VISITED EARLY DEC 2010
White sand, clear turquoise water.........
.......good diving, snorkelling, closeness to Phuket and a small number of resorts from top-end to budget makes Ko Raya Yai (aka Ko Racha Yai) a pretty attractive location. No dogs and virtually no motor vehicles are bonuses. And I can't remember seeing any jet-skis . (You can click most of these images to expand them).
Ko Raya Yai is maybe 20-25km south of Phuket. Best access is by the day-trip speedboats out of Chalong pier, half an hour on a calm day - I paid 1500 baht return (which included van transfer from and back to Phuket resorts) in early Dec 2010 but I later saw offers as low as 1200. Look for fares at all the Phuket travel desks and online (Raya resorts can offer good deals on access). Some people get their transport by paying for a ride on a dive-boat. You can also do the trip by longtail, but unless you have a bunch of friends to share this will be more expensive. And way rough in the blowy conditions in which I made the trip.
Raya Noi has no accommodation but at least one nice beach. (modified Google Earth image)
Raya Yai is small, barely 2km at its widest east to west. The developed part takes up less than 25% of the island. The arrivals pier is on the west-facing Patok Beach.
I modified this Google Earth image to show the roads (white) and tracks (blue). There are a few others, but unimportant to visitors.
The red symbols represent the resorts: 1-THE RACHA 2-RAYABURI 3-BAN RAYA and the budget accommodation 4-RAYA BUNGALOW RESORT 5-RAYA FATHER 6-RAYA GARDEN 7-RAYA SEAVIEW (closed at the time of my visit).
The arrivals beach, Patok, is the busiest and maybe the most attractive if you don't mind a few rows of beach lounges. It is home to 2 resorts, the budget BUNGALOW RAYA RESORT with fan bungalows to the left and behind camera, and the very high-end THE RACHA which owns the beach lounges and has a large number of attractive chalets ranging up the slight hill behind the beach and out of frame top left.
Patok attracts a large number of daytrippers from Phuket. The southern side of the pier is most attractive for swimming and snorkelling. There is only a bit of coral but the sandy bottom and the headland rocks attract a good variety of fish easily spotted in the crystal-clear water. This beach does not suffer too-shallow water at low tide, but hey those beach lounges aint cheap (200baht Dec 2010) but there is plenty of sand to spread a towel or sarong. Some shade from trees to left of camera past mid-day. The arrivals pier (right) is one of those low-impact floating jobs. The main cross-island road starts immediately behind camera.
Patok is a west-facing beach meaning good sunsets and very sheltered dry season conditions. At dusk the daytrip boats are replaced by cruising craft seeking a calm night anchorage. Many dive boats return to Phuket but some live-aboards over-night in the bay. I'm wondering how exposed this beach is to the wet season westerlies and the associated big sea-swell. The floating pier could be a bit of thrill at such times.
Locals have set up a couple of beach bars and a cheap massage place on the north side of the beach - hoping to attract high-rollers from THE RACHA. These dudes in shot enjoying a sunset beer are paying 100 for a small Chang - YIKES! Certainly didn't attract low-rollers like me (av price I payed for a small Chang in beach bars in Nov/Dec 2010 trip was 60).
The lights low on the headland behind belong to BUNGALOW RAYA RESORT'S restaurant. Real nice beach/bay views from the tables here but they have also been infected by big payers from THE RACHA and maybe all those Russian mafia daytrippers with 90baht small Changs. YIPS!! So in the interest of research I wandered into THE RACHA'S beach bar - small Changs 140! Hell, that's Austalian beach resort prices. Oh yeah, they coud sell me an Aussie beer - at 220. Tell 'em they're dreaming.
I thought BUNGALOW RAYA RESORT was by far the most attractive of the budget places on the island. The fan bungalows range along the headland beyond the restaurant - all with some kind of bay view. They were the same price as my smaller RAYA FATHER bungalow at 1000 baht per night in early Dec 2010 - still overpriced in my view. Restaurant food prices were 0 to 20% higher than RAYA FATHER which itself was 20 to 50% higher than typical budget bungalow resort restaurants. Ko Raya/Racha is an above average island price wise for access, accommodation and food. Note the most distant of BUNGALOW RAYA RESORT'S bungalows was less than 5 minutes from the sands of Patok and slightly more than 5 minutes from the northern end of attractive Siam Beach by a not-too-steep back-track across the headland.
