Koh Phangan Travel Guide

Yoga Retreats & Full Moon Parties

Relaxation & Full Moon Parties

Koh Phangan is located in the Gulf of Thailand in the province of Suratthani, between Koh Samui to the south and Koh Tao to the north. The island is perhaps best known for their Full Moon Parties, an all-out, all-night rave party held every month along the sunrise-facing beach of Haad Rin Nork.

Despite its less-than-tranquil reputation that put the island on the global tourist radar, Koh Phangan has plenty of other beaches and attractions that are as serene as the parties are boisterous. The pace of life runs on tropical island time, and save for the few high resorts you can count on one hand, the island is relatively low-key in atmosphere.

The island is often compared to nearby Koh Samui, generally along the lines of “like Koh Samui was 10/15/20 years ago”. 

Yoga Retreats

Koh Phangan has managed to develop outside of her larger sister's shadows, carving a niche for itself as a tropical retreat, reflecting a big wellness and yoga movement present on the island. Others might say that the islands have a different personality – Koh Phangan is like the hippy yogic sibling to Koh Samui's more mature, designer bag-toting sister and the carefree, suntanned Koh Tao. While this is a sweeping generalization with exceptions to be found, it gives a good impression of the difference in the three. While accommodation tend to be more modest affairs, the addition of increasingly comfortable hotels in the last decade has made the island an increasingly popular destination for a broader range of visitors. From avid snorkelers and scuba divers to families and honeymoon couples, the scenic beaches of Koh Phangan offer idyllic tropical vacations for every traveler.

Beaches and Attractions

Koh Phangan's beaches are swimmable year-round thanks to the island's location in the protected gulf. As the home of the Full Moon Party, it is not surprising that Haad Rin (“haad” means beach in Thai) is the most developed; which mean convenient facilities but unfortunately less local in flavor. That said, the beach is long and sandy and the waters are decent for swimming. With three luxury resorts along the water's edge, Tong Nai Pan Noi on the northeastern coast has the most high-end feel, but visitors have the choice of some 30 other palm-fringed coves – including Haad Kuat, Haad Tien, Haad Yao – to sunbathe and tuck into a novel.

As with most places around Thailand, temples are an integral part of the way of living, providing visitors a glimpse of local beliefs and traditions. 

Muay Thai

Wat Phu Khao Noi near Thongsala has the distinction of being the oldest on the island, its shaded serene grounds hosting retreats and an opportunity for visitors to experience life in the slow lane. Admire the views across Chaloklum Bay from the Chinese Temple, built in honor of the Kuan Yin (the Goddess of Mercy), or stop by in the late afternoons for an herbal sauna session at Wat Pho in Baan Tai. Also a fundamental component of the recognizable local culture is Muay Thai (kickboxing). There are a few gyms around the island that teach this form of martial arts, where visitors can stop by in lieu of a gym session back home, or join a train-and-stay program that last weeks or even months to train in the country's national sport. Regular bouts are staged in stadiums around the island for non-practitioners to experience.


Relaxing on the Beach

Being lesser developed than its neighboring islands, the activities on Koh Phangan are based around the the island's tropical assets – her calm surrounding waters, quiet sandy beaches, and lush interiors. Without much in the way of modern day distractions, Koh Phangan is a great place to do what you came to an island to do – swim in the ocean, kayak out into the big blue, and enjoy daily sunsets from the soft swathes of sand.

Natural Wonders

Waterfalls & Treks

Koh Phangan's forested interior also make for an enticing trek for active guests. Paeng Waterfall is the island's biggest – visitors can also trek up to the island's highest peak, Khao Ra, from nearby. Than Sadet Waterfall, famed for its past royal visitors, feature large refreshing pools formed by boulders. Be sure to seek out local advice about where to go if hiking or trekking is your thing. Such journey's are usually best in the early morning, leaving the afternoon for a refreshing swim.

Out and About

Island Hopping

The Angthong National Marine Park archipelago, comprising 42 emerald islands and islets, was the basis of inspiration for Alex Garland's The Beach, while the sandbar-connected tri-islets of Koh Nangyuan is up there with the most picturesque spots in the Gulf of Thailand.

