PHUKET: Koh Yao Noi is a little island located in between Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi and is part of the Phang Nga province.
The island has not yet seen a massive invasion of tourists and it has gained a reputation as a quiet place to escape from the buzz of Phuket, in particular for local expats and for all those tourists looking for something a little bit different.
Back in 2002, the National Geographic Traveler Magazine gave the island a World Legacy Award for Destination Stewardship for the eco-friendly homestay programs offered by many of its local residents.
Since then, not many big developments have come to the island, however, taking into consideration that a few new luxury hotels have popped up on the east coast and the fact that AirAsia has also launched a transfer service from the Phuket International Airport, it seems likely that things might change drastically very soon.
Frankly speaking, when compared with other destinations in Southern Thailand, Koh Yao Noi doesn’t have any particularly enchanting beaches or any amazing viewpoint to show off. On the other hand, it still conserves an authentic atmosphere where time is not necessarily related to money and its people run their lives following a more natural rhythm instead of a 9-5 workday routine.
The best way to explore the island is to rent a motorbike and independently ride around the coastline. For those seeking something that puts them in even closer sensory contact with nature, renting a mountain bike is a great option.
The island is almost entirely covered by rubber plantations and rice paddies. Landscapes are painted bright green and decorated with hundreds of water buffaloes and a huge variety of birds.
At Kien Bay, located on the extreme north of the island and reachable only by boat, lies the famous Big Tree, a giant at more than 30 meters tall and with a circumference so large more than 20 people holding hands would be needed to encircle it.
Koh Yao Noi also has something that might remain unknown for the majority of people visiting the island: it’s quickly becoming an important hot spot for international rock climbers.
Climbing in Koh Yao Noi is something absolutely different from that in neighboring Railay or Koh Phi Phi. It is unquestionably wilder, but the rock quality is excellent and on average, the combination of length and grade of difficulty make each route an amazing and enjoy- able climb.
The climbing area is located on the top north of the island and there are only two possible ways to reach it, either by long tail boat from Tha Khao Pier by motorbike through the rubber plantations up and down the hills in a very adventurous back-road route to near the Paradise Kho Yao Resort.
From the urban center of Koh Yao Noi to the extreme north of the island takes about 20 minutes by motorcycle. The first part of the road is quite smooth and allows you to see the locals going about their daily tasks.
The majority of the island’s residents are Muslim, so it’s common to hear the call of the local Muezzin and see entire families going to pray at the mosque.
The second section of the road is surrounded by a vibrant green environment which alternates between rubber plantations, rice fields, and deep wild forest before it arrives at the beach.
In Koh Yao Noi there are four main climbing walls reachable on foot; The Bee Wall, perfect for morning climbing: The HD Wall and The Big Tree Wall, which are in shade in the afternoon and overlook the ocean; and The Mitt, the biggest wall in the area, which is in shade the entire day. Another amazing site is called the Grateful Wall, a terrific orange vertical wall only accessible by longtail boat.
The paths to reach the different spots are quite easy to find and do not present any real difficulty, so these locations are also great for all those wanting to have a nice walk in the forest to take in the wonderful views.
If you plan to rent a boat you can go to Tha Hao Pier. Once there make sure you pay a visit to the local women’s community workshop. Right in front of the pier there is a little handicraft shop run by a group of local women, who create some amazing paintings using only natural wax and aquarelle colors.
The artists use pencil on a white canvas to create their designs, later re-marking the lines using a special paintbrush fed with wax. Once this is done pigments are applied covering the entire surface and filling in the spaces created by the wax covered lines. The result is just amazing and if you are looking for something really authentic, then this is the place to go.
Longtail boats leave for Koh Yao Noi several times a day from Bang Rong Pier on the east coast of Phuket. To get to the pier, turn east from the Heroines’ Monument onto route 4027, then turn right at the sign for Bang Rong and follow that road for a few kilometers to the pier.
For specific information about rock climbing in Koh Yao Noi feel free to check out Riccardo’s blog at phuketclimbing.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the August 10-16 issue of the hard-copy Phuket Gazette newspaper. Digital subscribers may download the full newspaper, this week and every week, by clicking here.
— Riccardo Mereu
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