Koh Phayam is a little-known Thai island with beautiful beaches that has been on the backpacker's travel route for some years. Today, better-quality resorts have begun to arrive, giving the island a new destiny as a new destination for more mainstream visitors. There are already over 20 beachfront bungalow establishments on our maps, most basic and budget, though air con rooms are now available and the island had its first swimming pool in 2011.

Koh Phayam lies off Thailand's Andaman coast 30 kilometres south of the provincial town of Ranong, from which boats to the island depart. The twice daily ferry takes about two hours, arriving at the only small village and jetty located on the protected west coast. Phayam, interestingly, is an island without cars, and all transport is handled by motorcycles and bicycles, and the narrow tracks are built specifically for two wheels. All important routes have concrete tracks.

The treasure of this island has been ignored by the locals completely: two west coast beaches of real tropical beauty. They remained completely untouched, and rarely even walked upon, until the first few backpackers began to arrive, and local attitudes changed quickly. This pair of beaches lie in two bays, a deep one facing Northwest and a longer, shallow one facing Southwest. This one faces the annual monsoon directly, and it is the monsoon waves that form the beaches. The southern one, Ao Yai (Big Bay), thus has a more 'developed' beach.

The satellite image shows the wider sand and deeper water in Ao Yai. Its northern sister has a big build-up of sand in its sheltered bottom end, while the area above that also faces the incoming waves enjoys deeper water. This northern bay is Ao Khao Kwae, which translates as Buffalo Horn Bay in Thai – easily understood from its shape on the map.

Both beaches appear quite undisturbed by the many small bungalow establishments along them. Most are built well into the trees. The photos show beaches of tropical beauty, with hardly a human touch in sight.

by John Everingham