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PHUKET and SOUTH THAILAND

Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai, Phang Nga, Surin islands: a tropical paradise
Travel itineraries, hiking, kayaking and sailing in Italy and around the world

THE SEAS OF THAILAND: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

In search of the perfect beach
Thailand is full of spectacular beaches and islands and islets, but here we present two particularly wild beach destinations: Koh Yao Noi (with the nearby Ko Yao Yai) and the Surin Islands. Below there is a description of our travel itinerary, with many photos, lots of information and a brief trip report.
(For information about prices, climate, transport, etc, visit the page dedicated to travels in Thailand and Laos, where you will find links also to the other destinations, including Bangkok).

Tha Len pier, Krabi, Thailand
Tha Len pier, Krabi, Thailand: here our trip into the tropical seas began. Firse stop, Ko Yao Noi.

THE SEAS OF THAILAND: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai
Ko Yao Noi is one of the largest islands of Phang Nga Bay. Fifteen kilometers long, it features several beaches, a lot of jungle, cultivated fields and some villages not yet touched by tourism. If, during your travel itinerary in southern Thailand, you want to avoid other tourists and have a bit of adventure, this is the place.
Ko Yao Noi, Phang Nga Bay, Thailand
Ko Yao Noi island boasts deserted beaches, tradizional villages and thick forests
We reached Ko Yao Noi on Dec. 18, 2015 from Krabi: a van took us to the pier of Tha Len, where a wooden boat sailed to the island. From a spectacular landscape of jungle and karst mountains we moved to a spectacular scenery of sea and karst islets covered by jungle.
Phang Nga Bay, south Thailand
Phang Nga Bay is full of islands and islets with cliffs, caves and lush vegetation
We stayed at the Holiday Resort guesthouse; we crossed the road, which had very little traffic, and we were on the beach. It was a hard life.
We arrived at noon, we had some food at our inn (which also had a bar / restaurant with a beautiful view) and we rented a scooter with which we tour the island. Along the way we met no cars, only carts of farmers and some other motorbikes rode by tourists scrappier than us. After every turn it could appear a long beach or a small and very quiet village nestled in the forest. The guesthouse and the few bars (until that moment almost empty, but probably they would fill up by Christmas) were concentrated in the south-east of the island.
Overlooking a beach south of the island there was an office that rented kayaks; there we stopped to try to organize an exciting trip for the next day. There was a nice lady with a chubby face who didn't speak much English (nor we spoke Thai), but we managed to reach an agreement over a trip to the islands in the Eastern Phang Nga Bay. After a dinner in a good restaurant, we went to bed early - as it often happend, in that holiday. The early bird catches the worm, during a wild trip.
The plump lady greeted us the next day with one of her inimitable smiles. With her and her husband we boarded a long tail boat; they also loaded a double kayak and paddles, and we sailed towards dreamy islands.
Long tail boats in Phang Nga Bay, south Thailand
"Long tail boats moored on a beach of Phang Nga Bay
The wild islands of Phang Nga Bay usually have steep walls and lush vegetation on top.
We paddled and amazing wonders presented to our eyes: monkeys, deserted beaches, stalactites ... The highlight of this kayak trip was Ko Hong, with its vast interior lagoon.
Ko Hong, Phang Nga Bay, south Thailand
In Ko Hong island there is a huge lagoon, surrounded by steep cliffs covered by lush vegetation
We met also some wonderful beaches on a pair of islets facing each other. The water was not very clear, because of the kind of muddy seabed which is typical of Phang Nga Bay.
We paddled a lot that day, but it was really a pleasure; while we were on the kayak, the happy couple on the long tail boat was waiting for us behind some small island fishing and chit-chatting (or maybe they discussed quantum physics, who knows).
Kayak on a beach of Phang Nga Bay, south Thailand
Kayak moored on a beautiful beach on a island of Phang Nga Bay
Back to the hotel, we rented a motorbike, which we kept until the next evening, and we went to dinner at another nice outdoor restaurant. As always, rice, chicken, vegetables, sauces and spices, and as always all very good. A Thai-Dutch couple played and sang. Many Europeans lived in Thailand with a girlfriend, full-time or part-time. Some of them were in nice, solid relationships, others had their relationship based on money and indifference. This couple that was singing was very nice and they showed happiness and empathy.
