SATUN, Southern Thailand, The tiny island of Koh Yao, located in the Andaman sea, may be devoid of entertainment outlets and shopping centres but it is still a magnet for tourists.
Unspoilt by commercialisation, the island attracts many Malaysian visitors as well who go there in search of tranquillity and delicious seafood.
Located in Satun province, which is near the Thai-Malaysian border, Koh Yao is not listed as a tourist destination by the Thai authorities. The 100-hectare island only has a population of 768, most of whom are Muslims.
To the people of neighbouring Perlis, Koh Yao is better known as Pulau Panjang (Koh Yao in Thai means long island).
Due to its proximity to Perlis, many Koh Yao denizens have relatives living in the northern Malaysian state, hence the reason the two communities have always enjoyed warm ties.
Many of the islanders also speak Bahasa Melayu fluenty, which is a plus point for the Malaysians who visit Koh Yao as they are able to interact easily.
Recently in March, a group of journalists who are members of the Perlis Media Club were invited by Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) to participate in its University Social Responsibility (USR) programme in Koh Yao.
The USR initiative involved handing over donations to four poor individuals living on the island and carrying out "gotong-royong" activities at the Ban Koh Yao school where they helped to paint the fence.
They also donated sports equipment to the school and conducted tuition classes for the students.
The university delegation and journalists also indulged in fun activities with the locals. They went jungle trekking, visited a 300-year-old well, planted mango trees belonging to the "harum manis" species, attended a people's "kenduri" or feast and, of course, went fishing as well.
The Arau, Perlis-based UniMAP has forged close ties with the people of Koh Yao through its USR programme, which first started five years ago.
UniMAP Corporate Communications Unit director Mustaffa Ismail said the university chose Koh Yao to carry out its social responsibility programme due to its strategic location near Malaysia.
Every year, the university would collect and donate essential items like foodstuff to a section of the islanders who are living in poverty. It also helps to organise feasts for the people, as well as telematch games, futsal matches, jungle trekking and fishing expeditions.
To go to Koh Yao, one has to take a boat from the Tammalang jetty in Satun as Tammalang is the main gateway to the island. The boating service is offered by fishermen and it takes about 30 to 40 minutes to reach the island from Satun.
Tourists can also take a boat or ferry from Kuala Perlis or Langkawi to Tammalang, a trip that will take about 45 minutes, before heading to Koh Yao in another boat.
Koh Yao village headman Che At Khun Pitak, 62, better known as Pak Salim, said most of the islanders practised the "gotong royong" work culture.
"Whenever visitors come to our island to stay, we are sure to have a feast to welcome them and let them enjoy Thai dishes," he said.
Most of the islanders are fishermen while a few of them practise agriculture or have their own small businesses.
They may all earn modest incomes but the local community is rich when it comes to displaying hospitality and friendliness.
"We lead a tranquil life here. A lot of Malaysians visit the island during weekends and the holiday season because they like our peaceful environment," said Pak Salim.
According to Pak Salim, one of Koh Yao's major attractions was the 300-year-old well that had been a source of water supply for the locals for many years.
A few years ago, the Thai government built a water supply system on the island to provide clean water to the people.
"A new jetty was also built (on the island) for our convenience," he said, adding that the government has also built a primary school and opened a clinic offering free medical services to the islanders.
Koh Yao also has a mosque that was built with contributions from various people, including Malaysians.
Apparently, the Raja Muda of Perlis Tuanku Syed Faizuddin Putra Jamalullail had once stopped over at Koh Yao and prayed at the mosque, which is located at the highest point of the island.
Source: NAM News Network