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The Star Ferry approaches the pier at Koh Yao Noi

Pilgrims Sail From South To Island Off Phuket

Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Wednesday TRENDS Special

MUSLIMS from Thailand's Deep South have sailed in large numbers to an island off Phuket as a mark of respect for a noted Islamic teacher.

About 1500 people made the pilgrimage this year from Yala, Pattani and Naratiwat as well as Trang, Songkhla, Ranong and Phuket.

On Monday more than 1000 arrived at the island on one of the region's largest boats, the Star Ferry, from Krabi Town.

The gathering on Koh Yao Noi each year comes before the fasting month of Ramadan. It is in honor of the memory of Air Isamaair, a noted Muslim scholar and teacher.

He was born on the island, which lies an hour by ferry from Phuket and is officially part of Phang Nga.

He went on to study in Malaysia, then taught extensively. He died 23 years ago, and is buried on the island.

A religious school on Koh Yao Noi is the place where the Muslim pilgrims gather. Some stay for a few days, others for weeks.

The school is sometimes home to truants and mischievous teenagers who undergo intense religious education as part of their reform.

Visiting families stay at the school, sleep under tarpaulins nearby, or find space in a mosque.

Religion is one fascinating aspect of life on the island, which is now also the home of the Evason Six Senses Hideaway Resort and Spa, one of the region's most luxurious destinations.

Guests are flown in by helicopter, and building has begun on the resort's second phase. The hilltop Hideaway is luxurious and expensive.

Yet the pace of life on the island for most is tranquil and simple, even if it involves hard work as well for some.

For a fraction of the cost of a room at the Six Senses, homestay visitors can sample the delights of everyday village life on a tropical island of great beauty.

The homestay program on Koh Yao Noi is growing fast, with more families now offering to put up visitors for a weekend or a few days.

Facilities meet tourism industry homestay standards and the families in the program are warm and welcoming.

What visitors experience, as Phuketwan discovered in two days there, are the delights of a life where seafood is plentiful and cheap.

Muslim houses are built on stilts with slatted timber floors, so the breezes swirl under and up.

To eat a sumptuous meal on a mat on the front veranda is the highlight of the day, with green-tipped mussels, fresh crabs and juicy prawns galore.

In the broad spread of paddy fields nearby, we watched rice planted and harvested and took in some vistas that covered a gamut of greens of every hue.

Visitors and local girls and boys took part in a football match in an unused paddy field, while workers continued to plant rice in the field next door.

The players covered themselves in mud and glory, cleaned up in a buffalo bath, then because it was so much fun went back to play another friendly.

Given the buffalo, the blue hills background and the craggy outcrops of the sea views, it is little wonder that more resort brands hope to build here.

Progress must be coming. The island of 5000 people now even has its first air-conditioned 7-Eleven store.

The local community is aiming to derive direct benefit from the growth of tourism, rather than allow outsiders to act as go-betweens and cream profits.

Homestays with all meals included are available from 2500 baht a person. Telephone Khun Promchote on 081 8697431.

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Sunday October 17, 2021
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa

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