Cycling trip to Koh Yao Noi
It was 20 years ago today... well almost... I used to do lots of cycling when I was in my early 20's, mostly with the York University cycling club and after University with friends who had been there. In 1990, 3 of us did a 3½ week 2,500km tour through France, the Pyrenees and into Spain. The photo below is from that trip:
We were quite proud of ourselves for that trip which included 2 ascents of the Col Du Tourmalet, 2115m above sea level. 20 years ago. Back then I was very fit, and of course 20 years younger than now. And about 25 kilos lighter. I don't recall riding a bicycle more than a few hundred meters in the last 10 years. So, the trip I did last Friday felt like quite an achievement, cycling 30km around the island of Koh Yao Noi, in Phang Nga Bay to the northeast of Phuket.
We went to Koh Yao Noi first time some years ago on a day trip with the family and my parents (see day trip to Koh Yao Noi). It's a small island, about 10km long, 4km wide, and although there has been some tourism development, it's still very quiet and very different to the busier parts of Phuket. A larger island, Koh Yao Yai, is just south. The population of the 2 islands, around 12,000, is largely Muslim with fishing, rubber and farming being the main trades. 10 years ago there would have been next to no tourism here. Now there are a couple of (well hidden) resorts like the Six Senses Hideaway and Paradise Koh Yao Resort, as well as a number of smaller bungalow and guesthouse style hotels. But mostly, it's very quiet.
Koh Yao Noi is one of the trips offered by a company set up by a guy who I used to know. I meant to join one of the trips for ages, but never seem to find the time. I should have learned by now. You have to make time. Time does not wait for you.
Friday was a hot, hot day. Hint number 1 - if you sign up for one of these tours, make sure you drink lots of water during the day. It was a scorcher. I met the minibus at Bang Rong Pier, which I know well. Our tour leader (who also runs a bar and restaurant at Kata Beach) had already loaded the bikes onto the giant longtail ferry that runs between Bang Rong, in the northeast of Phuket, and the islands of Yao Yai and Yai Noi. First ferry out is 7:30am, last one back at about 4:30pm. We waited in a cafe at the pier for our 9:30am ferry.
And here's our trip leader:
Three other people were on the trip, a family from Oz (Mum, Dad and teenager). I was relieved to note that they did not look too much like mega-fit cyclists.. in fact I heard Mum saying she'd not been on a bike for years. That was good, since the guide could offer us an easier route around the island. If you are cycle mad, there are tougher trails, heading off road over the hills.. and the highest point in Koh Yao Noi is over 600 feet above sea level. Our ferry set off for the 1 hour trip, stopping first at a pier in the north of Koh Yao Yai and just 10 minutes after that we arrived at Manao Pier, Koh Yao Noi.
I chatted with the Dad on the way out. He makes electric bikes back home in Oz, and I was chuffed to hear that they had been reading this blog before they came to Phuket! These two guys were sitting chatting on the roof of the ferry. Blue skies. Red and Yellow shirts. I wish all red and yellow shirts could just sit and chat in the sunshine...
The guide introduced us to our bikes and we set off along Manao pier which extends some 300 meters out from the island into water that's deep enough for fully loaded boats to operate. Everything that is needed in Koh Yao Noi must come by boat. This is the main pier. On the way back a boat full of mattresses was being unloaded. Most of the people on the ferry with us had bags full of shopping, probably they'd taken the first ferry over to Phuket and had been to the local market.
Once off the pier, we were on the "main road" in Koh Yao Noi. There are cars here, and plenty of mopeds, but even the main road from the pier was quiet compared to just about any road in Phuket! We passed local houses - some are more solid, others are still made of traditional materials...
We soon turned off this busy highway onto a side road heading to the west side of the island. We passed by rubber trees and fields. Koh Yao Noi is almost all given over to agriculture of some kind. In fact, even back in Phuket there are still huge areas of rubber plantations, pineapple groves, shrimp farms, palm trees - you just have to explore.. In Koh Yao Noi it's everywhere. On this road, a few mopeds passed us, and we passed a local guy and his bike:
And some kids were calling "Hello!" from their house:
Typical roadside scenery - rubber trees and grazing goats:
Given the quiet roads, and the lack of major tourism, I was surprised to see this sign by the side of the road as we turned onto an even quieter road...
Actually I did see one truck later as we rode back to the pier.
