Santhiya Koh Yao Yai, Thailand

[October 2019]

Last spring I put my name forward to be part of the High School Honor Band Listening Committee for the Association for Music in International Schools. The committee meets in Phuket, Thailand and the dates happened to line up with the end of my October break. When I was selected to be a part of the committee, I started looking for other places nearby that I could enjoy during the first part of the week.

Much of Phuket is known for beach parties and that’s not my scene. I was looking for somewhere right on the water and less crowded. I also have a tendency to jump around a lot when I travel. This time, I wanted to stay in one place until it was time to meet the rest of the committee in Rawai.

I first found The Cove in Panwa Beach. Unfortunately, my dates weren’t available for all five nights, but then I stumbled upon Santhiya Koh Yao Yai. The wood decor looked stunning, the bathtub on the balcony beckoned me, and I couldn’t believe how affordable it was compared to what a similar place would cost elsewhere. I booked a Deluxe Sea View straight away. If you’re traveling with a partner or a family, they also have villas with private pools.

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Getting to Santhiya Koh Yao Yai

You can arrange a transfer directly to Santhiya’s dock. I thought the price was high so I decided to arrange the transfer myself. I took a taxi from the airport to Ao Po Pier thinking I could catch a boat to Koh Yao Yai, but since I didn’t have better directions for the driver, he took me to the Santhiya office, so I ended up taking their speed boat anyway. Between the taxi and the speedboat, I ended up paying more than if I had just booked their transfer. Story of my life.

Lesson learned: When you book a spa resort, treat yourself and take the easy route. 

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When we arrived on the island, we were treated to an iced tea of some delicious sort and a refreshing towel. We were also offered buy-one-get-one massages at the spa. I went ahead, like a big girl, and booked myself two 90-minute massages.

Getting Around the Resort

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The resort is pretty spread out, but you can catch a dolled up pick-up truck down by the pier to your room, so don’t worry about walking up the hill in the heat and humidity. My room was in hotel 6 and the truck almost always took me straight there, but sometimes, if it was a busy time of day (like right before the rains come), the truck will take you to a meeting point and then a golf cart will take you the rest of the way. Once you get up to the meeting point it’s pretty walkable, though.

Settling In

After I got to my room, I had to wait around for about an hour for my bag to be delivered. After my bag and a little snack from the chef arrived, I took a bath on my balcony…

…took a nap…

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…made my way over to the infinity pool for a dip…

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…and began eating my way through the restaurants.

Not being well acquainted with Thai food, I had to come to terms with being a white woman who thought I could handle spice better than I actually can. There were a couple dishes I couldn’t finish, but man did I love me some Pad See Ew, Papaya Salad, and Mango Sticky Rice. And passion fruit. Golly, I had no idea I needed so much passion fruit in my life… There are quite a few restaurants on site so there are plenty of choices.

Sometimes I ate breakfast at Saaitara by the infinity pool and sometimes I ate down by the beach at Chantara. I believe Chantara is reserved for people who book directly with the resort, but I could be wrong. It is much less crowded and you’ll get first picks on a shady beach spot. Saaitara has a stunning view, though, and there always seemed to be dragonflies dancing about.

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The following days were everything I could have hoped for: eat, swim, read, repeat. I had initially planned to do some day trips and diving, but, as teachers often do on holiday, I caught a cold. You definitely can’t dive when you’re sick, so I decided it was best to just take it easy at the resort. Not once did I regret that decision or resent that I wasn’t feeling 100%. It was wonderful to just relax and move between shade and sun at my leisure. The beach is definitely best enjoyed in the morning. While the water felt great, around noon, for some reason, a bunch of rubbish would wash up, so I would clean up what I could and then migrate over to the main pool.

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In addition to lounging, swimming, and eating, the resort also offers classes including Thai boxing, dancing, cooking, yoga, etc. And don’t forget about beach massages and treatments at the spa! I never did a beach massage but I really enjoyed my two massages at the spa. The spa prices seemed a little high to me (as someone who never goes to a spa), but definitely fair with the buy-one-get-one deal upon arrival. The atmosphere, presentation, professionalism, and refreshments were all perfection. And 90-minutes is a dream! I would recommend the spa to everyone.

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Traveling During Monsoon Season

Having never experienced Monsoon season, I was really worried that I would be disappointed traveling to Thailand in October. I have to say, though, that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sure, the humidity would hit me like a brick wall on the way to breakfast in the morning, but once I got in the sea or the pool, and definitely once it rained, I always felt comfortable. The rains fell punctually each afternoon. How could I be mad? I’d feel the wind change and think, “Oh, darn! I have to go to my gorgeous room and read my book in the bathtub on the balcony while watching the storm roll through…” Life is hard.

One evening after the storm passed over Koh Yao Yai, I decided to go swim in the infinity pool. I watched the sun set and I watched lightening over Phuket. Ah, mindfulness.

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This is the view from my balcony. Do you see the two rock formations sticking out of the water? The first morning I saw them I thought, “Aww, look at those sailboats…” It wasn’t until later when I realized they hadn’t moved that they were rocks. I loved staring at those rocks and watching the color of the water change with the weather.

Leaving Santhiya Koh Yao Yai

The afternoon before I left I went to the office for information on leaving the island in the direction of Rawai, where I needed to be next. I didn’t want to take the resort’s speed boat back to the north end of Phuket only to have to taxi south. Their boat alone is 900 baht, then their taxi to Rawai would be 1200-1600, if I recall correctly. The man in the office was very helpful getting me sorted:

400: Taxi from resort to Loh Jark Pier (I’m sure this could be lower if not arranged through the hotel)
300: Speed boat to Chianwanich Pier
500: Taxi to Rawai (I was told it should be 400-500, and the driver started at 700, so I think I did okay…?)
Total: 1200 Baht

The check out process was my only disappointment on this trip. Since I had to carry my bag, I decided to call for a golf cart pick up from my room rather than walk to the meeting point. Instead of a golf cart coming, a truck arrived to collect my bag, but not the normal passenger trucks. There was no place for me to sit, and the men told me to wait. They then went around to the other rooms to collect more bags… This was taking too long, so finally when a golf cart came around, I grabbed my bag and hitched a ride. I got down to the office, finished paying up, ordered the taxi, and made my way over to the gate.

I realize check-out is a busy time of day, and they probably have their process while I had my own timeline. I think I was just surprised that this didn’t go as quickly as I’d expected, and after I walked up to the gate, I was a little surprised I wasn’t offered a ride since it was hot and there’s a hill. It’s fine, but the departure didn’t have the same feeling as the arrival. 

After Santhiya

The taxi ride through the island and the boat ride back to Phuket were gorgeous. The remainder of my time in Thailand was spent in a villa in Rawai with new colleagues assessing audition tapes. All of our food was home cooked on site. Our meals were a feast. I feel I can confidently rank Thai food amongst my favorites now. 

Till we meet again, Thailand, my country number 50!

What are your favorite places in Phuket and the Thai Islands? Favorite hotels? Day trips? 

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