The next day, by motorbike, we decided to give a further twist to our travel itinerary. We headed to the pier where - we heard - there were ferries to the island of Ko Yao Yai. We arrives at the pier and we asked some information (combining English and gestures). "Can we bring the motorbike on the ferry?" "Sure, park it there." So we did and we looked around in search of this elusive "ferry". While we were giving our backs to the motorbike, two guys picked it up and began walking dangerously down the slippery stairs that carried to the water. There was a small wooden boat down there, but they could not load the motorbike on it... oh yes, they did it. Luckily, the motorbike did not fall in the water and I sat on it to keep it straight as the boat rocked to Ko Yao Yai.
From Ko Yao Noi to Ko Yao Yai by boat and motorbike
From Ko Yao Noi to Ko Yao Yai by boat and motorbike!
During our visit to Koh Yao Yai, we found it larger, quieter and wilder than Ko Yao Noi. Apparently, the Muslim population wanted to be quiet so they did not allow the development of big tourist facilities. We drove around the island meetind long deserted beaches, endless white arcs that separated the sea from the forest.
Beach in Ko Yao Yai, island in Phang Nga Bay, south Thailand
Beach at Ko Yao Yai
Beach in Ko Yao Yai, island in Phang Nga Bay, south Thailand
Beach at Ko Yao Yai
Because of the low muddy seabed, to swim you often had to walk for kilometers, but this problem was negligible compared to the peace and beauty of the landscape.
Beach and palms at Ko Yao Yai
Back to Ko Yao Noi in the late afternoon, we had dinner in our guesthouse, where we ate excellent crab with some Chang beer.
The next day we loaded our bags on the boat of the plump lady and her husband and they carried us by double kayak to the island of Ko Paňák, in the west of Phang Nga Bay. This was a paradise for the kayaker. Cliffs, caves and stalactites (we often paddled under a roof of rock ten-meter long) and, especially, the Hongs. We were kayaking along the cliffs when we saw some light appear from a small cave at water level. To get there he had to lie on the kayak, as the cliff above us was very low. We managed to pass through the narrow opening pushing on the stalactites, as there was no room for paddling, until we found ourselves back in the light, in the open air. We were in a large interior lagoon, surrounded by vertical walls of rock, on which it grew a thick vegetation. There was absolute peace, no more waves, or boats passing sometimes in the distance, in silence just us and nature.
By kayak to Ko Panak, Phang Nga Bay, south Thailand
By kayak to Ko Panak, in the western part of Phang Nga Bay
I had read about the hongs, the lagoons, but I was still surprised, excited. It was one of the most exciting and adventurous journeys ever. It was also very exciting to think that the passage we had found was the only way out and it would be completely submerged at high tide. If our calculations were correct the tide was still going down, but anyway we didn't linger too much in that serene contemplation and after 15 or 20 minutes we decided to continue our kayak trip.
By kayak to Ko Panak, Phang Nga Bay, south Thailand
One of the most impressive caves of Ko Panak
Koh Paňák is quite large, so we paddled a lot. At one point we met another cave, with monkeys at the entrance. In this case, there were a couple of boats and some Thai tourist guides aboard inflatable canoes that were waiting for tourist boats outside the cave. We got into the passage, in this case a large and twisty tunnel that was more than 100 meters long. Of course it was completely dark and the torch was absolutely necessary. The last part of the tunnel became a narrow opening a rock wall until we got into a new hong. The sheer walls were covered by vegetation, and on the water there were mangroves.
By kayak to Ko Panak, Phang Nga Bay, south Thailand
A hong - internal lagoon, reachable only through a natural tunnel - at Ko Panak
At the end of this new adventure we continues our kayaking itinerary meeting deserted beaches and strange rock formations until we finished the circumnavigation of the island and we found the boat of the plump lady. The husband was smoking and relaxing. We lunched in a beautiful bay.
By kayak to Ko Panak, Phang Nga Bay, south Thailand
By kayak to Ko Panak, in the western part of Phang Nga Bay
Then we went back to Ko Yao Noi, where they left us and our luggage directly on the boat that would carry us to Phuket.

