32. Finding my island paradise – Koh Phayam

30/01 – 08/01

After over 2 month I was back in Thailand. The next destination for me was Koh Phayam, an island apparently not totally overrun by tourists, not having big resorts and having a very laid back atmosphere. I also got a beach bungalow for 600 Bhat per night. it sounded too good to be true – was this really a little paradise?

My plane from HCMC arrived on time at Dong Muan Airport, and it was 01:30. until I finally stepped out into the departure hall. As my flight was at 9:30 to Ranong I decided not to get a hotel room only for 4-5 hours, so I found an empty bench in the hall (I was clearly not the only person doing that, as most benches were occupied). I actually thought all shops would be closed at that time, but surprisingly shops and more importantly a café were open all night. So I treated myself to a cold Thai latte, before I tried to get some sleep (my belongings as safely secured as possible). I woke up only once, and managed to sleep for 4 or 5 hours.
Check-in with Nok Air was a breeze, and I still had time for a little breakfast and withdrawing enough money for my stay on Koh Phayam (no ATMs available on the island). Soon enough it was time to board another propeller airplane, and just one hour later we arrived at Ranong airport.

It is a small airport, so getting my bag didn’t take long. Strangely I didn’t find very up-to-date information about times for the ferry to Koh Phayam. I was aware of two fast boats and one slow boat to the island per day (9am and 2pm). Maybe fortunately there was a guy pointing arriving tourists to a few minibuses. The price into town or the ferry point was 200 Bhat per person. Considering it was not that close to the airport, it was a good price. As I thought the next ferry would only leave in three hour I was considering to stay a bit in Ranang itself, but a woman in the bus mentioned a ferry leaving for the island at noon. Great, so the ferry point it was for me too. Only 30 minutes later we arrived there.
Spotting the timetable for the ferries it was clear that the two 2 boats per day was clearly out-dated information. I counted 11 daily departure times. The prices for the fast boat was 350 Baht, the slow boat (taking 2 hours instead of 1 hour) was 200 Baht. So for me it was a no brainer – getting my ticket for the boat leaving in 40 minutes, and enjoying an ice coffee and some chicken from a food stall while waiting. The ferry point is actually a good place to spend the waiting time there, as there are a few food places, street food stalls and a shop.

The speed boat ride was actually very comfortable and nice (passing a few islands) and after 50 minutes we arrived the ferry point of Koh Phayam, a jetty at the main village of the island.

As soon you get off the jetty you can already see the motorbike taxis waiting. However, I was impressed that on the big map the various areas with hotels were shown and next to it the prices for a taxi highlighted. So there is a much lower chance of being ripped off. Thankfully, I only had a 5 minute walk (bit more with a bag) to my place for the week. Following the road along the coast I got the first impression of the shops available (and the high prices charged for sun lotion I forgot to buy!!!) and after crossing a bridge and passing a very luxurious looking resort I finally arrived at Sabai Sabai Beach Bungalows.

Sabai Sabai is located directly next to a nice beach and deep blue water, the bungalows lined along the beach in two rows, some loungers arranged on the beach, having a little bar and a very comfortable looking lounge area with chairs and pillows to sit on.
My bungalow was maybe 5 metres away from the lovely beach, a big double bed in the room, and a nice clean toilet next to it. As there is no 24h electricity there was only a fan inside, but this was sufficient – leave the windows open and the room keeps a comfortable temperature (during the night it could even get a bit chilli. The most important part though was the little balcony with my own hammock – offering an amazing view over the beach and the ocean. This became very quickly my favourite place.


In addition to the beach bungalows there was another row of bungalows behind mine, some offering en-suite bathrooms, others having a shared bathroom (which was clean). They serve food and drinks all day in the lounge area (except when the staff takes a deserved nap), which is very comfortable. At night James, the owner, also prepared tasty cocktails at the beach bar. Sabai Sabai is a great place to stay.

