KO PHANGAN IN BRIEF
WHY GO: Ko Phangan is best known from its Full Moon Parties, but Ko Phangan has much more to offer than just the party scene. Ko Phangan has also several fine and quiet beaches, which all come with a different vibe. Beside the party people Ko Phangan is a great choice of an island for backpackers, couples, hippies and yoga enthusiasts too.
WHY NOT: Even if you can find a handful of luxury hotels, Ko Phangan is a mellow, down to earth island in its heart. If you are looking for shopping and world-class restaurant life, you should choose the neighboring island Ko Samui instead.
BACKPACKERS: The Full Moon Parties have put Ko Phangan on the popular backpacker trail.
PARTIES: If you are into parties, travel to the island during the Full Moon parties; rest of the month Ko Phangan is very quiet.
BEACH BUNGALOWS: Ko Phangan is one of Thailand’s best places to find an inexpensive bungalow right by the sea.
Forget everything you have heard of Koh Phangan, since the island happens to be Thailand’s most misunderstood beach resort. Koh Pha-ngan is known around to world for its Full Moon Parties, and a common misconception is that the island is all about parties. That is not the case. In reality, hilly and forested Koh Phangan is one of Thailand’s most peaceful islands, and Ko Phangan’s beaches are much more beautiful than those of its more popular neighbor, Ko Samui.
Ko Phangan reveals its wild side only during the full moon, and even then the parties are mostly limited to Had Rin Beach.
Orientation: Ko Phangan’s Main Town Thongsala
Most tourists arriving to Ko Phangan get their first acquainted with Thongsala town, the administrative center of the island, where most of the ferries dock. Some ferries go directly to party beach Had Rin, though.
Thongsala consists of a few streets of inexpensive inns and restaurants. Many long time foreign residents of Ko Phangan have settled in Thongsala, since the prices for food and accommodation are cheaper here than on the beaches, and the town is well connected by roads to all over the island.
Local night market is held on Talad Kao Street on Saturdays.
Thongsala makes a good place to stay for a few nights for those, who want to first explore the island and make up their mind which beach to stay.
Haad Rin – Ko Phangan’s Party Beach
Koh Phangan’s most famous beach is Haad Rin, the location for the Full Moon Parties. Haad Rin’s guesthouses get full several days prior to the party, but the beach village can be surprisingly calm at other times.
Haad Rin actually consists of two beaches on both side of the small isthmus. The middle of the isthmus has a lively village crammed full of restaurants, shops and tattoo shops.
Most Haad Rin’s guesthouses are on the western side of the isthmus, where the beach is rather narrow and uninviting. Rin Nok, the beach on the eastern side, on the contrary, is stunning. The sand is white and fine.
Haad Rin lies on the southeastern cape of Ko Phangan, and is connected to the rest of the island through a steep and winding road, not a an easy drive for the novice motorcycle riders.
Check out the best hotel deals in Haad Rin.
Beaches Close to Haad Rin
On the southern side of the island, between Haad Rin and Thongsala, there are several small coves with well-priced guesthouses such as Phangan Rainbow Bungalows. The beaches on the southern side are a bit on the muddy side and not especially scenic or good for swimming, but they are peaceful and make great places to stay for travelers who are looking for decently priced accommodation and a close access to Haad Rin.
Another bonus is that some of the best restaurants in Ko Phangan are located on the road that goes from Thongsala to Haad Rin, just next to these coves.
Thong Nai Pan – Ko Phangan’s Most Beautiful Beach
There are many other beaches on Ko Phangan, all of them more peaceful than Haad Rin. Ko Phangan’s most beautiful beach is Thong Nai Pan Yai on the island’s northeastern corner. The long sandy beach is perfectly soft and white, and Thong Nai Pan Yai has several cheap and cheerful guesthouses hidden behind the trees. Thong Nai Pan Yai is a long way from Haad Rin, but the road cutting through a beautiful jungle is in good condition.
Next to Thong Nai Pan Yai is its ”little brother” Thong Nai Pan Noi, which has become Koh Phangan’s luxury beach. It has stylish restaurants and some of the island’s most exclusive hotels such as Anantara Rasananda.
Beaches on Ko Phangan’s Western Coast
Ko Phangan’s western coast has some great beaches too. Haad Chao Phao is a quiet beach with a handful of guesthouses. The sand is white and soft, the sea of turquoise color. Thongsala is easy to reach.
