Pick Your Pleasure on Koh Phangan
The island throbs and pulses with energy.
The moon glows rotund and full
casting its light across the cerulean sea.
Bodies crowd water vessels
directed by its magnetic pull.
DJs and backpackers
yogis and healers
the weary seeking a good time
unload onto the sandbar of hedonism.
Down the styrofoam scattered streets of Haad Rin
lies a white sand cove
with sex and drugs and sin
where electro vibes, fire throws, flouro glows.
Decades ago a few dozen souls
first imbibed here on the beach
the celebration continued month after month
today it has an international reach.
The treacherous road
winds over to Baan Tai
katoys display their goods
for curious men to try.
Motorbikes and 4x4s own the streets
farangs shop in fancy supermarkets
gluttons gorge on pancakes
calzones, curries, phad thai
among all the tourists
local culture somehow survives.
Beyond the town
jungle covered mountains emerge
you can feel their mystical force
yet each idyllic beach cove
becomes diluted with the vibration
of a sea of resorts.
Detox centers house hippies
seeking wellness in the land of indulgence
fairy costumed eccentrics crowd remote beaches
creating quite the scene.
On this island
once a vacation haven for kings
pleasure comes in many forms
decide for yourself what that means.
How to Get to Koh Phangan
The only way to reach Koh Phangan is by boat from Koh Tao, Koh Samui, or Surat Thani. Boats from Koh Tao take about 2 hours and cost around 450 baht. Boats from Koh Samui take 30 minutes. Ferries from Surat Thani take 3.5 hours. It’s possible to take a flight from Bangkok or certain international cities to Surat Thani or Koh Samui, otherwise buses and trains connect with Bangkok and minibuses connect with the Andaman Coast.
Where to Stay on Koh Phangan
For many people Koh Phangan is synonymous with the full moon party which takes place on Haad Rin. However the island is quite large with many different beach communities to stay in and explore, far more than the scope of this blog post. Baan Tai has affordable places and is close to most of the parties, the entire West Coast has resorts and simple bungalows, the North side is unreachable except by boat and has affordable beach bungalows, while the quieter beaches on the East side are a short, albeit expensive, boat ride over to the full moon party on Haad Rin. Accommodation ranges from party hostels to shanty bungalows to luxury resorts. Bear in mind you will pay premium prices during the full moon and most hostels triple their rates. Booking early is essential during the high season and during the full moon all year.
190 baht – 690 baht (full moon) for dorm bed
I stayed here during my entire time on Koh Phangan and it quickly became home. The hostel sits directly on a gorgeous uncrowded beach, though the beach is not great for swimming as it’s quite shallow and rocky. Rooms are clean and modern with hot water showers , a/c, and private decks or balconies. The bar and restaurant has hammocks and lounges directly on the beach and feels more like a resort than a hostel. However what makes this place my favorite hostel in all of Southeast Asia is the incredible staff. They are some of the friendliest, kindest, and most fun people I’ve met anywhere. Paul, the owner, will treat you like family. One night he had a BBQ to celebrate a friend’s birthday and invited all of us to join. Bella, the manager and probably my favorite lady in all of Thailand, took amazing care of me when I told her I was bitten by a dog and even had someone drive me to the hospital for free. The place attracts a fun, more mature, traveler crowd and I made great friends here. I can’t imagine staying anywhere else on Koh Phangan. They have DJs and plenty of warm up parties for the full and half moons.
400 – 700 baht for a private bungalow
These bungalows are simple, but when you’re right on a gorgeous beach what else do you need? They have a private bathroom and a porch with a hammock. Mae Haad is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island with a long stretch of shoreline and a long sandbar that connects it with a tiny jungle covered island.
850 – 3000 baht for a private room or cottage
The ocean in Haad Salad on the West side of the island glows bright turquoise and sits in a protected bay. Small streets lead down to the beach giving it a community feel with local restaurants and reggae bars. Cookie’s Salad has modern rooms with ocean views, a pool, and a big buffet breakfast. The level of luxury makes it an incredible value for the price. Bear in mind the place is built up on a hill so you’ll have to work for the view!
400 baht for dorm, 600 – 1800 baht for bungalow
Bottle beach is the most remote, and arguably the most gorgeous, beach on Koh Phangan. Bottle Beach 1 Resort has affordable bungalows for any budget, a beachfront restaurant, swimming pool, and spa making it nearly impossible to ever leave. The beach is only accessible by boat.
