At the every north of the already small island of Koh Tao lie three still more tiny islands collectively known as Koh Nang Yuan, really no more than jumbles of rocks appearing above the surface of the water. They are connected to each other by spars of sparkling white sand and the hillsides of the two larger islands are covered with palms and other vegetation. Koh Tao is renowned for its great diving sites and we found out that most of these are actually around Nang Yuan. We got some details of the only accommodation actually on the islands via a flyer we picked up in BKK and we decided that we would go there and stay for a few days. All was fairly easily arranged by a series of emails and a bargain struck that gave us reduced rate accommodation provided we went diving enough. Although we realised that we would be largely ‘stuck’ on the island (the only access is by boat) somehow this didn’t seem too much of an imposition!
The journey down from BKK was fairly easy. We booked an overnight bus to Chumphon and a linked ticket on a ferry to Koh Tao, from where we would get a further ferry to Koh Nang Yuan. We actually had what they called a ‘buffet ticket’ which meant we would be able at a later stage to use the ticket again to get from Koh Tao to our final island destination, Koh Samui. We knew that we would arrive in Chumphon in the early morning and we were told that we would be stuck there for a few hours because the morning ferry from there would not be running. However when we arrived, to our surprise, we were told that the morning ferry would be running after all. We watched the sunrise over the bay and were further surprised to find out that the ferry would stop at Koh Nang Yuan and drop us off on its scheduled journey to Koh Tao. Although this raised a question of how we got to use the rest of our ticket, we were assured that everything would be arranged, just tell the people at reception in Nang Yuan and they will arrange it.
On first impression on arrival at Nang Yuan it seemed just as we had seen in the pictures although closer inspection found that it was perhaps a bit less than pristine. We were quickly signed in and assured that our continuing journey would be arranged for us. We were then unceremoniously chivvied along by the manager who dispatched his ’boys’ to carry our bags. We were surprised when, after a short walk around the corner past the dive centre, the ‘boys’ indicated to our shoes and gestured that we would need to take them off
. (it is usual practice in Thailand to remove your shoes when you go into a building, but not when you are walking along a beach). It was then apparent that the sand bar to the island where our bungalow was located was actually not a sand bar but under water. Because the tide was in, we had to wade through 50-60 cms of water to get to our island. The boys struggled with our heavy bags (remember that we still have all our diving stuff with us) and this struggle got worse as we headed up the island through several series of tortuous and staggeringly steep steps (both up and down), ramps, pathways and wooden bridges through the jungle to get to our bungalow. We knew that we were bungalow F9 and when, after a considerable period, we were still only just passing F4, I decided that we needed to intervene and managed to get the boys to stop. I explained that they were carrying our dive equipment that would need to go back to the dive centre on the other island, where we had just come from. Our bags separate easily into two, dive gear and the rest, so we did this on the path, leaving the dive gear there and the remaining journey to our bungalow was considerably easier. The boys, thankfully, picked up the dive gear as they returned and took it back to the centre. (We later realised that the haste to get us to our bungalow was because the island is visited during the day by a constant procession of boats with day trippers who are on package deals that include snorkelling and inclusive meals, all the staff are required to service these hordes and the residents need to be well out of the way!)
The bungalow itself, built from a combination of wood and concrete was pretty basic with fan and cold shower
. Because they are individually built into the hillside, there are some peculiarities such as the large boulder that occupies about a third of our shower. Still, we have a bit more space than in Ayutthaya and a great view out over the bay from the elevated terrace. Going back to the dive centre to arrange our diving we were able to take note of the wide range of interesting safety hazards on our journey. It would not appear that maintenance has been a high priority over time and apart from the incredibly complicated route, there are a number of tricky bits such as missing handrails, missing or rotten wooden planks on bridges, a nifty arrangement at one stage where the middle of the concrete step (the bit you would naturally step onto) is completely missing. And then of course you need to negotiate the sand/water bit. I should mention that the sand is coral sand and although much of it is ground fine by the action of the sea, a considerable amount is still extremely spiky bits of sharp stuff that dig mercilessly into your feet. We resolved this problem by wearing our flip-flops through the water although the glue holding mine together decided after only a couple of trips to disintegrate leaving me with several flip-flop components that refused to stay together or on my feet.
It was at this point that we realised one of the significant disadvantages of being on Nang Yuan. If you want anything at all, there is only one supplier and they are consequently free to charge what they like, and they do
. Food drink and services are all available but at prices several times higher than those elsewhere in Thailand. This even extended to the shuttle ferry to take residents to Koh Tao (a very short trip, you could almost swim it if required) which they charged us £4 each for. However, that was not too bad in the end as, as well as getting me some new flip-flops at a fraction of the price in the island shop, we took in a very nice meal over there with better quality and at a considerably more reasonable price than they charge in the Nang Yuan restaurant. We also managed to smuggle back some significantly cheaper beers to drink on our terrace.
We enjoyed many aspects of Nang Yuan, particularly when all the day tourists have gone away and it returns to the quiet haven that it always promises to be. However, we would probably not recommend it to others. There was a sense of a run down resort that had lost the recognition that it is supposed to be catering for visitors‘ needs, not visitors fitting in with what the resort deigns to provide. We later heard that the day trippers have fixed times for their inclusive meals (describes as like a school canteen) that they must stick to or forfeit their meal. In many ways we would have been better off staying on Koh Tao where the journey time to dive sites is only fractionally longer and there is a better choice of accommodation and eating. Even in the heart of the bar areas there are quiet corners and it is not compulsory to go to every one of the full-moon and half-moon parties that are available (although I know one daughter who seems to have spent most of six months at one or another such party).
We felt that Nang Yuan island was just not run well enough and lacks the quality of provision that you would expect from the type of resort it thinks it is. Some basic requirements were missing to justify the high charges for food etc
. For example, service was often poor, such as calling to you across the restaurant to come and get the tea that you had ordered instead of bringing it to your table. There seemed to be a policy of charging extra for everything (£2 to come on the island, £1 to use the beach shower!) and there were too few shaded areas for residents to relax without the expectation of buying yet another overpriced drink. There are huge numbers of cats (and some dogs) that are free to wander everywhere and there is no attempt to keep them out of eating areas and off tables and chairs. We kept suffering insect bites that always seemed to be around our ankles, which we have now attributed to flea bites rather than mozzies.
A great deal is made of the environmental issues and the island forbids plastic bottles and cans. But there is no ban on plastic bags and all around the island are discarded heaps of rubbish, left by the staff, presumably because transporting it back and forth between the islands is a hassle. You begin to think that the ban on plastic bottles and cans is more about limiting the drinks that you can bring back from Koh Tao; it’s one thing to bring back a few cans of beer but quite another trying to carry the weight of large bottles of Chang!
And all the time there is this problem about getting to your bungalow. As the tide changes and at different times of the day, the water levels rise and fall and we did experience one morning when we were able to walk across the sand bar from our bungalow without wading and getting wet. The converse, however, also applies and every evening the water was too deep to wade through so a small inflatable boat was used to ferry people across. However, this still meant that you had to wade into the water to get into the boat at the restaurant end and then clamber up a very rusty and ill-arranged ladder at the other end to get onto our island. The hotel also stops this service at 9pm; if you need to get back after then you have to swim across the bay (not far but you do get wet!) The dive guides all carry waterproof bags to put their belongings in because they have to do this a lot.