Phuket to Koh Yao Noi Mountain biking Tour

I joined this tour day yesterday with my colleague Ingo. We were lucky, the weather was exceptional, you need some luck with Phuket weather in September. The tour was a one day ride on Koh Yao Noi with 30km of riding, both on road and off. It was billed as suitable for intermediate fitness riders. The departure point from Phuket to Yao Noi Island was Bangrong pier in north east Phuket. Most tourists are collected at their Phuket resorts and transferred to the pier by minivan for the 9am departure but as Ingo and I live in Phuket we chose to ride our own bikes and met the others at the pier.

The journey to Koh Yao takes just under one hour on the local ferry. By ferry I mean large longtail boat with a huge Hino diesel truck engine stuck on the back. Bikes are strapped to the cabin roof, passengers can sit inside or outside at the front. The ride is a very scenic one past several small islands and with Phang Nga bay in the distance. Phang Nga bay is sheltered from the weather and the sea never really gets rough making this tour possible all year round. These local longtail boats have been perfectly designed for small, close waves, they cut through the chop easily.

The journey was a chance to get to know our fellow riders and slap on sun screen. Our guide gave us a briefing for the day, showing the route and itinerary. The itinerary is not fixed, they vary it depending on rider ability, it can be as easy or as hardcore as your like.

The bikes were unloaded at Koh Yao Noi pier which was basically the only place that we saw cars all day. Once away from the pier we were on small concrete roads. It was immediately apparent that Koh Yao Noi is a million miles away from Phuket. It’s still a sleepy island, mostly Muslim, which supports itself by fishing and farming.

Within a couple of minutes we moved off road onto a track through a rubber plantation. We stopped for a  one minute Phd in rubber production then carried on after our guide. The trail was hard to follow because of the fallen leaves, without a guide we would’ve quickly been lost.

The great thing about riding through the rubber and coconut plantations is that it’s cool and shaded. Back on the road things heated up but we were riding at a very steady pace with plenty of stops for photo taking and we stopped often for water. Water stops were also a chance to try the local snacks. No gels or energy bars for us, we refueled on sweet sticky rice with fried banana and coconut wrapped in banana leaves.

Two thirds of our riding distance was done before a late lunch at 1pm. We basically went all around the small island. One minute we were standing on a pier looking out over Phang Nga Bay (Koh Yao Noi is part of Phang Nga province), the next minute we were looking out over Krabi (it’s also possible to do a 3 day 2 night tour that starts in Phuket, spends a night in Koh Yao and then goes on to Krabi).

Onwards we went past mangroves, beach, tamarind trees, cashew nut trees, a few monkeys, goats and chickens. Coming from Phuket we loved the lack of traffic, I think we saw three cars all day. We also loved the lack of stray dogs, the enemy of cyclists the world over. We also noticed that the locals still smile and wave here, they aren’t jaded from tourists yet.

There is some tourism here, a few low key resorts, and I will definitely be back to stay a night or two.  The beaches are not amazing which may help to save the island from the encroachment of package tourism. The water is shallow and at low tide rocks are exposed making swimming difficult. Snorkeling and diving is possible in places but the water in Phang Nga nay isn’t clear like in other areas.

On our way to lunch we rode through the rice paddies which were almost ready for harvest (just one harvest per year on Koh Yao Noi) and stopped at a small teak and tin house where the Mama and Papa cut down some coconuts for us. Their garden was full of fruit trees and vegetable gardens. It’s the type of place where you sit and contemplate life, surrounded by bounteous nature, and wonder if we in the developed world haven’t got it all wrong.

From here it was a short ride to our lunch destination, short but up hill, just right to build up an appetite. Lunch was served at Sabai Corner, a small bungalow resort and restaurant. We had Massaman curry, chicken with cashew nuts, beef in oyster sauce, stir fried mixed vegetables and tom yam seafood soup, all served with lots of rice. As we knew that there were another 10 kilometres to ride back to the pier after lunch Ingo and I also got some extra carbs in with a couple of yeasty sports drinks, Chang beer has rarely tasted so good.

After lunch it was a fairly flat ride back to the pier for the 3pm ferry departure. There was one off road section around a mountain which seemed preferable to the concrete road over it. The journey back was as smooth as the one coming and most people had a short snooze, we were back on Phuket by 4pm. After saying goodbye to the other riders Ingo and I had the 25km journey home to negotiate which in Phuket rush hour traffic just highlighted for us how special Koh Yao Noi is. We’ll be back soon.

Update 2022: Unfortunately Amazing Bike Tours was a victim of the Covid pandemic that shuttered many tourism operators in Phuket. These tours are no longer running.