These dudes gathered frequently on the rocks opposite the entrance to BUNGALOW RAYA RESORT for a hand-out from the restaurant. Some were the biggest monitor lizards I've seen in Thailand, approaching 2m long - must be good tucker they get. The netting is not an enclosure, they could crawl underneath with a bit of difficulty - more to keep the tourists a safe distance. Be careful, monitors use their tails as a weapon - one swiped me across the chest when I tried to hurry it off a pathway soon after taking this shot. I had no idea I was close enough to swat.
A little over 10 minutes walk from Patok Beach is the northern facing Siam Bay, longer and way quieter. Sand is as white, water pretty clear although the bay was catching a bit more of the dry season easterly wind on a very blustery day which can increase turbidity in shallow water. This beach suffers a bit from the low-tide blues - you can wade a considerable distance from shore at such times. Note too the shot shows that high tide leaves only a strip of dry sand - however I found the beach very pleasant at such times.
The stream in the foreground is not polluted but tannin-stained on its journey through the rainforest.
I was not whelmed by the snorkelling. A lot of the bits of coral close to shore was broken, but enough fish to interest non fanatical snorkellers. There were some better lumps of coral and fish about 100m out from the high tide mark (you could wade out here easily at low tide) but although I swam a good 300m out from shore I never found a reef drop-off - the bottom instead gradually deepens. Some coral and fish out there too but not mind blowing.
There are 2 resorts on this beach - the mid-range+ RAYABURI RESORT which owns the beachfront restaurant and sun lounges mid beach, and the budget RAYA SEAVIEW on the hill behind the far end of the beach which unfortunately was closed when I visited early Dec 2010.
RAYABURI RESORT has most of its chalets spaced some distance behind the beach with a nice parkland-like expanse between. A creek runs behind the chalets in shot and forms a small lagoon before emptying out at the far end of the beach shot above this one.
Work was going on with a new wing about equal distance behind the camera. THE RACHA back on Patok had much more extensive new work being added to an already expansive joint.
This is the deserted beach restaurant of budget SEAVIEW RESORT on Siam. There is also a funky beach bar on the beginning of the headland rocks about 100m further west in less good repair. The restaurant above was in pretty good condition, unlike the bungalows below, scattered across the hill behind with tree filtered sea views.
These needed some work and were devoid of furniture - the boss at RAYA FATHER said he thought the place would be opening for peak season (sure gonna be busy), but the travel-agent I booked my trip thru back on Phuket said they had sold out to a bigger operator. Pity, this is the joint I originally intended to stay at, although having seen BUNGALOW RAYA RESORT I would now opt for that place.
THE EASTERN BEACHES
Konkare is the most distant beach from the arrivals pier at Patok - but only takes a 25 minute walk. You aint going to write home to mum about this beach except for maybe the snorkelling which all the guide books say is very good. There were coral and fish but darned if I could find anything world class or even approaching the standards of the Similans or some locations at Ko Tao. Maybe the daytrip boats park further off the beach than the 150m I went. The one I came across to the island on had about 100 loaves of bread - seeing tropical fish in a feeding frenzy is mind-blowing for a first timer and would be enough to qualify any place as excellent snorkelling in their minds.
All the eastern beaches face into the prevailing dry season winds and so get a bit choppy - which means water clarity is not as good as at sheltered Patok. But they would be very sheltered beaches in the wet season prevailing westerlies.
Access to Konkare beach is thru the grounds of BAN RAYA RESORT (no problems), another nice midrange place. Its bungalows and chalets are widely spread across the low hill behind the beach. That's the restaurant top right.
Ter Bay's beach is more attractive than Konkare, but can't compare to Patok and Siam. You can see the blustery conditions are not exactly conducive to good swimming or snorkelling, so I gave them the big miss. According to the books snorkelling is okay but down a step from Konkare. There is a newly built modernistic beach bar just out of frame to the right, but it was not operating in early Dec shoulder season. A pile of building materials about 70m behind camera indicates someone may have plans for a resort here.
