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The 15 Best Things to Do in Koh Yao Noi: Thailand’s Hidden Gem

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Koh Yao Noi is not nearly as well known as some of its famous neighbours. One of the fabulous islands of Phrang Nga Bay off the west coast of Thailand, along with Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta and Koh Phuket, it lacks the big attractions or superstar beaches of these tourist favourites. But Koh Yao Noi is still a beautiful, fascinating destination.

I mean, would we have gone there for nothing? Well, possibly. We occasionally add extra places to our itinerary just out of curiosity. Or because we like the name. Or, in some cases, to bring our island-hopping tally to a nice round number.

Restaurant in old storage towers in rice paddies
Rong Na Restaurant

Either way, we didn’t really know what to expect from this relatively large Thai island (12 km long by 4 km wide) that is actually part of a 44-island archipelago. No famous beaches, no big Instagram sensations, plus the added confusion of deciding between Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai, its very similar sister island just to the south.

In the end, we chose Koh Yao Noi (“long island – small”) over Koh Yao Yai (“long island – large”) because, first and foremost, the two islands are very similar in total area so it seemed like poor Noi was getting a bit of a raw deal on the name. Secondly, because it is known for its scenic rice paddies, a relative rarity among these islands, and thirdly because Laynni found a hotel she liked better there.

Tha Khao Beach sunrise on Koh Yao Noi
Tha Khao Islet and “The Tree”

Comparisons between the two Koh Yaos are mixed – some saying Koh Yao Noi is more developed, others insisting Koh Yao Yai is the more modern of the two. Unfortunately, we stuck to our chosen island so can’t add anything constructive to that particular debate. What I can tell you is that they are only separated by a narrow channel that can be crossed by longtail boat for about $C3 per person. So if you really feel the need to compare and contrast, well, cost shouldn’t be a determining factor.

However it compares to its closest neighbour, Koh Yao Noi really stood out to us as one of the least touristy and most affordable of all the Thai islands we’ve visited (numbering 15 now, I believe). We got a great deal on a nice bungalow near (but not quite facing) the beach, rented a motorbike (aka moped) for about $C12 and were able to explore the entire island in a single day (with hours to spare).

The 15 Best Things to Do on Koh Yao Noi

While many Thai islands are all about soaking up the sun on a variety of superb beaches, the attractions of Koh Yao Noi are more eclectic and, arguably, more interesting.

1. Try a Yoga Retreat

Open air yoga studio
Island Yoga

Island Yoga is a rustic, relaxed place with a fabulous location right on Tha Khao Beach. They have single classes, full retreats, a restaurant and loads of great hangout areas.

2. Rent a Kayak

With lovely limestone islands as far as the eye can see, renting a kayak (approximately 500B/half day) is a great way to enjoy the tremendous scenery. You can stick to the Koh Yao Noi shoreline and simply enjoy the views, tackle a more strenuous hour-long paddle across to Koh Nok or join a guided tour with Koh Yao Noi Paradise Sea Kayak to make sure you don’t miss any of the best spots.

3. Relax at Sunset Bar

Woman watching the sunset over palm trees

Fully dedicated to maximizing the late day views, the aptly named Sunset Bar commands a perfect location on the side of a hill on the southern coast. Get there at least an hour before sunset to get one of the best spots, then just lie back and relax on their lounging cushions, sip a cold beer and take way too many photos of the perfect tropical vista.

4. Rent a Motorbike

Couple riding motorbike on small dirt road in Koh Yao Noi Thailand

With basically one (very quiet) main road that loops around the entire island and several offshoots for exploring, Koh Yao Noi is the is the perfect place to check out on motorbike/scooter/moped. Most hotels and restaurants can find you one for 250-300B/day, or you can splash out a couple hundred baht more for one with a sidecar (the only island where we saw these).

Water buffalo wallowing in the mud of the rice paddies

You can see basically the entire island in about 2 hours plus stops. Some of the suggested stops are Manoh Pier for views across the channel to Koh Yao Yai, the small village market (get there early for the most action), the rice paddies just north of the village, the stilt village of Tong Do along the west coast and An Pao Beach.

Stilt village over a canal on Koh Yao Noi
Tong Do stilt village

About halfway up the west coast is a dramatically signed “Holy Spring Water” spot where, apparently, hot fresh water bubbles up from the ground. However, I was unable to find it (maybe it needs to be low tide) and based on the considerable deterioration of the small wooden platform, this is not a place anyone frequents these days.

