As I live in Bangkok, one of my favorite ways to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Big Mango is to get some beach time. Koh Samed is an easy and inexpensive 3 hour bus ride, and Koh Chang is just a couple of hours further. However, during the peak tourist seasons (especially around Christmas) both of these islands fill up with throngs of tourists and the hotel prices rise significantly (assuming they’re not all fully booked). But then my gal found this CNN article touting how Koh Phayam was “Still (almost) like Thailand in the 1970s“.
The CNN article was already 3 years old when we saw it. But it had us wondering, is it still like that? A quick search for lodging options in Koh Phayam revealed plenty of rooms available, and at a fraction of the prices we would have had to pay at other islands over the Christmas holiday. We were optimistic. After an incredibly relaxing week on the island, I can say that Koh Phayam is an amazing Thailand island getaway. The beaches are pristine, free from the throngs of tourists, and yet there’s still plenty of places to enjoy good drinks and eats on the cheap. Let me show you around…
Aow Khao Kwai (Buffalo Bay)
First off, don’t mix up Koh Phayam for Koh Pha Ngan,Thailand’s famous “Full Moon Party” destination. Both islands sound very similar in name but are totally and completely different! Located 35 km from Ranong, the sleepy kangaroo shaped island of Koh Phayam is only 10km long and 5 km from its widest point.
We stayed in the Aow Khao Kwai (Buffalo Bay) area but during our visit from December 22-29th we had plenty of time to explore some of the other beaches. The very first thing we noticed after checking into our room was up and down the long stretch of Buffalo Bay beach there were very few folks around.
Despite the fact that this was Christmas time, and the peak tourist season for the island, it was uncrowded like this the whole time we were there. The fact that there were several lodging options, and places to eat and drink on the beach, you would be hard pressed to find more than 10 people together at a place.
Buffalo Bay beach is shaped kind of like a horseshoe which provides a natural protection from large waves. The water is calm, and blissfully free of swimmers splashing about. The days spent on the beach were punctuated by cool dips in the water after soaking up some sun, and adjusting our lounging spots based on the tides and shade.
When we weren’t being beach bums, we were strolling along the beach for a place to eat and/or drink. Buffalo Bay beach is nice because there’s plenty of places to choose from which are spaced out so that the beach isn’t crowded with bars and restaurants.
Which brings me to some great places to eat and drink at Buffalo Bay beach.
As you walk along the beach you’ll see a large structure comprised of driftwood. You may even hear the soft rhythmic sounds of reggae music emanating from within. This iconic structure that looks like a splinter waiting to happen/fire hazard is the the Hippie Bar.
To say that the layout of the Hippy Bar is strange is an understatement. It’s a labyrinth of multi levels of open areas and secluded hangout spots. Beer and boozy refreshments are served from the bar, while shakes and smoothies are ordered and served from a small upstairs bar. Food is ordered from a tiny wooden hut in the middle–they’ll somehow find you wherever you sit to serve you.
The menu prices are a slightly more expensive than the other restaurants along the beach, but the food is really good, and the portions are pretty large. The Chicken Satay here is some of the best I’ve had in Thailand.
Nattida Bungalows & Restaurant
Further up the beach, right next to the Hippie Bar, is Nattida Bungalows & Restaurant. During our stay this was one of the restaurants we ate at very regularly.
If you’re craving every day Thai food at Buffalo Bay beach, this is the place to go. Their dishes are inexpensive, reasonably portioned, and they do not compromise on the flavor (dumb down the spices for the farang palate). Their Spicy Seafood Salad will set your lips ablaze.
One of our favorite places to hang out and watch the sunset was the Goldkey Bungalow. The staff spoke English very well, provided excellent service, and had a fantastic happy hour!
Koh Phayam is located across from the much larger island of Zadetkyi (formerly known as St. Matthews Island) in Myanmar. It’s close proximity to Myanmar has greatly influenced Koh Phayam. Often you’ll find Burmese cuisine on the menu, and even the local Thai food has a Burmese twist.
The Burmese Tea Salad at Goldkey Bungalow was both delicious and addictive!
