Phuket is famed for its offshore beauty, known the world over for its idyllic islands and beaches, and the magical seascape of Phang Nga Bay. The island is an ideal base from which to explore the Andaman region – south to Krabi, Trang, Satun and onwards to Langkawi and the Malaysian Peninsula, or North to the Similan and Surin islands, and beyond to Myanmar's Mergui Archipelago.
As a destination and base for exploration of the region, Phuket is unmatched. Surrounded by such beauty, the natural gems on Phuket's doorstep can often be overlooked. Almost 50 islands are easily accessible within a day (or less) of Ao Po Grand Marina, home of the Thailand Yacht Show. With its central location on the island's East Coast, Ao Po is the ideal starting point from which to explore the nearby marine treasures. Here are a few of Thailand Yacht Show's favourite day-trip destinations, just a short cruise from Ao Po Grand Marina:
Naka Yai Island
Less than 10 minutes away is Naka Yai - a lush island with delightful beaches on both the east and west coasts, and three floating jetties providing easy access for tenders. The island is a short hop from the mainland and offers some excellent day (and evening) dining options, as well as luxuriating spa and wellness treatments from The Naka Island, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa. Formerly owned by the Six Senses group, this resort complex is located on the north-western tip of the island, while the COMO Beach Club on the island's east coast makes up a full complement of leisure and entertainment facilities.
Yao Noi Island
A little further from Ao Po Grand Marina is Yao Noi Island, smaller sister of Yao Yai Island, which together forms a natural topographical 'barrier' separating Phuket from Krabi province. Despite being smaller, Yao Noi Island is the more developed of the two islands with a collection of resorts (including the six-star Six Senses Yao Noi Resort) and restaurants. Piers on both coasts allow for easy access, and the island offers an interesting insight into local life, where the main income of local inhabitants comes from fishing.
As a result, the markets and restaurants have some of the freshest seafood anywhere - and if you're there when they bring in the catch of the day, you will have the first pick of the spoils. If you need to build up an appetite or want to work up a sweat, then trek inland and marvel at the remnants of ancient rainforests which include some outstanding examples of giant dipterocarp trees.
Kudu Yai Island
Heading Northeast from Ao Po Grand Marina, and keeping close to the western side of Yao Noi Island, you will arrive at a small group of islands – the Kudu Group, made up of Kudu Yai and Kudu Lek. Located less than three minutes off the northern tip of Yao Noi Island, a combined Yao Noi/ Kudu Group trip makes for an interesting itinerary and a very full day out. Almost as an antidote to Yao Noi Island's extensive onshore facilities, Kudu Yai has none at all – it’s just a small rocky outcrop with the smaller Kudu Lek only metres away.
Both are covered in lush green jungle, and the bay on the southern tip of Kudu Yai can be explored by tender. For the adventurous, head ashore and scout around the island's interior with its beautiful lake. Alternatively, you can safely explore the nooks and crannies of the island's coastline by kayak.
Koh Chong Lat
Cruising into the northern reaches of Phang Nga Bay is like taking a step back in time. Think Jurassic Park minus the dinosaurs – the seascape is positively prehistoric, mysterious yet majestic, reminiscent of a set from the movie Avatar. Phang Nga Bay is a popular film-set location, with many a Hollywood movie director having scouted and filmed in the area over the years. Currently, the bay is under consideration to become a Unesco Heritage Site in recognition of its natural beauty and its geological and topographical importance to the region.
As you head North into the bay you will pass many impressive limestone “karts” – rocky outcrops rising vertically out of the sea. Koh Chong Lat, with its 200-metre high sheer limestone cliffs, is the most impressive of them all. Koh Chong Lat is located in a relatively untouched area of the bay and makes for a truly spectacular overnight anchorage.
If, however, you are planning to be back at Ao Po Grand Marina the same day, then you must head from Koh Chong Lat to the mainland (just a few hundred metres away), where the local seafood restaurants of Laem Sak Pier serve some of the freshest seafood and local southern Thai cuisine in the area.