Ko Yao , sometimes written Koyao, is a group of islands between Phuket and Krabi. There are two main islands, Ko Yao Noi ("Small Long Island") and Ko Yao Yai, with Noi being the more developed of the two.
Ko Yao Noi remains a beautiful island, where most people still believe that the island should be preserved from human degradation. It is often described as one of the last islands in the region to not be overly developed.
Ko Yao Yai is also a natural beauty, remaining the least developed of the two islands. Ko Yao Yai is significantly larger than Ko Yao Noi due to a lack of (basic) infrastructure in some areas of the island.
Sea Gypsies (Moken people) were inhabiting the Bay before anybody else, except maybe other nomadic people like forest hunters and collectors (Sakai, Negritos). The 3,500 or so inhabitants of Koh Yao Noi are thought to be recent migrants from the Malay Peninsula (Satun, Trang). The Mon population, linguistically and culturally belonging to the Khmer ethnolinguistic group, did settled in peninsular Thailand since ever, ruling maritime states like the one of Ligor (Nakhon Si Thammarat). They melt continuously with Southern migrants from Malaysia and with Northern rulers (Thai), over centuries of commercial exchanges and political conflicts. Most probably the Mon stock remains prevalent for most of the people living nowadays in Southern Thailand, including people of Koh Yao.
Numerous cave paintings hidden in the many islands of the bay, extending from 2000 years ago to last century, attest the influence of distinct communities in the emergence of a mixed origin population, living now in the provinces of Phang Nga, Phuket, Krabi and Satun. The most recent migrations (17th-18th century) from Satun and Trang to Ko Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi is attested by the fact that the particular dialect spoken on the island still bear obvious Malaysian lexical traces, particularly regarding toponyms and vernacular names of the flora species.
The main industries on the island are fishing and rubber planting. A little rice farming and some fruit, palm and coconut plantations are evident. Boat building and farming techniques here have been passed from father to son and, while some of the youngsters leave Ko Yao to seek the bright lights of Phuket, most return to their tight knit community.
Ko Yao Noi covers about 50 km². Upon arrival at Manok Pier there is no accommodation available within walking distance. There will generally be between ten and twenty ute-style tuk-tuk's waiting to take you to accommodation. The going rate on the island is 85 baht. Ko Yao Noi has approximately 18 km of concrete and dirt road around it. Thee main road is a two-lane concrete road that performs a ring around the entire perimeter of the island (excluding the most Northern parts - there are only dirt roads in this area of the island). There are several interior roads that are a combination of either sand/dirt or concrete.
The most efficient way to get around the island is to hire a scooter. The island offer scooters for rent for 200/300 baht per day. No licence is generally required and helmets are provided. Just walk into the restaurant/reception. You will see the various scooters lined up out the front of the hotel.
Otherwise, tuk-tuk's are available to give you lifts across the island. Simply flag one of these vehicles down as they drive past. Failing that, if you simply wait most locals will be happy to give you a lift - however, it may mean squishing onto a scooter that already has three Thai adults and a baby on it!
Bicycles are also an excellent mode of transport and the main circle road around the island only has one large hill that must be navigated. The relevant flat terrain makes it perfect for leisurely rides. Bicycles can be hired from Sabai Corner Bungalows or any accommodation you may choose to stay at.
Please be aware that driving on the island might be dangerous : most people driving here have little or no clue about the rules, but at least most drive slow, except a few people driving crazy, on motorbike or pickups... as well, many tourist ride bikes with very little experience of it. So, watch out.
As with Ko Yao Noi the must efficient way to get from the Chonglad Pier to any accommodation is to make use of the ute tuk-tuk's that will be waiting your arrival. As Ko Yao Yai is larger than Ko Yao Noi there is no exact charge but anything over 150B is usually too much.
Once at your accommodation most larger resorts will have motorcycles or bicycles for rent. Due to the terrain on Ko Yao Yai it may be wise to hire a automatic scooter for travelling longer distances (meaning > 10km) and having bicycles for use when travelling in a close proximity.
You can also walk along the roads and either flag down a ute taxi or try to get a lift from the locals. Ko Yao Yai, like Ko Yao Noi is a very safe island and vehicles rarely travel above 15 km/h, so hitch-hiking is not exactly a dangerous pursuit here.
Ko Yao Noi is mountainous in the centre and has beaches to either side. The East side has beaches suitable for swimming and snorkeling and the West is a picturesque blend of rice flats and mangrove trees. The island is a sanctuary for at least 4 species of hornbills, very commonly seen around.