The Small, Serene Island of Koh Yao Noi is One of Thailand’s Best Kept Secrets

The Small, Serene Island of Koh Yao Noi is One of Thailand’s Best Kept Secrets

The pace is slow, the streets are quiet, and things don't change much. That's exactly why Koh Yao Noi is among the last unspoiled island getaways in Thailand.

The relaxed island of Koh Yao Noi is quietly—and somewhat surprisingly—sandwiched between two major party hubs. Here, visitors are welcomed and locals are friendly, yet islanders are determined to keep the pace slow and the lifestyle low-key (for example, the island just recently got its first 7-Eleven). This sort of unspoiled island is a true rarity, both in Thailand and in the world. So here’s why you should plan a trip to see it for yourself.

View of Phang Nga Bay

A view of Phang Nga Bay towards Krabi, from luxurious Ani Villas on Koh Yao Noi island.

It’s incredibly surprising to find a remote island situated right between two major tourist and party hubs like Phuket, a happening resort island known for rowdy bars and nightclubs, and Krabi, a beachy province known for rock climbing, scuba diving, and jungle trekking. Yet here it is. Koh Yao Noi—along with its sister island Koh Yao Yai just eight minutes to the south by boat—is stunningly quiet, secluded, and as low-key as you’ll find in Thailand. If you’re looking for Thailand’s famous full moon parties, this isn’t your place. But if you’re looking to disconnect from your daily grind, Koh Yao Noi is the place to leave it all behind.

The locals of Koh Yao Noi preserve their traditions, so a visit here should be done with careful attention to the mainly Muslim customs. Dress modestly, and know that drinking is generally frowned upon outside of restaurants, bars, and resorts. There are few travelers here, so the nightlife is low-key and the few bars you’ll find are often close to empty. There are no banking facilities on the island, but then, there aren’t that many opportunities to spend money relative to Thailand’s more tourist-friendly destinations. No one tries to sell you anything here. Islanders may say hello, or they may just ignore you and go on with their day. Motorbikes are often spotted unattended, the key still in the ignition. People trust and look out for one another. Time moves slowly here; it’s tranquil, a place for inner exploration and spiritual connection—and in that sense, it’s completely unlike other Thai islands.

How to Get to Koh Yao Noi

Ferry boat in Phang Nga Bay

A long-tail ferry boat on Phang Nga Bay near Koh Yao Noi, Thailand. Photo iStock

Phang Nga Bay is a body of water directly beneath Phang Nga in the south of Thailand leading to the Andaman Sea, with Phuket to its west, and Krabi to its east. In the middle of the bay, among other mostly uninhabited islets, are two large sister island: Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi. Koh Yao Noi is well-surrounded, making it all the more surprising that so few go. Fifty baht can score you a one-hour long-tail ferry ride in from Phuket or Krabi. Daily departures leave at 9:30 am, 12 pm, and 5 pm, and will drop you off from Phuket at Manoh Pier on the southwest part of the island, and from Krabi at Tha Khao Pier on the east coast.

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How to Get Around

Koh Yao Noi has one main road that winds through the island’s southern half, where most of the island’s development is and a major portion of its population resides. The northern half has dirt roads and smaller paved roads that veer off in various directions; most signs are in English.

There are three good ways to travel in Koh Yao Noi. First, rent a motorbike—a preferred local transportation method—for 200 baht per half day. Or, flag down a tuk tuk, a three-wheel taxi or motorized rickshaw that can take you around the island’s 11-mile road network for a small fee. Finally, if you’re lucky, a friendly passerby will offer to give you a ride in their car. And by the way, this happens more often than you’d think!

What to Do on Koh Yao Noi

Thai woman riding motorcycle on Koh Yao Noi street

A local woman rides a motorbike down a street on Koh Yao Noi island. Photo iStock

Koh Yao Noi is known as an island with nothing particularly noteworthy about it…and therein lies its beauty. While you won’t find some of the exhilarating, blood-pumping activities found in other parts of the country, there are things to do on Koh Yao Noi that complement its laid-back pace. For example, local resident Mina of Mina’s Cooking Classes offers up a perfect representation of what Koh Yao Noi is all about. The friendly and welcoming Mina teaches the classes out of her own home. She’ll teach you how to prepare authentic Thai cuisine using traditional cooking tools and you’ll cook with herbs and spices she grew in her very own garden.

It doesn’t end there. You can get active while learning Thailand’s national sport at Muay Thai Pros overlooking the ocean. Taking a yoga class would be a more relaxing way to spend a perfectly serene day getting in touch with your soul. The Ohm Shop on Sale, owned and run by Mr. Ohm, is the island’s best bet for good prices on souvenirs to bring back home. Get pampered with ancient healing at a Thai massage spa, which will incorporate yoga positions, stretching movements, and pressure point massage. Love biking? Explore the island with a guide via a private bike tour. You can see the entire island in just a day.

And if you’re just looking to veg out with your feet in the sand, Koh Yao Noi’s beaches are special—they’re so rarely occupied, you may have an entire stretch of sand to yourself. 

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Where to Stay

Ani Villas in Koh Yao Noi, Thailand

An aerial view of the luxurious, full-service Ani Villas on the east coast of Koh Yao Noi island, Thailand.

For longer stays on Thailand’s serene Koh Yao Noi island, one particular private estate is a total standout: Ani Villas on the island’s east coast. Perfectly suited for groups up to 20, this stunning beachfront getaway is a treat for even the most selective travelers.

Designed and inspired by temples of northern Thailand, Ani Villas is more than just a beautiful, sprawling home. Swim in your own 33-meter beachfront pool while the children enjoy their a kids’ pool with a waterslide. Days can be easily filled with activities set up by the villa’s event coordinator, and kids can enroll in a daily activity program. After exploring the island and working up a hunger, your private chef will be waiting to whip up a meal from the gourmet breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. You can also take advantage of the villa’s private spa, yoga pavilion, and fitness center.

Getting there is easy with a complimentary round-trip transfer from the Phuket or Krabi airport. And once you’re settled, you get the entire Koh Yao Noi experience: a peaceful, quiet life lived at your own pace.

Visiting Koh Yao Noi? Learn More About Luxurious Ani Villas.