Accessed from the Ao por pier, the island is mostly undeveloped, though luxury Starwood resort The Naka Island, A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa Phuket, occupies the northwestern corner.
According to local village headman Hem Salika, the island’s name (Naka Yai means ‘big serpent’ in Thai), is because its shape resembles the Naka, a mythical sea-serpent in Buddhism.
“There is a legend that tells of how a naka was cursed and then turned to stone, which subsequently became this island,” says Mr Hem.
Guests at the resort aside, there are about 200 villagers resident here, the majority of them Muslim. The traditional occupation of islanders is fishing, though this is increasingly being supplanted by tourism.
“In the past, we were all fisherman. Men would take to the sea for at least three days, before bringing their catch back to sell and feed their families. Women, children and the elderly would also dry fish to keep it longer,” says Mr Hem.
Recently though, as Phuket and Phang Nga have seen huge growth in tourism, villagers have quit being fishermen to instead be resort staff, or run bike and jet ski rentals, shops, home-stays, and boat taxis.
“The increased income has made our lives better, but might also destroy our traditions. I hope that people’s lifestyle won’t change too much – even though the island has already been developed.”
It takes 15 minutes to reach Naka Yai from Ao por pier. The cost is B800 per boat (up to eight people).