When people talk about the Thai Islands the immediate image that springs to mind is a glistening beach, palm trees, azure ocean, longtail boats and the beautiful smiling Thai people.
This image is still very much a reality but what happens when you have to share it with the hoards of holiday makers and backpackers that arrive en masse every year?
Does it still have the same appeal?
I’m sorry to say that the Gulf and Andaman coasts that many people experienced even just 10 short years ago are gradually disappearing. Phuket, Ao Nang, Koh Samui and Ko Pha Ngan have all become huge, developed tourist destinations and don’t even get me started on Koh Phi Phi.
I vowed not to set foot on Phi Phi this time around after being horrified by the badly managed over-development 5 years ago.
Thailand is now home to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world and also some of the busiest party spots, so if that’s what you’re looking for then perfect. But what about the Thailand I’ve seen in photos from yesteryear, beach shacks and dirt roads with very few tourists to speak of?
If you don’t want to/have the money to stay in luxury resorts and aren’t interested in Full Moon Parties there has to be an alternative. We decided to make it a mission to try and find places just like this, they’re still out there but you’ve just got to know where to look.
Koh Yao Noi
You would never think this perfect little slice of paradise existed. It’s just off the coast of Ao Nang, possibly the most westernised beach resort in all of Thailand, and most visitors to the Andaman Sea will probably never have heard of it.
It’s 15 km long, has a bunch of lovely little coves and is the perfect spot for real relaxation. The views over Phang Nga Bay are absolutely to die for and it’s perfect for exploring either by longtail or kayak.
Most of the places to stay on Koh Yao Noi are budget to mid-range and have a lovely relaxed feel to them, but what really sets it apart is that the villages are larger than any resort areas, us tourists haven’t taken over.
We stayed in 1 of a few beautiful cabins owned by the island’s only policeman and catered for by his very talented wife. Our little cabin was up a hill which offered breathtaking views due east into Phang Nga Bay and the most spectacular sunrises viewed through our French doors.
You can get around very easily which we discovered when we braved hiring a motorbike and there is enough to do so that even if you’re a restless type like Paul and I, you won’t get bored.
The islanders are desperate to keep this level of development and I really hope they can ward off the ever encroaching super resorts.
Situated mid-way between Krabi and Koh Lanta, Koh Jum feels a little bit Robinson Crusoe-like and it is absolute bliss! We boarded a packed boat in Krabi that was bound for the larger island of Koh Lanta and an hour later we simply stopped a few hundred metres off the Koh Jum coast where a longtail moored up with the ferry to take us ashore.
This is when I absolutely love travelling, Paul and I the only people speeding away towards this tiny tropical paradise.
Koh Jum is very hilly and most of the roads are rocky, uneven dirt tracks so it’s quite a challenge to get around. Most lodging has a wonderful remote feel and they all give the impression of having a deserted private beach.
It is absolutely silent apart from the waves crashing and the monkeys in the morning and this time we were facing due west so privy to the justifiably famous Andaman sunsets.
We stayed in a gorgeous place that really reminded me of a bunch of treehouses. The cabins are dotted about on a steep hill with wooden walkways and stairs leading off in every direction.
We could use kayaks and snorkels free of charge and there is a huge lending library that I made the most of. If you haven’t seen Phi Phi before you can easily take a trip directly from Koh Jum.
Bear with me! I’m fully aware that Koh Lanta is developed, full of holiday resorts and can be quite busy. We arrived at the very tail end of the season, mid-April. As a result you get the best of both worlds.
The island is extremely quiet but there are still some great places to eat that are open and quite a few of the dive schools too.
We stayed in the port of Saladan purely to have a change from the beach (I know, what a hardship!). It was good fun staying amongst the guesthouses and eateries that are on stilts over the harbour.
The famous beaches of Klong Dau and Prae Ae are within walking distance and if you want to explore further then you can rent a moped very cheaply.
The people on Koh Lanta are extremely friendly and the whole place retains a really laid back feel. We happened to visit during Songkran (Thai New Year) and it was a really nice way to celebrate.
The huge water fights still happen but there are loads of kids playing as well so it had a much more relaxed feel to what I’ve seen in videos of Chiang Mai and Bangkok during the same time.
We unfortunately didn’t get a chance to visit the Gulf of Thailand or some of the lovely islands near the Cambodian border this time but I hear there are some gems in both areas.
It would be great to hear from anyone who’s enjoyed a similar slice of paradise in this great country.
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