5. Rent a Bike

Small village market and motorbikes
Koh Yao Noi village market

Of course, if you’re feeling energetic and want to make a day of it, Koh Yao Noi is still small enough to see everything by pedal bike as well. It is hot, of course, but relatively flat and you should be able to rent a decent bike for around 150B/day.

6. Head Out Bird Watching

A twitcher’s paradise, Koh Yao Noi is well-known for its large population of black hornbills, not to mention over 150 other species of birds. Some can be spotted all year-round, while others migrate seasonally. Some say hornbills symbolize true love because they choose a single mate and remain monogamous throughout their lives. Allegedly.

7. Walk to Thakow Waterfall

Jungle waterfall

Just a short 10-minute walk from Tha Khao Beach, this tame little waterfall won’t blow you away but is still pretty nice, picks up steam after a rain and, if you’re lucky, you might come across a wiry monitor lizard racing through the bush like his tail was on fire. Or not, who can say?

8. Take a Longtail Island Tour

Dramatic limestone karsts and beach of Koh Hong Thailand
Koh Hong viewpoint

One of the most popular things to do on Koh Yao Noi is take one of the popular “3-Island Tours” that often add in an impressive cave (Phra Nang Cave, to be exact). So, for around 2,500B you can enjoy a private longtail tour through Than Bokkoranee National Park to some of the most beautiful islands in Phrang Nga Bay.

Koh Hong is star of the show, with two enclosed bays and beaches that are strikingly similar to the exponentially busier Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh. The park entrance fee is 300B/person and it opens at 8 am. We suggest getting their right around then to beat the crowds.

Monitor lizard crossing the beach in Thailand
Koh Hong beach / monitor lizard

Koh Lao Lading also features a picturesque beach/bay combo and Koh Pakbia has just a tiny landing area but a beautiful sand spit connecting it to a wonderful, rocky islet. We also stopped off at Monkey Island, where we didn’t go ashore but watched the long-tailed macaques frolic from the longtail boat, getting particularly worked up when a large monitor lizard swam by a little too close for comfort.

Longtail boat in front of two small Thai islands
Koh Pakbia

Other potential add-ons include the floating villages of Koh Panji and the stunning Khao Phing Kan (Nail Island), more commonly known as James Bond Island for its starring role in The Man With the Golden Gun.

9. Try Rock Climbing

The Koh Yao Noi rock climbing spots aren’t easy to get to but offer some very unique challenges for those willing to go the extra mile. It is best to go with a local guide who can provide all the gear and help you find the best routes. Check out Koh Yao Hotel for more details.

10. Learn Muay Thai Kickboxing

Are you fascinated by the ancient Thai sport of Muay Thai boxing? Or just looking to get some exercise while learning a new skill? Or are you a 13-year old boy getting bullied at school? Well, learning Muay Thai on the beach in Koh Yao Noi could be just the thing!

Buildings, hammock and palm trees on the ocean
KYN Phoenix Muay Thai

KYN Phoenix is a gorgeous gym/restaurant/pool/hammock area right on the ocean in a quiet area in southern Koh Yao Noi. It is run by a former professional Muay Thai champ and they cater to everyone from beginners to accomplished kickboxers.

11. Visit Koh Yao Yai

Take the opportunity to compare the two Koh Yaos yourself by taking the short ferry across to Koh Yao Yai. As we’ve mentioned, Laem Had Beach is worth a look and if you have a motorbike you can explore the rest of the island. More hills, slightly better beaches, different-but-similar restaurants.

12. Take a Thai Cooking Class

As great as it is to enjoy wonderful, cheap Thai food made by real Thais, it could also be nice to learn to make it yourself. If that sounds like something you might be into, Mina’s Cooking Classes give you the opportunity to learn on the job and then eat the results. Some of the hotels also offer cooking classes.

Ocean sunset behind palm trees
Classic Sunset Bar sunset

13. Join a Koh Yao Noi Fishing Tour

There is outstanding fishing all around these islands and every hotel can arrange a private or group fishing excursion tailored to your goals and timeline.

