Still jazzed from the inspiring limestone karst formations in Tonsai and Railay, we made our way back to Yao Noi. We hopped in a taxi in Ao Nang, which cost us about 350 baht each (though to be fair, it is about a 40 minute drive) and we arrived at the Telean Pier in Krabi within the hour. It is also possible to take a Sonsgtaew (basically a pick-up with seats placed in the bed) to Talean Pier, though it will require a bit of coordinating and knowing where to wait to be picked up. The Sonsgtaew will stop at the Krabi Bus Station and you should be able to catch it from there; however, you will likely have to walk a distance or catch a taxi to the bus station from wherever you are, which could end up costing you the same amount that you would pay to catch a taxi to Talean Pier.
It seems that not many people know about Talean (unless you happen to be a cheapo climber), or care to take a "slow boat", as we didnt spot very many "whities". Being that the majority of people are on a short holiday, one can imagine that they are ready to GO GO GO, with the speedboat being their choice of transportation. The typical fare is 150 baht to (and from) Yao Noi from Talean and you will have the pleasure of riding on a longtail (which may or may not appear to be in good condition) with many locals. If you happen to step on a boat that appears to be partially sinking, the beta is to smile, take a deep breath, and do as the locals do. There are lifejackets on the boat after all - what more could you ask for? The other option is to take a speedboat from Ao Nang (Nopparathara Pier) to Yao Noi, which will cost you around 650 baht. Our taxi and longtail combination (from Ao Nang Beach - which is where you will be deposited when returning from Tonsai or where you may already be) came to a total of 500 baht each, still less than the cost of a 650 baht (each) speedboat ride. You can catch your longtail boat back to Krabi at the Tha Khao Pier (boats leaving at 7 AM and then usually every hour or so after) or the speedboat at the Manoh Pier.
Our friends Rhiannon & Matt had stayed in an amazing bungalow next to La Luna Pizzeria the last time we had been in Yao Noi and after seeing how incredible the bungalow was (and yes, coveting it), we rented it from Sai well before our arrival on the island. The bungalow is typically a long-term bungalow, but we rented it with the intention of staying ten days. If you do make it out to Yao Noi, I highly recommend you stay in this bungalow, as it is the best deal you can get on the island. Sai will likely give you a discount if you stay for 2+ weeks, but even if he doesnt, it is still one of the cheapest places to stay on the island. The bungalow comes with a fridge (a luxury, as we like to eat yogurt and muesli for breakfast), toaster, hot water dispenser, hot water (though a cold shower is much nicer after a day of climbing), a sink on the back porch, all the Thai TV you could watch. It has also been the nicest bungalow we have stayed at in all of Thailand (as well as the cheapest).
If this bungalow is booked, consider Sai's other bungalows, Baan Tha Khao. He is a really awesome guy, who is happy to help you and has beta on just about anything regarding the island. There is one small bungalow here for 500 baht and he may cut you a deal if you're able to stay for an extended period of time. Coconut Corner also has affordable bungalows, as well as NamTok, where you will find other climbers.
The climbing on Yao Noi requires that you rent a motorbike, unless you think you might enjoy shelling out 1400 baht (about $43 USD) or more to get to the crag each day. The climbing shop may tell you that the boat is the only way, but a motorbike is available for about 200 baht per day for a gear motorbike (or ~180 from Namtok Bungalows if you rent for 10+ days or maybe less or more, depending on how Danny is feeling that day). It's also a great way to get to all of the yummy food options that are scattered throughout the island! Beta for getting to the crag can be a bit tricky and the best way to get there is to meet a friend to show you, though the guidebook may be able to explain. Another option is asking the locals to point you in the direction of Paradise. Climbing on Yao Noi is laid back, relaxing, and INCREDIBLE. The tractors and other lovely machines have made the ride to the crag an absolute dream compared to what it used to be, when we made the ride out to the Mitt for the first time. Sadly, after speaking to climbers that call Yao Noi their home, they told us that the island has seen significant development in only the past few years. Though the island is very calm and quiet in comparison to other islands in Thailand, those that have been around for awhile have noticed the "improvements" that nearby resorts have made. As told by a resident climber, all of the roads used to be dirt; however, most roads have now been paved, and I suspect the same may be true for the road out to the crag. While it makes the ride easier for you if you're on Yao Noi, it one, takes away from the fun of potentially crashing your motorbike, and two, it makes it easier for other climbers to gain access to the crag, making the crag look more appealing.
While we're on the subject of potentially crashing your motorbike, I suppose I should discuss the first day that Cheyne and I made the trek out to Paradise. Cheyne had dipped his toes into the art of riding an automatic motorbike while in Krabi (ha) and now we had rented A gear bike, as it was nearly 100 baht (or more, if you rent for longer) cheaper! That's the cost of both of us eating lunch at our favorite lunch spot! Yes, that's right, we rented one motorbike. The majority of people vacationing on this island most likely had a decent amount of money and wanted the experience of driving their own bike, but we were on a budget here, and one was enough!
Cheyne, being new at this motorbike and shifting gears situation, was clearly doing the best he possibly could. Picture this: Cheyne is driving and I'm on the back of the bike, with a pack holding the rope, water, and Cheyne's harness, chalk bag, shoes, and what have you, while my pack is resting in the basket on the front of the bike, holding the draws, water, snacks, my harness, shoes, etc. Let's just say it could be called a 5.13 PG-13 balance-y slab route (or R in one woman's case, in which she had a black eye, bruises, and she told Rhiannon that after the crash, she was pretty sure her organs were coming out). Up steep hills we would go and back down loose and sandy steep descents. One crux included dodging giant boulders that were buried in the sand, all while making a descent or dodging cute, yet emaciated puppies and the pup's parents.
