Two islands make up Koh Yao - the larger of the two being Koh Yao Yai (translated to ‘Long big island’) and Koh Yao Noi (which translates to ‘Long little island’). The islands are accessible on a sailing holiday either via the mainland of Krabi, or from Phuket, sitting halfway between the two access points in the middle of Phang Nga Bay.
Local inhabitants across both islands are mainly Muslim, and the tourism industry here is still nascent, but growing quickly. Koh Yao Noi is fast becoming a resort destination, with big names like the Six Senses having set up an exquisite cliffside resort along its banks. The smaller of the two islands is half the size of its neighbour, but is actually more developed. Due to its dense population of high-end resorts, Koh Yao Noi has the highest average room rate for all of Thailand, according to a 2013 survey. Of course, this won't affect sailors who have the choice of many bays to park their yacht in Koh Yao. Despite development, the island has retained its charm, with only a 7/11 standing as an anomaly amongst local shops (none of which sell alcohol). And beyond the tourism industry, most local revenues are made from fishing, rubber tapping, and farming.
Its bigger brother, Koh Yao Yai spans 30 km in length. Less popular and less developed, this island retains a more authentic, traditional charm. A cycle or a drive through its mangrove landscapes and rubber tree plantations is an adventure in itself. Visitors are recommended to try some of the island’s plentiful seafood restaurants, where fresh catches are cooked daily for hungry patrons.
The beaches on both islands tend to have shallow bays, which leave sharp, rocky coral at low tide. This means it is important to check the tidal charts before heading out for an afternoon swim.
However, beachcombers will delight in Loh Paret on Koh Yao Yai’s west coast, which offers all-day swimming (without threat of low tide and sharp corals), plus sunset views and beachfront restaurants.
While most visitors to the islands opt to spend their time lounging beach- or poolside and enjoying the tranquility these quiet islands have to offer, other island activities include rock climbing, kayaking, scuba diving, ATV off-roading, and snorkelling. Nearby trips worthwhile of a cruise to include Khai Nok and Koh Khai Nai, but are not highly-recommended due to over-tourism on the two islands taking away from the experience. However, the snorkelling off their shores is a colourful, unmissable experience in itself.
As with much of Thailand, the best time to visit the Koh Yao islands is between November and April; indeed, many of the hotels and resorts - barring the largest ones - actually close between May and October due to the lack of tourism.