Krabi, Thailand: Where you should go instead of overcrowded Maya Bay at Koh Phi Phi

Thailand is home to more than 1400 islands, but finding one to yourself isn't easy.

The first time I ventured to Phuket, I thought we could pop out to Koh Phi Phi, and a secluded little slice of paradise would be waiting. But these jewels in the Andaman Sea have long been loved to death - to put it politely. It's about as peaceful as Britomart on a Monday morning. It got so bad, last year the Thai Government shut the overly-crowded Maya Bay, made famous by the movie The Beach.

So my second trip to Thailand was a little different, I had one simple mission: I wanted to find my own island - a Maya Bay before it was ruined by over-tourism.

To do this, we needed to head away from the bustling hub of Phuket to a little known island neighbour called Koh Yao Noi. This island sits in the middle of the giant Phang Nga Bay, about 30 minutes boat ride from Phuket. 

The moment you step off the long-tail - the contrast to Phuket is stark. Here, a small Muslim community has led the island on a very different path to its rowdy neighbour. The island doesn't have nightclubs, queues or noise - the tightknit community has clung to its traditional way of life like fishing, and coconut farming. The island does, however, having a growing number of high-end hotels, and we happened to be visiting the newest. 

9Hornbills is a high-end glamping resort with seven safari-style tents - each with a private infinity pool overlooking the bay and a dramatic series of islands that shoot up out of the water like giant shark teeth. A number of the islands are much like Maya Bay and overrun with tourists. But a guide assured us many sit empty, so we jumped in his aging boat and headed out.

As our little long-tail reached the first island, we motored through a small gap in two towering limestone cliffs to reveal a vast lagoon hidden on the interior of the island. Ko Hong lagoon, as it's known, is well-established on the tourist trail - and hundreds arrive in boats each day to take a swim. But because we arrived early, we had the entire place to ourselves. 

We left the moment another boat arrived, searching the smaller islands for one we could call our own. We chose a towering little island with thick jungle and a tiny golden beach. As we unrolled our towels onto the sand, our driver started telling us the fascinating history of the area. The entire bay was once an ancient coral reef, parts of which were pushed up by tectonic movement over 75 million years to form the small but steep karst islands that exist today. 

The limestone islands are a big source of income for brave locals; the steep cliffs are a nesting spot for swiftlets. The nest - made out of the bird's saliva - sell for huge sums throughout Asia and is used to make bird's nest soup. Locals risk their lives climbing the dangerous cliffs in search of the bird bounty. 


At the end of our brief history lesson, our driver nodded his head as if to acknowledge his job was done, then left to fall asleep in his boat. We lay under the trees, without wifi, cellphone reception, power or any other humans - quite happy we'd finally found a little slice of Thailand all to ourselves. 

Getting there:

There are plenty of options to get to Phuket including Air New Zealand (codeshare with Singapore Airlines) Jetstar, Malaysia Airlines and Thai Airways.

From Phuket Airport, you'll need to get a 45-minute taxi to Rassada Pier then a long tail boat to Koh Yao Noi. It's easiest to get the hotel to organise everything from the airport. 

Staying there:

9Hornbills starts from $600 a night. There are plenty of options for all budgets on the island. 

Finding your own island: 

From Koh Yao Noi it's easy to hire to a long-tail to take you to the uninhabited islands of Phang Nga Bay.

The writer was a guest of 9Hornbills

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