Being tired due to some lack of sleep I tried the food for the first time (I think I had most items on the menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner and didn’t have a bad meal) and then took advantage of the comfortable hammock to read a book and sleep – the best place to do that. And for some activity I went for a swim in the warm clear sea to cool down. In the evening I headed to the lounge area to meet some of the guests during dinner and drink. During dinner I got to know the French / Belgium couple, Lisa and Tom, who stayed at the bungalow next to mine – it turned out that over the next week we would spent quite a bit time together.

After a few beers it was time for a slightly early night – though I couldn’t resist spending more time in my hammock, enjoying the sounds of the wave and after the electricity was switched off after 11pm I could stare into the sky with thousands of stars – no light pollution to ruin this spectacular scene. I must admit, it was difficult to get up and move to my bed.

I started the next morning with a nice breakfast in the lounge (omelette and pancakes are always a good start for the day – obviously I needed my ice coffee with it), relaxed a bit in my hammock, before I finally found some motivation to head into the village (and avoiding the midday heat – the breeze on the beach made it more comfortable, but heading away you immediately felt the heat). Tracking back my steps from the day before I was soon again on the pier of the island. This time I paid a bit more attention and spotted a few restaurants along the street. At the pier I turned left into the main street of the villages with couple of shops, restaurants, travel agencies and bars – and also a few places that had scooters for hire. After the long walk it was time for a quick break, and the English pub that was showing some football was great to escape the heat, and enjoying a smoothie and a Papaya salad. Both were excellent, and I got to talk to some other guests.

After this stop I continued to follow the road that lead to the middle of the island. Passing more shops, cafes and scooter rentals soon there were only a few houses left (the village isn’t very big), and at least I saw the hospital already, but the only activity were the youth playing football, or rather football tennis. This is a very popular activity in SEA, and most of them are very very good. It is always enjoyable to watch them play. After the hospital there are only a few more houses at the end of the village – including a few eating places. The first one on the right, Esarn Food, was preparing grilled chicken and pork on a barbeque – and it smelled amazing.
Near my bungalow, just before the stone bridge, I saw a stall in front of a house selling smoothies, coffee and some buns – al of it are absolute delicious The drink were half the price of the one I got at Sabai Sabai – so they saw me there nearly every day.

In the evening I caught up with Lisa and Tom at the lounge for a drink, and they actually went for a quick lunch to Esarn Food. It was apparently very good, so we decided to head there for dinner.
The place was rather busy (it seems the lovely look and smell of the grilled meat attracted a few people), and we ordered some of the chicken, pork and some seafood to share between us. And it tasted as good as it looked. It was a nice evening, and after dinner we spotted the little animal at one of the tables. I am still not sure what it was, it looked a bit like a lemur, but it wasn’t one. It was very tame, and it enjoyed sitting on arms and shoulders, and it quickly used me as a resting place. Overall it was a nice evening with great food.

We had a few drinks at the lounge area, where I met a few of the other guests, including another German, Heike, who got the last available place – a tent on the beach (all bungalows were full). It was nice to sit on the comfy chairs and pillows, having a drink and a few chats, and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. After the electricity was switched off I once again enjoyed the view of the clear sky while swinging back and forth in my hammock.

The next day was a lazy one again – I mainly spent time in my hammock, had food and drinks at the lounge area, read a book and went a few times into the ocean. In addition to a little stroll to the village for a drink and a snack that was all I could manage to do.
Well, nearly. I heard about some diving outfits on the island, and was tempted to do another try dive – 7 years after my first and last one. I gave one of the dive centres a call, and discussed the possible options. There was a full day trip to one of the islands further away – including two dives. But the cost was over €170 (including equipment), and I thought it would be too much, and dropped the idea. I know now that this is a normal price for diving on an island that involves a longer boat trip, and would do that trip now (especially as I have now my OWD). So now I had more time to relax.
I actually enjoyed that so much so far, I checked with James if my bungalow were available for 1 or 2 more days. Luckily it was, so I decided to shorten my stay in Bangkok to 2 nights and changed my flight for a little fee. So I had still a week left after that decision. Great!!!

