anantara koh yao yai

Anantara Koh Yao Yai: Secluded luxury on one of Thailand’s last untouched islands

23 Apr 2024 | |By Annie Lewis

Step inside Anantara Koh Yao Yai, where rare exclusivity, five-star service and sea-view suites come as standard

The race for hoteliers to go where others haven’t is endless, but what isn’t so unlimited are the locations they can choose from. Whether it’s hugging craggy cliffs in Canada, cropping up in the dense rainforests in Borneo or occupying a prime slice of a golden sandy beach in the Caribbean, Maldives or Australia, the competition to provide a base for travellers to explore somewhere new is constant. 

So when a beachside location came up on the untouched southern Thai island of Koh Yao Yai – situated in the turquoise waters of Phang Nga Bay, halfway between holiday hotspots Phuket and Krabi – Anantara couldn’t believe its luck. The island, meaning ‘long and large’ in Thai, is nestled next to its twin, Koh Yao Noi (‘little long island’), which can be reached by foot if the tide is low enough (and where a Six Senses hotel is already in residence). Both islands’ proximity to the likes of Phi Phi and Koh Samui meant they were primed to host island-hopping travellers long before they actually did, but with a severe lack of accommodation on Koh Yao Yai – five star or otherwise – this beautiful island was out of reach. Until now. 

I learn quickly that although the island is large, its community is small. There’s one bank and one doctor, and it only started harnessing electricity two decades ago. The 2,600-strong population is predominantly muslim – Anantara donated money for a mosque and school to be built a stone’s throw away from the hotel – and makes a living from fishing in Phang Nga Bay, growing the rubber plants or rice farming. Combine that all together and you certainly don’t have the recipe for a hotel boom on the island because it simply wouldn’t cope. So, if you’re planning to stay on Koh Yao Yai – and I highly recommend you do – you have only one choice. 

It seemed like a natural fit, then, for the Thai-born Anantara brand to catapult this island – one of the largest in the country with a length of about 30km – onto the world stage. Like all good hotel stays, the experience starts long before you get there. Depending on your location, guests can opt for a 20-minute ferry from Krabi or a 45-minute speedboat from Phuket’s Laem Sai Pier (I chose the latter) where a team of staff are waiting for you in specially-built, air-conned portside cabins. 

And, while it’s not even an hour later that you’ll land on the jungle-fringed shores of Koh Yao Yai, it feels like a world away. As you’re escorted from the hotel’s private jetty through a maze of newly-paved, palm-lined lanes that feed into the resort you’ll start to clock not only the expanse of the estate, but why Anantara clamoured for a hotel on this location in the first place: it’s so remote you’d never stumble across it by accident, lending itself perfectly to travellers searching for privacy and exclusivity in five-star surroundings. 

anantara koh yao yai

Work on this 27-acre former coconut plantation, wedged between a wooded hill and an azure bay dotted with jungle-clad limestone islets, started back in 2020. The huge resort now spills over a kilometre of sandy beach and comprises 148 suites, villas and penthouses all classically designed with a layer of Thai heritage adding local charm. It’s no understatement to say my one-bedroom beachfront villa is the best hotel accommodation I’ve ever stayed in, offering private butler services, complimentary bicycles and direct beach with views across to the uninhabited island of Ko Lo Ka Lat, which seems so close you could almost touch it. At first glance, the villas look like they’ve been lifted from the Teletubbies set, featuring domed, living-grass roofs that thoughtfully don’t block views for rooms behind, while the space inside comprises a lounge, kitchen, en suite master bedroom and a private pool terrace that leads onto a lush manicured lawn fringed by the beach beyond. 

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an adults-only resort. The family-friendly wing – complete with its own pool, waterpark (obviously) and kids’ club – is found towards the rear of the complex housed across five blocks, with accommodation ranging from generously-spaced pool access rooms to sea views suites that cater for the whole family, complete with bunk beds featuring an in-room slide and hidden play areas. Also set apart from the rest of the resort are the Wellness Lagoon villas, offering the opportunity to experience spa treatments and wellness practices, such as yoga, meditation and personal trainer-guided workouts, in the seclusion of your own villa. 

Take things up a notch by booking one of the resort’s eight butler-attended 366-square metre sea view pool penthouses that boast panoramic views of the Andaman. Fitted with a master bedroom and en suite bathroom featuring two skylight-lit rain showers, there are also two dressing rooms, an infinity pool, sundeck with daybeds and a covered cabana for al fresco dining. As well as an oversized bathtub with sea views – a hallmark of all said penthouses – one also comes with a unique, Instagrammable glass-bottom infinity pool positioned dramatically above the living space.

Exceptional wellness activities are integral to Anantara Koh Yao Yai, combining the Thai art of massage with world-class sensory experiences. The spa – featuring four subterranean treatment rooms, a huge outdoor hydropool and Moroccan hammam – aims to create a relaxing, rejuvenating journey via an array of unique treatments, such as the rhythmic Tok-Sen therapy, an ancient Thai treatment using a rosewood hammer and wedge to promote a sense of calm, and the blissful Ayurvedic Marma massage aiming to restore the flow of energy. Book a traditional Thai massage to blow away all of that travelling tension in a flash. 

Flick through the excursion offerings here and you’ll discover just how much the hotel wants its guests to go out and explore. Whizz around the island and its abundance of rubber plantations in a charming sidecar, driven by local staff, visit Laem Haad – dubbed the Maldives of Thailand thanks to its white sandy beach and swaying palm trees – sightsee at Hin Kong bridge, and practise the traditional art of batik, where you can hand-dye fabrics with wax at local workshop Batik de Kohyao. 

The highlight of my stay, if not my entire trip, was our half-day excursion to the nearby islands: Hong, Bamboo and James Bond. Offering some of the most beautiful and secluded beaches in the world, and reached via the hotel’s own dragon boat in under an hour, these uninhabited islets are a haven for wildlife, whether you’re snorkelling along the colourful reefs (just watch out for the jellies) or are on land with the pied imperial pigeons and monkeys. Climb the 419-step iron staircase on Hong Island to be greeted with an unrivalled panoramic view of the island-dotted bay beyond and Krabi in the distance. 

A day of exploring calls for an evening of feasting, and foodies are in luck with Anantara’s three on-site restaurants. The signature Beach Restaurant (which beachfront villa residents can access from their doorstep) offers fresh seafood (don’t miss the stellar tuna burger) and an impressive selection of dry-aged steaks served in an open-air dining space with a soaring ceiling hung with rattan lampshades overlooking lapping waves that are aglow with fairy lights. 

Next door, sushi lovers can indulge in traditional and modern Japanese delicacies, while over at Pakarang the menu features contemporary Thai dishes, with international breakfast favourites prepared at live cooking stations and light bites served throughout the day. Highlights here include the pineapple fried rice, prawn pad thai, and the large, delicious bowls of handmade southern Thai curries with sticky rice. 

The doors to Anantara Koh Yao Yai haven’t even been open a year and yet I can’t think of one thing that needs improving. Securing its enviable location was, of course, one hurdle, but creating a luxurious paradise on an island that barely had electricity two decades ago is quite another. Attention to detail, helpful staff and an unrivalled excursion programme have all contributed to creating this special five-star resort, and long may its success in this untouched corner of the world continue. 

From £359 per night, visit

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