Nai Yang Beach (Phuket island)
Our stay in Phuket was just of two nights and one morning on the beach of Nai Yang. This is one of the quieter areas island of Phuket, with a few restaurants on the sand, no trasgressive bars and few tourists (compared to the rest of Phuket - they were many compared to Ko Yao islands, of course). We reached the beach by minibus (after arriving by boat from Ko Yao Noi).
Nai Yang beach, Phuket: sunset on the beach
Sunset on Nai Yang beach, on the island of Phuket
We stayed at the Family Houses hotel, a quiet place. The first night we had just enough time to see the sunset while sipping a beer and to have dinner on the beach. The food was not particularly memorable - a consequence of the fact that we were in a more touristy place. At dawn, the next day we left for the Surin Islands, where we stopped three days (see below). Then we returned to the Family Houses hotel for one last night in Nay Yang.
It was especially fun and significant that, because of our stay on the Surin islands, we wanted to leave our luggage and even some valuables in the hotel. When we asked the very kind receptionist at the Family Houses if she had a safe place for our things, she said, "Yes, of course, at my mom's house!" We trusted her blindly.
Our relaxing morning at Nai Yang Beach was really nice. A long walk on the beach, almost deserted in the morning. The beach was backed by towering trees, and in the sea there were fishing boats. We swam, and played and had fun.
Nai Yang beach, Phuket
Nai Yang beach, Phuket
Back to the hotel in time for lunch; a taxi took us to Phuket airport (which is close to Nai Yang) and we flew to Laos.

Surin Islands
A national park and an authentic natural paradise, the archipelago of Surin islands is accessible in an hour and a half by fast boat . We had booked a tour on the internet with the Khao Lak Travel Center, an almost inevitable solution because all the tents and bungalows on the islands are managed by the Park, which is difficult to interact with for an independent traveler.
Surin Islands, south-west Thailand
Surin Islands, south-west Thailand
Our solution (3 days and 2 nights in a tent, camping equipment supplied by the tour operator) allowed us to fully enjoy these wonderful islands. The first day we snorkeled on the coral reef and we visited a Moken village, a nomadic population of fishermen.
Moken village at Surin islands, south-west Thailand Moken village at Surin islands, south-west Thailand
Moken village at Surin islands
It was a really interesting experience; unfortunately, the 2004 tsunami changed both the lives of Moken people and the Surin Islands. The Mokens were forced to adapt in part to sedentary life in order to survive. The corals on the seabed of Surin, on the other hand, were largely damaged. So, while some of the coral reefs that we admired were colorful and beautiful, others were full of white crushed coral.
Surin Islands, south-west Thailand Surin Islands, south-west Thailand
Snorkeling at Surin Islands, south-west Thailand
All meals were included in our tour, so in the evening we had a quite good dinner in the restaurant of the national park. Then he walked along the beach, with only the sound of the sea in the background, and we went to sleep in a tent near the water.
Beach at Surin islands, south-west Thailand Beach at Surin islands, south-west Thailand
Beach at Surin islands, south-west Thailand
The landscape, particularly near the park headquarters, was gorgeous: white sand, the sea of all shades of blue, jungle-covered islands and islets. Our third day in the Surin archipelago offered us the chance to snorkel first with a turtle, then with the sharks (about one meter and a half long). What a show! In those days of course we saw a myriad of colorful fish, but we also interacted with monitor lizard.
Surin Islands, south-west Thailand Surin Islands, south-west Thailand
Snorkeling at Surin Islands, south-west Thailand
We returned to Nai Yang, Phuket, on the evening of December the 25th. While we we were leaving, the number of tourists at Surin Islands increased as all travelers were arriving to Thailand for the Christmas holidays, another sign that perhaps the natural paradise won't last long. For us, however, the Surin archipelago was one of the most extraordinary places along our travel itinerary.
Surin Islands, south-west Thailand Surin Islands, south-west Thailand
Surin Islands
(Pssst, the trip went on to Laos).

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