Koh Phangan – The Paradise Island
Koh Phangan is a Paradise Island and is one of the three major islands located in the gulf of Thailand in the middle of Koh Tao and Koh Samui. This island is famous for its parties – the Full Moon Party being the most famous one. If you only want to know about the Full Moon Party, you can read my post on it here. This post is about the island in general.
How to reach:
In my experience, the best way to travel to Koh Phangan is by catching a high speed catamaran from Donsak pier (Surat Thani). You can reach Surat Thani by bus / train / flight. You can book a combined bus + boat ticket from Bangkok to Koh Phangan using Lomprayah by booking online or asking any locally based travel agent. Apart from Lomprayah, there are many other tour operators such as Songserm and Seatran Discovery, but it’s easier to book on Lomprayah’s website.
Alternatively, you can fly to Koh Samui airport and catch a ferry to Koh Phangan, which is usually more expensive.
The Island, the beaches, and where to stay?Finding a place to stay without prior booking is usually not a problem unless you arrive just on the day or a day before the full moon party. If you’re visiting this island around the full moon party time, please arrive at least 3-4 days in advance to find a place to stay, else book online. Most of the places around that time let you stay only if you book for at least 3 days. However, if your travel dates don’t match the Full Moon Party dates, don’t worry, there’s a party everyday in Koh Phangan and to be honest, this island so much more to offer than just parties if you give it a chance.
When you arrive, the ferry will leave you at Thong Sala pier. Many locals at the pier will try to sell you expensive rooms but if you ignore them and walk around, you will find a few affordable options to stay – from 150 to 500 THBs per night for hostels and 300 THBs onward for double rooms. Thong Sala area has a good street food market which is very active at night. Amsterdam Bar, which is famous for it’s amazing views is near Thong Sala.
From Thong Sala, most of the visitors head to Haad Rin area, which is the location for the Full Moon Party and is usually full and overflows with tourists even when there’s no full moon party, so you can imagine how crowded it gets at the time of the full moon party. As you have read on my last post, the Full Moon Party location is Sunrise Beach, which is quite scenic – only if you can imagine it without the crowd, that is.
Haad Rin is the most developed part of this island with many places to party, eat, shop, etc. It has many affordable road side Falafel stands, mainly because majority of the tourists in this area are from Isreal. To be honest, every night feels like a full moon party on Sunrise beach. This is NOT my favorite area.
I prefer the nearby Ban Tai and Ban Kai areas, which are conveniently near to the full moon party area, but conveniently far away from the crowds. This part faces the nearby Koh Saumi island. Also, Ban Tai has the longest strip of uninterrupted beach area in Koh Phangan, so if you like staying next to the beach, there are many options here. I once stayed in a simple, “no frills” room in Jamin Bar in Ban Tai for 250 THBs for two people in Ban Tai in peak season (Dec 2013), so if you hunt around, you will find many affordable options.
The icing on the cake – Ban Tai areas has multiple parties such as Ban Sabaii parties, Jungle Experience, Half Moon, Shiva moon and more. Baan Tai also has a herbal sauna in Wat Pho near seven eleven, which is open from 1 pm to 7 pm and costs 50 bhats.
Personally, I think Ban Tai’s parties are much better than Haad Rin’s parties because of fewer people, better music (mostly PsyTrance), interesting locations and psychedelic decor. Jungle Experience is the most popular one but the entry is usually THBs 200 – 300 and the drinks are expensive. This party is usually scheduled 4 days and 1 day before the full moon party.
Alternatively, if you want to isolate yourselves from the crowds, you can stay on the north side of the island as well. Haad Yao and Haad Salad are beautiful beaches. It is possible to find cheaper rooms in this area. Koh Phangan being a party island, hence it is possible to party even in quiet Haad Yao and Saad Salad area in Pirate Bar.
I once stayed in an unexpectedly luxurious room for THBs 1000 for two people around the full moon party time in Haad Yao in a place called High Life which was perched on top of a few rocks that overlooked the ocean and this hotel had an infinity pool. This hotel also had a pet parrot and a few cats. The friendly parrot usually paid us a visit during our breakfast time. We did not expect such luxury for this price since it costed us THBs 500 per person and we saw many hostels for 450 THBs in Haad Rin area around that time. Our meals in this hotel were affordable, filling and delicious. To give you a sense – Pad Thai was for THBs 80 and was delicious. It is possible to get cheaper Pad Thai on road side for THBs 50.
As you know, most of the people visit this Island for the infamous full moon party, but in my opinion, the best parties happen on Haad Tian beach (or Haad Thien or Tien) – in Eden Garden and Guy’s bar. Haad Tian is can only be reached by taking a 15 minute boat ride from Haad Rin. Haad Tian is Koh Phangan’s little secret and is a yoga sanctuary. The party area is very beautiful and overlooks a pretty white sand beach of Haad Yuan.
Getting around in Koh Phangan is super simple. Just stand on the road and stop the nearest taxi and they will take you to your destination for THBs 50 to THBs 200 per person depending on where you stay and where you want to go. Oh and by the way, by taxi I mean a shared open pick-up truck or as it’s called locally – songthaew. Please negotiate the cost to save money. It makes sense to look at the map to understand the general directions and distances so that you can negotiate better.
You can also rent scooters for around THBs 300 per day but please be careful since there are many blind spots and corners on the roads here. A scooter ends up being more affordable here considering per person taxi costs. Scooter makes sense as well because the island has many beaches and it’s a good idea to explore as many as possible.
Eating out in Koh Phangan is a lot of fun. I have never had a bad meal here. Try to find places where locals eat to save money. Even in restaurants, local food is cheaper than international food. If you’re short on money, eating Pad Thais can save you money because these are filling and can cost from THBs 50 to 100, depending on where you eat. Do try as many different curries as you can. I remember eating the most delicious Kaeng matsaman (or Massaman curry) of my multiple Thai visits on this island.
Drinking in Koh Phangan can be really affordable if you drink local Thai brands. I usually drink Chang beer in the day and buy my own Sangsom whiskey (which is technically rum) from seven eleven. Sangsom has a tinge of sweetness and goes very well with coke. I personally hate coke but make it an exception to drink it with rum. On the other hand, there’s Singha beer which is more famous and Leo which is the cheapest, but I prefer Chang because it’s stronger, affordable and tastes better. They say, Chang is inconsistent alcohol content, and some Chang beers can be more potent than others – but I have not been lucky enough to experience this.
If you want to get really hammered, you can have a few buckets which have Thai red bull and Thai energy drinks but be careful about getting suspiciously cheap buckets on Haad Rin road side. Click here to read my post about my Full Moon Party for more information on Haad Rin alcohol buckets. A “Bucket” is Thai way of drinking – a mix of alcohol, coke, red bull and mixers in an actual mini bucket. Usually, these buckets contain quarter of an alcohol bottle.
Phangan Island has a bunch of waterfalls, out of which, Phaeng waterfall appears to be the most popular. You will need to hike for a while but when we went to see the waterfall, there was no water and someone had scribbled “No” on the main entry sign so it read “No Phaeng waterfall”. There are a few more waterfalls as well, but the times when we visited, we saw no water flowing but only static water.
Eat good Thai food, get relaxing Thai Massages, go for herbal sauna, snorkel around in the nearby Koh Mah, scuba dive, go for hikes, learn yoga or just party endlessly – Koh Phangan has something for everyone and is not to be missed. When I talk about Koh Phangan, I get asked about the Full Moon Party the most. Trust me, there’s much more to this island than just the full moon party. You can read my blog post on Full Moon Party here.
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