Koh Phayam in Thailand is a must-visit island if you’re searching for beaches free from tourists, concrete resorts and sunbed-strewn sand. The kangaroo-shaped island, which sits in the Andaman Sea just off the west coast close to the Myanmar border, has magically bypassed the tourist boom that has transformed many Thai islands beyond recognition. Here you’ll find unspoilt jungle and beautifully empty picturesque beaches.
Koh Phayam is significantly less developed than its island cousins further south, but with the recent introduction of 24-hour electricity and WiFi now widely available, it strikes the perfect balance of tranquillity and escape without leaving you feeling completely cut off from the outside world.
At just 10km long by 5km wide, Koh Phayam can be explored in just a few days, but the island’s beauty, relaxed atmosphere and laidback living make it an attractive place to stay for weeks, or even months, at a time.
Koh Phayam Map & Resources
Best Time to Visit Koh Phayam
December-March is the high season, with Christmas and New Year being the peak times. The shoulder months of November and April also bring lots of sunny, dry days and offer the benefit of cheaper accommodation and even fewer tourists. The wet season typically runs from May until October and many places close during this period.
Where to Stay in Koh Phayam
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- Aow Yai, or Long Beach, on the island’s west coast, marks the more lively side of the island. Don’t expect full-moon-style partying here but there are a number of bars and restaurants in this area that host regular parties. These attract both local and international visitors from all over the island.
- Aow Khao Kwai, more commonly referred to as Buffalo Bay, is on the northwest coast and a quieter area to stay. It typically attracts more families and couples.
- The small village near the pier on Koh Phayam’s east coast offers close proximity to amenities and cheaper accommodation.
Best Hostels in Koh Phayam
Tropical Hostel is located a couple of minutes’ walk from Long Beach and is the ideal place to stay if you want to base yourself on this side of the island. The owner and staff could not be more helpful or accommodating and there is a social atmosphere, with an onsite bar and café. If you’re looking to while away lazy days, don’t miss the opportunity to make time for your favourite book in one of the hammocks.
Near to the pier, Phayam Hostel offers basic accommodation for those on a shoestring budget, and the close Best Hostel also offers budget rooms with an in-house restaurant, common area and friendly owner.
If you’d prefer a private room, there are plenty of bungalows to choose from across the island. Two of the most budget-friendly options are Phayam Garden View close to the pier and Goldkey Bungalows at Buffalo Bay. Alternatively, you can try out one of the luxury tents at Sabai Sabai Beach Bungalows.
Things to Do in Koh Phayam, Thailand
1. Relax and Enjoy Island Life
The true beauty of Koh Phayam can be found in its laid-back vibe and slow pace of life. The beaches boast powdery sand, clear waters and are wonderfully free of the tourist crowds that plague so many pretty spots. Drink a coconut, laze on the beach and enjoy doing everything on island time.
2. Learn To Surf or Paddleboard
One of Koh Phayam’s best-kept secrets is the surf on the West Coast. The monsoon months bring the biggest swells, but the high season sees the most consistent, clean waves. The small size makes them perfect for beginners.
Phayam Surfers offers lessons and many of the accommodations along Long Beach have rental boards. Stand-up paddle (SUP) boards are also available to rent and are great for riding the waves or enjoying the water on calmer days.
Also read: Surfing in Asia.
If surfing or paddleboarding sounds too energetic for your liking, there are still some water-based activities for you to enjoy. The clear and calm waters at Buffalo Bay are perfect for spotting underwater life so don’t forget to pack your snorkel!
4. Enjoy the Sunset
The sunsets on Koh Phayam are spectacular, especially on Long Beach. Grab a blanket and watch the sky turn from yellow, to orange and red, as the sun sinks below the horizon and sets the sea alight with dazzling colours.
5. Explore the Island by Kayak or Scooter
Rent a kayak and explore the mangroves south of Buffalo Bay, or circumnavigate the island and enjoy the island’s beauty and beaches from a new vantage point.
Alternatively, spend a day pottering around the island on a scooter exploring the lush green interior and picture postcard beaches.
6. Visit Hin Talu
Marvel at the extraordinary rock formations at Hin Talu and enjoy the stunning views through the natural windows carved into the rock face.
7. Visit the Temple
You can’t miss Koh Phayam’s only temple as you approach the island. Perched on a pier jutting out into the sea, Wat Ko is set in a stunning location and is free to visit.
