Jamie's Phuket Blog

Jamie's Phuket Blog - Discover The Real Phuket

Koh Yao Yai Island Trip

Koh Yao Yai is a large island between Phuket and Krabi in Phang Nga Bay. It's about 25km from one end of the island to the other. We'd never been there until last week, although we have taken several trips to Koh Yao Noi, it's smaller neighbour to the north - our most recent trip was in 2012 - see Beautiful Day at Koh Yao Noi. The whole area is full of small islands, and I've often wished to have a boat of my own. We really should explore more. For a couple of days in mid 2016 we joined our friends from the Easy Day Thailand tour company for a 2 day trip with 1 night at Koh Yao Yai. Easy Day Thailand can be contacted here for trips to any islands around Phuket. And there are lots of islands!

Our trip started on a grey Sunday morning. A trip right at the start of the low season in May always has a chance of rain! We drove to Bang Rong pier in the northeast of Phuket to meet the group for our speedboat transfer to Koh Yao Yai and a morning tour of a couple of other islands. Yeh, weather did not look too promising, but it seemed that the skies to the east looked brighter.

Boatman at Bang Rong

(above) At Bang Rong pier, Phuket

We were all ready, speedboat loaded with bags and beers before 8am. I've said it before - an early start, despite the pain of waking up early, is worthwhile. We sped out of Bang Rong to the Northeast, passing Naka island on the way to Koh Yao Yai. And the weather brightened up, as it often does. If you happen to visit Phuket in low season, don't let a wet or grey morning put you off!

Speedboat near Phuket

(above) Another speedboat passes us on the way to Koh Yao Yai. Skies looking much nicer. Our first stop was the pier at the north end of Yao Yai island where a pick up had been arranged with the hotel to collect all our bags. Then we carried on to Koh Lao Bi Le, also called Koh Hong. Not to be confused with another island called Koh Hong, further north in Phang Nga Bay.

Entering Koh Hong

Lagoon at Koh Hong

On the west side of Koh Hong is an almost hidden lagoon reached by a narrow gap in the limestone cliffs of the island. A longtail boat or speedboat can enter (slowly) and take a quick look around. There is no beach inside, just cliffs and mangroves. So we took a quick look around. And then headed to the more beachy east coast of the island. We got there before 9:30am and it was quiet, just a couple of boats already there.

Floating Pier at Koh Hong

(above) Floating pier at Koh Hong. Walking on this was like walking when very drunk. A general rule of tourist hotspots .... get there early to avoid the crowds. When we arrived, there were about 10 people at the island. An hour later, at least 100.

Koh Hong near Krabi

Beach at Koh Hong

(above) Our kids and friends enjoying Koh Hong. We did strap on masks and snorkels, though the water here is not super clear. Plenty of little, colourful sergeant major damsel fish in the shallow waters. So we had a little swim and when the little beach started to fill up with people, we left about an hour later.

Koh Hong Island near Krabi

(above) The beach and shallow waters at Koh Hong

The next stop was Koh Lao La Ding, about 3km north of Koh Hong. This was already fairly full of boats, with a small beach in between limestone cliffs. We opened our cheap takeaway lunches here although it was not yet 11am. The island seems to have a nickname "Paradise Island" if you book a tour from Krabi... to be honest I think Koh Hong is nicer, but ...

Koh Lao La Ding

The next stop was supposed to be Koh Pak Bia, which features a long sandbank which joins a larger and smaller island. But it was high tide, and a very high tide at that. So the sand was all covered. With no sand to land on we detoured towards Koh Yao Yai. The whole area is just full of beautiful scenery. I really wish I had my own boat!

Island scenery near Koh Yao Yai island

The very northeast tip of Koh Yao Yai is a long, thin point of land called "Laem Haad" meaning "Beach Cape". It's just sand, palm trees and admittedly some buffalo poop! If you are at the Koh Yao Noi pier just over the water, this looks like paradise. At high tide much of the beach was not there, but it was still pretty! We just stopped for 20 minutes before heading to the Koh Yao Yai jetty.

Laem Had, Koh Yao Yai

Koh Yao Yai has several piers. The one in the north of the island is 25km from the main pier in the south which can handle a car ferry from Phuket Town. If you start from Bang Rong pier, you will get to the northern pier, and the same boats will also stop at Koh Yao Noi - the pier for the smaller island is just over the water less than 2km away. With our main baggage having already been picked up by the hotel earlier in the day, we loaded ourselves into several songthaews for the short trip to the hotel.