14. Check Out Phang Nga Bay Snorkelling

Most of the Phang Nga Bay longtail tours will happily include a couple of snorkelling stops if you ask nice (or pay a bit more), or you can ask basically any of the hotels to arrange a specific snorkelling trip to some of the nearby islands.

15. Tackle Koh Yao Noi Scuba Diving

There is lots of good diving in Phang Nga Bay, with sites ideal for beginners and experts alike. Stop in at Similan Scuba KYN to see where their latest trips are headed.

Beaches on Koh Yao Noi

Yes, I know I already said that that Koh Yao Noi beaches aren’t really that special. But, of course, that is a very relative statement. I’m not sure there is a single Thai island without at least one or two great beaches (although serene Koh Siboya comes close).

We stayed on Tha Khao Beach, which was a serious Jekyll and Hyde type of place, completely different depending on the tide. At high tide it was a bit thin and average, but with terrific scenery in the tiny offshore islet close by and impressive limestone islands in the distance. At low tide it transforms into a massive mud flat, filled with fascinating tide pools and voracious crabs. The good kind.

Brown sand beach with a red boat
Tha Khao Beach at high tide

Although the beaches of Koh Yao Noi aren’t particularly spectacular, there are a few nice ones to check out along the east coast, with the centre of the island mostly impassable hills and jungle, and a west side has the only real village and features scenic rice paddies, mud-loving buffalo and one secret gem of a beach.

Most people on Koh Yao Noi are Chao Lay (People of the Sea), also known as Sea Gypsies, and nearly the entire population of the island is Muslim. Along with the rice paddies, both fishing and sea farms are a big part of Koh Yao Noi’s economy. Then they added an ATM to give us tourists the chance to contribute as well.

Heading south on the east coast you’ll hit Klong Jark Beach which, to be honest, doesn’t have much to recommend it. Practically disappearing at high tide and not overly great even when the sand makes an appearance. There are some nice hotels along this section, though (with pools, of course).

Pasai Beach, further south yet, is much better, with a decent stretch of sand and outstanding views of the karsts just outside the bay. There are some nice beachfront bars/restaurants along here, not to mention a rather dubious rope swing.

Beach, longtail boat and gree trees
Pasai Beach

The big surprise for us was An Pao Beach, well off the beaten path up along the northwest coast. We hadn’t heard anything about it even though, in our opinion, it is probably the best beach on Koh Yao Noi. And the sunsets are fabulous.

Woman walking on a beach under palm trees in Thailand
An Pao Beach

Finally, dedicated beach lovers should take on the short crossing over to Koh Yao Yai to see Laem Had Beach – the very photogenic spit of sand at the northern tip of that island that can actually be seen from Koh Yao Noi. The crossing costs 150 baht one-way for 2 people by longtail (or 250B if you want to bring a motorbike along) or you can hire a private longtail from Laem Sai Pier to take you directly to Laem Haad Beach, wait for a couple hours, then bring you back for around 500B.

Floating dock on Koh Yao Noi
Laem Sai Pier – Laem Had Beach in the distance

Where to Stay: Koh Yao Noi Hotels

Most of the hotels on Koh Yao Noi are lined up along the east coast, although there are also a few unique choices inland and on the west coast. We stayed at Koh Yao Seaview Bungalows on Tha Khao Beach and really enjoyed the pleasant garden, refreshing pool and easy proximity to the fascinating tides of this somewhat bizarre beach.

Pool and small bungalows with jungle behind
Koh Yao Seaview Bungalows

There are a few bungalows facing the beach and the rest are clustered around the pool. There is a good restaurant, too, and motorbikes for rent.

Check prices and availability at Koh Yao Seaview Bungalows

Tucked away in a quiet, peaceful jungle area near Manoh Pier, Awana Villa Resort is a lush resort located right on a scenic pond. While the pond is just for viewing, they also have a pool, nice open-air restaurant and impressive bungalows.

Water spraying up on a reflective pond
Awana Villa Resort

Check prices and availability at Awana Villa Resort

If you want to stay on the most popular beach on the island (which is still very quiet), Laguna Villas Boutique Hotel is a great choice. Located just across the small road from Pasai Beach, this terrific collection of comfortable huts surround an excellent restaurant.

