests.
For those looking to explore the island from an entirely different vantage point, book a kayak tour through the Phang Nga Bay, where you’ll paddle through sea caves and hidden lagoons (be sure to keep an eye out for wild monkeys!). To make sure you’re not rushed and have plenty of time to snap pictures of all the dramatic limestone cliffs—Koh Ku Du, Koh Roi, and Koh Boi—it’s best to purchase the full-day itinerary, which includes breaks to swim, eat lunch, and relax.
If kayaking seems too strenuous (it is a vacation after all), consider chartering a long-tail boat around the island. You’ll still be able to see the same sights, as well as Khao Phing Kan—the legendary island where the 1974 James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun, was filmed. Be sure to sail by Pa Koh—the forest of the islands—and take a break to snorkel amongst the colorful fish. Insider’s tip: the water in the area is clearest on the 8th to 13th days following the full moon, so plan accordingly.
Alternatively, adrenaline junkies in search of even more excitement can scale the mammoth limestone karsts in what’s widely considered one of the best rock climbing spots in the world. But rest assured, even first-time climbers can experience the thrill and chill of rock climbing, thanks to the extensive number of rock formations with varying grades of steepness in the area. Just be sure to climb with trained professionals and use proper safety equipment.
After an action-packed week of exploration, soothe your sore muscles with a relaxing spa treatment at the Six Senses Spa Village. Each treatment is designed to highlight traditional Thai healing practices and incorporate the four natural elements—earth, water, fire, and air—to ensure the senses are balanced. For an anti-aging treatment with a Northern Thailand twist, try the Thai Silk Facial, which uses natural silk cocoons to firm and tone the skin. Or for the ultimate indulgence that’s guaranteed to release tension and evoke a deep sense of relaxation, book the light-pressure Dream Catcher massage that combines an Indian head massage, foot acupressure, and an all-over bodywork.
WHERE TO STAY
Six Senses Yao Noi
+66 7641 8500
Nestled on the pristine coastline of the Phang Nga Bay, this 55-room property—comprised of specialty villas and suites—offers a sense of serenity and adventure for travelers looking to break free from cookie-cutter accommodations. The natural vegetation and opulent landscaping provides privacy between each elevated villa.
For rooms with a water view, book an ocean villa, and let the gentle waves crashing against the shore lull you to sleep each night. Bird-watching enthusiasts will feel right at home in the hideaway villas, which overlook a classic plantation of rubber trees. Each artfully-decorated villa features separate living and sleeping areas, plus an open-air patio, an outdoor shower, and a private outdoor pool—the perfect spot to relax and watch the sun set.
Sip a fruity cocktail by the tranquil Hilltop Reserve, which offers unprecedented views of the massive limestone formations, or stop by the resort’s organic chicken farm and collect fresh eggs (to enjoy the next morning at breakfast) from one of 200 on-site hens. Unlike stateside farm animals that spend their days cooped up in cages, these hens roam free while jazz music streams through a built-in sound system. The birds even have access to a workout facility called “The Chicken Gym.”
Savor Thai delicacies—plus tandoori specialties and wood-fire pizzas—at the casual-style Living Room (open all day), or treat yourself to gourmet organic European cuisine, like handmade local tiger prawn ravioli, from the more formal Dining Room. Guests looking for something a bit more personalized can book the interactive Chef’s Table and watch the culinary genius at work. For dessert, stop by the resort’s pastry shop, located next to the Main House, and order a scoop of the famous durian ice cream. Considered the “king of fruits” due to its large size and oh-so-strong odor, you’ll either love it or hate it. Either way, don’t try to stash one in your carry on as a souvenir—it’s banned by most airlines.