For dinner I had another curry at Sabai Sabai, having a few drinks while enjoying this relaxed atmosphere – all guests were either reading, or having a quiet chat. I just loved it.

On Monday I decided to do something for a change. I headed to the village and was able to rent a scooter at a place next to the little shop across the bridge. The price was 250 Baht for a 24 hour rental. The owner was a little bit surprised when I asked for a helmet – and soon I realised why he was surprised. Apparently I was the only person on the whole island wearing a helmet. Well – safety first I guess.
After getting used to drive a bike again I was off following the road along the beach to get out of the village, passing the main temple of the island. The paved road turned into a slight dirt-road, and turned away from the coast to make my way to the middle of the island – well, nearly. I made it as far as a little café and guesthouse that was selling home-grown coffee. The setting was very nice, and it is a nice place for a drink.

Soon I was back on the bike to get to beach in the far north. You just have to follow the road north, passing several guesthouses that are located along Aow Khao Kwai beach, and you know you are near the beach when the paved road gives space for a dirt road. I saw a few bikes parked next to a little path, so decided to do the same.

So moving on by foot I was following a little path through the jungle, hearing monkeys above me (and saw the trees moving, but unfortunately was not able to see any of the bird Koh Phayam is famous for – hornbills.
The little walk through the jungle was actually nice and I arrived in front of the sea, with several rocks to climb to reach the beautiful beach. Deep blue sea, a clean beach, surrounded by green jungle and enough space to spend some time there – including hammocks and loungers in the shade. At this beach there is one hotel, and a restaurant for food and drinks. I made myself comfortable on the beach (in the shade obviously due to the noon heat). Sitting on the sand, looking out to the ocean without any noise, and reading a book, and if needed freshen up in the clear water (seeing little fish swimming around me). This is very hard to beat.


I had lunch at the restaurant, and the noodles with seafood were good, but obviously more expensive than in the village due to its location.

On my way back I realised I could have gotten there by bike, though with ascend and descend it was better to park further up the hill – and I would have missed the nice walk.
I headed back south and somehow managed to find a little road towards the southern part of Aow Khao Kwai beach. I parked the bike at a guesthouse. It consists of a number of wooden bungalows with a lovely setting – overlooking the sea from a hill. You can reach the beach via a steep path.

This beach was much bigger than the previous one, with several rock formations along the beach. As the beach is quite shallow it is not a good place for swimming during low tide, though great for a walk through the water, as there are sand banks appearing out of the water. So if you don’t mind getting wet feet you can walk quite a bit into the water from the beach. Just be careful with the craps in the water – I am sure I was attacked by one.


After a nice stroll I was heading back to my bungalow – not without stopping at one of the little food stalls along the road who served some lovely grilled meat.
For dinner Lisa and Tom had the idea to head to Aow Yai beach for a drink and maybe some dinner, taking advantage of all of us having a bike (well, they had one).
Like with the other beaches you had to follow a dirt road with quite a few potholes to get there, but we were welcomed by a stunning sunset when we arrived at the northern part of the beach. It was very nice to sit outside of a bar, listening to some music and enjoying a few beers while. So stopping here at night wouldn’t be the worst idea.


Getting hungry we decided to head off to get some food. Aow Khao Kwai beach is the most popular part of the island with many guesthouses there, so around there you can find many places with lots of tourists. That really didn’t appeal to us, so we drove back to the village, and stopped at a little place on the main road (well, hardly any traffic is on island so you can sit even on any roads to have a nice quiet dinner!!!). The place was actually a collection of a few tables outside, with the food prepared in the kitchen of the home – you even used the owners own bathroom. We all enjoyed the rather traditional Thai food.
As I had the motorbike till 11am the next morning I decided to have breakfast at the guesthouse located on a hill next to the village – overlooking this part of the island. The owner is German, and it was interesting to see the old flag of East Germany (former DDR) outside.
While being away from the beach the guesthouse offered a great view from the restaurant (as a substitute they had a little pool) and it was a nice place to have an omelette. As they prepare traditional German food for lunch and dinner I was tempted to go there again – but in the end I didn’t.

