You’ve probably heard of all the wonders Thailand has to offer. Exquisite beauty, adventure, rich culture, friendly people. And you may have heard of Koh Phangan, a tiny island off Thailand’s east coast in the Gulf of Thailand.
If you have, you know of the infamous full moon parties with techno music and fire dancing in party-central Haad Rin, located to the southeast. These parties are nothing short of fun – or at least worth experiencing once – but I’m here to tell you about another side of Koh Phangan, a side quite a few travelers never see. Stick around after the full moon party has died out; it’s worth it.
Although many tourists head straight to Hat Rin, I recommend setting up camp in Thong Sala, Haad Salad, or one of the more “remote” spots (none are more than an hour drive, but not all are easy access). For those of you budget backpackers, which is the majority of visitors, rates for hotels and mopeds conveniently go down after the party crowd clears out (and to be honest, service quality and smiles go up).
I spent a month and a half waking up to the sound of singing birds and calm waves, with a gorgeous beach directly in front of my cottage, a sandy bar (for that refreshing afternoon cocktail) off to my right, and a pool just behind me. Warm breakfast and an incredibly helpful staff were included, all for a low price that fit my budget. This scene can be found in numerous hotels across the island.
It’s easy to get around, as most people speak some English – if not, hand gestures and a smile go a long way. The locals rely largely on tourism and welcome travelers with open arms. But the beauty of it is you won’t find Starbucks or McDonald's or any of the other chain restaurants (a close ferry ride away is Koh Samui, where you can get your fix). What you will find are delicious open-air markets buzzing with activity at night, the most flavorful, colorful dishes of pad thai or curry at any of the local restaurants, and even an eclectic mix of international food joints (the best pizza I’ve had outside of Italy was in the heart of Haad Salad).
But enough about the food (I could go on and on!); let’s talk about activities, or non-activities, depending on your style. For such a small island, there’s endless adventure. If you’re looking to take it to the water but prefer to be active instead of lounging, check out one of the three kite-boarding schools. Or take a snorkeling or scuba tour (you can get certified here), rent a kayak or jet ski, or go wakeboarding.
If that’s not enough variety for you, there’s hiking, elephant rides, yoga and meditation classes, and relaxing spas and massage houses.
This little beauty has enough to keep everyone happy. And speaking of beauty, some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen were from a reggae bar atop a hill overlooking the ocean and surrounding islands. Gorgeous.
It takes a bit of travel time to get to Koh Phangan, but it’s more than worth it. The cheapest way is by ferry from Surat Thani. But if you have the money, you can fly into Koh Samui International Airport and then take a short ferry ride.
Arranging your transport to and from the island is easy. Once you arrive in Thailand, you’ll notice many companies offering transportation packages (which are worth doing, in my opinion, for the time and money… just make sure it’s a reputable company).
Once you’ve made the choice to go, just sit back and enjoy the ride, because you’re headed to paradise!