Photo: Courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World

Skip Phuket and Koh Samui—Go to This Island in Thailand Instead

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When it comes to Thailand’s island destinations, Phuket and Koh Samui are the most well-known options. But with such popularity comes crowds of tourists, and a level of commercialization that takes away from the magic of such a beautiful country. To escape the throngs of visitors, go off the beaten track to a remote hideaway that locals hold close to their hearts: Koh Yao Noi.

Just a short 30-minute speedboat ride from Phuket, it possesses an authentic rawness that’s all about assimilating into the culture and local lifestyle. Stoplights are few and far between, traffic is non-existent, yet it still offers everything you’d want from a quintessential Thai island vacation. Here, our guide to this idyllic paradise that will undoubtedly become a favorite upon your first visit.

The infinity pool at Cape Kudu Hotel
Photo: Courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World

Where to Stay
Situated on the eastern coast, Cape Kudu Hotel is exactly what you want when traveling to a destination like Yao Noi. The boutique property, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is intimate, with just 56 accommodations; it features well-appointed spaces with a boho-chic vibe that instantly welcomes you to island life. If you’re going with a significant other and want some added privacy, opt for one of the pool villas, which come with a plunge basin on the enclosed terrace. But if you have family or friends in tow, Baan Yu Yen will give you all of the comforts of a stylish home. Spanning over 14,000 square feet, the villa consists of two annexes, each with its own bedroom, en-suite bathroom, and oversize deck with a large pool. You’ll also have a full kitchen and a spacious living room with a dining area at your disposal.

Cape Spa
Photo: Courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World

On the grounds you’ll find an infinity pool outfitted with beanbag loungers, a gazebo that’s perfect for watching the sunrise, a sandy sunbathing terrace with panoramic views of the bay, and a tranquil spa complete with hanging rattan chairs. There’s also a cozy café, an indoor-outdoor restaurant with a bar, a small fitness center, a well-curated boutique, and air-conditioned lounges furnished with a billiards table and plenty of seating for reading or gathering with friends. The hotel also owns a vintage 1963 Porsche 356 B Speedster and 2004 Vespa LX 150 with a sidecar in the event you’re looking for a photo op or want to arrive to the property in style.

Koh Kudu
Photo: Courtesy of Christina Liao

What to Do
Make sure you reserve a full day to sail around Phang Nga Bay and take in the dramatic, Jurassic Park–like limestone formations that jut out from the emerald water. Start the day early on a long-tail boat and savor your breakfast in the center of one of these towering karsts, kayak through mangroves, and hop around to the nearby islets. Forego crowded James Bond Island and opt for Koh Kudu instead—which is favored by Tirawan Taechaubol, Cape & Kantary Hotels’ project development manager, and inspired the name for Cape Kudu Hotel—where you’ll enjoy a pinto lunch on a quiet patch of golden sand. Cap off your day at sea with a visit to Koh Yao Yai, sipping bubbly on a stretch of the palm tree–lined beach that only appears at low tide, while watching the sunset.

When on land, learn about the crafts of the local people. Head into the village and try your hand at batik painting on scarves, sarongs, and shirts, which will double as a beautiful memento from your trip. For a more adrenaline-pumping experience, take a muay thai class with two-time world champion Hlukhin and his team of trainers. Or, if you love food, make your way over to the island’s coconut grove, where you’ll sip on fresh juice from the hard-shelled fruit while chatting with the couple that owns it. And no visit to Thailand would be complete without a stop at the market; there’s a small one on the verdant isle where trinkets and textiles are plentiful.

Where and What to Eat
Thai cuisine varies by region, and in the south you’ll find that the food tends to be very spicy and frequently incorporates seafood or coconut. One dish that encompasses all of these elements is kaeng pu, a yellow crab curry served with a side of rice vermicelli that packs some serious heat in each bite despite the generous amount of creamy coconut milk in it. Another must-order item is bai liang pad kai, where liang leaves—sweet greens native to southern Thailand that have an interesting chewy texture unlike any other vegetable—are stir-fried with eggs and give your palette a much-needed respite from the chilies in the rest of your meal.

At Cape Kudu Hotel’s Hornbill Restaurant—where the rice, vegetables, and fish all come from the island—you’ll find several Thai classics on the menu. What you won’t find, however, is pork. Since Yao Noi is mostly inhabited by Muslims, the property has chosen not to serve the protein out of respect for the locals. And while Hornbill serves up exceptional fare, no visit to Yao Noi is complete without a meal at Koh Yao Tha Ton Do Seafood. Coconut soup and squid stir-fried in ink are the specialties at this casual eatery run by an angler’s wife, but the fried whole fish topped with a mountain of crispy garlic is also a must. Whatever you do, just don’t save it for your last day—you’ll likely want to go back before the end of your trip.

(Words by CHRISTINA LIAO for Vogue)

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