 

This morning trip was the last activity for the next few days. I just spent the next few days in my hammock, on the beach, in the water and doing a few walks to the village to stretch my legs. Sabai Sabai had quite a few books available in the lounge area, and you could borrow one as long you returned them – so I took full advantage of it and read some more books. After all the travelling I never realised how much I needed some down time. I was lucky to see several white head eagles flying over the bungalows, a few times nearly standing still above my head. I couldn’t ask for more. I only interrupted these strenuous activities for lunch and dinner.

For one lunch I went to the village to try a little place that was apparently serving great duck soup. And yes, the soup was delicious. It is the second place after passing the pier. There are wooden seats and tables under a wooden roof, with a great view of the sea. It is worthwhile to stop there for lunch; unfortunately they are not open for dinner.

For dinner at the following evenings I went back to Esran Food and also tried the Sabaidee restaurant that was recommend – and it was very good. It is opposite the pier on the road along the beach. As advised the food was really good (I returned a few times for breakfast and lunch).

During my stay there was actually a full moon party at the Reggae bar on Aow Kwao Kwai beach. Not like the one on Koh Phangam, but apparently more family friendly (still with lots of drinks on offer). No one felt in the mood to go, so instead we stayed in the lounge area with some other guests (including more Germans, they are really everywhere!!!), having drinks and just having a good time there
I heard the party was great (seeing some of people the next day – having not a lot of sleep apparently), but sitting on a rather deserted beach with a few people was nice, and when the lights went off it was like being on a different planet. Without any light pollution the full moon covered the beach in light, the trees and parasols spreading shades on the sand, the roofs of the bungalows looked like being covered in snow. I have never seen anything like that before. I was sitting on the beach and on my hammock for quite a while.

Surprisingly I decided on Friday to be more active and rented a scooter again to see bit more of the other beaches. The first stop was the southern part of Aow Yai beach.

As expected the road turned to be a dirt and sand road before reaching the beach. Based purely on the quality of the sand, the length and the water it is probably the best beach – but it is the busiest as well (well – you still won’t struggle to find a place) hence I realised that I was very happy with my choice of accommodation and beach – I prefer the more relaxed feel at Sabai Sabai. One disadvantage of the beach is that there are not too many places in the shade, no parasols along the beach except for guests of the various guesthouses.
Still, it is nice to enjoy the sun and the water, though I constantly moved my towel to stay a bit in the shade to avoid the noon heat (and the shade moved closer to the forest). The food I got at the restaurant of Long Beach bungalow was good.

After a while it was time to head to another beach on the southern part of the island – Aow Ko Kyu. To get there you have to turn off the road that leads to Aow Yai beach – it can be easily missed, as it is not that obvious. After following the bumpy road through the forest you arrive on a little hill overlooking the surrounding area before arriving at the end of the road. A little path led me down to the bay. It consisted of a small section of sandy beach and some rocky sections. Further down were two abandon houses – that’s it. It was not the most beautiful beach, but it had a nice remote feel and was a nice place for relaxing. You have to be a bit careful though when going for a swim due to rocks in the water.

On my way back to the village I stopped at a little café on the road away from Aow Yai beach. It has a lovely setting, and you walk in their back garden. In addition of a nice coffee they also sell home grown cashew nuts – nice little snack. As it is not located next to the beach it is rather quiet – which I actually liked. Just look out for a place with some interesting signs…

As it was Lisa’s and Tom’s last evening on the island I headed with them and Heike back to Esarn Food, but we didn’t see any meat on the gill, so instead we went to Tukta restaurant – a place two houses further down the road. The several dishes – a mix of fish, seafood and meat – were all excellent. We actually stayed a bit longer there, ordering some more food and beer. It was once again a lovely evening.

