Out of the Thai islands I’ve visited so far, Koh Phayam just might be my favorite (though I have plans to visit another island soon, so things may change!). What I love most about Koh Phayam is that it’s more or less cut off from the rest of the world. Internet can only be found in one or two places, electricity is run on generators for only a few hours a day, and there are no cars on the island (which would be silly, because there’s no roads big enough to hold them). It really feels like a secluded and secret place.
Koh Phayam has been developed slowly, with a sprinkle of bungalows mostly along the beaches so that there are huge, untouched swaths of jungle covering most of the island. There are no ATM’s, no 7-11’s. Everything is brought in on the same boats that you ride in on, loaded down with the days’ goods like bottles of water, produce and shiny new motorbikes. It’s a very different and rejuvenating experience.
To get to Koh Phayam, you take a boat from the pier in Ranong (a lovely area that can be explored for a day or two if you have the time). There are two types of boats, the slow boat and the speed boat: Slow boat: Takes 2-3 hours and costs around 200 baht. It’s very relaxing but if it’s a hot day, it can be brutal with little breeze coming in. Speed boat: Only takes 40 minutes and costs around 350 baht. It’s definitely worth the extra 150 baht if it’s hot out or you’re anxious to get there. We took the slow boat there which we regretted since it was a scorcher that day, but I was lulled me into a pleasant nap. We took the speed boat back and it was nice to have the cool breeze whipping through the open boat as well as getting back in a fraction of the time. The two boats leave once or twice a day depending on the season, so be sure to check ahead of time if when the last boat leaves. If you miss it, don’t be discouraged, Ranong is a great area to stay in and the little fishing town has a lot of cute shops and restaurants.
Finding a place to stay
Finding a place to stay can be tricky, but the bungalows are delightful. Because they are mostly spread out along the coasts of the island, it doesn’t make sense to try to venture out and find accommodation there unless you have a moto or are willing to book at one of the small travel agencies right when you get off the boat. We made the mistake of wandering in the hot sun with our bags and settled on a more expensive place just because we were so miserable. The next day we rented a moto and drove to the other side of the island where me made arrangements to stay for the last 3 days of our visit. I think booking at the port beforehand might be best, if you can work out a good deal.
Types of accommodation: Most accommodations on the island are bamboo bungalows with a fan. Since they are run on generators, you only have electricity from about 6pm to 10pm. It was easy to live without air-con for me, but if you want those familiar comforts, be ready to shell out major bucks to stay at one of the 2 or 3 resorts on the island that offer it. I thought they took away from the small-island living personally, but hey, to each their own. Also know that most places just keep a running tab for you so that you can eat and drink whenever you feel like it without having to pay for every meal. I think they do this because most people don’t venture beyond their bungalows (it’s a few minutes walk or more to find the neighboring cluster). I really enjoyed this because you could see how much you were spending as you went along and just paid for everything at the end. Just make sure you have enough money because there are no ATM’s! Why I love the accommodation: While it was hard to get used to, I learned to love not having windows. It was comforting to hear the sounds of the birds chirping, waking you up in the morning with their strange and unheard sounds (like the elusive great hornbill), or to fall asleep to the waves lapping against the rocks below. When there are no other sounds or lights, nature really presses in on you. I also enjoyed learning to go to bed when the sun went down and getting up when it was too bright to keep sleeping.
How to get around
The island may be too big to walk, especially if you’re lugging your gear. We rented a motorbike that we had to off-road with a bit, but it was perfect for getting around. There are a lot of cute restaurants and shops in the middle of the island, almost directly where the two major roads forking off to the two main beaches meet. Having a bike can get you there a bit faster, though walking wouldn’t be too difficult if you were willing to stick out the journey. We met a couple who walked the island daily it seemed and they enjoyed it! The downside of moto renting is they usually don’t have helmets for you which is quite dangerous, especially if you’ve never driven a bike before. Rent at your own risk! It was about 200-250 baht a day for our bike. We also didn’t have it the last two days and were perfectly happy just hanging out on our beach and snorkeling.
If you do want to rent, it’s easiest to do so right at the pier, although the bikes get more expensive as they get snatched up by other tourists. We also managed to arrange for one through our bungalow manager.
What to do?
The best thing to do on Koh Phayam is just relax and enjoy the slow-paced island life. Many people we met had been staying on the island for weeks, just enjoying their isolation from reality and the bath-water ocean and palm trees. If you need a little stimulation, try these options: Make friends with the locals and other travelers
We loved chatting with the guy that ran our place. His English was superb and he always had great tips for where and when to catch the best snorkeling conditions, where to walk, what the weather was going to be like, how the island changed over the course of the year, etc. We just chatted while we ate or hung out drinking beers. We didn’t see the others staying at our bungalow much, but the manager told us many of them had been there for weeks. It was great learning more about Thai ways of living from him, and how things were changing as the local islands became more developed. Peruse the various bungalows and eateries
On one of the major beaches, the bungalows are closer together and you can walk along the waterline checking them out. This way, you can try out different restaurants and enjoy the different views. We also loved going into the middle of the jungle where there was randomly many restaurants and shops clustered together. This was where the two roads that lead to the two major beaches intersected. They actually had a vegetarian restaurant there that used a lot of local materials and ingredients grown on the island. I really liked that about the restaurant because trash seemed even more of a nuisance in such a natural setting. The restaurant (cafe might be more appropriate) was decorated with the regular hippy foreigners that seemed to frequent the place, old instruments, worn copies of wonderful books, and colorful tapestries and hangings to brighten up the place. It was so cozy and eclectic and the patrons made for interesting eaves-dropping (they all seemed to know each other and the staff). My only regret is that we only managed to eat there once! Snorkel and Dive
Though the snorkeling wasn’t great when I was there, it’s still something fun to do and is great exercise. I enjoyed swimming among the rocks and watching the local aquatic life, floating in the warm water, and enjoying the freedom that comes from staying on a beach where you don’t have to worry about frequent boats chopping you up with their propellers. As far as diving is concerned, I saw some dive shops advertising trips to local spots but didn’t dive myself. Just know that it’s an option if that’s your thing! I remember reading a review as well about someone getting certified on the nearby island, Koh Chang, and having one-on-one instruction with her teacher. Check out Koh Chang next door Koh Chang is smaller than Koh Phayam and thus has even more quiet island charm. The diving there is also supposed to be better as there are a few wrecks located nearby to explore. You can arrange a boat to Koh Chang, though I’m not sure how to go about doing that since we never made it ourselves. According to wikitravels, there is a regular boat that leaves at 16:00 to the Koh Chang on some weekdays, though I imagine this schedule changes frequently so check with your bungalow to make sure! Imbibe with spirits
I have to add this in here for full disclosure: on this lovely, isolated island there is regular enjoyment of medicinal herbs. Whether that is your thing or not, it’s there, so don’t be shocked if your server lights up after bringing your food! On another note, beaches are the best places to have beers and cocktails, so have a cold one at sunset or with your spicy Thai meal.
If a quiet, unplugged, and relaxing island getaway is what you’re looking for, then give Koh Phayam a try. It was an amazing place untouched by the hectic and bustling chaos that makes up most of our daily lives, and completely encompasses the lazy island life. I absolutely loved it. Have you been to Koh Phayam? Did you love it or was it too unplugged? Let me know in the comments!