Turistically unspoilt? Just partly. The sweet escape? Yes, but also only partly.
Let’s get this all clear. Are you ready to go through the Koh Yao Yai island review? ->
Authenticity. There is a real Thai authenticity when seeing people living in their wooden or bricks’ made houses, children driving scooters themselves or their mothers driving them to the local school. There is a jungle where no tourists have ever stepped. The island is big enough not to be able to walk to majority of the places and spread all around. It is also small enough for people to be close to each other and know each other very well. People on this island live beautifully and quietly together. People were smiling and everyone was very kind and sharing.
Tourism? UNavoidable. The fact is that this island (as most of the other Thai islands) lives from tourism. We met a German lady claiming to be here 5 years ago and that now it is probably her last time on this island as the resorts are growing heavily and it is not as calm as it was before.
I see it as a natural growth for an island like this as the locals need to find the way to make their money for living and they mainly do so through tourism. The tuk-tuk/car/moto lifts, petrol selling, food businesses, boat transfers, motorbike rentals, tours, 4-wheel bike rentals, accomodations, massages etc., all this is the main way they make money there.
When walking anywhere, everyone asks where we were going. Not having a lift was a very unusual way of transportation so locals always stopped and asked whether we wanted a lift. Nevertheless, services were very good. The island felt friendly and safe.
Food. The prices were higher (papaya salad 80 Baht, stir-fried morning glory 80 Baht, fish – based on its sort – around 400 Baht, curry 150 Baht + rice 20-30 Baht, pad thai 100 Baht minimum) and there was not much of the competition so they could afford having the prices higher and people buy it. Some restaurants were very good though so the price for the food was worth it.
Drinks. Generally, there was not much of alcohol. Local places (“mini markets”) are not selling any as it is mostly a muslim island. We later discovered some places that were more tourist equipped (meaning having alcohol). They also have their favourite non-alcoholic drinks variations (teas, milk teas or so) being sold on every corner mainly for the locals.
Well, the conclusion is… Overall, after we rented a scooter and discovered majority of the island during the rides, there was not much to do. It was really quiet. What I didn’t like was not much of the light at nights so it was a little bit scary to go somewhere. Nothing much was happening on the beach, no bars, nothing. I don’t really need party but I like to have a beer with a seaview at least. Maybe it was also quiet just because of the low season but I was bored after 3 days. At the same time, I really enjoyed the calmness of the island before heading to the complete opposite – the Phi Phi islands.