8. Drink at the Hippie Bar
The iconic Hippie Bar in Buffalo bay is a must-visit. Made from driftwood, this eclectic ramshackle construction of a pirate ship-cum-tree house is a feat of engineering! It’s also a great place to have a beer while enjoying one of the island’s magical sunsets – perfect for backpackers.
9. Shop at Shambhala
Check out the eco-friendly products at Shambhala, a treasure trove of organic, second-hand and refillable products, with everything from bags and clothes to homemade shampoo and mosquito repellent.
10. Party in the Jungle at Musika
If you’re missing the party vibe, head for Musika where you can dance the night away among the trees. Set in the jungle, this crocheted bar and neon-lit venue hosts a trance party every Saturday night.
Food and Drink in Koh Phayam
Koh Phayam is famous for its cashew nuts, a must-try on any visit. Travel to the island in February to see the trees in full bloom, laden with fruit and crescent-moon-shaped nuts. If you’re heading there in March, don’t miss the cashew nut festival. You can enjoy the cashews on their own or as part of a meal; they appear in everything from curries to smoothie bowls.
The main road that runs through the centre of the island offers a good selection of eateries. Bilbo’s has great breakfast and lunch options, including creamy smoothie bowls and filling wraps. They also serve fresh homemade cinnamon rolls – the smell alone is enough to lure you inside.
Munchies Café also offers a wide range of breakfast and brunch options, from hearty fruit pancakes to avocado toast with homemade bread. Their cakes and homemade ice cream come highly recommended.
Shambhala caters for meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike. The focus is on fresh, organic ingredients and everything is both delicious and beautifully presented. The owner is from Pai and makes a wonderful Khao Soi, the signature dish of Northern Thailand.
Vegetarian restaurant Cha Chai is another fantastic option for non-meat eaters. The extensive and mind-boggling menu will leave you spoilt for choice and includes meat alternatives to duck, fish and lamb. For fresh and tasty western and middle-eastern dishes try Sathanee, with its friendly staff and quirky ambience. They also offer good vegetarian and vegan options.
If you’re craving pizza head straight for The Kitchen Table in the southwest of the island. Their woodfired pizza is second to none, and the bruschetta and pasta are also fresh and delicious.
In Buffalo Bay, beachfront Baan Suan Kayoo 2 serves hot and tasty Thai options for lunch and dinner. To sample the food that the locals eat, try Nong Taew in the village near the pier. For an authentic Thai barbeque experience, try the confusingly named Korean BBQ, where you can cook your own meat over a charcoal-fired mu kratha.
How To Get to Koh Phayam
The only way to reach Koh Phayam is by boat from the town of Ranong. Ferries depart once a day in the morning and take two hours, returning to the mainland in the mid-afternoon. Alternatively, a slightly more expensive but more convenient option is the speedboat that runs hourly (during high season) between Ranong pier and the island. It takes around 45 minutes.
To get to Ranong from Bangkok, it’s possible to take a direct bus (around 8-9 hours), or you can take the train to Chumphon (8.5-10.5 hours) and then a bus to Ranong (approximately two hours).
You can also fly from Bangkok to Ranong (1.5 hours). Direct buses also run from Phuket (6 hours). From Khao Sok National Park, you can take a bus to Takua Pa (45 minutes) and then the connecting bus to Ranong (3 hours).
Getting Around Koh Phayam
With no cars or public transport on the island, by far the most popular way to get around Koh Phayam is by scooter, which can be rented cheaply and easily. For those that don’t want to hop on a scooter, bicycles can also be hired and motorbike taxis are available to take you anywhere you need to go. As the island is so small, it’s also possible to walk to most places – just be sure to take plenty of water if you’re braving the heat of the day!
Where To Go Next:
Phuket: Take the bus from Ranong to Phuket (6 hours) and explore The Pearl of The Andaman. Don’t miss Phuket Old Town with its ornate architecture, colourful buildings and museums.
Khao Sok National Park: Travel to Khao Sok from Ranong via Takua Pa and book onto the ever-popular overnight lake trip where you can spend the night in a floating bungalow on the mesmerizingly beautiful Cheow Lan Lake. Alternatively, you can hire a local guide and trek into the jungle in search of waterfalls and the world’s largest flower, rafflesia.
Koh Tao: Take a bus from Ranong to Chumphon and then the night ferry over to Koh Tao, widely regarded as one of the best places to dive in Thailand.