In the morning I departed Ao Nang for Ko Yao Noi, an island in the heart of Phang-Nga Bay. While waiting for the ferry boat at Ao Thalane Pier, a troop of macaque monkeys noticed that I was carrying a plastic bag of rice containing my water damaged phone. The devilish monkeys surrounded me, and before I could escape the largest monkey grabbed the bag, attempting to snatch my phone. I tugged the bag out of the thieving monkey’s hand and stuffed it inside my backpack, but the undeterred monkeys creepily observed me, waiting for an opportunity to make off with my phone. I was relieved to board the ferry and escape the harassment of the monkeys.
The ferry was a traditional Thai wooden boat with a large cabin. I sat in the bow of the boat, soaking up the sun and taking in the view of the limestone rock formations sprouting out of Phang-Nga Bay. Half way through the ride the sea turned rough, rocking the boat and sending giant waves over the bow. I arrived at Ko Yao Noi so drenched that I had to wring the water out of my t-shirt; however, I didn’t succumb to seasickness like my travel companions.
Away from the tourist trail, Ko Yao Noi is one of the few remaining islands in Thailand that isn’t overdeveloped. Ko Yao Noi has a mountainous center, unspoiled beaches, and locally owned guesthouses and restaurants. We spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach and swimming in the crystal clear water. We watched the sunset from the Rice Paddy Viewpoint Restaurant, then drank exotic cocktails and feasted on delicious seafood. The opinionated chef refused to compromise the taste of the food by reducing its spiciness, which I respected, but then I love hot, spicy food. Everyone enjoyed the dinner and atmosphere so much that we returned to the restaurant the next evening.
The next day we ventured out on a boat trip around the islands of Phang-Nga Bay. Phang-Nga Bay is sprinkled with the small islands and dramatic limestone rock formations that are the iconic image of Thailand. Snorkeling in turquoise waters filled with colorful fish and coral was the highlight of the boat trip. Two members of our group sustained minor injuries from the sharp spines of sea urchins–fortunately the spines were not toxic. The captain retrieved a sea urchin from the sea floor and passed it to me on the boat! The sea urchin slowly crawled on my hands with its tube feet before I tossed it back into the sea.
Near the end of the day, the captain anchored the boat on a small island for a last swim. I spotted a steep path to a viewpoint and started climbing uphill in my flip flops. As I was congratulating myself for tackling the tough climb in flip flops, a barefoot Thai woman descended from around a corner, putting an immediate end to my self-congratulation. After climbing for around 15 minutes, I reached the island’s high point and was rewarded with a dramatic view of Phang-Nga Bay.
Ko Yao Noi is beautiful and serene, with fishing, coconut farming, and limited tourism supporting the island’s population. Ko Phi Phi, another beautiful island, has been spoilt with overdevelopment and pollution. Sustainability should be the priority when planning Ko Yao Noi’s future, so that it doesn’t suffer the same fate as Ko Phi Phi. When I return to Thailand’s islands, I hope that Ko Yao Noi is still a paradise island on my itinerary.