The diminutive kangaroo-shaped island of KO PHAYAM offers fine white-sand beaches and coral reefs and is home to around five hundred people, most of whom either make their living from prawn, squid and crab fishing, or from growing cashew nuts, sator beans, coconut palms and rubber trees. Many islanders live in Ko Phayam’s only village, behind the pier on the northeast coast, which connects to other corners of the island by a network of concrete roads and rutted tracks. The bays either side of the village have a couple of nice places to stay, but the main beaches and accommodation centres are on the west coast, at Ao Yai and Ao Kao Kwai. A motorbike taxi service covers all routes, but no journey is very great as the island measures just five by eight kilometres at its widest points.
Ko Phayam has a livelier, younger and slightly more developed feel than neighbouring Ko Chang, underlined by a low-key beach-bar scene – all hand-painted signs and driftwood sculptures – and the presence of a significant number of foreigners who choose to spend six or more months here every year. Some expats even take up the rainy-season challenge, staying on through the downpours and rough seas that lash the island from June to October, but a number of bungalows close down during this time and staff take refuge in Ranong. As the island gets more popular, residents and expats are beginning to try and forestall the inevitable negative impact on the island’s environment. In particular, they are urging visitors not to accept plastic bags from the few shops on the island, to take non-degradable rubbish such as batteries and plastic items back to the mainland, and to minimize plastic water-bottle usage by buying the biggest possible bottles and by asking to refill them from the water coolers that all bungalow resorts have.