My body is certainly not used to cycling. The flat roads were easy enough, but any slight incline was noticeable! The first 10km of the ride were not hard at all, but as I said, it was a very hot day (this is the hottest time of year in Thailand), so even easy riding was energy sapping. Drinks breaks were all welcome - the bikes are all carrying a water bottle but if you take a trip I'd recommend carrying some more in your backpack.. there are local shops around the island too, and nobody will think you're a wuss for stopping to glug a can of coke :)
(above) Koh Yao Noi's busy roads
(above) a drinks stop in the shade of rubber trees
On the west side there are mangroves and small mangrove canals. We crossed a couple of bridges and stopped at a small fishing community. The ladies below are trying to strap a 3 foot wide stingray to the back of a moped. Can't say I have ever eaten stingray, but see them for sale at local markets in Phuket.
We rode for several miles up the west coast of Koh Yao Noi, with mangroves to our left and rice fields to the right, all looking a bit dry at this time of year. This section was very hot with no shade.
The northwest corner of Koh Yao Noi was full of "shell farms" - nets hung out in the shallow waters near shore - shellfish grow on the nets. Beyond the nets you can see some islands to the North of Koh Yao Noi, the amazing limestone islands of Phang Nga Bay.
And just when we all thought there were no hills.. Well, we had to get to the east coast of Koh Yao Noi, only a few kilometers but, yes, we had to hit a hill or two. Ouch! The "Jamie from 20 years ago" would have raced up these hills trying to pip his mates to the summit.. The current version huffed and puffed and decided that pushing the bike for a while was a pretty good idea. Just for a few minutes. Coz it was so hot. So hot. And yes, I need to lose a few pounds :) The guide may have taken some photos of me struggling uphill.. I will get his photos later and hide them. Here's the family after the "big climb", a nice decent and another small uphill.. and hoping for a shop selling ice cold drinks just around the corner...
And Lo the shop didst appear. And there was much rejoicing and glugging of sugary liquids. I am not advertising Coca Cola, but there are times in life when a cold Coke is exactly what you need. We hit the very pretty east coast of Koh Yao Noi after climbing the "Col du Koh Yao", and this was one of those Coca Cola moments.
As we took a rest, we were ambushed by a local kid. HEY! It's not Songkran yet!
I suppose (unless you are a particular fan of mangroves) that the east coast of Koh Yao Noi is the "pretty" side. You have some beaches, great views looking towards the Krabi coastline and small islands dotted across the sea. The beaches are good for swimming at high tide, but rocky at low tide. And yes, it's pretty.
We cycled about 5km along the east coast. This is where you find the hotels, bungalows and guesthouses. Lunch was the target, and I must say, that after a couple of hours in the saddle, I was pretty hungry! The guide told us 2km... yeh, the longest 2km I have ever seen! We detoured off the road for a while...
Around 1pm we hit the "Sabai Corner" for lunch. We'd cycled 20km, which after many years of sluggish living, felt like 100km! I blame the heat :) Sabai Corner is a lovely place, cool and shaded, and the food was good - we had dishes of Masaman curry, chicken with cashew nuts, vegetables in oyster sauce and tom kha gai. And lots of water. There was no rush. Our guide told us we had only around 10km after lunch and we opted for the "no hills" version :) The ferry was due to leave at 4pm so we could take plenty of time to rest and enjoy lunch.
The long lunch break was much appreciated. The road back to Manao Pier was the busiest we encountered on the trip.. something like a country lane in England, but there were several minibuses and the aforementioned truck. And goats in a sidecar.
Koh Yao Noi is, and I think will continue to be, saved from overspill tourism from Phuket because it is a true island. You gotta take the big ol' longtail ferry to get there.. well, there are some speedboats too. But no bridge, no flights. Koh Yao Noi remains a quiet place to explore. I am already planning a visit with the family. I know we can take the ferry and hire a couple of mopeds there (250 Baht per day). Or maybe take a moped ourselves.... on our outbound and return trips there were motorbikes on the ferry - here's a moped being loaded onto the ferry at Manao pier:
We had another drink at the jetty. A lady was selling ice tea and ice coffee. The ice tea was most welcome. And, as mentioned, mattresses were being unloaded from a boat...
We posed for a final photo at the pier before heading back to Phuket...
Great day. I love the more remote areas around Phuket and hope to visit Koh Yao Noi again soon. On a moped :) - Anyone wanting to experience something off the beaten track, Koh Yao Noi is a good option. They also have trips around the quiet countryside in the north of Phuket and in the area between Phuket and Khao Lak.. they also have multi day cycling trips for the very keen. You do need to be vaguely fit and healthy for one of these day trips. We did 30km, mostly fairly flat roads, but the heat was energy sapping. I enjoyed the day, enjoyed the friendly people in Koh Yao Noi, great views, and happy to know that I can still sit on a bike for a few hours!