No Name Beach Bar
For the budget conscious, or if you just want to chill out with some cold beers and meet other folks, I highly recommend this tiny hut on the beach. It’s a no frills kind of place but the drinks are cold, the service is fast, and the prices are cheap. It also provides a fantastic unobstructed view of spectacular sunsets!
Buffalo Bay beach has gorgeous sunsets!
When I’m being a beach bum in Thailand, I always look forward to the sunset. After a day of intense sun I’m ready for some cool evening breezes from the ocean. As much as I love seeing a a beautiful sunset over a calm ocean, I often also feel a bit annoyed at all the people stepping in front of my view so that they can selfie themselves to death.
Koh Phayam’s lack of tourist hordes eliminates this annoyance. Every evening my gal and I had front row seats to the most extraordinary sunsets I have ever experienced. The calm waters of Buffalo Bay beach reflect the spectacular sky displays. I would say that folks shouldn’t miss it, but honestly it’s a thing that’s impossible to miss unless you’re indoors with the curtains drawn.
If you’re a family with children, a couple wanting a romantic getaway, or single wanting some relaxation, Buffalo Bay beach is the place to stay.
Where to stay at Buffalo Bay beach…
During our visit to Koh Phayam we stayed at the Chomjan Resort. With some advance booking we were able to secure this beachfront cabin with bay windows facing the ocean for around 2,100 baht/night. That’s an incredible deal considering similar accommodations in Koh Chang were priced 3-4 times as much!
The only drawback was that there was no aircon. However the ceiling fan provided plenty of cooling capability during the “winter” season. I think it would be a unbearable during the summer months, though.
If aircon is a must, I recommend checking out The Sun nearby. They’re one of the few places that do offer rooms with air conditioning. For travelers that don’t mind a lack of aircon, and want budget friendly accommodations, these places on Buffalo Bay beach offer some incredible 3 star lodging deals (as low as 400 baht/night): Gold Key Bungalow, Starlight Bungalow, and Banana Resort.
Ao Kwang Peeb (Monkey Beach)
If you’re looking for a beach that’s even less inhabited with waters that are a little less placid, check out Monkey Beach. It gets its name from the monkeys that live in the surrounding jungle (yet rarely come out to the beach area).
Monkey Beach is a walkable distance from Buffalo Bay beach. Simply go out to the main road and make a left. The main road terminates to a small hiking trail through the jungle–that probably isn’t much fun to trek through during the rainy season.
If you’re feeling adventurous there are a couple of side trails that lead into the jungle. A quiet trekker could probably venture in and with some luck spot some wild monkeys. But with all the crackling leafy foliage on the ground it’s tough to travel in silent mode. If you attempt it, watch out for spiderwebs. Trust me.
At Monkey Beach you’ll find a perfectly deserted private beach attached to the Monkey Bar, a small Thai family owned restaurant.
The family is very friendly, and it’s a very relaxed scene. It’s a nice place to take lunch, or enjoy a watermelon shake. It’s definitely not a party scene.
Ao Yai Beach (Long Beach)
If you spend enough time on Koh Phayam you might want to explore the island a bit. Scooters can be rented for a very reasonable 150 baht/day (you will need to provide them with your passport when renting).
Note: I do not encourage travelers to rent motorbikes if they are inexperienced at riding them, and if they lack a motorcycle license they may find that their traveler health insurance is invalidated should they be involved in an accident.
The lack of cars on Koh Phayam, and the lack of traffic in general make riding a scooter and getting about the island on a scooter a pleasant experience. Long Beach is one of Koh Phayam’s more popular tourist destinations.
The name Long Beach best describes it. It’s a 4 km stretch of flat sandy beach with many bungalows, bars, and restaurants built along the forest coastline. The waters are a bit choppier here (something to consider if visiting during the monsoon season). Though uncrowded, there are certainly more tourists staying here. It also appeared to be a younger crowd and more of a party scene than Buffalo Bay beach. If that’s your scene, then Long Beach is for you!
As you’re traveling to Long Beach, I highly recommend a stop at the Payam Sea View Restaurant along the way.
Payam Sea View Restaurant
En route to Long Beach at the top of a hill lies Payam Sea View Restaurant. The tables overlook the jungle canopy below and after a few days of staring at the beach scene it was nice to see something different. Here the food is authentic Thai and reasonably priced. One of their popular dishes, maybe because it’s not really available at the beach restaurants, is their duck noodle soup.
