Ko Phayam is mountainous, lush island off the west coast of Thailand, accessible by boat from Ranong. It has a mellow, warm, and welcoming vibe, due in part to its population of Buddhists, artists, and Moken sea gypsies. The island is scattered with art galleries and cashew farms, all connected by a road which is suited only to motorbikes, leaving the island completely carless. While the island has become easier to reach and therefore more popular in recent years, you will still lack some comforts of the bigger, more touristy islands. There are no ATMs, patchy Wi-Fi, and some places don’t keep their power on for all twenty-four hours in a day. If you’re willing to go off-the-grid for a little while, you’ll find that the artsy vibe of this hippie haven draws you in, and you’ll probably wonder why you were missing the comforts of the modern world in the first place.
1. Wat Ko Phayam
The island’s inhabitants are mostly Buddhist, and Wat Ko Phayam temple is a center of life and the heart of the village. It is located on the east coast of Ko Phayam and is the island’s only temple. The architecture of the temple has both Thai and Burmese influences, and the unique shape of the structure makes it look like a large birthday cake. The temple has a large Buddha statue, and several other smaller statues as well. One of the most interesting aspects of the temple is that while it sits on the coast, the prayer sanctuary is out on the water and connected to the main complex by a bridge. This is a unique setup, but still follows the Buddha’s instructions for temples to have clear boundaries made by a form of nature—in this case, water. Most Thai temples have their boundaries marked by stone, making Wat Ko Phayam a unique experience. Admission to this revered site is free.
Wat Ko Phayam
Address: Moo 1, Tambon Ko Phayam, Amphoe Mueang Ranong, Ranong, 85000, Thailand
2. Ayo Kwang Peeb Beach
For a beach that’s a little more off the tourist path, make your way to this small, sandy beach at the northern tip of the island. Its remote location was only recently made accessible by a motorbike path. There is only one resort near Ao Kwang Peeb, so it is not completely secluded; however, they serve delicious fruit shakes. The water is a little clearer than at some of the bigger beaches, making it an even more enticing place to swim. You can also swim there at both tides, although there is less room on the sand during high tide. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a monkey hanging in the tree or inspecting visitors’ bags and belongings.
Ayo Kwang Peeb Beach
Address: Northern tip of Ko Phayam
3. Kayaking through mangroves
One of the most impressive features of Ko Phayam are the mangroves clustered throughout the island. The best way to explore them is by kayak, where you can see their intricate root systems, and perhaps even some animals like monkeys and birds, at eye height. While it’s best to explore the mangroves only at high tide, a kayak gives you access to areas that cannot be seen by land or ocean. Kayaks can be rented from most resorts like the Buffalo Bay Vacation Club. Paddling around is the perfect way to get close to nature and it is easy for first-timers to paddle through the gentle waters.
Kayaking through mangroves
Address: Kayaks can be rented from most resorts on the island, like the Buffalo Bay Vacation Club
Website: Buffalo Bay Vacation Club Kayaking
Ko Phayam is known for its impressive diversity of wildlife. In particular, there are many species of bird that you can spy flying through the jungle or perched in the trees. The island is known especially for the hornbill. There is a large population of them on Ko Phayam and nearby islands. You may also see sea eagles, herons, waders, and kingfishers. Of the many reasons to visit Ko Phayam, being an ornithologist’s paradise is not the least of them.
Address: Birds can be seen all over the island
Website: Thailand Birdwatching Tours
While Ko Phayam is not one of the party capitals of Thailand, it has its share of spots that can spice up the evening. For fortification before imbibing, try out Rendezvous restaurant. This spot is run by an expat and serves Thai dishes alongside American pub fare and Mexican plates. Fitting in with Ko Phayam’s hippie vibe, the island bar scene leans toward reggae as the music of choice. The aptly named Hippy Bar, located on Ao Khai Kwai beach, is a bar unlike any other you will find in the world. It consists of a massive, three-story building made of driftwood and a towering structure in the shape of a pirate ship, complete with a bow. The inside of the bar contains many alcoves and benches where you can sip on a beer or a smoothie, which come both spiked and non-alcoholic. It’s an excellent spot to watch the sunset, but also for dancing to the tunes of local DJ’s or reggae music. Another great reggae spot is the Rasta Baby Bar located on Ao Yai beach. A large mural of Bob Marley’s face in triplicate spans the beach seating area of the bar. They host Thai reggae artists, throw parties, and build fires on the beach at night.
