Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan is the nearest island to Koh Samui, and some 20 kilometres to the north. Although Koh Phangan shows evidence of having been inhabited more than 2,000 years ago, in many ways it is something of a mystery, as little is known about it until comparatively recently. The oldest structure on Koh Phangan is Wat Nai, at Ban Nua Village near Ban Tai. This was built about 400 years ago in the Ayuthaya Period (1350-1767).

Koh Phangan remained sparsely populated until about 200 hundred years back, when groups of Chinese traders and fishermen began to settle there, alongside the Thai people. They existed harmoniously, with the Thais harvesting coconuts and fishing, and the Chinese nurturing the bird's nests on the islands of Ang Thong (for bird's nest soup), as they still do today. Tin mining was also in operation, and continued right up until 40 years ago.

Although only a small island, Koh Phangan became well-known in Thailand, due to the Nation's most popular king, King Rama V (King Chulalongkorn), who took a liking to the island and used it as a holiday get-away fourteen times between 1888 and 1909. Complete with his royal entourage of more than 40, he would relax on Koh Phangan, swimming, fishing and exploring, on his return home from diplomatic missions abroad.

Koh Samui was 'discovered' by backpackers and travellers in the 70s, but it took a little longer for Koh Phangan to adjust to the needs of foreign visitors. The first huts on the beach were built for the farangs (foreign visitors) in the mid 80s, and the island has retained its reputation for providing a friendly and relaxed lifestyle for visitors ever since. Koh Phangan provides a more basic and less commercial alternative to Koh Samui, but things are rapidly changing, with several areas, particularly around the popular 'Party' area of Haad Rin Beach, are now filling with restaurants, bars and shops.

There are also now a number of exclusive and secluded high-end villas and resorts tucked away on the island, leading to a tremendous variation in the quality and price of accommodation now available on Koh Phangan. This all has led to the general opinion that Koh Phangan today is much like Koh Samui used to be 10 or 15 years ago.

Koh Phangan Beaches

The first point to make is that the road structure on Koh Phangan is primitive. This means that, although the main roads joining popular towns and villages are made of concrete, most of the roads on the Koh Phangan are formed from packed dirt and are little better than tracks. Those beaches that are easily accessible by road tend to be the more commercial ones, but there are many unspoiled and delightful Koh Phangan beaches accessible only by water taxi or longtail boat.

Haad Rin Nai (sunset) on the south-east tip of the island is the southern part of the notorious Koh Phangan Full Moon Party that can be seen from Koh Samui. And on the other side of the small peninsular there's Haad Rin Nok (sunrise). Both these beaches are beautiful with fine white sand, crystal clear waters and a jungle backdrop. Haad Rin sunset is the quieter beach with shallow corals with Haad Rin sunrise being the more popular with many restaurants and bars.

At the opposite end of the same coast there's Tong Sala, where several of the ferry boats from Koh Samui arrive, and with the long, white beach of Ban Tai in-between the two.

North of Haad Rin, you'll find the Than Sadet and beach of the same name. White sand and crystal clear blue water make this a perfect place to relax far from the crowd. And the neighbouring smaller beach of Thong Reng boasts clear waters and the rustic feel of the old Koh Phangan.

Heading further northwards on the east coast, you'll find one of the best stretches of beach on Koh Phangan in the deep crescent bay of Thong Nai Pan Yai and the nearby Thong Nai Pan Beach. The latter is more rustic, and only accessible by a jungle road or by boat.

On the north coast, there's Mae Haad Beach and the tiny island Koh Ma, connected at low tide by a sand bar, and located on the northwest tip of Koh Phangan,. The months of December through March are the best times to visit as the rest of the year the tides are too low for swimming.

On the Western side of the island you'll find Haad Yao, which is one of the prettiest beaches on Koh Phangan The sand is unspoiled and there's a good drop off for swimming and both ends of the beach have good corals off the rocks. This is a real picture postcard beach!

And right next to this is the charmingly-named Haad Salad, a beautiful and secluded beach on Koh Phangan known as an old retreat for pirates who came here to hide out until their ships were full of booty. In the high tidal season of November to April Haad Salad provides good swimming and has a reef of 150 meters just offshore.

Just below Haad Salad, there's Haad Son Beach. This very laid-back beach attracts many families as the beach is perfect for young children. Even during the low-tide season the swimming is still excellent.

Koh Phangan Accommodation

There's a huge range of different styles and prices on Koh Phangan, but generally speaking, anything within easy range of the party beach of Haad Rin is quite expensive, with even the more remote beach bungalows over towards Tong Sala costing around 1,000 baht a night and up.

On the whole, the north coast of Koh Phangan has more in the budget range, and also has a good variety, from beach huts to Four Star resorts.

Several of the beaches are off the beaten track, and the more remote the beach, the cheaper (and more basic!) the accommodation will be. You'll find comfortable and clean huts in these areas for as little as 250 baht.

Interestingly, the 'remote' aspect on Koh Phangan has become a selling point, and there are now quite a lot of very up-market resorts and luxury villas that have placed themselves deliberately on the beachside and away from any connecting roads. Their boast is that they offer 'total seclusion on an unspoiled tropical beach' and they include water transport and boat ferries as part of their service.

Getting to Koh Phangan

There's no flights, buses or trains to Koh Phangan and the only way is by boat.
From Koh Samui, there are approximately 10 daily transfers. Boats depart between 7:30 am and 4:30 pm. The trip to Koh Phangan takes approximately 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the weather conditions. Boats run back and forth between Thong Sala and Haad Rin and Koh Samui, including Nathon Pier, Mae Nam Beach and new ferry pier at Bang Rak Beach. There are also regular ferries from the mainland, with both Donsak (the ferry departure point for Koh Samui) and Surat Thani running services directly to Koh Phangan's ferry terminal at Tong Sala town.

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