The Best Little Island in Thailand: Nang Yuan

The views from the peak of Nang Yuan Island, Thailand

Marissa and I followed a man wearing a winter beanie and dark sunglasses from the sands of Sai Ree Beach and into the warm island waters surrounding Koh Tao. We boarded his colorful sampan. He lit a cigarette and then started the engine. The engine barked up smoke. We were headed straight for the remote, unpopulated island of Nang Yuan, which is three separate islands that, over time, had joined together by a white-sand isthmus and formed Thailand’s most beautiful beach.

Sampan Captain to Nang Yuan

Arriving at Nang Yuan

Large gray boulders sat around Nang Yuan like bathing elephants that hadn’t moved in decades, consequently developing a ring of barnacles around their unformed knees. Other boulders balanced precariously atop the backs of these earthen pachyderms.

The dock was rickety and took us past a bar and restaurant operated by the one inconspicuous resort on the island–its bungalows scattered in the forested hills. There was one strip of beach, but three separate waters. On the western facing shoreline, a few visitors pointed at a half dozen three-foot shadows swimming back and forth.

“Reef sharks,” someone noted.

Nang Yuan Beach Best Thai Island

Marissa grabbed the corners of the sarong she had laid in the sand and dragged it east by about fifteen paces. We were now on the other shoreline, where buoyant rears and snorkels bobbed about in the turquoise gulf.

Snorkeling Nang Yuan

I attached my snorkel gear, sans fins, since the island has signs banning this equipment. (In fact, Nang Yuan has an entire list of prohibited items and activities–no bottles, no cans, no fins, no spearfishing…) The clear shallow waters teemed with curious black and white fish that circled swimmers and gummed at their flesh like placid barracudas. But the coral nearest to the beach was also the most bleached thanks to human contact. I swam out farther to explore the livelier ecosystem.

When on Nang Yuan

Attached to the reef were myriad life-forms. Pinkish Truffula Trees sat like wigs upon coral. Christmas Tree worms ciliated and looked like primary-colored miniature conifers. Something that looked like crinkled blue lips clung to the reef. I swam past gardens of black sea cucumbers mottled with patches of moldy white, orange and white Beaked Coral Fish, shallow-swimming Pencil Fish, rainbow-colored Parrot Fish. Symbiosis unfolded.

Though I don’t dive, a scuba instructor told me that the northern part of Nang Yuan, with average depths of ten meters and visibility three times that, has swim-through arches and caves, where divers can spot whiptail rays, yellow and blue-faced Titan triggerfish, pipefish, morays, and sharks.

Snorkeling Nang Yuan

Views of Nang Yuan

Eventually, the rush hour from Koh Tao had arrived to this stunning island. I was also getting tired of watching the same obese tourist get stuck on the zipline that hung over the turquoise waters. So Marissa and I decided to change our scenery. We trekked across a thin-planked boardwalk, where new sections had replaced the collapsed areas that now sat smashed on the rocks below like bad omens. We climbed a short, steep staircase and then scrambled across a miniature field of boulders. At the peak, there was no one, just us, an endless stretch of blue water, and the stunning bird’s-eye-view of Nang Yuan–three verdant islands connected by the whitest isthmus.

A view from Nangyuan Island, Thailand

Note: Renting a boat and gaining admission to the island will cost a couple about $15. The sampan driver will convince you that you only need a couple of hours on Nang Yuan, but if you like to snorkel or just relax on the beach, make Nang Yuan at least a half day visit. Save money by bringing lunch.

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Asia, Somewhere

4 Responses to The Best Little Island in Thailand: Nang Yuan

  1. Simo

    spent 2 weeks on Koh Tao this year and a night on Koh Nang Yuan…. simply stunning…
    Simo recently posted…Desert Machines, Old and New…My Profile

    • Noah Lederman

      Did you get scuba certified, Simo? There were some great hikes along the coast of Koh Tao, too.

      • Simo

        yeah i did my open and advanced… going back this year to do deep nitrox and rescue.. dive master here i come… hiking Koh Tao is great because not many people are out doing it…. Did an awesome walk around Mango Bay…
        Simo recently posted…Desert Machines, Old and New…My Profile

        • Noah Lederman

          Loved those islands. I need to get back there and get certified.

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