Koh Yao Yai Taxi

I knew that Koh Yao Yai is not quite as developed for tourism as Koh Yao Noi, and having been to "Noi" several times, and knowing it to be quiet, I did wonder about the quality of our hotel. Koh Yao Noi has several fancy hotels and quite a lot of smaller bungalow resorts. Yao Yai has less hotels, although when I looked at Agoda, I was surprised to see so many (see Koh Yao Yai Hotels on Agoda). Easy Day Thailand had booked the Thiwson Resort, not at all expensive with rooms from about 1300 Baht (actually a few fan rooms are cheaper than that). I was interested to see what we'd get ....

Thiwson Resort

(above) We arrived at Thiwson resort at about 12:30, but couldn't check in until 2pm. So I wandered to the front of the resort for a look. That'll do. And you can see below, our kids soon found some kayaks! And some of us found some cold beers :)

Kayaking at Koh Yao Yai island

I was into full relax mode (beer, sun, beach) even before we checked in to the rooms. The beach at the front of the hotel .. I think it's "fake". There's a wall facing the sea and between the wall and the resort is filled with sand. At high tide the sea level was near the top of the wall. But it looks great! Rooms were slowly made available for the group. Some rooms are right near the sea and there are several rows of rooms with the fan rooms at the back. My wife and I were sent over the road and up a slight hill to our room. What? U Kidding? Ah, but we had another pool there, just for half a dozen rooms. And a sort of view too.

Pool at Thiwson Resort

(above) Pool outside our room. Once we had the room, it was air con on, lie down, cool down and take a nap time. By about 4:30pm we were back by the sea and the tide had gone way out. The kids took a walk on the low tide sands to where a large longtail boat was left high and dry.

Low tide at Koh Yao Yai

Dad and friends started emptying the several ice chests full of beer :) Late afternoon turned to evening and there were dark clouds over in Krabi (about 20km east) plus some rumbles of thunder. We figured it would not come our way. But later, just as I finished a shower, me and some of the kids had to run down from the hillside rooms as the rain started. No worries, the restaurant at the hotel is well sheltered and has roll-down plastic shutters. And the rain did not last long. We enjoyed a fairly long night of food and drink. The room we had was comfortable, big bathroom with open air shower, the bed was comfy, aircon maybe not quite good enough, I like cold aircon and this one struggled. I think if we went back I'd try for one of the beachfront rooms.

Next morning. Here's a lesson for you. I woke up pretty early, about 7:30am. But way too late for a sunrise photo. Should have thought about that, set an alarm and had a couple less beers! But no worries, because my friend Ingo was awake early! Thanks, Ingo! And here's what I missed. These photos taken at about 6:15am. If you are on the east coast of anywhere, get up early!

Koh Yao Yai Sunrise

Koh Yao Yai Sunrise

(above) Sunrise from Yao Yai island (at Thiwson Resort). Looking across to the Krabi coast and all the islands in between. I had a morning dip in the pool, dragged the rest of the family out of bed and we enjoyed breakfast with that great view to the east. The Thiwson resort looked great in the early morning light. Not a fancy place, but a deal at low season prices!

Thiwson Resort at Koh Yao Yai

Thiwson Resort Pool

(above) The kind of pool you could sit in all day. Let me say again : What a view!

Breakfast was followed by yet more kayaking. I am not sure if the kayaks were free to use, but the kids (and some adults) used them anyway!

Kayaking at Koh Yao Yai

Before lunch a few of us more intrepid explorers took off in a songthaew for a quick drive around Koh Yao Yai island to get a taste of what the place looks like as we'd spent all our time at the resort. I would like to come again and do the same as we've done at Koh Yao Noi - get the boat over and rent mopeds and explore at our own pace. This little tour we did here was only just over an hour. First stop was just a kilometer along the road to the south of the resort.

Looking East from Koh Yao Yai

And then about 20 minutes of small concrete roads, occasional houses, small settlements, no big town. Trying to snap photos from the back of the songthaew. One thing was clear - it's very quiet here! I'd like to return and drive around at my own speed along these country roads.

