Remember Leonardo DiCaprio in that late-'90s flick The Beach? You’re in luck, because The Beach is not only more realistic than you thought, but more accessible and more affordable than you’d imagine. Here’s where to go, when to go, and how to get to Koh Phangan, the very island that inspired Alex Garland’s The Beach.
Flights run regularly between Bangkok and the main island of Koh Samui all day. From Koh Samui you can take a speedboat to Koh Phangan, which run all day too (I caught the speedboat around midnight). Once you get to Koh Phangan, you can get anywhere on the island by hiring a rickshaw, usually a pickup truck with bench seating in the back.
The Full Moon Parties are one of Koh Phangan’s main tourist attractions – travelers from both near and far come to take part in this monthly beach celebration. The party commences with the lighting of lamps as the full moon becomes visible in the night sky. As the night progresses, it breaks out into a full-on dance fest along the beach.
Another popular event is the Half Moon Festival, where the arrival of the half-moon is celebrated with an all-night bash in the middle of the jungle, complete with DJs, black lighting and dance floor.
While these events are popular with tourists, it’s important to note that Koh Phangan is not just for partiers. In fact, the island can be rather romantic. Those who seek a quiet vacation may opt to visit the Wat Kow Tahm Meditation Sanctuary, where they can enjoy the ambience of whispering jungle leaves, giant gold Buddhas and breathtaking island views. The Than Sadet Waterfalls is another beautiful site to see. A trip to these falls makes a great day trip and will leave you feeling refreshed on even the most humid day.
The Milky Bay Resort is an affordable option for island visitors, and is perfect for singles or partygoers. This oceanfront resort has tropical bungalows, sandy volleyball courts and a seaside pool.
For those seeking quieter quarters, I recommend the Santhiya Resort & Spa. This resort feels more like a Thai palace than an island hotel. From the time you arrive until the time you check out, the staff is constantly at your service. Perched on a steep hill overlooking the Thong Nai Pan Beach, the resort offers the stay of a lifetime.
My advice is to get more bang for your baht by visiting during off season (May–mid-July and September–October) when resorts’ rates are discounted nearly 35% and beaches are practically uninhabited.