I remember looking ahead at Rhiannon (Matt was driving) and seeing her give me the thumbs up...but as soon as I gave the thumbs up back, we hit a rock and the next thing I know, I'm on the ground and my skin is slightly burning. No problem - back on the bike we go - there is climbing to do...though I must admit that this was the last time I wore flip flops while riding out to the crag.
This is what a typical day looked like for Cheyne & I:
6:45/7 AM, wake up & eat breakfast - cuddle Roscoe or Woodroe.
7:30 AM: leave for the Mitt on the motorbike.
8 AM: hike in to the crag.
8:30 AM: start climbing!
1:30 PM or when the sun became unbearable: head back to town.
2 PM: lunch!
2:30-5:30 PM: veg, practice yoga, head to the beach, read, nap.
5:30 PM ish: dinner!
7 PM: watch a movie we downloaded, read, watch Roscoe run around the yard or chew up my socks.
8:30-9 PM: read, bedtime!
Our rest days looked about the same, but obviously minus the rock climbing, which added a significant amount of time to our schedule of sitting around contemplating life.
After becoming psyched on stalactites (and that hollow, yet unique "dongggggg" song it sang you when you tapped on it) lounging at the beach, soaking in the rays, having a Thai massage, and eating our share of very cheap pad thai, mixed veggies and rice, and vegetarian lamb massaman curry, we decided that Yao Noi was truly paradise. It was the first time that we had stayed in one place for more than a few days and it felt perfect. Our original plan had been to spend 10 days on Yao Noi and then return to Tonsai to climb a few routes that we had our eye on; however, it was just too difficult to leave this perfect paradise. Rhiannon and Matt had also returned to Yao Noi after spending time in Tonsai and we were all psyched to climb at the Mitt together. We had extended our time on Yao Noi from 13 days (including the 3 days before Tonsai) to 23 days, with absolutely no regrets.
We had really started to get in the groove of waking up early, eating a quick breakfast, riding out to the crag, and hiking in. Our day was well-spent at the Mitt or Bee/Dump Wall and I am perfectly satiated with that. The Mitt hosts 25+ amazing routes, while the Bee Wall has about five or six really incredible routes, including a two-pitch 7a+ (first pitch 6a) that is not to be missed - prepare for the pump, as well as very overhanging routes towards the left. The other option is to head to Big Tree Wall, which has afternoon shade; however, we were so psyched on the Mitt that we never even actually made it out to Big Tree. The Mitt was fantastic, as even the overhanging 6b's could get your blood pumping!
Yao Noi was likely my favorite place in Thailand, as the climbing is pristine and nearly deserted and the entire island is quiet - EVEN DURING A FULL MOON (not that I would know - we didnt subject ourselves to the torture of staying on a party island during this time). Alcohol is somewhat limited on this island as it is mostly Muslim, but there are stores and restaurants that are very easy to locate. I found it quite difficult to justify paying for alcohol, as the beer tastes like the most terrible watered down Bud Light (my apologies to those that enjoy this beer!) and a glass of wine or a liquor drink cost somewhere upwards of 180 baht, or $6+, which was a little less than a night in our bungalow or food for Cheyne and I for one or two meals, depending on where we ate. I had a drink about once every three weeks when the mood struck me and that was plenty.
In addition to the above mentioned areas, there is the Grateful Wall. The longtail generally costs about 1800 baht and is well worth it, as it is an magnificent experience! It was very easy for Cheyne and I to become stuck in our traveling/cheapo ways and it is only now, when I sit down to write this, that I realize that it would have only cost us $30 each to rent a longtail for the entire day out to a secluded wall with awe inspiring views. Granted, $30 goes a very long way on this lovely little island; however, if it came down to it and you were unable to scrounge together any friends to join you, I would recommend you fork over the $30 each and splurge.
Koh Yao Noi, Stepping Back in Time - Open Spaces
Indeed, I agree with Glenn when he describes the locals as being "more relaxed, friendly and with smiles as wide as the Andaman sunrise." When you walk into a market or a restaurant, you are greeted with a gigantic smile that warms your heart and it is then that I feel incredibly lucky to be on this sleepy island. Locals are inquisitive and willing to help you out in any possible way.
As many of you may know, I have a very strong relationship with food. I like to cook it, bake it, eat it, and dream about it. Literally. Yao Noi offers a diverse array of foods, ranging from another Muslim place, which is typically a morning eatery, closing around 11 AM. Here you can get veggie rice and a coffee for about 15 baht, or 50 cents. Our favorite restaurants were Chaba (fresh smoothies, salads, paninis, and you can also order freshly baked goods such as bread, muffins, cakes, etc), Rice Paddy (incredible vegetarian Massaman curry, and falafel wraps, with those french fries that you're just dying to eat), Kaya (amazing pad Thai and papaya salad), and the Muslim restaurant pictured below. La Luna or Pyramid would also satisfy your craving for pizza, should you have one.
Of course, there are many other restaurants for you to explore and you should!
I love this incredible gem, Yao Noi. While most climbers will flock to Tonsai or Railay (and I hope it stays that way), they have no idea what they are missing out on. With a heavy heart, Cheyne and I packed up our things, said goodbye to Sai, and climbed one last morning at the Mitt Wall. We had a casual day before making our way to the Krabi Airport around 10 PM and flying back to Bangkok to catch our next flight: to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!
Between the two of us, we have loads more photos that we would like to share with you! The photos above have all been from Cheyne's iPhone, but we both have a camera with incredible memories and will post those photos as soon as we return in mid-April!