Koh Pha Ngan (or Koh Phangan, or Ko Phangan) whatever or however you pronounce it [kɔ̀ʔ pʰa.ŋan] / [its ko-pa-ngan and not ko-pan-yang] it meant the same island, the beautiful Koh Phangan, one of the three famous islands on the Gulf of Thailand named Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui.
Koh Samui is the most developed and has its own tiny airport (and therefore flights are expensive, exclusive to Bangkok Airways. Thought it starts from 3600++ Baht). Koh Tao is famous for diving and its quiet over there. And of course Koh Phangan is famous for the world-renowned (?) Full Moon Party. 😀
Believe me, it was such a painstaking trip from either Bangkok or Phuket. Most people who backpacks here either have a route of North to South Thailand or South to North Thailand. We were based in Phuket that time but the idea to go to the Full Moon Party popped-up while we were in Bangkok to meet our German friend so we did the Bangkok to Koh Phangan route (because some do the Phuket/Krabi to Koh Phangan route).
How did we get there:
- We chose to take the train from Hua Lamphong Railway Station in Bangkok to Surat Thani leaving 5:00 PM and arriving Surat Thani the next day at 04:20 AM. Sleeper train’s upper berth is 698 Baht and lower berth is 760 Baht (as of March 2015). Quality? Ah…not the type of trains you’d expect as in Europe. But its cheap and they try to maintain the cleanliness so its okay. So Surat Thani by the way, is just the province (the coast) from where you will depart to get to the 3 islands. So upon arrival at 4 in the morning we needed to follow the touts, heaps of them, meeting us the minute the train arrived and showed us to their booths which tickets to Koh Phangan costed us 400 Baht.
- At the Khao San Road in Bangkok, there are cheaper options. Packages are only 650-700 Baht per head or perhaps they increase on peak season on max 800 Baht for Koh Phangan.
Why we didn’t take this?
Because it’s on a cramped mini-van for about 8 hours (4 hours if coming from Phuket) and you are immobile for many hours plus this 8-hour tormenting van trip doesn’t include yet the 2-3 hours ferry trip from Donsak pier to the pier at either islands you want to go.
So with the 400 Baht per head ticket from the touts at the Surat Thani railway station, we were transported via a mini-van to a pier where we would wait to again be trucked to Donsak pier. Note that Surat Thani railway station is about an hour or two from the pier/port where you will depart to the islands, called Donsak Pier.
So we were tired, half-asleep at 4:00 AM and continued some naps at about 5:00 AM at that ‘waiting area/pier’ then tour incharge started calling us, for those who are leaving for Koh Phangan and Koh Samui will go together, and those for Krabi or Phuket to another bus. From that waiting area, we were piled up again to a bus to the Donsak pier and we then waited for some minutes and finally we hopped on the ferry by 7:00 AM. Sun is up, we were hungry, cranky, no shower…but of course this is part of the deal in travelling cheaply so…
At the ticket booths when you arrive at Surat Thani railway station, by the way, people will try to sell you convincing you, saying: “more expensive ticket but boat leave earlier“.
Many tourists will fall into this thinking, its 4:00 AM and you are dying just to get a proper sleep at a proper bed. I almost fell into the trap, that I don’t wanna wait until 10:00 AM for the second trip of the boat what will I do here. I wanna get to the island straight away, shower, breakfast, sleep. But we decided to stick to the cheap 400 Baht and pity ourselves that we cannot leave until 10:00 AM and the ‘richer ones’ will leave immediately when we get to the Donsak pier. BUT SURPRISE! Everybody got in to the same boat, and us were in the same ferry as those who paid more!
Huh, in this part of the world, we need to be a step ahead, or else they’ll meddle all possible way to squeeze in some rip-off strategies.
Finally we arrived in Koh Phangan pier after 3 hours. We dropped off the people to Koh Samui an hour ago so that’s only 2-hour ferry Donsak Pier to Koh Samui. We’re relieved to get here and end our ‘tribulations’.
The photos were taken later during sunset because we came back to the jetty to see the sunset (after shower, breakfast, sleep for 5 hours). This is the city centre of Koh Phangan called, Thong Sala.
Here’s a map of the island where I discovered that they actually call their beach as “Haad” but since they do not pronounce it in letter D (like they pronounce “bus” (the coach) as “but”), they say it “Hat” so some of the maps or signs, you’d find Hat Rin instead of Haad Rin. Anyways, both can be right in here.
Albeit it’s infamous Full Moon Party I’d dare say that amongst the islands I have visited so far in Thailand (well, I have only visited about 30% of them)…
yes SO FAR, IT IS KOH PHANGAN THAT I LOVE!
It will be insane here during the Full Moon Party season every month, and guessed it right, it’s helluva expensive here on that Lunar frenzy times (trying to find something of an innocuous word than “savaged” coz that’d be slightly brute)…. But before and after FMP, it’s absolutely peaceful, yes the pubs are open but they’re just there for a nice hangout at night. They play techno, trance and some bossa nova music, so it’s good and it’ll be easy nights hanging out with friends. Koh Phangan isn’t of course everyone’s cup of tea. Koh Lanta (that I wrote about here) is what most people who wants unadultered beach, prefer. Koh Phi Phi, in contrast, is also the party-every-night people are raving about.
Of course Koh Phangan got its pretty bad stereotype. Aside from the Full Moon Party, there’s the Half-Moon Party, well I haven’t been to that. There’s Jungle Party which they also say it’s good but that’s 500 Baht for an entrance. Then the boat party, Shiva Party and just any party they could think of. So of course it’s the FMP which is the most-catered. Another is called Eden Garden Party which you will take a boat taxi yet towards Koh Samui on a place called with the same name, Eden. There’s no other way to go there but through a taxi boat which I think is 300 Baht per trip (or maybe per head, I forgot what my friend told me how much it was).
