Friday, August 30, 2013

Ko Nangyuan

Last visited Feb 2015

One of the more spectacular locations in the Gulf, 3 small islands - 2 with considerable height - joined by a sweet sand spit.

The opening shot is from July 2013. This one is Feb 2015 when I have the new elcheapo Olympus with panorama. Emphasizes proximity of mainland Tao at right. 
Note the far (northern) half of the spit is underwater - better seen in the shot below.

 I have visited Nangyuan 4 times. Only one of these saw the northern spit above water as in the July 2013 opening shot. This Feb 2014 shot shows the situation at dead low tide - about shin deep at this point plus wavelets - waves break in shallow water and as it deepened they disappeared. At highest tide it was maybe chest deep. Detail may be clearer if you click-expand. 
Bit of a bummer if staying on the far islet hillside (site of the cheaper fan and aircon rooms) as we initially were - particularly as there were sharp bits of coral in the sand underfoot when wading.
Note that in the Gulf there is the weird situation of usually only one high and one low tide per 24 hours so it can be a long time sitting around waiting for a low tide easy crossing.
Spits and beaches wax and wane according to weather conditions - fine weather wavelets tend to rebuild them so if you visit mid to late dry season you may find the spit above water all tides as in the opening picture. Wet season/early dry season sees storm wave attack or insufficient rebuilding time and things may not be so hot. Wet season in the southern Gulf is usually late Sept into early Jan.
Note there is a shot on Trip Advisor showing the other SOUTHERN part of the spit underwater in February 2010. The wet season before must have had wave attack from the south-east or north west (the norm is the south-west and north-east monsoons). At least one of those temporary floating piers had been set up - the guests on the southern island pay way more for their bungalows.

Nangyuan is a short distance off the north-west coast of Ko Tao - the nearest point of which is only 600m from the island.

In my 4 visits to NANGYUAN, the first two stays were in the days before the resort headed upmarket and day trippers became the focus of the island. The 3rd visit was a day-trip only (it's kinda hard to get a vacancy in the resort unless booking way ahead) in July 2013 - this is covered by the first part of the report below. The latest visit was as a guest at the resort in Feb 2015 - featured in the second section below..

JULY 2013
I first visited Nangyuan over 15 years ago - when I was disembarking the ferry at Mae Had on mainland Tao a sweetheart handed me a flyer about this fairly new resort nearby which had good introductory prices. Later, not over impressed with Chalok Ban Kao on Tao which was inferior to today, I decided to go check Nangyuan out. Glad I did, pretty nice place. I later stayed again in my travel-lite (no camera) days meaning I had nothing to show you here. I intended to stay a few days this latest 2013 Tao visit but unfortunately all the affordable accommodation had gone several months in advance, so I had to refresh my info by way of a day-trip instead.

The biggest change since my early visits is the number of daytrippers visiting. Nangyuan was always popular with people popping over from Tao and even coming from as far as Phangan and Samui on speedboats - but I never saw the beach with more than a hundred people - maybe half of them island guests. Hell, there's more than that on the pier in the shot above - taken about 1530 when a lot of the around-island snorkelling boats (below) are finishing their few hours call-in.

The other big change is that the trek to the viewpoint on the southern peak has been simplified. In the past you needed to climb up past the bungalows and then find the access path for the last 100m or so - now a good walkway has been built which goes around to the southern side of the island, from where a reasonable set of stairs starts the ascent - although.......
....the last few meters are a tad tricky, and....
....a bit of a log-jam because.....
....there's not a lot of room at the summit, and naturally with an outlook like this, people tend to linger. Here's the thing, if you are staying on the island there will probably be just you up here before 1000 and after 1630. The whole place is pretty serene when the daytrippers are not around....

...but busy beaches have their compensations. Um - just realised this could be a katoey. Hot none the less.

