Guest blogger John Borthwick shares another of Thailand's hidden island treasures...
The little Thai island of Koh Phayam floats just south of Burma, seemingly in the waters of amnesia.
A dot in the Andaman Sea 30 km from Ranong, Koh Phayam (pronounced “pie-am”) has no cars or roads, few bars, no condo towers or squealing paragliders. “We have nothing like that yet,” a Thai man tells me. “And I hope we don’t get.”
Phayam’s accommodation consists mostly of bungalow resorts. I’ve booked at Bamboo Bungalows on Aow Yai Beach, that’s run by a mellow Israeli, Yuli and his Thai wife, Nut. Yuli paints a picture of when he arrived here 15 years ago: “Foreigners were as rare as hornbills. There were only five resorts then – now there are 35.”
I grab a kayak and paddle out into the lazy blue swell. A small wave breaks there all day long — hardly classic surf, but still it’s a wave. On Phayam you take naps, long walks, longer reads and perhaps a trip to “town” for cinnamon buns or a few beers.
The island’s two main west coast beaches — Aow Yai and Aow Khao Kwai — are backed by low, forested hills, while the east coast is mostly mangrove shore. I hire a motorbike and explore Phayam’s two “roads” — just 2.5 km of narrow concrete pathways — aiming for the isolated beach of Aow Kwang Peeb. A precipitous track drops me down to its perfect emerald bay with a fingernail of sandy shoreline. I dive right in.
Among the more upmarket accommodation is Payam Cottage Resort. At the other end of the scale are low-rent cabanas where the pathway borders are formed, tellingly, by empty beer bottles.
Phayam’s appeal is still defined by what it lacks: discos, ATMs, beer bars and taxi mafia. However ... back at Bamboo Bungalows I do lap up the cold beer and Nut’s delicious tiger prawns. Yuli jokes, “Guests complained when there was no internet, so I got it. Soon they complained it was too slow, so I installed free wireless. What’s next?”
“The younger backpackers go to the ‘bar islands’,” he says, referring to already demised “paradises” like Phi Phi and Koh Tao, places now awash with tattoo shops and pizza parlours. Phayam is frequently described as “Like Koh Samui or Phuket 30 years ago” — a cliché that’s loaded with troubling prophecy.
Come late afternoon, Koh Phayam’s cicadas crank up the volume and the dusk lightshow begins. Above the ghost islands off Burma thunder clouds are stacked thousands of metres high, grey phantoms of vapour twitching with lightning. The sky slowly burns down from purple haze to darkness while along the beach a party bonfire flares up and a conga drummer kicks in.
(pics: John Borthwick)