But there’s a lot more to do in this island other than the FMP and other parties. You will find the more laid-back tourists who prefer laid-back “island life” in the other beaches on the other side of the island. And when I discovered it….. oh…. it’s absolutely gorgeous!
- Mae Haad beach (as you can see from the map, it’s on the north) :
During the low tide, you can basically walk towards the hill on the other side of the beach, if you notice some people walking along the little track of footpath towards and coming back :
How does a massage on the beach sound?
2. Salad Beach (which in some maps called Hat Salat [it’s how they pronounce it]) :
The inviting pool of Salad Beach Resort :
And then this white beach of soft sand welcomes you :
3. Haad Gruad :
The view here is unequivocally amazing. The rock formations, hammock and just the whole scenery will please the shutterbugs!
4. Haad Yao :
Welcome to my favorite beach in Koh Phangan! The water here (when it should be the same with other beaches), felt so soothing to the sun-crisped skin and I just spent the whole time floating on the water with the blue skies as my ceiling. Oh I actually still have its effects today. I’m lost for words… I just absolutely love this beach!The powdery, white soft sand would just want you to rollover the grounds.
Geeezzz! Please can I live here forever!
And a great restaurant in Haad Son called Koh Raham overlooking the waters while you dine.
6. Stop at viewpoints on your loop in beach-hopping. We found this another map at the viewpoint too near Salad Beach.
Stopping at beautiful spots to get some snapshots. There’s the Chaloklum Bay too at the Wat Chaloklum area but it’s just me, it doesn’t appeal to me since it’s a fishing village. Although some swam here, maybe it’s not for me.
But what’s Thailand without streetfood! My fav is the crispy chicken tenders for only 10 Baht!
7. Now here’s the most popular, Haad Rin beach. It is the most beautiful beach amongst them all and the widest. In this wide-stretch of beach is where the Full Moon Party insane partying happens. Some call it grueling… How can we call it grueling when it’s as pretty as this?
Some 5,000-30,000 young people from all over the world streams to the beach for that world known party. In the mornings though, it gets back to its quiet being like nothing happened that night. Thanks to your 100 Baht entrance fee per head (for foreigners), it was said there at a placard that it goes to the maintenance of the beach, to clean and “cleanse” 🙂 So it’s reserved side reveals itself again as if it’s not been spoilt ever.
Hard to tell from it’s “daylight face” if this beach becomes bad at night, or at least once a month only during that lunar chaos?
At least I’ve ticked an experience of a lifetime… I’ve sampled a slice of FMP that time, March 2015 😉 Nevertheless, I love this beach!
Bars and pubs here open late night so it’s utterly quiet from the mornings til about 5:00 and people start to gather around on sunset until late night hanging out on beach bars. What I like is the outdoor setup they put on when the sunset is coming.
Dumbfounded, you’d see why it’s a paradise here.
Some Thai quirks gotta share:
Oh I love it here!
It’s 100 Baht for tuktuk cabs (ute-converted into tuktuk types?) to everywhere regardless of distance (or I hope). So it’s actually safer to come to Haad Rin beach using those cabs, well most especially when intoxicated on that unforgettable FMP night. It’d be utterly insane to even risk zipping the road with a motorbike back home if your hotel is at another part of the island through those freaky rollercoaster roads. Or better yet, get a hostel or hotel in this beach so you’d just be a walk away. Which means, it’s literally 10 x the price too when it’s full moon party or a day before that. You’d be pretty spoilt with choices though.
Incredible sunsets can’t be seen from this part of the island, at Haad Rin, i.e., because this is facing the east. For a more beautiful view, you can head to a bar I’d highly place stars on a hippie reggae bar fronting the beach where I just sip mango smoothie and watch the day end. For full spiel about it, check the photos below 😉
8. This is the “Freeway bar” you can find at the Hin Kong beach on your way back to the city centre from Haad Yao. Tad tricky to locate but keep an eye when you are already driving along the coast because this is close to that part where the road is right on the shore, while the previous roads should be inland or on the hill. The sunset is splendid to watch here, absolutely recommended! Good service, staff speaks good English, the mango smoothie is really not the best you can find in the island but prices is reasonable, they serve food too whilst you listen to trance and/or deep house music 🙂
9. Baan Tai beach :
This isn’t the nicest beach in Koh Phangan apparently (because yep, Haad Yao [and Haad Rin too?] are my favorites), but bungalows are quite nice here and cheap. Pretty enough to just have a quiet afternoon lying on the beach, chill and read a book.
Sunsets in Baan Tai beach? …. Beautiful!
10. Sunsets at the Wat Khao Tum, my favorite sunset viewpoint!
This is where most do their meditation actually, in fact there are bungalows here rented by those enrolled in a meditation retreat in which they will be in silence as part of their program. There’s a huge sign there not to talk to them. Well, you can imagine if a huge chinese tourist bus invades the area, fun!
I’m far beyond to be a professional photographer and don’t really have those massive photography gadgets and took all these photos using my phone, but was so happy to get beautiful snapshots of treasured moments when I was up there at the top of the hill, sitting on the bench while waiting for the sundown. Birds doing the orchestra for you at the background, a bench fronting this view… an experience that is particularly pretty engaging. Such a breath of fresh air from the parties.
I couldn’t recommend Koh Phangan any higher! You’d get a bit of your parties, the stunning beaches, bungalows, the night markets as well and most of those will be your lazy afternoons at the shore and sunset sceneries enough to feed the intrepid spirit of a traveller!
I’d like to be nowhere else, but here,