Ko Phayam – Thailand’s Hippie Island

Ko Phayam – Thailand’s Hippie Island

ko-phayam
From Ko Phayam’s Ao Khao Kwai beach you can see the Burmese Mergui archipelago on the distance.

KO PHAYAM IN BRIEF

WHY GO: Relaxed and laid-back Ko Phayam is like a time travel to Thailand 30 years ago. This beautiful island has remained a secret to all but the few most devoted travelers.

WHY NOT: Ko Phayam’s water’s often have itchy sea lice, and the water’s visibility is seldom good enough for snorkeling.

BEST FOR

BACKPACKERS: For those rare backpackers, who actually want to get away from the worn-out banana pancake trail.

THRILL SEEKERS: Ko Phayam still has the feel of an untamed island where you can look for hidden beaches and meet fascinating, unconventional fellow travelers.

BEACH BUNGALOWS: No electricity, no worries. From Ko Phayam you can still find the cheap and rudimentary bungalows of days long gone elsewhere in Thailand.

HIDDEN BEACHES: Even Ko Phayam’s main beach is secluded enough for most tastes, and you can look for even more deserted small bays around the island.

 

Two umbrellas and pure bliss on Ko Yai, Ko Phayam's favorite beach. Nothing else.
Two umbrellas and pure bliss on Ko Yai, Ko Phayam’s favorite beach. Nothing else. Photo: Rosita Juurinen.

Are you looking for a stunning island that most travelers have not heard of? Welcome to Ko Phayam. The island’s main beach, Ao Yai, is stunningly long and empty: most of the time you can count on one hand the people you see walking in the distance.

Ko Phayam used to be one of Thailand’s best-kept secrets, but slowly the island’s reputation has begun to spread among travelers. Don’t worry, however, since all the few travelers on the island seem to appreciate the island’s peaceful and nature friendly atmosphere, which can easily be described as total loss of haste and the sense of time.

Exploring the island on your own on a motorbike, you may find small beaches at the end of small paths, where you want to stay the following night, and just listen to the sounds of the waves. Or the road might take you to a lonely bar, where the bar keeper invites you to share with him the freshly cooked catch of the local fishermen.

That is the lure of Ko Phayam: despite its growing fame Ko Phayam still feels mostly unexplored.

Orientation: Ko Phayam’s Village

Next to Ko Phayam’s pier is a small village with a cyber café, some clothes stores, and a few restaurants run by long time Western residents of the island. Here you’ll find some of the cheapest guesthouses and food in the island.

Two narrow concrete roads run from the village through the island in the shade of a walnut groves.

Ko Phayam’s Best Beaches

Ao Yai is Ko Phayam's biggest and most popular beach. Can you see they crowds? Photo: Rosita Juurinen.
Ao Yai is Ko Phayam’s biggest and most popular beach. Can you see they crowds? Photo: Rosita Juurinen.

Long and beautiful Ao Yai gathers most of Ko Phayam’s travelers. The beach is great for jogging, especially in the mornings and at sunset. Other activities include kayaking, and occasional beach volleyball game. The sea, however, often has itchy sea lice, what makes it less than ideal for swimming.

Another long beach is Ao Khao Kwai, or Buffalo Beach, that curves between two distant cliffs like golden horns of a bull, hence the name. During the low tide the sea retracts far away, revealing a mud flat crowded my millions of small crabs, but the scenery to the Burmese Mergui archipelago is breathtaking.

Ao Khao Kwai is also a good place to see impressive hornbill birds during early mornings and late afternoons on the big trees flanking the beach.

Beautiful Ao Kwang Peeb, also known as the Monkey Beach, is much shorter than the previous, better known beaches. Monkey beach is, however, likely Ko Phayam’s best beach for swimming, even if it has a low-lying coral reef to look out for.

There are also some smaller beaches between the bigger ones, some of them having small resorts and restaurant huts, others being deserted.

Ko Phayam’s Top Things to Do

Holiday in Ko Phayam is about balance... balance between relaxing and chilling. Photo: Rosita Juurinen.
Holiday in Ko Phayam is about balance… balance between relaxing and chilling. Photo: Rosita Juurinen.

Ko Phayam is a pure beach bum’s paradise: there’s nothing else to do than chill out by the beach, and make a mellow scooter trip to other beaches for some more chill-outing.

Even if somebody tries to lure you to a snorkeling trip, you have a good reason to decline the offer: the visibility on Ko Phayam’s waters is often too poor to truly enjoy the snorkeling trip.

Ao Mea Mai has a small temple with a handful of monks and a large Buddha statue built on the mountain slope.

Ko Phayam’s Restaurants and Nightlife

Fire talk with me. Photo: Rosita Juurinen.
Fire talk with me. Photo: Rosita Juurinen.

Ko Phayam’s restaurant scene is still very down to earth, and most people end up eating in the guesthouse restaurants.

