Phuket is, of course ,an island − but it’s a big one. You aren’t really aware that you’re surrounded by water. To continue to state the obvious, it’s also pretty busy and that goes for the beaches as well.
If you yearn to emulate Robinson Crusoe, and get away from it all, you should take a trip to Koh Racha Yai, which lies about 20 kilometres due south of Phuket. The island really is a jewel set in stunning, crystal-clear, emerald-green seas. The beaches are of a powdery texture which softly cushions the path of the barefoot wanderer. The local residents are mainly Muslims who work as farmers or fishermen. It’s kind of cool to find cows on a desert island!
Boats are available for charter from Chalong and Rawai bays. The trip takes 40 minutes by speedboat and will cost about 800 baht. A longtail (those fishing boats with big outboard motors) is slower. They take approximately an hour-and-a-half for the trip and charges are negotiable, depending on your barter skills and the size of your group – expect to pay around 2,000 baht. Many tour operators offer day trips. Be aware that the crossing can be quite rough during the southwest monsoon season.
Boats will normally drop you off at Batok Beach, a long U-shaped stretch of sand on the northwest coast, dominated by the Racha Resort, a pricy place used by the rich and famous. The likes of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio have graced its elegant porticos. If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it!
For the rest of us there are a number of small bungalow developments set back from Siam Beach, on the other side of the island. These are fairly basic, and rent out for about a 1,000 baht per night. There are a few bamboo restaurants which offer Thai, seafood and barbecue dishes.
Things to do
The main point to make is that there isn’t much to do on the island – that’s why you’re going, right? Bring that treatise on political philosophy you’ve always been meaning to read, but never had the time for. Swimming and snorkelling are obviously must-dos. The restaurants rent out masks and fins for 150 baht; beach chairs cost the same per day. If you eatin the restaurant they’ll loan you a body board for nothing. Footballs are also available, but the combination of heat and soft sand make play a bit of a challenge.
If you’re more energetic, there’s a trekking trail and camp site on Ao Lar, with tents available for about 300 baht a night – no food included. This facility is run by the local people.
The spectacularly clear waters are a magnet for the diving community, who make up the majority of the visitors. Horizontal visibility can be as good as 30 metres, and there are excellent dive sites for all skill levels. The best sites are on the east coast and dolphins are often to be seen off Siam Beach.
To the south of Racha Yai (Yai means big) is Racha Noi (Noi means small), which is uninhabited, and mostly rock. The dive sites are deeper and therefore suited to experienced divers. Larger marine species like Manta Ray are not uncommon.
If you want to experience the truetranquillity of Racha Yai, it’s a good idea to spend the night. The power comes from generators and is therefore only available for a few hours.
Whether because of this, or the unpolluted atmosphere, the stars seem bigger and brighter than anywhere else.
Lie on the beach, hold hands and contemplate eternity. It’s the stuff that honeymoons are made of.
Photos by Thanawut Makkawan