Koh Yao Yai Road

(above) Quiet road in Yao Yai. We carried on to the main pier in the southwest of the island about 20 km from our resort. Boats come in here from Phuket Town and it is possible to bring a car over, not that you need to. We watched boats coming and going for a while. If you like "people watching" this is a good place!

Jetty at Koh Yao Yai

(above) Getting off a boat at Koh Yao Yai

Koh Yao Yai Traffic

(above) Koh Yao Yai traffic. Not much, but we nearly hit this one when it slowed suddenly and our driver was not exactly out for a Sunday drive, he wanted to get back for lunch I think!

From the pier it was a short drive to Loh Paret beach on the west coast of Koh Yao Yai. Looked busy compared to other areas. The 5 star Santhiya Resort is here. A bit out of my price range. And we found that the very nice, new looking Blue Bay Resort seemed to be 100% Chinese. And busy. The beach between those 2 resorts was a bit dirty. Just where our taxi parked there were several small restaurants and snack stalls. And there's another nice looking resort here called Yao Yai Resort.

Koh Yao Yai West Coast

(above) Loh Paret Beach on the west coast of Yao Yai Island. From here, another quick drive back to Thiwson Resort on the east coast for lunch, a cheeky lunchtime beer and then transfer back to the northern pier and back home to Phuket. We have to visit again and explore some of the side roads. There's a fishing village right in the south of the island and we'd maybe try a different resort such as Yao Yai Village or Elixir Resort. But we had a very nice 2 days visiting islands, relaxing, having a drink or 2 and I was glad that we finally got to Koh Yao Yai!

Koh Yao Yai links and related Phuket Blog posts

Tours - Ask my friends at Easy Day Thailand
Hotels at Yao Yai (Agoda.com)
Thiwson Resort
Koh Yao Noi Island Trip

Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi Islands - Map





Songkran Festival April 13th in Phuket

The popular Songkran festival is one of those "love it or hate it" events. It can be viewed as fun, but some people like to complain about it getting a bit silly and losing its traditional roots. Songkran is the Thai New Year festival and is celebrated in Thailand and also in neighbouring Laos, some parts of China and Cambodia. The Thai New Year and Thai calendar were in use until 1888 in Thailand, but now January 1st is used as the official start of the new calendar year. The old Thai / Buddhist year is 543 years ahead of the standard calendar. The water throwing is the most obvious aspect of Songkran, but the older traditions are very much still alive. At homes and temples. Buddha images are washed with water containing flower petals, and at some temples, people carry dirt to the temple which is to replace dirt that they have carried away on their feet during the year.

When is Songkran?

Songkran in Phuket is really only 1 day - April 13th - although some people do start to party and throw water in the afternoon of the 12th and the official holiday is 13th to 15th - a public holiday, so there is plenty of partying mixed with the more traditional side of Songkran. This blog post shows some of my Songkran photos over the years.

In 2011 I was in Chumphon for Songkran, which is my wife's home town. Maybe the old way of life is a little more obvious here than in Phuket, or maybe I just got a more local feeling since I have been with the family. We had a ceremony at home pouring water on my wife's parents hands (this is called Rodnam Dam Hua). The water fights in Chumphon Town were just as big as Phuket - we drove around town in our pick up. I got singled out quite often - not many foreigners here! Bloody hot day resulting in a very wet and sunburned and slightly drunk Jamie (that's me)!

Jamie Songkran

In previous years I have been in Phuket for Songkran. For a few years I tried to ignore this silly festival....then for a few years we tried to stay dry, but took drives around Phuket with me trying to take photos through the closed car window. In 2009 we did a drive round Patong in our pick up truck, with my wife and I taking turns to drive. Patong is certainly the main water fight, although if you head to Sapan Hin, in the south of Phuket Town, you get a good day too, with less tourists and more locals. In 2010 I did not try to take photos - just stood outside a friends business, throwing water with one hand, bottle of beer in the other :)

Phuket Hotel Booking - Phuket is a great place to be for Songkran!

So, for Songkran 2011 in Chumphon I took some photos with an old underwater film camera, needed some photoshopping to enhance the colour as the camera used 800 iso film, so most photos were a bit overexposed. Also got some photos on the street near the homes of various family members.

In yer face for Songkran

I have you in my sights

More photos : Songkran 2011 in Chumphon

And here's some more photos of Songkran in Phuket over the years ...