For the most authentic Thai food and seafood one should pay a visit to the small village next to the pier. Here you’ll find all the basic Thai delights such as the spicy papaya salad and delicious barbequed chicken.

Although Koh Phayam might sometimes seem slumberingly quiet, during the high season the bars around the island organize alternately parties, which are advertised on the roadside placards.

This means that almost every night there’s a party at least in one of the beaches, gathering fun looking crowds aroud the island.

Two nice bars especially worth of mentioning are the Irie Islands bar just off Ao Yai Beach, and the Jungle Bar on the Buffalo Beach.

Irie Islands is run by Ko Phayam’s most sympathetic bar owner, Japanese Tomo. The bar hosts open-mic nights and acoustic jams more than once a week.

Buffalo Beach’s Cozy Jungle Bar has a pool table and a slackline rope for some drunken acrobatics.

Where to Stay on Ko Phayam?

About as stressful as it gets in Ko Phayam. Photo: Rosita Juurinen.
About as stressful as it gets in Ko Phayam. Photo: Rosita Juurinen.

Most of the accommodation in Ko Phayam is inexpensive bungalow guesthouses right by the beach or in the middle of a lush nature. Prices of the bungalows a bit out of the beach start from the rock bottom of 200 Bahts.

Take your time and go around looking for your own favorite place best suited for your wallet and vibe.

An option for the first few nights is to stay close to Ko Phayam’s pier while pondering, which beach you want to stay in. Close to the pier, on the left hand side, is the acclaimed Sabai Sabai Bungalows.

Recently Ko Phayam has had its first higher end places, though, such as King Paradise Payam Resort (note the staggering name) on Ao Yai.

Another “better place to stay” is the PP Land Beachon Ao Mea Mai, which claims to be especially nature friendly. Vegetables are collected from the resort’s organic garden, and activitis include yoga (but also fishing).

Check out discounts for guesthouses in Ko Phayam.

Travel to Ko Phayam

Boats to Ko Phayam leave from Ranong close to the Burmese border. There are usually few boats a day, one leaving in the morning, usually around 9 am, and the other one on afternoon at 2 pm; speedboats leave half an hour later. Ordinary boats take about three hours for the sea journey, speedboats being much faster.

Easiest way to get to Ranong is to take a night bus from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Station. Buses leave around 8 pm, and you will reach Ranong for the morning boat.

If you miss the boat to Ranong, however, there’s no reason for despair. Ranong has several cheap guesthouses, and the town is atmospheric enough to spend at least one night anyway.

Transportation on Ko Phayam

There are no cars on the island. The only public transportation is motorcycles with sidecars. The best way to explore Ko Phayam is to rent a motorcycle, since the island is surprisingly big, and you might otherwise end up walking kilometers on end to reach your destination on the other side of the island.

Best Time to Travel to Ko Phayam

Just chilling on Ko Phayam. Photo: Rosita Juurinen.
Just chilling on Ko Phayam. Photo: Rosita Juurinen.

Ko Phayam is located in Thailand’s rainiest province Ranong, and intense monsoon storms sweep the island half of the year, from May to November. Most of Ko Phayams guesthouses and restaurants keep their doors closed until Christmas.

Ko Phayam’s ”high season” is relatively short, from mid-December to the end of March, and even then you won’t encounter masses of travelers.

Good to Know

It is still a rarity to have 24-hour electricity on Ko Phayam’s guesthouses (except for the most expensive ones). In general, there is electricity from six in the evening until midnight. Some places use solar panels to create electricity also during the daytime. Take a flashlight with you.

Wi-Fi connections can be found in some of the resorts, but they often operate only in the evenings.

There are no ATMs on Ko Phayam. If you run out of cash, you can use credit card to get out money from at least one supermarket next to the pier, and from Hornbill Hut Resort in Ao Yai.

Moving on

Ko Surin has beautiful coral gardens.
Ko Surin has beautiful coral gardens.

Next to Ko Phayam is an even a more peaceful island Koh Chang, often called Ko Chang Noi as opposed to the larger Koh Chang, which is located on the Gulf of Siam near the Cambodian border.

You can also catch a speedboat ride from Ko Phayam to Ko Surin Islands, Thailand’s best place to snorkel.

Seasoned Thailand traveler Rosita Juurinen has contributed to this page. Ko Phayam is one of her favorite places in Thailand.

1 COMMENT

  1. You found the right words to describe all important for this amazing insland – its the perfect place to relax, enjoy nice and not crowded beaches, take a walk in the jungle and watch nice birds and monkeys or rent a kajak and swim next to the mangrove.
    Also the ‘nightlife’ is amazing: not too much party and annoying music – there are some hippy and reggae bars and as you wrote the irie islands bar: nice atmosphere, open stage, good live music and you always meet amazing people, other traveller or people who are living there! Its every tues and friday and definitely worth to go 🙂

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