The other side of Koh Phangan: Beyond the Full Moon Party
WHEN you first hear Koh Phangan, Thailand, what images spring to mind? Lazy days on pristine beaches, swimming in crystal clear waters, delicious Thai food served to you at the water’s edge… or rambunctious, drunk foreigners raving by the thousands along Haad Rin beach under the full moon?
The Full Moon Party dominates Koh Phangan’s image, and understandably so. Tens of thousands of partiera descend on the island for the sex, drugs, booze and overall insanity that are the staples of the party. The days and weeks leading up to the main event are filled with other parties – the Half Moon party, the Jungle experience, waterfall party and a huge pool party where you might want to think twice about jumping in the water.
But if you venture outside Haad Rin and recover from the hangover early enough in the day, there is actually a lot more to Koh Phangan than late-night drunken debauchery. Phangan is actually a choice spot to visit among the Thai islands, preferred by some to Samui and Phi Phi for its wider range of accommodations and attractions.
Ang Thong National Park
If you see only one sight while on Koh Phangan, make it Ang Thong National Park. An archipelago of 42 islands, the park is not open for overnight stays but there are plenty of companies that offer day trips. These typically include stops for snorkeling and kayaking, as well as hikes to the Emerald Lagoon and a viewpoint from which you can see the entire park. Orion is a particularly good tour company for this trip. They provide a delicious lunch and the staff are friendly, competent and lead you through a packed itinerary that gives you a great overview of the park.
Dive at Sail Rock
A highlight of any visit to the Thai islands is learning to dive, and once you’ve earned your certification, Sail Rock is a place you’ll want to see. The biggest draw is the possibility of spotting whale sharks, though even if you don’t see those, you will be treated to seeing other amazing, colorful marine life.
Unless you enjoy being surrounded by loud, drunk tourists at all hours of the day, avoid spending time on Haad Rin. There is a greater chance of being robbed here than other parts of the island, as thieves know that visitors are typically going to be partying until the wee hours at the bars, especially on Full Moon Party nights.
Instead, head to one of the quieter and cleaner beaches where you can truly appreciate the beauty of Koh Phangan. Srithanu Beach is a small strip of land on the northwestern part of the island, where you can find quiet and relaxation, along with all the necessary amenities. There are plenty of restaurants and shops in the small town, as well as reasonably priced accommodations. The bungalows at Nice Sea Resort are clean and on the beach and go for 600 baht (about $18USD) per night. The owners are exceptionally friendly and the resort is next door to the Shangri-la restaurant, which serves delicious food.
Haad Yuan is a favorite beach among those who have spent any time on Koh Phangan. It’s a blend of all the best things about the island – a beautiful, relaxing place where you can mix and mingle with foreigners and locals and still have plenty of options for grabbing a beer at any time of day. The best way to reach Haad Yuan is via boat, which typically costs 300 baht (about $9USD) round- is another lovely spot, a place to enjoy the beach, take advantage of diving opportunities and relax in luxury without bing touched by the madness on other parts of the island.
Koh Phangan is a worthwhile island to visit, but prepare yourself before you arrive. Know that because of the high tourist volume, vendors, sales people, taxi drivers and travel agencies are likely to charge far more than is appropriate for their goods and services so get ready to haggle if you don’t want to be ripped off. The attitude on the islands can be less warm and welcoming than that in northern Thailand, so keep an eye on your belongings and always lock them up safely before leaving your hotel room, no matter where you are staying.
Photos by Will Moyer, willmoyer.com