Reachable by boat from Phuket within 45 minutes, Ko Racha Yai is a little slice of paradise with white sand beaches, green jungle, lazy buffalo and myriads of colourful fish that greet you as soon as you enter the shallows. We first visited this island in 2005 and boy have things changed since then. Like mostly everywhere in Thailand, the tourism has really amped up to the glee of operators but often to the detriment of the environment .Ko Racha used to be a sleepy pocket but now it is a stopover for many boat tours on their way to seeing Koh Phi Phi or Ko Yao Yai. It is a common sight to see numerous boats pull up on the pier during the day , unloading tourists for their hour long lounge in the sun before they board the boat again. Still this island is big enough to escape the midday madness of it’s most popular beach , even though you can walk around it in less than an hour. And thankfully the rubbish issue that plagues the other tourist meccas is not as much of a problem here – the water is as pure and beautiful as the first time we visited.
With it’s white angular lines and Santorini-esque whitness reflecting the sun , The Racha sits just behind the island’s prettiest beach surrounded by thick foliage and manicured grounds. The Grand Pool Suite is the way to go here- consisting of a large bedroom, ensuite, separate office, pavillion and infinity pool with the best position and views in the resort it is pretty hard to beat. For me, the biggest drawcard of The Racha are it’s ozone treated pools- as any bottle blonde can attest, chlorine is enemy no 1 and I usually avoid pools like the plague but here the water has been filtered without chemicals so it feels wonderful on the skin. I spent hours in our private pool each day playing mermaids with my daughter. The hotel also runs a conservation program for little green frogs that come out at night and during the day , huge iguanas slink in and out of the bushes.
With only a few cars there isn’t much to do except walk the palm fringed dirt roads to other beaches while discussing the possibility of a fallen coconut death, bike riding past sleepy buffalo to hidden coves or grabbing a spicy lunch at alternative small resorts around the island (there are 3). The fish here are well trained and completely exhibitionist and the hotel’s beach is a fantastic snorkelling spot if you go early to avoid the crowds. Grab a bag of bread and as soon as you enter the shallows you will be surrounded by a flume of rainbow coloured fins that will eat right out of your hand (hello Nemo and all of his friends!). In fact the whole island provides excellent and really safe diving and all the hotels provide diving training as well. Not much goes on at night so we would surf the floating pier , a fun and daredevil activity when the waves are big but I’m sure completely frightening for someone with bone related problems. So do not wear heels on arrival to this island as this pier is the only way to get off the boat!
The Racha offers the best quality food but more flavour can be found at cheap little Thai joints on the island . For a great meal though, catch the boat back to Phuket’s Chalong Pier and grab a meal at the newly refurbished Kan Eang pier restaurant – I have regular cravings for it’s fresh and authentic chilli crab, morning glory, crab omlette and specials like battered freshwater weed and prawn . Grab a table by the water and watch the longboats glide by in the green pass while you sip a fresh coconut in the shade.
The hotel now offers daily boat excursion trips to other small nearby islands but we weren’t that excited to join the throngs to visit places that were even busier than our piece of heaven. The large nearby Phuket island offers all the tourist trappings though – including anything from shopping, paintball, obstacle courses, extravagant ladyboy shows, a pearl farm , floating markets, amusement parks and nightclubs in case you feel you need a reprieve from serenity. There are no boats back to the island after nightfall however, so you’ll need to pull an all nighter . I think jumping on Racha’s pontoon pier by moonlight is so much more fun anyway!