Street battle in Patong

(above) Songkran street battle in Patong! If you want to party on Songkran, Patong is the place to be. You WILL get very wet, but at least in Phuket the water throwing is limited to just one day (13th April). We enjoyed the day we drove around on April 13th 2009, though the kids did start to get cold - people do tend to throw ice water, which can be a shock, but nice on a hot day!

More photos : Songkran 2009 at Patong Beach

Get that powder on your face!

(above) People like to use talcum powder mixed with water and will smear it on your face for good luck. Not everyone wants the powder, but you should accept it in the spirit in which it is offered. Useful hint: Don't wear your best clothes during the Songkran festival!

Water pistol on a scooter

In town, people are scooting around on mopeds, in trucks, or some (like we used to) in cars with the windows up! It's a sad fact - there are a lot of accidents around Songkran mostly related to a combination of fast mopeds, alcohol, water and slippery roads. No fun to have a bucket of ice water in your face when you are riding a moped, but then again, if riding on Songkran day, you really should ride slowly and expect to get very very wet. The guy above with his colourful Songkran shirt is obviously enjoying the day! It was due to the number of accidents that the water throwing was limited to one day in Phuket a few years ago.

Songkran in Patong

Fun for all the family! If you are going to be in Phuket or anywhere in Thailand on Songkran, be ready, go out and have some watery fun! The photo above was taken outside the Jungceylon mall in Patong. I like the fact that the girl shooting her water pistol has no idea she's about to get a cup of ice water down her back :)

Songkran Kids

A day for the kids ... for one day every year, the kids can get away with pretty much anything! They can soak strangers, definitely soak their family, they can play with water all day and nobody can get mad at them. Our kids love it, I think all kids love Songkran!

Songkran Splash

And you're never quite sure where the next soaking is going to come from. This year riding around in the truck I got drenched at regular intervals, many times by unseen assailants. There's absolutely no point trying to stay dry! The guys on the scooter (above) just got owned! That photo was taken in Phuket Town on Phuket Road on the way south towards Sapan Hin park.

Songkran 2008 in Phuket Town
Songkran 2007 Turtle release and Patong

Songkran is what it is - you can have fun or you can grouch. For one day, getting soaked is fun, especially as April 13th is normally going to be a very hot day, like it was this year. I am happy that it's only one day in Phuket - I know that in Chiang Mai it goes on for days, which could be a drag. In Chumphon, there was only water throwing in town for 1 day, but on the 14th people headed to the 2 main beaches near Chumphon (Sairee and Thung Wua Laen) to continue the party. I was very happy in 2011 to be more involved with the family. A good Songkran. Happy New Year!





Hiking to the Big Buddha from Karon Beach

Finally I have done this again! It was back in 2010 that I hiked up to the Phuket Big Buddha from Karon. A hike from nearly sea level up to nearly 400m above sea level. You can find the old blog post here. And since then I have always had the intention to do the hike again, but never found the right time, or just been too lazy. That blog page from 2010 is actually one of the most visited on Jamie's Phuket, and many people have asked me about doing the hike. I often point them in the direction of Steve at the Pineapple Guesthouse in Karon, because he has done the hike again since 2010! Recently Steve told me that the path is now much better, well marked with signs and so I figured it would be time to hike again. Start time was set for 7:30am on Sunday 25th March 2018 and I was joined by Steve, and Lana who is also a long time Phuket resident and runs the GoPhuket website. It was a beautiful high season morning - an early start is absolutely recommended if you don't want to suffer from heat exhaustion on the climb!

The start of the hike is easy. You just cross the road from Pineapple and walk up Patak Soi 14 next to Ice Family Tour. The first kilometer is on this road. Not a busy road. There are a few houses up here, some nice little places for rent and local houses. Easy to follow, not very steep, reaching about 100m above sea level when the road splits. And there is an obvious sign pointing the way.

Buddha Hike Signposts at first junction

So, there have been busy hands at work in Karon recently making this hike easier to follow. You can actually take the left or right road. I was following Steve's advice as he'd done the hike just the week before. We turned right, which leads to a steep path. The left route is longer, but not so steep and we planned to come down that way.

Buddha Hike Signpost

(above) I'd suggest turning right at this point. Only another 1.5km? Sounds easy! It gets steeper! After the right turn you need to keep left and a side road heads more steeply uphill less than 100m after the first right turn. And then a dirt track turns left again and things get steep. I'd carry some water with you, but you can buy water at the Buddha anyway. This hike is not super hard, but you will need to be reasonably fit.

