I visited Yao Yai in mid November. The best beach I saw was Loh Paret, about one third along the west coast from the south. This has to be a least a km long with nice sand and not too shallow at lower tides. The only accommodation right on the beach is YAO YAI ISLAND RESORT - pretty nice but a look at the website shows pretty pricey. This place had a good crowd of people in mid November when most other places were very quiet.
Not so HEIMAT GARDENS who’s 6 nice rooms were all taken. This place is about 10 minutes walk up the road or an alternative jungle track from Loh Paret - the restaurant which tends to attract a fair few diners from around the island is on the main road in a little village - the newish rooms 100m away in a motel like block set in a nice garden.
The second best beach I saw was Loh Jak, the southern pier beach - which gets 2 ferries most days, one a vehicle ferry, which take less than an hour from the Jian Warnit pier near Phuket town. Nice sand, water deep enough low tide for swimming, water reasonably clear (Phang Nga Bay water further north gets a bit murky).
Maybe 150m inland from the pier is GARDEN VIEW RESORT, a budget joint with trad bungalows - it looked to have been refurbished a bit from travelfish’s scathing report.
KO YAO BEACH BUNGALOWS are just behind the beach - the restaurant has beach views but the bungalows are built slightly further back over a tidal creek running parallel to the sand. The accommodation looked like it’d got a lick of paint both outside and interior when I checked. Inside was tidy, clean, with bathroom. 400baht before bargaining. Duck next door for a beer with the Phuket Island Hopping Beach Club high-rollers when your partner accuses you of slumming it.
The beach isn’t quite as attractive on the other (southern) side of the pier, but some rather nice concrete wall/thatch roof bungalows looking flash-packer standard were going in, about 50% finished.
There is no village right at the pier. There is a cluster of houses and a few shops maybe 600m up the paved road. HALAVEE RESORT is just off the road to the left in this area - budget according to travelfish, but one I didn’t get to check.
Not too far south of the southern pier at another bay, Bo Le, I came across a real high-end joint - ELIXIR. The cheapest bungalow they quoted me was 5200 and I notice their website has some 33000 joints! Just the thing for you Wall St bond traders on the lam. They weren’t real keen on riff-raff like me having a look - but the website gallery sure looks nice.
I stayed at the only other resort and the only resort in the northern half of the island - TIEWSON BUNGALOW - all by itself at the southern end of the very long To La Ma beach in the NE. The beach here does a slow curve for about 4km to terminate in a looong sand spit which reaches across to within 1km Ko Yao Noi. I jogged a few km up the beach each morning before - no huts or villages. The main road is abt 200m behind the trees and scattered houses are along this. High tide at Tiewson goes right up to the sea wall. Lowest tide leaves 100m of sand (not mud) and really shallow water for another 60m. Water less clear in these northern areas.
Tiewson seems to have moved upmarket since travelfish visited it - it is more lower-midrange now, although they do have 2 backpacker type bungalows. I do a review of the place on travel fish’s Ko Yao Yai Accommodation page.
I hired a motorbike from Tiewson and checked the rest of the island. A good concrete road runs from the southern pier to the north-east and then north-west coast. The two biggest villages are near the northern piers but they aint big. There is a fair bit of cash cropping, rubber growing and even some padi farming around the island. Google Earth shows some nice beaches in the north-west of the island but the side roads I took didn’t find them. I did find the big southern bay which has a few nice fishing villages along the coast. There is another nice fishing village at the end of the side road which goes past Loh Paret beach.
A pretty decent mountain ridge runs down much of the central section of the island, but I couldn’t find the hiking track that starts alongside the main road and leads up to a viewpoint. Heimat Gardens runs guided treks up here.
Nice island, more laid back than Yao Noi, which is a pretty relaxed place itself.
Elixir resort by the way has terrible beach, murky water at high tide and rocks etc. for 200m at low tide. Hotel management doe snot take care about cleaning of the beach, however only one person would be needed to do that job. Dive shop on site which is run by a Czech, and which provide for snorekelling e.g. to neraby Koh Kai, does not really understands what customer service mean: simple things like warning customers that transport to pier for snorekelling trip will be delayed by 30 min. or to advise customers proactively e.g. about low tide on Koh Kai (and thus virtually no snorekelling possible), is far beyond competence of this man. Other customers complained about the same.