Koh Phangan is best known for its monthly Full Moon Party. However, there is a lot more to the island. First and foremost the Island is a place of immense natural beauty and Koh Phangan attracts large numbers of Thai and foreign visitors to its pristine beaches and national park areas. The island also has a thriving alternative therapy scene with large number of people coming for longer stays on the island to take courses in yoga and various other ‘wellness’ related activities. Some people come here for scuba diving as an alternative to the more crowded island of Koh Tao. More recently Koh Phangan has become a destination for family holidays and luxury travel with wealthier travellers arriving by private speedboat to stay in 5 star hotels. There is also a vibrant music scene with lots of smaller parties and events being held every month cater to all tastes. There is a lot going on in Koh Phangan and it is difficult to define the Island as being one thing or another: Koh Phangan is many different things all at the same time.
History of Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan’s history stretches back to the Bronze Age. They uncovered a stone drum dating to this period which is exhibited in a museum on the neighbouring island of Koh Samui. 600 years ago the first Buddhist monks arrived on the island; prior to that the island was mostly inhabited by Muslim sea gypsies. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Western tourists regularly started visiting Koh Phangan. At that time the infrastructure of the island was very basic and the bungalow resorts used generators.
Over the years things have improved rapidly. The demographics of visitors to Koh Phangan started changing in the early 2000s. Many of the basic wooden bungalows were replaced with better bungalows with bathroom and air-con to attract higher paying guests. The fame of the Full Moon Party in Haad Rin has meant the long stay backpackers have been replaced by short stay party people. The 3 and 4 star hotels on the island have also attracted higher paying guests who stay 2 weeks or less instead of months.
There still remain a few ‘hippy’ beaches with basic bungalows but these places are now in the minority.
South Coast Of Koh Phangan
The main beaches in the south are Baan Tai and Haad Rin. These beaches are where the party scene is focused. Haad Rin has the Full Moon Party and Baan Tai beach and surrounding jungle hosts The Half Moon Party, Jungle Experience and Black Moon Party. Next to Baan Tai is Ban Kai. This is where the Blue and Green Sramanora Waterfall Party happens.
Haad Rin town is full of bars with loud music that hold promotional events. Baan Tai has Loi Lay Floating Bar and Ku Club for those who want trance and techno music when there is no party scheduled. Baan Sabai in Baan Tai and Backyard in Haad Rin open their doors in the morning when the parties wind down.
West Coast Of Koh Phangan
The west of Koh Phangan has good roads, reliable water and power supplies and plenty of houses, villas and large bungalows for long term rental. Beaches such as Nai Wok, Hin Kong and Srithanu aren’t very good for swimming. This area is where many of the long term ex-pat residents live on the island. Further north are the popular beaches of Haad Yao and Haad Salad. They offer not only white sands, good seasonal swimming but also coral reefs just off the coast great for snorkeling. Of the two, Haad Yao has more bars, shops and restaurants and is livelier at night. Haad Salad is smaller, has few shops and is more laid back and quiet.
One of the lesser known beaches on the west coast is Mae Haad. This is the beach that is connected by a sandbank to the islet of Koh Ma. It is a marine park and has the best off-shore collection of corals and the best diversity of marine life. There are a few basic bungalow resorts at Mae Haad as well as the excellent Mae Haad Bay Resort.
North Coast Of Koh Phangan
There are few beaches on the north coast. The two most notable ones are Chaloklum and Bottle Beach. Chaloklum is the centre of the squid industry on the island. In recent years it has turned its fishing connection into a tourist attraction with seafood restaurants. The best beach on the long Chaloklum coast line is Malibu Beach. When the winds are up October it is a popular kite boarding spot.
A forest path starts at Chaloklum and ends at Haad Khom. This is a small beach without mains electricity where hippies and backpackers enjoy an ‘old skool’ Koh Phangan experience. It is possible to rent a bungalow here for 300 Thai Baht a night. It is also possible to strike a deal for a monthly rental here. To the east of Haad Khom is Bottle Beach. This beach used to be famously cut off from the rest of the island by thick jungle and accessible only by boat taxi. It is a stunning beach that has developed a lot recently but still retains much of its Robinson Crusoe charm. There is a great walk off the beach to a view point. Bottle Beach is no longer cut off from the world – there is now a rough track to Thong Nai Pan Noi
East Coast of Koh Phangan
The east coast of Koh Phangan has arguably the best beaches on the island. There are a series of mountains running down this coast that make many of the beaches inaccessible or hard to reach by road. The beaches are in magnificent coves backed with tree covered mountains. Beaches along the east coast have the best swimming conditions – no tidal variation and no coral reefs. The coast is serviced by boat taxis, especially to beaches like Haad Than Sadet, Haad Yuan and Haad Thian. People come to these beaches to experience stunning beaches and to get away from the world.
The biggest bay on the east coast is Thong Nai Pan. It is a double bay with 2 beaches – Thong Nai Pan Noi and Thong Nai Pan Yai. The scenery is spectacular; the beaches are arguably the best on the island. Brahminy kites and other large birds hover in the thermals. Not surprisingly, the best hotels on the island are found on Thong Nai Pan Noi – Rasananda, Panviman, Santhiya and Buri Rasa. It is the 5 star location of Koh Phangan. That is primarily why Koh Phangan Airport is being built down the road.
Why I Love Koh Phangan
I’ve been coming to Koh Phangan since 1997. I’ve seen the place change. The better roads, electricity grid and new supermarkets are all welcome additions. The increase in prices is less welcome; also the party scene can be a bit vexing for those those seeking a more peaceful and quiet atmosphere. However, it is still an amazing tropical island, and compared to Koh Samui the place is far from ruined by tourism.