The broth is rich and savory, and the duck is seasoned well, tender and juicy. For 50 baht it’s a great deal, too. But after a few days of eating pad see ew, som tum, curries, and grilled food I was just happy to get my noodle soup fix! I highly recommend a stop at Payam Sea View for the views and the noodles.
Getting to Koh Phayam
The fastest and most convenient way to get to Koh Phayam is via airplane from Bangkok. Both Nok Air and Air Asia have direct flights which fly from Don Mueang Airport to Ranong. Both flights are 1 hour and 25 minutes with the airfare rates depending on when you want to travel. I recommend checking both airlines to see which one is cheapest and what flight times best match your desired itinerary.
Once you arrive to the airport there will be a Songthaew (a truck with benches for seating in back) waiting to take passengers into Ranong city and to the boat pier (to travel to Koh Phayam). The ride to the pier takes about 30 minutes but could be faster or slower depending on how many passengers the Songthaew picks up on along the way. The fare is only 50 baht, so no complaints.
**When returning to the airport from the pier there is no Songthaew service. However, there are many drivers around the pier that will offer to transport you to the airport for 200 baht.
Choose a boat….
From the Ranong pier you’ll need to decide which type of boat service you want to use. The slow/cheap boat (2 hours/200 baht) or the more expensive speedboat (30 minutes/350 baht). I personally recommend the speedboat as they leave more frequently and prefer to spend my time on the beach.
Here is the schedule for both:
Ranong – Koh Phayam island 9.30 AM and 2.00 PM
Koh Phayam island – Ranong 8.30 AM and 2PM
Transfer time – 2 Hours/200 THB per person
Ranong – Koh Phayam – From 7 Am to 5 PM
Ko Phayam – Ranong – from 7.30 AM to 5 PM
Transfer time – 30 mins/350 THB per person
Available during the high season November-April but may be available during low season weather permitting
Arriving to Koh Phayam
There are no cars on the island. Once you arrive to the Koh Phayam pier you will need to get a ride to your hotel via motorbike taxi. Don’t worry, the driver knows just about every single hotel, guesthouse, and bungalow on the island. The fare to Buffalo Bay Beach is 60 baht.
If you have small children, large luggage, or both don’t worry. They’ve got motorbikes that have rigged small passenger carts to the back that can haul a few passengers and luggage.
Alternatively, if you wish to rent a motorbike there are several shops in town near the pier that can accommodate this (though you may need your passport to check in to your hotel).
For folks who like video’s here’s a short little video that my gal whipped up of our adventure in Koh Phayam. As you can see it’s quite uncrowded and beautiful!
Notes to consider…
Koh Phayam is truly an amazing Thailand island getaway. It’s more developed than when the CNN article was written. It’s no longer an undiscovered destination, but it’s still a hidden gem. There’s certainly more lodging and dining options, but in comparison to the other popular islands in Thailand it’s hardly touristy and extremely unpolluted.
Here are a few considerations to be noted to make sure you have a pleasant trip:
Cash is king. There are no banks and as of March 2019 there is only one ATM on the island. Some hotels accept credit cards for payment but will charge you a hefty surcharge. Make sure you bring enough cash with you.
Expect slow Internet. Often the fastest internet connection you’ll have is the 3G signal you get from your phone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if unplugging is your goal. But don’t expect to hold video teleconferences on the beach.
Hot hot hot! We went during the Christmas time and even then the daytime was pretty hot. I would imagine during the summer season it must be incredibly hot. Unless you forked out the cash for a room with an air conditioner, you’re not going to find much refuge from the heat aside from shade and sea. Dress accordingly and apply sunscreen liberally.
Enjoy Koh Phayam!
This article is of our experience visiting Koh Phayam. It’s not a one-stop guide to the island. There are tons of activities, places to visit, and restaurants and bars that I’d like to return to discover. I hope that this article does give you some insight about the island and that the recommendations within help you to have an enjoyable visit. It’s certainly a place worth visiting if you want to a restful island getaway.
I’d love to hear your feedback from your experiences. If you found something there that blew your mind let me know! You can either comment in the section below or contact me directly.