The viewpoint is one of the higher rocks on the southern island. There's quite a lot of accommodation there - most tend to have pretty good sea and sand spit views.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the accommodation has been upgraded over the years - thats chez tezza on my first visit - back then it was a simple joint with no bathroom (I showered in the divers' area over near the restaurant) with piers in the water at high tide. In 2013 there was a helluva lot more sand than previous visits - maybe recent wet seasons have been more benign. 
Last time I visited, maybe 7 years ago, this bungalow was unchanged from my stay in it, but was being used for staff quarters.

A little past chez tezza at left (hey, I notice from this angle that it is now a duplex) is the really flash joint at right. 
Maybe this is the island owner's joint - note Ko Nangyuan is now owned by Thailand's richest man - the dude who owns Singha.

The opposite northern island looks to have fewer bungalows, but in fact there's a whole bunch obscured by trees in the central and eastern areas (right). My bungalows on both later visits were high up to the right, with magnificent views down over the bay at right. It was sweet sitting out on the balcony after sunset with a bottle of elcheapo Thai rum, watching the lights of the night diving class flash and swirl.
I pinched this shot off - my sea view was a little more immediate.

UPDATE FEB 2015 - umm, I kinda admit I picked the wrong shot here. The above is from the SOUTHERN ISLAND where the more expensive bungalows are, not the northern where I stayed on my first two visits. 
Crazy thing is, I didn't think to get a bay shot from my northern bungalow in Feb 2015. Certainly did from my second more expensive southern bungalow as can be seen below.... fact it seems to be from the identical bungalow.

Interestingly, a look at the website shows my choice of bungalow back then, the Sea View Standard Fan, hasn't changed much apart from the addition of a TV. At a 2013 high season price of 1500, this cheapest option aint exactly a bargain for the southern Gulf, but plenty of inferior places on Phi Phi and some other Andaman islands ask as much.
Note the resort here calls itself Nangyuan Island Dive Resort - but non divers have always been welcome and these days way outnumber the dudes/dudettes in the neoprene suits.

The central "island" hasn't the height of the others. It contains the restaurant, some beachfront accommodation, a new to me beach bar, the dive school and to right, some new accommodation (I don't know if this is for guests or staff) plus the new arrivals pier. This is considerably larger and in deeper water than the old one which can still be seen about one third across shot. And it needs to be, seeing the big Lomprayah catamaran now calls in. The new set-up has greatly eased boat congestion - at the time of year this was shot, the beach in the far bay would in pre new pier days be packed with speedboats and longtails. These now use the big pier and then mainly tie up offshore some distance away (or if they are longtails from Tao, go back to base).

The new pier. Visitors pay an entry fee of 100baht - that Singha dude aint the richest guy in Thailand by accident
The island also has a no-plastics policy - leave those pesky water bottles in the boat. Plenty of (expensive) Singha water in glass bottles available in the restaurant.

More change - the restaurant is considerably bigger now. It needs to be considering day visitor numbers. Must look a bit deserted at breakfast and dinner - the resort itself would be flat out to have more than 200 residential guest. And there is a second restaurant - see down page.

I was a bit dismayed at the restaurant prices. On my previous stays the prices were always 10-20% up on typical island bungalow prices - now we are talking 50-100+%. You can click expand the image to see for yourself, but I'll select some comparisons (remember we are talking 2013 prices here) - Phangan Dive Resort/typical island bungalow: small Singha beer 105/70 - hot coffee 80/30 - vegetarian pizza 220/95 - fried rice 150/70 - steamed rice with pork garlic and pepper 150/110. 
Now most of these prices are still value compared to western joints, but I have stayed in several upper midrange Thai resorts way flasher than Nangyuan Dive Resort - all had food considerably cheaper. As to quality - I didn't eat so I'll leave that to Trip Adviser etc reports.

