A while ago I heard a whisper about a beautiful little island. It’s the ubiquitous backpacker-trail search for the beach that everyone seems to be drawn to. Is there really a little island somewhere that may just transport you into something close to what Alex Garland wrote about?
Do deserted white sandy beaches still exist? I was hearing that they might so when a visa update took us to Ranong, we decided to check out this hidden isle called Koh Phayam for ourselves.
The ferry departure point is just a few minutes’ walk from the longtail pick-up point where you go for your visa renewal. With fresh visas, we shouldered our bags and headed to the pier.
During high season a speedboat transfer will whisk you quickly to this small island in around 45 minutes but you always have the choice of the slower, cheaper boat which idles passed mangroves on its two-hour journey to what we were hoping would be paradise.
The first thing we noticed was that it really was quiet and the beaches seemingly deserted. The main town petered out after only minutes of walking and the main road was nothing more than a narrow strip of concrete with just enough space for two motorbikes to pass.
There was no 7/11 or McDonalds in sight and the majority of places seemed to be family run. We were actually travelling really light for once so we hired a bike and set off for a look around for somewhere to stay.
Koh Phayam is getting developed but the majority of the accommodation is still aimed at shoe-string backpackers, up to flash-packers with a couple of upscale resorts now dotting the island. Simple huts from the Thailand of yesteryear are still available but concrete is showing its face.
Simple wooden huts with hammocks on their decks
We found a little spot on Aow Yai which is also called Sunset Bay and didn’t really move for a few days. We wandered along the beach and enjoyed the peace and we almost believed the outside world had disappeared.
There’s only so long that you can take photographs of a deserted beach and beautiful sunsets before you get the itch to see what else is going on. The island is small, just 10km by 5km so we took a slow meander and really wound down the pace to true island speed.
Aow Khao Kwai or Buffalo Bay is the other large bay and this tends to be quieter than Aow Yai even in high season. Resorts dotted the coastline but remained largely hidden and unobtrusive and it seemed easy to pretend that we were castaways.
Each beach we visited was picturesque, sleepy and quiet. Other bays circle the island and you’ll find more white stretches of sand devoid of plastic chairs and sun loungers.
Beautiful unspoilt beaches
Passing through the centre of the island I was struck by something I’d noticed on the way in but hadn’t really registered; solar power. Used to noisy generators, we were impressed that the development here had been done harnessing the natural energies and the more we looked the more panels we saw on and around buildings.
There were generators but it was great to see solar power playing a part in delivering energy to the island. At a few of the more upmarket resorts, guests will enjoy 24-hour electricity but on the whole, this is not the case.
The roadsides are dotted with rubber plantations and women sorting cashew nuts. Local industry is still far more prevalent here than any other island I have visited in a long time. The tourist-related businesses mostly just dot the coastline leaving the interior to the locals and their day to day life.
The rubber tree plantations all have taps on them and you’ll see rubber hanging by the roadside. No one yet has created a rubber or cashew tour but I suppose it’s coming. For now, you seem to be welcome to check out what’s going on and try out your Thai phrase bookmaking new friends.
Local women roasting cashew nuts on the roadside
If this is all sounding a bit too laid back and if you’re wondering where the party is, don’t worry. There’s always a party if you want it no matter where you are but you’ll not find Full Moon type throngs and you won’t be lying in bed listening to the dull thud of bass!
Aow Yai is the home of The South Star Bar and Aow Khao Kwai is the home of Hippy Bar yet other chilled spots serve drinks on the beach for those who just want to laze and stare into the fire.
The best weather is between November and April and this is when you’ll find the most visitors here. Come outside of this time and you’ll find many places closed but you will really find true peace and quiet.
Writing this, for me is a double edged sword; the island is beautiful but development will change it and yet by telling you about it I’m perhaps increasing the visitor numbers and speed of development. I can only hope that visitors to the island do so responsibly and limit their impact and that the developers do so with an eye on the environment.
Beautiful sunsets on Koh Phayam
Written by Ayesha Cantrell from Master Divers, Koh Tao