A sustainable paradise

A sustainable paradise

A stay at Anantara Koh Yao Yai reveals natural beauty and steadfast dedication to the environment

TRAVEL
A sustainable paradise
Main photo Koh Yao Yai is a holiday destination with pristine beaches and the backdrop of Phangnga Bay. (Photos: Pattarawadee Saengmanee)

Lying back in a cosy beach chair and tuning in to the sound of the waves may be the easiest way to unwind and let go of tension. Rainfall not only brings out the beauty of Mother Nature, but it also hydrates the lush surroundings, soothing our fatigued eyes and elevating our spirits.

Koh Yao Yai is a holiday destination with pristine beaches and the backdrop of Phangnga Bay. 

Regardless of whether the Andaman Sea is under monsoon, visitors at Phuket Boat Lagoon can still take a 30-minute speedboat ride to Koh Yao Yai, where they will likely find themselves away from the hustle.

During the day, visitors can hire a motorcycle, bicycle or pick-up for a sightseeing tour that takes you back in time to the early Rattanakosin period when people settled on this island after fleeing the Burmese army from the coastal cities of Trang and Satun.

Muslims make up over 90% of the population, however they have managed to maintain their humble way of life. This 59,025-rai island is still encircled by rice fields and lush plantations of rubber, coconut, palm, bitter bean, durian and longan trees.

Located off the mainland, this island has gradually grown into a captivating weekend hideaway for families and vacationers, who value the environment, while enjoying the splendours of nature.

To promote sustainable tourism, a string of Thai-style boutiques, resorts and bungalows are designed to highlight the allure of local culture and traditions amid lush settings.

After arriving at a private dock in the afternoon, we boarded our hotel's shuttle tram and travelled 6km to Laem Had, an unspoiled beach that is rated 20th in the Top 100 Beaches on Earth 2023 by the World Beach Guide. Perched at the base of a verdant mountain, this beach appears to be a hidden treasure tucked away behind a vast stretch of tropical foliage covered with towering coconut trees.

Spread a picnic blanket on the idyllic beach, where visitors may laze in the turquoise waves and imagine themselves in the middle of a Robinson Crusoe adventure. At low tide, immaculate sands offer a passage towards Yao Yai's sister island, Yao Noi.

Koh Yao Yai has managed to maintain its local way of life.

As rain clouds were starting to form, we hurried to check into the Anantara Koh Yao Yai Resort & Villas. Opening its first phase in August, it is the island's first upmarket hotel chain providing guests with a modern twist on elegant holiday experiences.

Once home to hundreds of palm trees, this 5-star property occupies 68 rai and now accommodates 148 modern tropical suites and villas, with sizes ranging from 90m² to 300m² to offer stunning views of the sea and lush lagoon.

The spacious lobby doubles as a vantage point, where guests may lounge on a comfy sofa and take in an astonishing view of an immaculate 1km beach that stretches out along the azure waters of Phangnga Bay. Nestled within shady surroundings is a golf course and state-of-the-art fitness centre, complete with cardio and strength training apparatus.

This brand-new resort spent seven years planting a wide range of tropical flora to create green landscapes that would allow visitors to immerse themselves in nature and gain a deeper understanding of the diverse biological ecosystems in the southern region. If fortune favours, you might be able to see pairs of hornbills as they search for food.

"We're dedicated to protecting the environment. We use wastewater and waste management to make sure we don't pollute the community. We utilise all wastewater for maintaining our natural landscape. Solar cells are another feature that some buildings employ to generate electricity. In addition, we enforce a regulation that forbids our hotel guests from pursuing ghost crabs on the beach. Nature is our treasure. If the environment is harmed, our investment is in vain," said Sornkom Kitprasan, president of Soraya Development, who owns the resort.

Anantara Koh Yao Yai Resort & Villas. (Photo: Anantara Koh Yao Yai Resort & Villas)

"Some 30% of our employees are local villagers to help increase revenue for the community. As we live together, we need to respect and become aware of local traditions and culture. We built a new masjid for the Muslim community and also collaborated with Charoen Pokphand Group to construct a new school enhancing educational possibilities on this island. We also built our own reservoir to avoid using the community's water supply."

