It’s well known for backpackers, full moon parties and hedonistic behaviour but laid back Koh Phangan island has a lot more going for it if you scratch beneath the surface.
Situated in the southern Gulf of Thailand, Phangan has long been a hideaway of choice for travellers on a budget.
In recent years however, it has burgeoned into an island that offers something to a much wider crowd as luxurious resorts have popped up alongside the original beachfront huts.
Mountainous and seeping with a deep green jungle interior, there are hikes, yoga retreats, waterfalls and an abundance of beautiful beaches to keep you entertained when the parties are over. Add to this some of the best sunsets, sunrises, local people and cuisine that you are likely to experience and you have a place that once visited will leave its mark on you forever.
As you can see from the map, there is a vast amount of sandy coastline here with a good selection of beaches to call home during your stay.
From the booming parties on Haad Rin in the south to the laid back coves of the island’s west and north, you can choose a beach to suit your mood.. whatever that might be!
Things to do on Koh Phangan island
Surely the most famous beach party in the world, Haad Rin’s signature Full Moon shenanigans are guaranteed to set the pulses racing. Grab a bucket, get your hair braided and go for a henna tattoo of your choice if you want to go the whole hog. There’s no doubt that this party will leave a lasting impression on you and is one you’re unlikely to forget!
The beaches here are definitely something to write home about on your postcards! Kick back in a hammock under a withering palm tree whilst you treat yourself to a revitalising Thai massage. There are long sweeping beaches in the north and south as well as laid back, inviting coves on the west.. so beach lovers really do have it made here. [see top 10 beaches]
Although nearby Koh Tao is often touted as the best place to get your PADI qualification, a different approach would be to learn at sites local to Koh Phangan before heading out to the bigger and better dive sites once you’re certified. The are many dive schools to choose from with Chaloklam and Haad Yao providing a particularly serene location for studying the course.
If diving feels a bit strenuous then you could take the easier route to making aquatic friends.. snorkeling! Mae Haad beach on Phangan’s west coast is a good spot to snorkel, especially around pretty Koh Ma, a tiny island that is joined to the beach by a picturesque sand bar. Stay on the beach or head there with your fins for a day and check it out for yourself.
There are a few waterfalls on the island which make great hiking destinations. Once there you can plunge yourself into the cooling water to quench yourself and lower the body temperature to a more relaxing level. If this sounds like heaven then do your research first and make sure you come here when the falls will be at their strongest and pools at their fullest.
How to get there
The quickest but most expensive way to get to Koh Phangan island (from Bangkok) is to fly to Samui and then get a ferry from one of the northern beach jetties which regularly make the crossing to the island. Flights take between 60-90 minutes and then you’ll need to allow a couple of hours to get to a jetty and take the ferry (depending on connections which you should check before travelling).
A cheaper but slower alternative would be to take the bus or train from Bangkok to Surat Thani from where you can transfer to the nearby port of Don Sak for the ferry across to Phangan. The duration of this type of journey is roughly 15-21 hours, depending on how much time you allow for making each of your connections on route.
If you’re coming to Koh Phangan from anywhere else in Thailand then a combination of ferries, minivans, buses and trains will get the job done for you as internal travel within the country is pretty well grooved.
Where to stay
How do you choose which beach to stay on when you’re on Koh Phangan island? It’s not an easy decision as there are so many appealing bays on which to sink into a hammock and lap up the laid back charm of this island. Do you want to be at the heart of the party, near the main town or far away from all of that on one of the most relaxed coves on the island’s north-west? This short beach guide should help you narrow down your options.