As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to put my Phuket sailing plans on hold and pursue a volunteer opportunity on the island of Ko Jum. I told my host, Ben, that I would arrive on Ko Jum in about a week. I wanted to take my time getting there, and visit a few other islands along the way. The following are a few highlights from the week.
(Note: After talking with a fellow traveler and more experienced blogger, I may shift the focus of my writing in future posts. We’ll see. She was certainly inspiring. Check out www.ninaseetheworld.com)
On the morning of Thursday, November 12, 2015, I headed to the pier in Phuket Town and arranged for a speedboat to take me to the island of Ko Yao Yai. Rumors indicated that this island was quieter, less developed, and less touristy than some of the other islands. It sounded great to me.
After a 30-minute boat ride and 5-minute drive in the back of a pickup, I arrived at my hotel – Baan Taranya – located about halfway down the eastern coast of Ko Yao Yai. Once again, I lucked out with my hotel choice. Baan Taranya was fabulous! My room was perfect, with a sliding glass door entry, air conditioning, and modern bathroom. The property included a restaurant, pool, and a beach bar that was still under construction. I was tempted to offer my labor in exchange for the room, but decided to spend my time exploring the island rather than working.
So I rented a motorbike, and for the next 3 days I drove around the island, as well as its neighboring sister island Ko Yao Noi, just to the north. Similar in layout, both islands have one main paved road, with narrower dirt roads that branch off and lead to beaches, fishing villages, mangroves, or in some cases private residences or resorts. It was nearly impossible to get lost, or so I thought. Let’s just say that in a few cases it took me longer than expected to get to my destination.
At several points during my motorbike adventure, I found secluded beaches where the only footprints were mine. It was amazing, and in stark contrast to some of the beaches I visited later in my trip. My favorite beach was about 1/2 mile long, with fine grain white sand and a big tree at one end casting a cool shadow on the sand. Not being a major sun-bather, I enjoyed sitting under the protection of this tree, soaking in the view and fantasizing that I was on one of the sailboats I saw gliding silently along the horizon. I nicknamed the spot “Crabby Point” because the sand seemed to be alive with hermit crabs crawling around.
At the southern end of Ko Yao Yai, after a few kilometers of riding along a bumpy dirt road, I found a remote fishing village that clearly had not seen many tourists. I parked my motorbike and walked down the road. I might as well have been walking back in time. I bought a Fanta from a woman basically selling beverages out of her house, and sat on some steps to take it all in: the weathered houses on stilts, the long-tail boats with colorful ribbons around their pointy bows, the women in full Muslim garments, the assortment of fishing and crabbing gear stacked along the docks. There were a lot of children running around the streets and playing along the shoreline. They would giggle a “Hello” to me and then scurry away.
To explore the sister island Ko Yao Noi, I paid some gentlemen to load my motorbike onto their long tail boat and take me across the channel. This second island was smaller, yet more developed and more touristy than Ko Yao Yai. Pasai Beach was nice, lined with bungalows to rent and palm trees to sit under. Following a long dirt road, I found Paradise Resort which was quite impressive, and exclusive. On the western part of the island, I found a fishing village with a couple of seafood restaurants – but unfortunately I had already eaten. These high points aside, I was very glad that I was staying on the more rustic and authentic Ko Yao Yai. In fact, I cut my day on Ko Yao Noi short, and headed back across the channel so that I could enjoy one more afternoon at Crabby Point.
By Monday, November 16, 2015, having exhausted my land-based exploration options, I rented a long tail boat (with a 2-man crew) and toured a few of the very small neighboring islands. This was a bit disappointing, as the islands we visited were clearly part of a standard tourist route. The beaches were lined with long-tail boats and packed with tourists wielding selfie-sticks and snorkeling gear.
There were a couple of islands on the half-day tour that are worthy of noting.
The island of Ko Hong consisted of towering cliffs rising out of the water, yet they hid a shallow lagoon in the middle of the island. The lagoon was accessible only through a narrow entrance, wide enough for two boats to pass side-by-side. Unfortunately due to the recent rains and wind the water was too cloudy for snorkeling, but I did enjoy a dip in the warm water.
We also stopped at an island that couldn’t have been more than 2 kilometers of shoreline – perhaps too small for the big tourist groups to visit. But we pulled right up on the beach (which may not be there during high tide). My captain and I jumped out, and he led me up a steep trail to the top of the limestone cliff. This gave us a fantastic 360-degree view of the islands. I snapped a few photos and video, and then climbed back down… all the while nervous that I was in flip flops.
After about 4 hours, we headed back to Ko Yao Yai. I had a speedboat to catch that afternoon, which would take me over to Krabi – my next stop on my route to Ko Jum.
Knowing that I had checked out of my hotel, the captain offered to take me to his house so that I could shower and eat lunch before my trip to Krabi. I respectfully declined, saying that I would just shower once at my hotel in Krabi. He understood, but he still insisted that he give me a free ride on the back of his motorbike to the pier. So he dropped me at the pier and we said goodbye. Or so I thought.
Thirty minutes later, the captain returned with a box of chicken fried rice and a bottle of water for me! He and his friend waited for another thirty minutes while I ate, and made sure I got on the right speed boat to Krabi. I was touched by his thoughtfulness, generosity, and genuine care for my well-being. The longer I am in Thailand, I realize this is the norm, not the exception. The people here are amazing.
My speedboat arrived at 3:30pm that afternoon, and I said goodbye to Ko Yao Yai – a hidden treasure of Thailand. Let’s keep it our little secret.