Loungers and umbrella by a pool
Laguna Villas Resort

Laguna Villas Boutique Hotel

Finally, if money is no object and you want to experience the most luxurious resort in Koh Yao Noi (and all of Phang Nga Bay, possibly), treat yourself to a stay at the very exclusive, very expensive Six Senses Koh Yao Noi. The beach isn’t all that memorable but the elegance and views certainly are.

Check prices and availability at Six Senses Yao Noi

Where to Eat: Koh Yao Noi Restaurants

Pretty much every hotel/resort on Koh Yao Noi has a decent restaurant, plus there a several more standalone places worth checking out.

Anchor Point is the first place you see coming in from Tha Khao pier and they serve a surprisingly international menu including chili with very good bread.

Baan Tha Khao Bungalow is a superb choice for afternoon beers, relaxing in one of their beach loungers as the setting sun shines off the distant karsts.

Man drinking beer in a plastic chair on the beach
Baan Tha Khao Bungalow

Hornbill Restaurant in Cape Kudu Hotel is one of the most popular places on Koh Yao Noi and nearby Sai Beach Bar serves outstanding fish and seafood at tables overlooking Pasai Beach.

For something completely different, scenically, head over near the village to eat at Rong Na Café, enjoying fantastic views of the rice paddies from the 2nd floor.

How to Get to Koh Yao Noi

Krabi International Airport is the closest place you can fly to and it is usually possible to book a taxi/boat transfer combo for 2,000-3,000 baht (for up to 4-8 people depending on the company). We would recommend checking 12Go Asia for the latest combo deals or asking your hotel for a recommendation.

The other option is to fly to Phuket, take a taxi across to Bang Rong Pier (800B) and a speedboat to Koh Yao Noi (400B/pp).

Ticket booth at Manoh Pier in Koh Yao Noi Thailand
Tickets to Phuket

There are two main piers on Koh Yao Noi. Manoh Pier, in the channel between Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai, handles all of the traffic between the two islands plus speedboats to and from Koh Phi Phi and Phuket.

Tha Khao Pier, on the east side, is typically used for longtail island tours and ferries back and forth to the mainland, either Ta Len Pier or Nopparat Thara Pier near Krabi. There are also two small piers on the west side – Tong Do and An Pao – that handle local traffic and Laem Sai Pier on the south end that has longtail boats for hire.

Floating dock on Koh Yao Noi
Laem Sai Pier – Laem Had Beach in the distance

We arrived on the Sun Smile Ferry from Koh Phi Phi that cost 1,200 baht per person and stopped off at Railay Beach, Ao Nang and Koh Yao Noi on its way to Phuket.

White board with ferry schedules and prices
Boat schedules

Koh Yao Noi Map

Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)

How to Get Around

There are four options for getting around on Koh Yao Noi:

Taxi

Woman riding in a songthaew on Koh Yao Noi Thailand
Songthaew

There are songthaews (small trucks with benches in the back) that go anywhere on the island for 50-150B/pp.

Motorbike

By which, we mean a scooter or moped, which most places will rent out for 250-300B per day (plus fuel). The roads are relatively smooth and never busy, making Koh Yao Noi an ideal place to explore by motorbike.

Bike

Many hotels and shops rent out bikes at very low prices. Koh Yao Noi is relatively flat so this can actually be a very good choice.

Longtail Boat

The most scenic (and most expensive) option to get to some of the different beaches around the island is to hire a private longtail for the journey. Prices will vary greatly depending on who you talk to and when but, either way, this is probably more of a one-time thing than your main form of transportation.

When to Go

Group of people on sandbar at sunrise on Koh Yao Noi
Tha Khao Beach sunrise

As a tropical island, the temperature in Koh Yao Noi doesn’t change much throughout the year, although it does get a bit hotter from Feb-Apr (32C/24C high/low) compared to the rest of the year (29/25).

Rainy season lasts from May to October, with September-October getting the worst of it and November being a transition month when you can get a bit of anything. There is very little rain from December to April but it gets hotter and more humid through the winter, peaking in April when it can feel a bit like an oven.

Summary

Longtail boat in front of two small Thai islands
Koh Pakbia

Overall, Koh Yao Noi is a surprisingly beautiful, natural Thai island with a relaxed, authentic vibe that feels welcoming without feeling touristy. Which is a really nice change from some of the fantastic but practically overrun islands in the region. It is a perfect choice for those travelling slowly who have the time to appreciate one of the most authentically Thai islands in the country.

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