As I had the bike still available in the morning I followed the dirt road from Sabai Sabi that was leading away from the village. After passing some cashew nut farms I ended up on a hill with a great view over the surrounding area. As I couldn’t continue with the bike, I just followed the path by food. I really enjoyed the walk, and as I ascended further up I got even better views, being able to overlook the island and see the ocean. I could have easily followed the path down towards Aow Yai beach, but before going down the hill I turned as I had to bring back the bike. Unfortunately I still haven’t managed to spot a hornbill on a tree – though I saw a bird with a yellow beak and feathers flying pass me. I am still not sure if I saw a hornbill or not.

After having returned the bike I relaxed the whole day on the beach and my hammock – unfortunately I had to say bye to Lisa and Tom after lunch.

As this was my last evening I headed back to Sabaidee restaurant with Heike for my last dinner. Once again the food was great, and this time I managed to try the banana spring roll – a rather interesting desert that is different to fried banana deserts served by the Chinese.

I finished the night with a few drinks at Sabai Sabai, and that night I found it particular difficult leaving my hammock – I got used to looking up the sky to watch the stars. I would miss that.

 

My final day on the island arrived too soon. The speed boat was leaving at 15:30, so I had a bit time to enjoy a bit more of the island. I had to check out at noon, but I was able to use the facilities of Sabai Sabai, including the shower. That was important when you are spending the day on the beach, the sea and doing a little walk to the village.

After delaying my departure already by two days I still found it difficult to leave, but I had to say bye to James and the wonderful staff, and was off to the pier – where I got a little shock. The 15:30 speedboat was broken, so no boat was leaving – we had to wait another 30 minutes. I was praying that nothing went wrong with that boat, as my flight was departing 19:00.

Thankfully the next boat left on time, and the same minibus that brought me from the airport to the ferry was waiting – no needs for a taxi, just jumping into the bus and off we were to the airport. With 1 ½ hour to spare I checked in at Ranong airport – and to everyone surprises we all got handwritten tickets as the printer wasn’t working. I cannot remember if I ever had a hand written airline ticket – but it was a nice memory of this trip.

The flight departed on time, and suddenly I was away from paradise, and back in Bangkok.

 

Overall I loved my stay on Koh Phayam. It has such relaxed feel, and you never get the feeling that it is overrun by tourists. The beaches I visited are lovely and the food is very good.

In addition you can also do some nice walks in the jungle, which might provide some distraction from lying around on the beach or a hammock. I haven’t been to any other Thai island, and after that visit I am sure I would go to any other island – I enjoyed Koh Phayam too much. it really is a little island paradise.

 

Accommodation:
Sabai Sabai beach bungalows is a great place to stay. The facilities were nice and clean, my bungalow next to the beach was just perfect, with a lovely set-up, and a super comfortable hammock. The location next to the beach meant I could relax on the balcony and still have a great view. The lounge area and bar was also very nice and comfortable – and a good way to meet the other guests. Food and drinks were all good. The staff was very friendly as well. The beach is maybe not as nice as Aow Yai beach, but it has a more remote feel as no day trippers come to that beach. I would highly recommend Sabai Sabai beach bungalow.

Recommendation:
For food I would highly recommend Esarn food, Taktu restaurant and Saibaidee restaurant. The food there is really good – especially the barbequed meat.
I would also suggest exploring the beautiful island a bit as there are some nice pathes through the jungle with some great views, as well as some lovely beaches.
Please note that there are still no ATMs on the island, so bring enough cash with you. Apparently you can get some “cash-back” at some places, but it won’t be cheap!

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