Let’s be honest. We all want to find untouched paradise, devoid of tourist traffic but by the very nature of our travel we visit destinations where others have been before. We want hotels, restaurants, chaise lounges and often a shared language (usually English) which allows us to communicate. The majority of “desirable” destinations in the world have embraced tourism and spent the time and effort to develop it to a level pleasing our western tastes and expectations. This is, for the most part, a positive part of our travel experience but can be overwhelming and I wonder if there are places where we can find a local experience.
Ko Yao Noi, Thailand, is one location preserving a local ethic while simultaneously welcoming a small number of visitors with open and loving arms. Arriving by boat, the only option other than the emergency heli- pad near the hospital, signs are posted reminding visitors of local customs and to respect the island. Ko Yao Noi has a strong Muslim population and as a result more than half the island is “dry”, a refreshing break from the constant party life seen on so many other Thai islands.
When one arrives they see only a few means of transportation. Simple open taxis, motorized scooters and mountain bike rentals. Naturally many visitors will choose the first option, but a look at the local map reveals one can circle the entire island on low traffic roads with a total distance of under 20km, making it achievable in the course of a morning or afternoon.
As you cycle the island, locals on scooters pass, beep, wave and offer a message of welcome. It takes a moment to get used to the genuine kindness and curiosity but here the greetings are kind and sincere. Peddling alongside beaches with occasional restaurants and rustic lodges it seems time has returned to a pace making paradise possible. The main city center, where there in-fact a tourist market is passive and while you can buy souvenirs, t-shirts and other mementos these stalls are alongside impromptu fish markets and street food vendors.
Moving at a slow pace, in a slow place affords other experiences often missed in higher trafficked areas. On a recent visit to Ko Yao Noi curiosity got the best of me and I asked to see how my local lunch was being prepared. Strangely and beautifully the owner of the restaurant, who was also the chef and a mother of two, took me to the kitchen and allowed me to help prepare my coconut soup and Pad Thai. She was comfortable with my photography, my questions and repeated the recipe to me so I could recreate her dish when I returned home.
I only spent 5 hours on Ko Yao Noi, but I left feeling refreshed, relaxed and reassured there are still plenty of places around the world one can visit and truly find paradise.
Written by Geoff DeVitto Palaces and Pagodas 10 day voyage.