Created by P49 Design, each room type has a unique architectural style to provide guests with different ambiences during a stay. For instance, a 198m² Beachfront Pool Villa draws inspiration from New Zealand's Hobbit House, whose roof is covered with lush grass and coconut trees to blend into the surroundings. There's an outdoor shower that looks like a Zen-style stone garden, and a large bathtub with a floor-to-ceiling glass window that lets visitors see the sea while they bathe, so they may cool off in the summer heat.

With a panoramic view of the sparkling Andaman Sea, a 366m² Sea View Pool Penthouse has a living and dining room, a kitchen, a master bedroom with ensuite bathroom and two dressing rooms. On the upper floor, visitors can spend the entire day relaxing in an infinity-edge pool, or sunbathe on a sundeck with a covered cabana which can be used for alfresco dining.

I spent two nights in a 190m² Grand Family Sea View Suite, where playing on the slide and leaping into the bunkbeds made me feel like a child again. That would be more enjoyable, though, if I shared moments with my friends.

A home away from home for families, the room is furnished with wood accents that display a modern interpretation of simplicity and craftsmanship. There's a laundry set in the spacious walk-in closet, and entertainment apps on phones may be connected to the smart TV in the living area.

The R Jarn Lobster Farm specialises in breeding local seven-coloured lobster.

At night, I made a temporary office out of the dining area, which is shared with the minibar and pantry. Of course, a king-size bed was my favourite spot to unwind while watching the Sun set over Phangnga Bay or an amazing view of the sea in the morning.

Late the next morning, we set out for the fishing village of Baan Laem Lan and took a long boat to the R Jarn Lobster Farm, which is floating in the middle of Phangnga Bay. In 1994, the farm began raising seabass and grouper, but fish prices began to drop after the tsunami catastrophe.

It is currently in the hands of second-generation Aggapong "Bang Gift" Thamnakla, who has opened his farm to give tourists an insight in local fishing and provide affordable seafood. Thanks to excellent water flow, this spot situated between two islands is exposed to daily high and low tides making it ideal for breeding lobsters.

"We can sell a lobster for 2,000 baht, while a seabass only costs 150 baht. My father learned how to raise lobster on his own after purchasing one from a fisherman. Climate change, clean waterways and oxygen are important growth factors," Bang Gift said.

Between 2016 and 2019, this area was home to 50–60 lobster farms, serving as Phuket's primary supply of lobster when a large number of Chinese tourists flocked here. The Covid-19 pandemic caused many farms to close, and farmers who went bankrupt later changed careers.

"I just restarted my farm following a two-year hiatus. Luckily, I made the decision to sell lobsters for half price. It is better for everything to go to zero. Horse mussels are the food we give the lobsters, which take four to five months to grow. As of right now, our farm is the only one in the area offering a local species of seven-coloured lobster with softer texture. As the lobsters have lived together with coral reefs, their meat is clean and perfect for sashimi," Bang Gift said.

Batik De Koh Yao uses tie-dyeing and batik painting techniques to create beachwear and accessories.

Following local lunch, our sightseeing tour concluded at Batik De Koh Yao, which offers a wide collection of vibrant hand-painted clothing, home décor and beach accessories as well as tie-dyed and batik painting workshops. It's a brainchild of artist Ladamas Suden, who has converted her home into the first fashion boutique on the island.

"My husband is a tour guide, and I am skilled in batik painting. We started a business five years ago when tourism on this island increased in order to increase our revenue. I've developed more than 10 designs using batik painting, tie-dyed techniques and eco prints," Ladamas stated.

She has created pastel palettes using native plants and herbs such shallot and lac for pink, bitter shrub for mint green, and cashew nut leaves for brown. Silk, cotton, linen and handwoven fabrics are used to create a range of maxi dresses, beach shirts, T-shirts, fisherman trousers, tote bags and shawls with themes inspired by local culture and surroundings such as a boat, hornbill, orchid and leaves.

Laem Had is ranked 20th in the World Beach Guide's Top 100 Beaches on Earth 2023. (Photos courtesy of Anantara Koh Yao Yai Resort & Villas)

Travel info

  • A tour to the R Jarn Lobster Farm is priced at 100 baht per person and lobster sashimi costs 3,000 baht per kilo. Call 098-714-2389.
  • Batik De Koh Yao is open daily from 9am to 7pm. Call 090-709-7369.
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