The spit has changed too. I've already mentioned it tends to have a lot more people from 1000 thru 1630. There is certainly plenty of room for them. More so these days because the other big change here is a lot more sand - on my previous visits the closest northern most section far right of image would be submerged at high tide. New guests staying on the northern mountain would be rowed across with their luggage. After that they needed to wade across if the tide was high - sometimes up to waist deep. Because some guests were not all that keen on this, a second restaurant to right of camera could provide meals - the food/service was very good because the couple running it seemed to be competing with the main restaurant. It is still there and looked like it still operates at breakfast and dinner.
Note high tide spit flooding can reappear - some rough weather can remove sand pretty quickly.

No matter what part, the spit is a pretty nice place. This is down the far (southern) end from the previous shot.
And yes, this is one of those white sand beaches a lot of people seek (my elcheapo Olympus' colour balance may be a bit dodgy) - I have it on my THAILAND'S BEST BEACHES page as one of the better ones. 
Nicest part for swimming would be above right in November/April when the north-east monsoon blows - at other times when the south west monsoon dominates the area at left in the previous shot (the north-east bay): this was the situation when I visited - note how smooth and protected the water is in that shot.


The best snorkelling off the beach on my previous visits was in the north-east bay - there were some nice little coral bommies scattered across the sandy area not far from the beach and the fish were so used to being hand-fed they would crowd around whenever someone entered the water. Things had deteriorated latest visit - DO NOT FEED THE FISH signs (fair enough) saw way fewer piscines and there was so much fresh sand that the close to shore coral seemed covered. Things improved about 100m out but the water there was maybe 3m deep which is a bit much for surface snorkellers to see detail.
Back in the day there was interesting stuff further out along and around the headlands but I didn't have a chance to check this latest visit.
The western bay chez tezza end was next best off the beach and had no shortage of people checking the scene latest visit. But frankly I was disappointed - lotsa dead broken coral near the beach; a bit better further out and with a few fish - but nothing for hard-core snorkellers to write home to mum about. No doubt novices would find plenty to interest them.

As mentioned, this resort was started as a dive resort where non-divers were welcome. These days the opposite seems to be the case. The fact is Nangyuan is a major dive site with several good reefs etc adjacent the island. These attract dive boats from nearby Tao and even Phangan/Samui. Nangyuan's dive school has the advantage of being able to go off the beach for some sites (check the divers 2 shots up, probably a learners' class). The island's dive school naturally has a boat for more distant locations.
Dive boats working over one of Nangyuan's reefs.

The good news is that the Lomprayah big fast catamaran now calls in at Nangyuan on its Surathani-Samui-Phangan-Tao-Chumpon and reverse runs. The fastest access from Bangkok is probably flying to Samui, jumping on Lomprayah's free shuttle from the airport to their pier at west Mae Nam and then going the 2 hours up to Nangyuan.
Chumpon is a lot closer and I think I saw a poster or maybe their website saying Lomprayah has a tie in with one of the smaller airlines via Chumpon. Bucks down people will find Lomprayah's coaches from Bangkok (one comes overnight) which go direct to their ferry pier some 30km south of Chumpon would be the go. Some people prefer the sleeper train - Lomprayah have a Chumpon office not far from the station from which they run a free shuttle to the pier.
Other companies run day and night ferries from both Chumpon and Surathani, but only to Tao - from where you will have to get a boat over to Nangyuan. Check the Tao page for more details.
Speedboats run from Samui and Phangan, mainly for daytrippers but I have used this in the past to access and stay on Nangyuan - in rough weather this is not a comfortable or dry trip (don't ask how I know) and because the drivers tend to roll off the throttle, probably slower than Lomprayah and some of the other fast ferries.
In the past, the resort has had a free shuttle for guests several times a day across to mainland Tao. Mae Had town is worth checking - looks a bit daggy but the streets leading inland from the piers have a full range of shops and services these days. And if you give yourself a full day or so, there are some very nice spots on Tao to check. Once again, have a look at my Tao page. If the free shuttles no longer run or are ill timed for you, you should be able to cut a good deal with the many longtails which bring daytrippers across from Tao and would otherwise return empty.