The crap on-shore slop didn't stop these Thai guys from doing the big Kelly Slater super-surfer routine. I hope they were local island guys and didn't come all the way from Phuket for this rubbish. Their transport suggests they were local bungalow guys.
Another 5 minutes north is the 3rd east coast beach at Lar Bay. Well at high tide there aint too much of a beach. Some locals have set up COCO BAR a short distance further north. Snorkelling at Lar is supposed to be of the same standard as Ter Bay.
If you push on past COCO BAR you can pick up this track which goes about 3km around the island's north-east headland to Siam Bay. It is fairly flat in the first half and then has some moderate slopes with a few rough sections - an experienced mountain-biker would not have to dismount (BAN RAYA has bicycles and I think they are available at Patok Beach) and average riders would find themselves walking only a few rougher/steep sections. Hoof marks indicated BAN RAYA'S riding outfit comes this way and the twin tracks in the shot suggest the ATV's seen down page use the route. Not too much to see along here - a couple of small bays, occasional glimpses of Phi Phi and lots of bush. Towards the end is a fairly good viewpoint over Siam Bay.
I stayed at RAYA FATHER RESORT which is a budget place mid-island. Not a bad location in that none of the beaches is more than 10 minutes away (Siam 5). These were the least expensive huts, fan jobs at 1000baht per night, not including breakfast. This is expensive - I reckon bungalows of this standard off the beach are worth more like 600 tops. These bungalows were in good condition, and looked to have had a fresh coat of paint in the off-season. They were very clean and just big enough for 2 people and their gear. The king sized thin mattress was comfy, the insect screens in good condition. Towels, soap and toilet paper supplied (western toilet). THE RACHA'S big generator is about 200m away and kept up a constant drone thru the night, but this was less noisy than sleeping in the quieter part of an airliner cabin. RAYA FATHER has a big restaurant which caters for some daytrip groups. Food is pretty good and service excellent but prices were 20 to 50% higher than typical budget bungalow restaurants. Nevertheless this turned out to be the cheapest feed on the island. The restaurant area has wi-fi. There are bigger fan bungalows of similar style to the above at 1200 which seem better value (worth maybe 800) plus a row of new concrete,tile and tinted glass motel-like fan rooms at the same price as seen below.
These looked pretty nice inside but still not worth 1200. They are further from RACHA'S generator so noise is not a feature.
RAYA GARDEN resort is just across the laneway from FATHER. Bungalow standards and pricing seem similar.
These restaurants were adjacent to FATHER and RAYA GARDEN. Surprisingly prices were a bit higher - outside restaurants are usually competitively lower. But these catered for big daytrip groups so perhaps they don't have to chase business. Behind camera was a dive shop and some sort of small accommodation place was being built a bit further from the road.
There is a cluster of shops where the cross-island track starts at Patok Beach - 3 small general stores (prices considerably higher than Phuket - booze not available), a pastry/ice creamery, a beauty salon and a dive shop. Most resorts also have a shop selling basics.
I didn't see an ATM, although THE RACHA may have one in its lobby or elsewhere.
Ko Raya is largely vehicle-free. Local individuals don't seem to have motorcyles except for a couple of sidecar outfits which the budget resorts use to shuttle passengers and supplies to and from the pier.
The only 4 wheel vehicles I saw were a few pickup truck/songthaew types used by BAN RAYA and RAYABURI as shuttles, a couple of trucks busy on the new constructions and a fair few staff-driven electric golf buggy type thingies gliding noislessly on the island tracks near THE RACHA.
These ATVs are available for day-tripper and resort guest hire but I saw them on only two occasions.
UPDATE - I made a comment about the snorkelling on a travel website: "Not too much coral in most of the bays though, although the deep stuff out where the divers concentrated may be different."
Steve who is a dive instructor out of Phuket replied: "In the bays not much corals, but go a bit out of the bays along the coast and you'll see lots of corals, also very, very shallow."
So it looks like to get the best snorkelling at Raya you need to stick to a daytrip boat, maybe a dive boat or hire a local longtail to show you the good spots.---------------------------------------------------------
If you are visiting Ko Raya you may be interested in:
- similar Coral Isand
- and of course Phuket itself
If you see mistakes or have extra info, please post it below. If you have questions, please post them in THE FORUM, accessed via the INDEX page. I don't get to check individual island pages all that often.