Hike to Phuket Big Buddha - Dirt Path

(above) Start of the dirt track. Things start to climb pretty quickly. After less than 10 minutes we reached a point where the jungle opened up and we got some views back towards Karon beach.

Phuket Big Buddha Hike - View over Karon Beach

(above) Lana and the view after about 25 minutes walk. It's very green up here in the hills. You can see there are condominium developments further down the hill, but nothing once you get above 100m above sea level. I was sweating already, but the really steep walking was just about to start! In the next half kilometer we gained about 150m in altitude and it took about 20 minutes. The steepest sections have ropes to help you. And the ropes were needed! This new path is easy enough to follow, but it's not an easy hike!

Steep Path up to the Big Buddha

(above) On the steep section of the hike up to the Big Buddha. This was hard work for a little while. I'd not want to try in wet weather and was glad I did not wear my usual footwear (flip flops!) - running shoes or walking boots best although something like a decent pair of Teva sandals might be OK.

On the jungle hike to the Phuket Big Buddha

(above) Me and Steve on the way up. Several short breathers were needed. I mean, I am not too unfit these days and was not huffing and puffing too much, but it was very sweaty work!

Finally things flattened off a bit for a couple of hundred meters before the path came out onto the normal road up to the Big Buddha, which starts in Chalong. You could also simply hike up the road, but where's the fun in that! From the upper reaches of the road you get views across the sea with Karon beach way down below.

Road to the Big Buddha

(above) Easy walking for the last half kilometer along the road to the Big Buddha.

Big Buddha Entry Sign

(above) There has never been an entry fee to the Phuket Big Buddha, but there are a lot of donation boxes, and also stalls selling Buddha related items and you still have the chance to write your name on a piece of marble which may be used in construction of the surrounding buildings. A reminder on this sign above to dress modestly. If you have just hiked up in a vest you'll need a sarong or scarf to cover shoulders (Lana brought one with her). Shorts are OK, but please not swimwear or anything showing too much flesh. I last went up to the Buddha about a year ago and was pleased to see some changes. The steps going up look much better now and are being marbled and the viewpoint area looking east to Chalong Bay has been made nice (and the view is great of course!)

The Phuket Big Buddha

View east from the Big Buddha

(above) The Big Buddha and the view east over Chalong Bay. Steve, Lana and I have of course all visited the Big Buddha many times before, but we took a walk around for some photos and to enjoy the breeze which helped dry my sweat a bit! Nice to visit the Buddha early in the day when it's not so crowded and not so hot!

View looking north from the Big Buddha

(above) I have always loved the view north across the hills, along the "spine of Phuket". Up in the hills, Phuket is still so green. The name "Phuket" comes from the Malay word Bukit, which means hill.

View looking south from the Big Buddha

The view south (above) is also pretty great - you can see right down to the tip of Phuket at Phromthep Cape. More green hills. The developed area on the right side of the picture is along the back road behind Kata beach and heading towards Chalong. To the left is Chalong Bay heading down towards Rawai.

And then - time to walk back down again ... back down the road, but passing the steep path where we'd come up. The steeper sections of that would probably see me going down on my backside! If you walk further there's an elephant riding place / ATV place on the left and the path is signposted back to Kata / Karon.

Hiking down from the Big Buddha

(above) Me and Steve at the start of the path down again. There was plenty of easy walking, though the distance is further than the steep path on the way up.

Heading down from the Big Buddha

(above) Lana and Steve on a nice easy path on the way down. There are some steeper sections going down, especially one part with a slippery dirt path, but it's mostly easy going. I would add a couple more photos, but .. my phone battery died - I was taking photos, plus running 2 different apps to track the path (Strava and MapMyWalk) - I think having both of these using GPS plus all the photos drained the battery. I wanted to map the paths up and down. So it looks like I need to do this hike again very soon! For now, you can find the map of the upward path on both Strava and MapMyWalk. For some good exercise, great views and to avoid paying a taxi I recommend hiking up to the Big Buddha!

You can download a .gpx file here - this can be imported into Google Earth (click on File > Import .. then choose the file you downloaded and make sure the file selection is set to "all files". Then you can see the path to the Big Buddha in Google Earth).