I think Nangyuan is one of the more visually spectacular spots in the Gulf so I was keen to show it to Lady Tezza. I made sure I booked well ahead. Maybe not such a good idea - Nangyuan these days seems all about the daytrippers. The resort tends to take second place and represents poor value.


 Our first room was a standard fan on the northern island. The only change from backpacker days to the room was a TV which showed snow only and a refrigerator. It was just big enough for 2 people and gear (there was a musty roll up mattress [blue thing next to 'frig] presumably for a third diver – these rooms are comp accommodation for dive school students). There were no hanging facilities or shelves apart from the tv stand. The bed was extremely hard, and I usually like firm mattresses. Lights were poor. The toilet was tiny with no towel rail and a western bowl with bucket flush. Shower was cold only. Water supply disappeared completely our first morning and didn't seem to want to recover. The room was clean but looked due for refurbishment. It was maybe 250 meters along a winding-climbing path from the end of the spit – fairly well lit at night but bring a torch for the steps and dips. A definite plus was the slightly vegetation-filtered view on the north east bay from the high balcony. The place was fairly quiet at night - a distant booming of the generator on the central islet. Actually the whole island is serene away from day-tripping hours (1000 to 1700).
Overall this fan room was worth half the 1500 rack rate. Maybe a bit more for fit people who will pay for a view and don't mind wading the spit when it is underwater as at the time of our visit. There are several varieties of aircon rooms - the cheapest is otherwise identical to this and not recommended.
The spit at its shin-deep shallowest during our 2015 visit. Later got over waist deep - not much fun to sea-hating LT who also wasn't impressed by the sharp bits of coral embedded in the sand. Note that on arrival/departure your bag is carried by hotel staff. Must be the fittest dudes in Thailand considering the steps up the hills after the spit.

The disappearance of water supply to our first bungalow following a near sleepless night on the very hard mattress was the last straw for The Lady, so I negotiated an upgrade to a better bungalow on the always above water southern island.
I was offered a Jr Suite high on the hill. With a 40% discount from the 6000baht rack rate minus 1500b refund on the fan room this came to 2100b which I thought was fair value for the room. No way was it worth 6000b or the 40% lower 3600b (which is what I really paid). People of average fitness may not be impressed by the long steep stairways (once again ok lights but best bring a torch) and unfit people will probably negotiate for a lower room if one is available. I thought the outstanding view of the spit/bays/opposite islets was worth the climb (view almost as good as Nangyuan’s famous viewpoint perhaps 20% higher – tip, go there before/after the day trippers when there are no lines waiting for access). Note that the resident section of the hill is blocked to day trippers so at least you don’t have them wandering about your bungalow.
This was an older style bungalow but pretty nice inside. The room was very spacious with a comfy king bed plus a day bed. There was enough room for another bed. Hanging and storage space good. The aircon was slightly noisy, the old style TV still showed snow only (although there was a dvd player). The place had a jug. Lights were good. The bathroom had a western flush wc, good hot water although water supply was often a trickle and the cistern needed a  jiggle at times. This southern area was even quieter at night.
Our bungalow was the highest of the above (at center). If you click-expand you may be able to see dude at the higher viewpoint.

View from our big bungalow deck almost as good as from viewpoint (seen below)

Several thousand arrive each day, starting around 1000. Some, particularly from distant Samui and Phangan, stay all day - others a few hours. By 1600 the big groups have left - 1800 may see a few long-tail using straggles from nearby Tao left but most of these are gone by 1700.
80% of day trippers in Feb 2015 were Chinese (as were resort guests) - as a people watcher I found their slightly weird beachwear and high end-cameras, snorkelling gear and other 'stuff' (all the gear and no idea?) good value - but those who hate crowds could be less than whelmed.

