Ko Phayam boasts long uncrowded beaches, plenty of walking trails, some jungle, lots of birdlife, roads without cars and one small village. Sounds good? Read on.
Until a few years ago, few tourists had heard of this quiet laidback island on the Andaman coast near the Burmese border. It's still pretty unspoiled compared to many Thai islands but the number of tourists has increased significantly over the past few years.
Tourists of all ages and backgrounds visit but they are nearly all independent travellers and backpackers; about half are young hippy types and the rest are a mix of older visitors and families. Practically the only package tourists on Phayam so far are Thai tour groups and a few Eastern Europeans, all of whom stay in the more expensive and newly built resorts.
People seeking all the usual mod cons and Western-standard facilities, shopping, lots of entertainment, massive rave parties and a bar scene probably won't find Ko Phayam to their fancy. Only a few high-end resorts with massive diesel generators can provide their customers with air-con, satellite TV, and (maybe) hot water showers.
Typical accommodation remains simple beach bungalows with a fan, mosquito net, cold water shower and a balcony to hang your hammock on. The island has no power supply apart from solar power and generators and most resorts only provide electricity in the evenings. There are a few small minimarts and shops but no 7-elevens, and while a few parties are held, they're nowhere near as wild as Haad Rin on Ko Pha Ngan.
The tourist season runs from November to May with a steep rise in numbers just before Christmas. If you want to stay at one of the more popular resorts between December 20 and January 20 it's probably wise to book in advance to be sure of getting a room, but touts for resorts with vacancies will be waiting at the pier when ferries arrive.
New resorts are opening all the time and existing ones are busy building more bungalows to cater for increasing demand. Because many people stay here for several weeks the island stays quite full until well into March and high season seems to last longer every year. This said, discounts are quite often available if you stay more than a couple of weeks, even in high season.
Things get really quiet on Ko Phayam during low season because of the very high rainfall here then. A few resorts remain open all year but quite often electricity supplies are even more limited and the restaurants are shuttered.
Ko Phayam has no ATMs. Several places can change money but exchange rates are better on the mainland. Only a few resorts accept credit cards but you can get a cash advance using a credit card if you're really stuck. Most people just hop over to Ranong for the day if they run out of money.
Most of the island now has mobile phone signal coverage. The mobile phone masts on the island are solar powered so there's sometimes no signal early in the morning or when it's very rainy and overcast. AIS (One 2 Call) seems to have better and more reliable coverage than DTAC (Happy) but both providers work here.
Internet facilities are improving all the time and quite a few resorts now have WiFi but the connection is often slow and unreliable and access is sometimes limited to times when the resort's generator is on. If you don't have your own laptop or smart phone, internet is generally 2B/minute. This is very expensive compared to Ranong where you can get a fast connection for 20-30B an hour.
There's no hospital on the island but a small clinic has staff who can treat minor ailments and injuries. In an emergency a speedboat can be chartered to get you to Ranong hospital in under an hour. A tractor and trailer is the nearest thing the island has to an ambulance service but they do have a proper stretcher.
Ko Phayam is a very convenient place to be for overland visa runs to Kawthaung in Burma. The whole process only takes a couple of hours so you can get back to Ko Phayam on the same day. You'll need US$10 in crisp, new, unblemished notes for the Burma entry stamp and they usually demand a photocopy of your passport too. Touts hanging round Thai immigration sell dollars at a lousy rate so it's better to get them beforehand.
Travel agencies in Ranong such as Mr Pon's offer visa run packages or you can do it independently. Organised visa runs are the easier and more comfortable option but they cost a bit more. If you're doing the visa run on your own expect to pay 200-300B for a return journey in a longtail (you'll have to bargain a bit) and take an umbrella or hat because the longtails don't have sunroofs and the sun can be very strong.
By Stuart McDonald.