Where to Eat on Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan is not my favorite place to eat in Thailand, but you can find some authentic Thai food and several healthy places to take a break from all the fried noodles and buckets in your diet. The island is quite large and there are certainly many more restaurants for you to discover. I focused mostly on seeking vegetarian health food while on Koh Phangan and this list reflects that.
$1 – $3
My favorite way to eat in Thailand is always at food stalls in the night markets. I find it to be the most authentic, inexpensive, delicious food available. In Thong Sala there is a night market daily, with some stalls open in the daytime as well, serving up anything from curries, phad thai, and roti pancakes to raw Vietnamese spring rolls, freshly pressed vegetable juice, and whole grilled fish.
$5 – 10 for fresh juice, smoothies, salads, and other health food
The Sanctuary offers a little bit of everything, but their raw health food is really what sets them apart. They have entire detox menus, raw phad thai, and all kinds of superfood juices and smoothies. The apricot, date, and yogurt smoothie is divine. On weekends they have a brunch menu that feels straight out of a boutique cafe in Manhattan.
$3 – $5 for entrees
Traveling in Southeast Asia it’s pretty rare to find a solid Mexican restaurant. Ando Loco has classic Tex Mex dishes, happy hour margaritas, and a big vegetarian section. I ate the pumpkin soup here which was spicy, flavorful, and satisfying.
$3 – $5 for entrees
This darling cafe serves mostly organic fare and even sells organic produce and speciality items like apple cider vinegar and himalayan sea salt. In the evenings they have a Thai/Indian vegetarian buffet and even live music. The place has a great community atmosphere on the island’s West side.
$3 – $5 for breakfast and lunch
The lovely owners of this cafe were an absolute godsend when I got sick on Koh Phangan. They set me up with some great super smoothies to boost my immune system and even gave me some new water kefir grains for free! The place is owned by an Italian/Brazilian couple who make healthy, nourishing dishes like quinoa salad, red lentil soup, and even an Italian style antipasto platter. They sell many superfoods in the cafe like chia seeds, goji berries, chlorella, and organic raw nuts. It’s a great place to stock up on health food before you continue travels elsewhere.
What to Do on Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan may be famous for its full moon parties, but the island has plenty more to offer than buckets and flaming jump ropes. The island is best explored by scooter, particularly the West side which has well paved roads for easy riding. Explore the many beautiful beaches on the island. Some favorites include Mae Haad, Bottle Beach, and Haad Salad. There are also several waterfalls and temples on the island. Look for signs on the road up to Chalokum Bay. Mae Haad has a waterfall hike from the parking lot. Tourists and locals go to cool off at Laem Son Lake and jump from rope swings. Definitely check out Wipeout Phangan which has an obstacle course on the lake!
Where to Party on Koh Phangan
Most travelers come to Koh Phangan to party and there is certainly at least one place to do that every night of the week. The most famous parties include the Full Moon on Haad Rin, the Half Moon in the jungle in Baan Tai, the Black Moon, and the Jungle Experience. These parties typically have international electro DJs and fire shows.
This cool, laid back beach bar is so my vibe. They have live music, live DJs, movie nights, and even a free vegan BBQ. The bar has a total reggae feel and looks out onto a gorgeous sandbar that you can walk across at low tide.
The Amstardam is the famous place for watching the sunset and with good reason. It sits up in the hills just outside of Thong Sala with epic views of the ocean and nearby islands. Crowds come just before sunset to swim in the pool, eat a burger, or have a mushroom shake. Despite its popularity the vibe remains incredibly chill with reggae music and floor cushions.
Where to Detox on Koh Phangan
Quite the contrast from the hedonistic parties in Haad Rin, Koh Phangan is home to many wellness and detox centers. The most famous is The Sanctuary in Haad Tien, which has all kinds of retreats, healing ceremonies and services, health food, and even free meditation. Another popular spot on the West side of the island is the Orion Healing Center with detox and cleansing retreats, public yoga classes, reiki, and a phenomenal health food restaurant. Ananda Resort also offers assisted cleanses, has a sauna and saltwater pool that outside guests can pay to use, and a healthy restaurant with a huge assortment of Western and Thai specialties.