The resort fancies itself as green so don't bring any of the above onto the island. Guests will find 2 500ml glass bottles of water in their refrigerators which is way insufficient for 24 hours - knowing the exorbitant price these small bottles in the restaurant (30b)  I made sure I had 2 big 1500 plastic bottles of water (20b each from the 7/11 opposite Phangan's Thong Sala pier) hidden in my luggage. Plus the usual large elcheapo bottle of Thai rum.

The white sand beach is pretty gorgeous, but given the drowned southern spit and the influx of visitors from 1000 thru to 1700 it tended to be very crowded. 80% was covered by sun-lounges (free to resort guests but get one before the rush - 150baht to day-trippers which, because many arrive in waves of 2 to 3 hours, tends to turn the chairs over several times a day and is a pretty good earner. Hell the day-trippers also are charged 100baht island entry fee and pay over the top for food and drink. 
Late arrivals were mostly westerners on around-Tao snorkeling trips (80% of other arrivals were Chinese) - these latecomers often found all lounges taken, but they usually managed to find a strip of sand to lay a towel.
Water in the bays was pretty nice too, very clear and calm in the western bay (see above shot) - the wind this time of year is usually off the shore here. The state of the coral had not improved but there seemed more fish than my last visit: thing is there was enough of both to keep novice snorkelers entertained.
Lifeguard supervision was quite good - supplied by both the island and the bigger day-trip boats. It needs to be seeing most Chinese can't swim. BTW the bays are quite safe for people who can swim - no deep holes or tricky currents.

Boats these days are kept well away from the beach/bay areas......
....but Nang Yuan is a top diving location and there tended to be a bunch of dive boats from Tao and further afield parked offshore anytime from 0600 to 2200. Watching the underwater lights of the night diving classes flash ans swirl from one of the higher vantage points was pretty good value.
Nang Yuan itself has a dive outfit.

Day trip boats tend to jam the long pier when loading/unloading, waiting some distance out in the bay in between. Smaller longtails often go back to Ko Tao unless instructed to wait. Some frantic manoeuvring occurs when the big fast Lomprayah ferries arrive from neighbouring islands, Surathani and Chumpon, hooter blaring. Except ours was running late and decided to save time by unloading us at the main Tao pier where we transferred to the resort's shuttle. On arrival at the above pier we had to clamber across two of the bigger day-trip boats, not so easy for women with babies, the elderly and those with heavy luggage.

(but Kowloon cafes have good food at fair prices)
---um, based on size, maybe I should have made that a Kowloon food hall. Prices were higher than the dozen or so midrange places I have stayed at in Thailand in recent years and 20 to 100+% up on the average restaurant on nearby Ko Tao (transport may justify a 10% hike). Pad Thai at 140b, hamburger 180, small water 30, small beer 110 are ridiculous. Food was not particularly memorable except I picked up a ripper case of diarrhoea the second day. The place was so crowded at lunchtimes that the harassed manager advised us to look for a seat at the beach bar which had the same food. The seat turned out to be a backless stool at a picnic table. Service in both areas was slow and not that friendly - I don’t blame them, they were overwhelmed at lunch times. The inclusive breakfast buffet was not all that good. It was set up mainly for Chinese tastes  although there was enough selection for western guests. There was no heat below the service dishes and food was cold even early in the setting.
Beach bar - expensive food, expensive drinks, lack of comfort

Ko Nangyuan no longer cuts it as a stay-at destination unless perhaps you are a diver. The resort represents poor value for normal travelers.
That does not mean you should avoid the island - I consider the landscape/seasape and viewpoint some of the best in the southern Gulf. The beach isn't shabby and the snorkeling is fine for novices. A day-trip is the best way to see this. The access fee of 100b and transport costs from nearby Tao (a long-tail was 100 to 150 one way) are reasonable. People who don't like crowds should maybe think of hiring a long-tail to arrive after 1600.

If you have comments, see mistakes or have additional information, please post it below. If you have a question, please ask it in the FORUM - I rarely check these individual pages whereas I try to check the Forum most days when not travelling.

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