Thirty hours in Koh Yao Noi

26 02 2012

Kho Yao Noi is 30 minutes by speedboat from Phuket, but barely touched. Where Phuket is brash and crowded, KYN is quiet, undeveloped and quite lovely.

It’s small and off the radar  – an island of dusty trails and rubber plantations but without epic beaches and that’s probably why the developers haven’t got their hooks in yet. Sounds promising, right?

Here’s a rundown.

0930 – Bang Rong Village

My friend Liz had generously lent me her scooter for the week, so as payback I was secretly having it serviced. Or trying to. It’s tough to explain in bad Thai that nothing specifically is wrong with your bike. A couple of helpful types had provided me a note in Thai script, so I presented this to the smiling mechanic and left him to it.

1015 – Speedboat to Kho Yao Noi

I bump into three Aussies on the boat. They’re staying in Patong – the asshole of southern Thailand. They’d been last year with their kids. And they were back. Why? It’s like Kuta. Most tourists don’t even realise that beyond their garish resort lies a diverse, beautiful island nation. Maybe they’ll never know. Some dude on the boat also had a squirrel in a cardboard box. He claimed it was not for dinner.

1115 – Coconut Corner

I’m met by Alex, a young German guy who manages the bungalows. The night before, he’d told me they were full, but to come along anyway and he’d find me a spot to stay. Can’t argue with that.

Turns out they did have room, in a wooden fan bungalow with cold water and a mosquito net  – the best accommodation in Thailand. Simple, comfortable, cheap. The huts are right on the (muddy) beach and Alex finds me a mountain bike.

roadside observer

1230 – Round the island.

I had heard KYN was perfect for cycling. One ring road circles the island with plenty of dirt diversions heading off to god-knows-where. But I only saw one cyclist, most tourists had scooters. I told myself I was having more fun. And it was good. After 20 minutes rolling through rubber tree plantations and admiring a few buffalo, I found a dirt road announcing ‘Had Yao Beach’. Sold.

1245 – Trail to Had Yao

The dirt track winds through shady rubber plantations, most of them deserted, with enough swooping cross-country sections to keep me sweaty.  I notice a lot of rubber trees are losing their leaves as if for winter, while others look bushy and healthy. Wonder about this for a while.

I also nearly run over a 6ft monitor lizard. Rolling along with my head in the clouds as usual, I hear a rapid ‘pom-pom-pom’  ahead of me and look up just in time to see a fucking mini-dinosaur thumping across the road.

shady trails thru the rubber trees

1330 – In the shade.

It’s one of those hazy SE Asian days without a breath of wind to blow the smog away. At least I think it’s smog. It’s not mist anyway. Luckily the unidentified smoky stuff forms a protective layer and the sun doesn’t seem too intense. For now. And for an island with rubbish beaches, this one ain’t bad, tucked away on the NE of the island with the limestone cliffs and karsts of Pha Nga Bay standing sentinel in the distance. There are just a few Thais here and one family of whiteys. I wonder briefly how five grownups travel around on two scooters.

rubber plantation

1415 – Ring road.

Gardens, all around.  There are decorative palms, tropical flowers, giant cycads and all sorts of fruit trees lining the roads. Plus my favourite — the sealing wax palm — with its bright red trunk. It’s damn impressive. It’s also damn hot. I’m beginning to realize it was a major error to attempt physical exercise after lunchtime in Thailand. There are a few big hills I slog up, feeling light-headed as I suck in the thick tropical air. KYN is predominantly a Muslim island, so I do pause briefly before taking my shirt off, but I figure the modesty rules mostly apply to women. Offer brief prayer to Allah that I am not a girl.

best palm ever? yes.

1500 – KYN ‘town’

The loose collection of restaurants, t-shirt stalls and bars near the centre of the island is referred to as town. I don’t care what it’s called – it has a 7-11. They keep those joints icy. I stumble through the door and embrace the air-conditioned chill.

1515 – Toothpaste aisle.

From the fridge I select my isotonic sports beverage – Pocari Sweat. It tastes salty, if not sweaty. I also search – in vain – for my favourite icecream, the passionfruit popsicle. These can be found in maybe one of every five 7-11s. That’s how good they are. I settle for a Rainbow PaddlePop and pay for my cold goods , before positioning myself in front of the aircon, in the dental hygiene aisle. Ponder why so many Thai toothpastes are flavoured with salt. No…really.

wicked gardens

1545 – A café.

While examining a map for new adventures, James – the yacht captain – phones me from Burma. Turns out they’ve found a pocket of mobile coverage. He needs me to book a crew apartment, rent a car and watch the boat while they get drunk on Sunday. Have a moan, then remember I’m still being paid. Whoops.

1620 – My beach

Sweaty and gross I head across the road opposite my hut for a swim. Looks shallow. It is also impossibly hot. Not warm, not tepid, the water is hot. It’s not even cold down deep as the tide is out and I only have two feet of water to work with.  Damn. My cold water shower  is – thankfully – cold.

1700 – Coconut Corner Restaurant

My week away from the boat is supposed to be for studying. So far it’s been equal parts wakeboarding, procrastinating and studying. I spread out my charts and books in the restaurant and hit it for at least 45 minutes. It looks like I am doing something important. I also decline the offer of a beer. Such dedication.

2000 – A darkened road.

My hosts are nice enough, by my restaurant looks dead boring. I grab the bike and seek more exciting dining options. It’s very dark. Except for some strobelights bobbing about. Fireflies! I have only ever seen these guys in rural Thailand. While trying to catch one to tie on my bike, the street lights come on. Weird. My dinner is not exciting. But I do see more fireflies – a big night out by KYN standards, I feel.

0715 – Ring road north. The next day.

Determined to reach the mythical Paradise Resort, I strike out early. A dirt road lies between me and my goal. It has giant hills. Make a quick stop in the CBD some cold noodles with curry sauce. Oh, for a crappy coffee with condensed milk…

0800 – Dirt trail with friends

Some background: I know about four people in Phuket. Incredibly, as I am pushing my bike up another insurmountable crest, one of them rides past. With her boyfriend. On a scooter. Going climbing. We spend the next 15 minutes leap-frogging each other – they overtake me on the steep inclines and I fly past on the descents. It’s good to know I can keep up with a scooter.

heading up The Mitt

0900 – The Mitt (a cliff with a name)

I don’t know how I feel about climbing. I tried an indoor wall once and it was balls, just an unpleasant waste of energy. But this outdoor stuff, in the jungle, looks…fun. Challenging.  Achievable? I watch Nikki and Amir for a while, they’re pretty good, but they also have two big bags full of gear. The last thing I need is another expensive hobby. Decide climbing is probably still a bit shit.

1000 – The road home

The ride back is tough. It’s hot now and I’ve run out of water. The hills seem steeper. Each time I get off the bike and slump across the handlebars, sweat pours off my face and bombs into the dust below. But I make it and Alex’s mother busts out a big plate of veges and rice for my late brunch. I may yet survive.

1230 – Boat trip

Some French girls travelling with their mother drape themselves across the bow of our longtail in their short dresses. The passengers are mainly Thai. I’m certainly no prude, but I do feel  embarrassed by how blasé so many backpackers are when it comes to cultural etiquette. Not really good form travelling from a Muslim island. Of course no one says anything – can’t offend the moneymakers.

Scooters, backpackers, bemused local - the quintessential Thai scene.

1330 – Bike shop

The mechanic presents me with my ‘serviced’ scooter. How much? No charge. What did you do? Nothing. Why not? Nothing was wrong with it. Okaaaay, then. Liz tells me she appreciates the gesture.