Santhiya is a top property on Koh Yao Yai. // © 2017 Santhiya
Feature image (above): Ani Villas Thailand, on Koh Yao Noi, is a 10-bedroom estate. // © 2017 Ani Villas Thailand
Thailand’s Koh Yao Yai (KYY) and Koh Yao Noi (KYN) — also known as “Long Island Big” and “Long Island Small” — more than just sound alike. Positioned a kilometer from one another, these island siblings offer more relaxed, calm, temperate and under-the-radar environments and vibes than commercialized Phi Phi and Koh Samui. Accessible from Phuket or Krabi via long-tail boat, speedboat or ferry, these islands provide a low-key Thai island getaway without the big tourist crowds and party atmosphere.
In broad strokes, KYY and KYN share many similarities, including rustic villages and roads, secluded beaches, lush greenery, friendly locals, hole-in-the-wall dining, roadside vendors and Instagram-worthy views of Phang Nga Bay’s limestone rock formations. Yet the islands also have their own personalities and unique attributes.
KYN is the smaller — albeit more developed — of the pair, housing Thai government offices (including a post office), the nonprofit Ani Art Academy, several late-night bars and restaurants and even a 7-Eleven mini-mart (which locals jokingly call “Siam Paragon,” a reference to Bangkok’s massive, upscale shopping mall). KYN also offers the most — and most luxurious — hotel options.
Opened in 2015 on KYN’s Klong Jark beach, Ani Villas Thailand is a stunning, all-inclusive, 10-bedroom private estate that’s ideal for groups and family gatherings. It features a sprawling infinity pool, a waterslide, on-demand spa services, children’s activities, high-end bicycles for exploring the island and cooking classes with the affable Chef Yao, who dishes up southern Thai delicacies.
Although twice as large, KYY is even more laid back, with fewer lodging options (and very few spots that sell alcohol due to its large Muslim population). The stunning, family-friendly Santhiya — with its dramatic cliffside villas, 39 of which feature private pools — is situated on Loh Pared beach. The massive outdoor pool at the property features a dramatic stone waterfall and daybeds, while a separate infinity pool offers panoramic views of the Andaman Sea. Kayaks and paddleboards for nearby exploration are complimentary, and don’t miss Chantara Restaurant’s dinner buffet, which is themed to a different Thai regional cuisine nightly.
Speaking of food, each island also has its own specialties. At Buddy, a food stall on KYN, visitors can try foamy Thai iced tea and a sweet, flaky banana roti, a snack that falls somewhere between pancakes and flatbread. On KYY, clients may spot silvery shing shang anchovies drying out on large sheets each morning. Later, these get salted, bundled and exported. It’s a popular, crispy snack, so clients should buy a bag from local vendors. Or, visitors might try kanom babin, a dense, disc-like coconut and rice-flour cake.
KYN’s Pasai Beach is the islands’ most developed stretch of sand, with waterfront shops, bars and restaurants. The adventurous can also trek a rugged, winding and forested path to secluded Haad Yao beach. On KYY, Ban Chong Lad’s white-sand beach is a prime picnic spot for both locals and visitors, with photo-worthy views.
Other activities include a class at KYN Muay Thai Gym, which offers single sessions and long-term training in Thailand’s national martial art, or spectators can take in a professional match on Saturdays at KYN Stadium. If your clients are more (food) lovers than fighters, they can flex their cooking muscles at Mina’s Thai Cookery Class.
Wellness-focused clients should check out Dr. Saad, KYY’s blind masseur. He has a reputation for healing both recent and chronic injuries and pain and can schedule single or multiple sessions during a stay. Meanwhile, visitors shouldn’t be surprised if they see monkeys riding shotgun in motorbike sidecars — there’s a local monkey school on KYY where primates are trained to pick coconuts. Local hotels can point the way to see the monkeys.