Address: Ao Khai Kwai beach, Ko Phayam
Facebook: Hippy Bar
6. Diving trips
The waters surrounding Koh Phayam are bursting with colorful coral and sea creatures. One of the best ways to view them is on a dive trip. Buffalo Bay Vacation club organizes 2 to 3 day trips to visit three of the best diving spots: Richelieu Rock, Ko Bon Island, and Ko Tachai. Richelieu Rock is known to be one of the world’s best dive spots. It is a submerged rock with thousands of underwater pinnacles surrounding it. These structures are covered in coral and teeming with sea life like sea horses, shovel nose rays, and moray eels, making for a magnificent dive. Ko Bon Island is an hour away from Richelieu rock and is one of the best places to see manta rays in Thailand. To the west of Ko Bon is Ko Tachai. This pinnacle island has pristine white beaches and two spectacular dive spots. The trip is 19,000 TBH (570 USD) which includes food, equipment rentals, and accommodation on the boat or in a tent on Ko Tachai beach.
Richelieu Rock, Ko Bon Island, and Ko Tachai
Address: Tours depart from Buffalo Bay Vacation Club, Ko Phayam 51/3 Ao Kao Kwai ( Buffalo Bay ), Ko Phayam island, Ranong 85000, Thailand
Website: Buffalo Bay Diving Trips
7. Ko Phayam fisherman fishing trips
When you’re surrounded by water by day and eating delicious seafood by night, it’s hard to not be inspired to want to catch fish yourself. Outfits like Koh Phayam Fisherman organize fishing trips around the island and rent out professional fishing equipment. They set sail daily, weather permitting, and also can arrange for two-day trips to other islands.
Ko Phayam Fisherman fishing trips
Facebook: Koh Phayam fishermans
8. Koh Khang Kao
Ko Phayam is a great starting point to visit many small islands nearby, like Koh Khang Kao. This small uninhabited island is located in Laem Son National Park. A boat rental from Koh Phayam will take you to the island, and you can travel there in 30 minutes by long-tail boat or 15 minutes by speedboat. The Andaman Discovery company offers a nice round trip package where for 3,800 TBH (115 USD) you can dive and for 2,800 TBH (84.77 USD) you can snorkel. They will also PADI dive certify you during the trip. Either snorkeling or diving is a great way to see the shallow corals around which swim clown fish, moray eels, and seahorses. Afterwards, lay on the island’s wide white sand beach before returning to Ko Phayam.
Koh Khang Kao
Address: Tours leave from Andaman Discovery, 85000 Koh Payam, Ranong Province, Thailand
9. Koh Surin
Another nearby island not to be missed is Koh Surin, which is part of the national maritime park. This island, which is made of two smaller islands, is known to be one of the best diving spots in all of Thailand and Asia. However, because of its remote location, many dive tours do not stop here and it’s less crowded as a result. The largest shallow coral reef in Thailand attracts angel fish, butterfly fish, surgeonfish, sharks, and sea turtles. If you go to Ko Torinla or Ao Pak Khad, you might see one of the sharks that are often spotted there. Ko Surin is mostly covered by the national maritime park, and therefore visitors are prohibited from much of the island. There is a rugged trail, from which you may see monkeys, snakes, monitor lizards, crabs, and birds, and a Moken village with thatched roof boats and symbolic pillar statues. There are also a few campsites on the island, the best being on the northwest side on Ao Mai Ngam. This beach campsite is located in a small, quiet bay with pristine white sand. To get to Koh Surin from Ko Phayam, you could take the Phayam Divers Day Trip. This leaves from Phayam Lodge on Ao Kai beach at 6 am and returns at 6 pm. It costs 3,900 TBH (118 USD) for scuba divers and 2,900 TBH (87.80 USD) for snorkelers, including meals and drinks. If you’d like to camp on Koh Surin, they also offer one-way tickets. Dive trips can also be booked through the Buffalo Bay Vacation Club for 6,500 TBH (~200 USD).
Address: Tours depart from the Phayam Lodge, located on the southwest side of Ko Phayam
Website: Phayam Lodge dive trips
10. Island beaches
Ko Phayam is home to several beautiful beaches. Two of the most frequented are Ao Yai and Ao Khao Kwai, or Buffalo Beach. The two beaches are separated by a mangrove coast. Ao Yai is about 3 kilometers (1.86 mi) long with a sandy coast, making it an excellent flat spot for joggers. It’s also known as a good location for surfing. While the water is not always clear, when there is visibility you can snorkel and try to see lion fish, clown fish, and manta rays. As it’s on the west coast, Ao Yai is a great place to watch the sunset and, with several bars dotting the coast, has a party vibe as nighttime sets in. Nearby Buffalo Beach is a better spot for families with children. It is surrounded by family-oriented resorts and is a little quieter and more upscale. You can also rent kayaks from the Buffalo Bay resort, an activity all ages will enjoy.
Ao Yai and Ao Khao Kwai
Address: Both are located on the southwestern side of the island
A welcoming island with a delightfully offbeat vibe
Ko Phayam is a perfect getaway for those who want to explore an island less touristy than others in Thailand. The art galleries and reggae bars add to the mellow feel of this hippie haven, and the lack of cars will make you feel like you’re truly in another world. The culture coupled with the beautiful beaches and unforgettable sunsets will help you to truly transcend into relaxing vacation mode.
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