Next to Ao Chao Phao is Haad Yao, one of Ko Phangan’s longest and widest beaches. The sand is white, and looming on the horizon are Ko Tao and the islands of Ang Thong Marine Park. Haad Yao is the most developed beach after Had Rin, and is especially popular among families.
North of Haad Yao is Haad Salad, a small and nice beach. Its white sand is incredibly fine, albeit a rugged wave breaker takes away some of the pristine ambience. The beach has both basic backpackers guesthouses and few finer places to stay such as Salad Hut Bungalows. Haad Salad is great place to stay for those looking for a peaceful getaway.
Ao Mae Haad is a long, wide beach, where the sand is gray and a bit rough. A sand isthmus connects the beach to a small island called Ko Ma. There’s some decent snorkeling to be done around Ko Ma. Ao Mae Haad is one of Ko Phangan’s livelier beaches, but the vibe is still much mellower than in Haad Rin. A nice but rather basic place to stay is Island View Cabana.
Haad Khom is a quiet little paradise beach with a few guesthouses hiding behind the tree line. The sand is white and the sea turquoise. Along the beach runs a coral reef that is one of the best preserved in Ko Phangan.
Haad Kuat aka Bottle Beach is a beautiful beach, which can only be reached by boat. A new road is being built to the beach, though.
Ko Phangan’s Sights and Activities
Ko Phangan is an island for beach bums, not for attraction addicts. The only real sight in Ko Phangan is Than Sadet waterfall, which three Thai kings have visited and left their signatures carved on boulders. And to be honest, this royal waterfall is more of a cascade than an impressive waterfall.
Ko Phangan has several yoga and meditation retreats such as Wat Kow Tham. Wat Pho temple has a traditional herbal sauna.
Chaloklum village on the island’s northern coast has several dive shops. One of the longest standing is Sail Rock Divers. As there’s not much diving or snorkeling to be done on Ko Phangans’s waters, most of the dive trips head to Ko Tao’s dive sites.
An exception is Sail Rock, which is located between Ko Phangan and Ko Tao and most easily accessible from Ko Phangan. Sail Rock is deservedly hailed as Gulf of Thailand’s best dive site: there’s an abundance of fish and beautiful corals around this underwater pinnacle.
Ko Phangan’s Restaurants and Nightlife
Haad Rin has the liveliest and most varied restaurant and nightlife scene on Ko Phangan. Haad Rin is also the place of the Full Moon Parties once a month. Nightlife is pretty tuned down in most of the island’s other beaches, even though you usually find at least one beach bar in each.
Thong Nai Pan area comes second in the terms of a gourmet beach. There’s some pretty nice and creative restaurants in the area like Luna Lounge, a stylish Italian-inspired restaurant, and Better Than Sex, whose creative menu includes, for example, tom yam pizza.
Travel to Ko Phangan
The nearest airport to Ko Phangan is in Ko Samui from where the journey continues by ferry. A cheaper alternative is to fly to Suratthani, and take a ferry from there. Low-cost carriers Nok Air and Air Asia both sell combo tickets to Ko Phangan, which include the flight to Suratthani, bus to the pier and the ferry to the island.
There’s also night trains and buses from Bangkok to the mellow beach resort Chumphon and the busy city Suratthani from where you can catch a ferry to the island.
Most ferries dock to Ko Phangan’s capital Thongsala, but some go directly to Had Rin Beach of the Full Moon fame. Shared songthaew taxis carry passengers from the pier to all over the island.
Transportation and Motorcycle Rental in Ko Phangan
Shared pickup taxis run around the island, though occasionally, and the prices are quite expensive.
A popular way to move around is to rent a motorcycle. When renting a scooter you should check carefully all the small pumps on the vehicle, so that you won’t be made to pay extra after returning the bike.
Ko Phangan’s roads have been improved and are no longer as dangerous as they used to be. That said, they are still steep and unpredictable, and the island is not the best place to learn to drive a motorcycle. Accidents are common. Especially the road connecting Haad Rin to the rest of the island is steep and treacherous.
Good to Know
Ko Phangan’s hospital is located about three miles north of Thongsala. Haad Rin has two private health centers, Haad Rin Inter Clinic and Bandon Inter. There are plenty of ATMs around the island.
Next Destination from Ko Phangan
There are several daily ferries from Ko Phangan to the neighboring islands of Koh Tao and Koh Samui. Koh Tao is a small, diving-orientated island, and Samui is a large island with a wide range of things to do. Together the three islands make a diverse combo for a classic island hopping tour.