Guide to Koh Phangan: Southern Thailand Paradise
In the South of Thailand, amidst a scattering of islands strewn across a gulf of azure waters and sparkling white sand beaches, lies Koh Phangan -- an island that has struck a perfect balance with nature and society. Though Phangan ('Koh' simply means island in Thai) receives its fair share of tourists (upwards of 80,000 people a month at times), it hasn't seen anywhere near the same development as its distant cousin Koh Samui -- which, only a 20-minute boat ride away, has developed into something of a tourist trap and has lost much of the island charm that once attracted the tourists, who now prefer Phangan.
Choosing a BeachPhangan has no shortage of beaches -- indeed, there are 32 beaches on Koh Phangan to choose from, which sounds like an overwhelming task. Below I've listed my recommended beaches in terms of what kind of experience you're hoping to have on the island.
Partiers -- Haad LeelaLeela beach offers those who would like to be close to all the party action a chance to stay on a beautiful beach that is just around the corner from Haad Rin (the main party beach, and where the Full Moon takes place). Located on the western tip of the Haad Rin peninsula, Leela is just a 15 minute walk from the town center of Haad Rin. This secluded and beautiful beach was once popular with nudists and cults, and still retains a bit of the "old Koh Phangan charm". New and old resorts can be found amongst the mangrove and palm trees. The sea can be rough at times and may not always be suitable for swimming.
Families -- Haad SaladLocated on the quieter side of Koh Phangan, in the North West, Haad Salad is known as one of the most beautiful and serene beaches on Koh Phangan. The only thing wrong with its soft, white sand is that there's not enough of it. The tide can come in quite close to the restaurants and bars located along the beach, leaving only space for a group of say, four or five, to walk. But other than that, it's spectacular. The sea is crystal clear, and a small swim from shore (about 200 meters) provides an excellent snorkelling spot. Restaurants with nightly barbeques and bars with live music abound. Sunsets here are often spectacular.
Couples -- Thong Nai Pan YaiThong Nai Pan Yai is where most of the five-star resorts on Koh Phangan are located, and with good reason. This beach's soft sand and clear waters are complimented by its selection of chic, classy restaurants and bars scattered along the beachfront. In town, there are shops selling essentials, beachwear, food and drinks. Located on the northeast coast of Koh Phangan, Thong Nai Pan is far from everything, and that's how the couples who go there like it. This is a beach you come to do nothing but lie in the sun, read a good book, and enjoy a romantic meal with your loved one.
Yogis -- Sri ThanuAdjacent to one of Koh Phangan's most popular yoga center, with a detox retreat not far away, Sri Thanu has quickly grown into something of a hippie beach (and I say the word hippie in the kindest way). In the morning, you can catch yogis doing their sun salutations in one of the many wooden huts perched on stilts along the beachfront. It's best to wait until the tide is in to go swimming -- when it's out, it can take ages to get to water that's deep enough to swim in. There are a few different resorts with fairly-priced rooms and restaurants that cook good quality Thai food.
PartiersThe Full Moon party happens every month whenever the moon is full. This party is world famous, and though people come to Phangan from all corners of the Earth just to experience it, some find that with anywhere from 10 to 50,000 people throbbing up and down on the beachfront, it can be too intense for them. Not to fear, there are plenty of other parties on Koh Phangan to keep you entertained! Here are some good ones:
Half Moon: This party happens twice a month, on the dates of the half moon, and most people say it's the most organized party on Koh Phangan. With a 500 THB ($15 USD) entry charge,
though, it ought to be. There are indoor and outdoor dancing areas, filled with primarily tribal house and trance beats.
Black Moon: This event is held when the moon is at its darkest, or during the "black moon", which takes place once a month. The music here is progressive beats and underground trance. Funky glow-in-the-dark decor lights up the otherwise dark beach party. Entrance is 300 THB, which includes a free drink. Has a friendlier, more relaxed feel than the Full Moon.
FamiliesFamilies will find no shortage of fun things to do on Koh Phangan. Here are a few suggestions that will keep both the parents and little ones and everyone in between happy.
Lake Hut Wipe Out Course
This water playground has become extremely popular with those who want to try something to get their adrenaline going. Lake Hut is a fun venue with a thatched roof and delicious food that sits on Laem Son lake on the west coast of Phangan. They've got aquaskippers, aquazorbs, and a giant rope swing.
Snorkeling at Haad Khom
Haad Khom is a small island connected to Koh Phangan by a sandbar at most times of day. It has excellent soft corals and ocean life that make it an ideal spot for snorkeling. The best part -- if you take my recommendation and stay on Haad Salad, Haad Khom is not far away!
CouplesMany couples enjoy a bit of partying, but it's also important to do romantic activities with your significant other. My favourite date-night activities include:
Dinner on the beach
What could be more romantic? The only trouble is finding a great spot. A few ideas: Haad Son Resort has a lovely beachfront dining venue with fresh seafood and European/ authentic Thai cuisine. Alternatively, Cafe del Mocca in Choloklom, serves authentic Italian food at great prices. Tuesday and Sundays are pizza night, when pizzas cost only 200 THB each (about $6 USD, and they're big and delicious) and litres of wine are only 400 THB (about $13 USD).
Head to any beachfront and you're sure to find a massage stand. My favourite is Tuk massage on Haad Salad. The women there are specially-trained by the descendant of a woman who is said to have had magic hands. They do coconut oil massages for 300 THB (one hour, about $10 USD) using virgin coconut oil that they make themselves in the back.
Of course, this is just a basic guide to discovering alternatives to the traditional tourist path on Koh Phangan! There are loads of other fun, exciting, relaxing, fulfilling activities to be found on other beautiful beaches on Koh Phangan. Start with these suggestions, and then discover more on your own! We'd love to hear your favourite activities if you'd like to share with us.
How to Get ThereKoh Phangan doesn't have an airport, but there are many ways to get there, depending on your time allowance and budget.
- Fly to the Thai island of Samui and boat to Phangan. This is the quickest and easiest route but it is also the most expensive.
- Fly to Surat Thani on the Thailand peninsula and boat to Phangan. Remember to add about 4 hours on top of direct flight to Samui
- Night train to Surat Thani and boat to Phangan. One of the least expensive, about $60 return, it also takes about 17 hours door to door, provided there are no train delays
- Night bus to Phangan. Although this is the least expensive it takes about 12 to 13 hours and you cannot lie down fully on the bus. Many people find the frequent stops, loud music, and blaring horn to be off-putting.
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