Travel tip: Koh Tao ranks in the top's most active PADI certification destinations. If you're considering a detour to the nearby island, here are some dive resorts to consider. [link to blog post] – ok for KP

Scuba & Snorkeling

Inviting Waters

Visitors who wish to snorkel from the beach should head to the west coast of the island – try Haad Chao Pao, Haad Yao, Haad Salat, and Mae Haad, the latter from which visitors can walk to Koh Ma, an offshore islet connected by a sand bar during low tide. Day-tripping snorkelers usually head out to nearby Koh Tao and picturesque Koh Nangyuan, while most SCUBA trips drop in at Sail Rock and Chumporn Pinnacle dive sites.


The Art of Relaxation

Visitors can easily take advantage of the low-key island life offerings and spend a whole day, if not more, with yoga, Muay Thai, massage and/or spa treatments. As you explore the island, you'll find many health & wellness options or just places to catch a relaxing massage. Whatever your preference, Koh Phangan has no shortage of practitioners. The ambience and setting are part of the experience and no doubt you'll find the perfect place.

Markets & Shopping

Shopping on Koh Phangan is limited to browsing the boutiques scattered around the island.

The Full Moon Party beach of Haad Rin and Thongsala, the latter where the main ferry disembarks, are more or less the only areas where you can get your shop on.

The main drag on Thongsala is sprinkled with souvenir and clothes shop, including Pantip Plaza for your beach accessories and handicraft souvenirs. There is a Thongsala walking street that springs up along Talad Kao Road every Saturday from about 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. or so.

On the days leading up to the Full Moon Party, there's a certain buzz around the shops at Haad Rin as the month's party goers stock up on beach hats, bikinis, fisherman pants, jewelry, and the range of beach-related goodies from hammocks to flip flops.

Restaurants & Nightlife

Travelers with their hearts set on partying should stick to Haad Rin – other than the monthly Full Moon Parties, the beach – measuring less than a kilometer long – is lined with seaside restaurants-cum-bars.

Other than the full moon celebrations, the island also hosts other all-nighter raves, including Half Moon Festivals (a week either side of the full moon), and Black Moon Culture parties (two weeks on either side of the full moon), both held at Baan Tai. The only difference is that the Black Moon party is held on on the beach in front of Mac's Bay Resort, while the Half Moon bash is held in the hills.

Also in the Baan Tai forests, the Jungle Experience happens twice monthly, typically held the night before, and four nights before the Full Moon Party. The party location is a “secret”, so ask the locals – the setting is a garden clearing in the woods with a trickling stream and fluorescent-lit. A THB 300 entrance fee applies to the Jungle Experience and Black Moon Culture and THB 600 for the Half Moon.

Other parties on the island include the seasonal Waterfall Party and Shiva Moon Party – keep your eyes out for leaflets or ask the locals in the bar where the next party is at, because chances are, there will be one happening soon.

Getting Around

Around the Island

Songtaew's, the open-air “buses”, are the only means of public transportation to get around the island. If catching one from the ferry pier, the red converted pickup vehicles will be parked en masse, and the ride will be shared with other passengers. For a slightly cheaper taxi fare, walk into town (just a few hundred meters) to the taxi stand there.

During off-peak hours, songtaew's can also be hired on an exclusive basis, but do remember to agree on the price beforehand.

Car rental is a possibility, though most visitors to Koh Phangan tend to spend longer at each beach, making the aforementioned songtaew a more cost-effective and convenient choice. None of the big car hire firms are on the island, but there are dozens of locally-run rental shops. Four wheel drives are more suitable for the island's hilly terrain.

When not using a songtaew, a large number of tourists on Koh Phangan rent motorbikes. Large sections of the road are not tarmac'd, and when combined with the steep gradient of the hilly roads plus potholes, it's best for inexperienced riders and all partygoers to stick to public transportation. If you insist, though, do at least wear a helmet.

Getting In and Out

Getting in and out of Koh Phangan By Air and Boat

By Air & Boat

The closest airport is on Koh Samui, but with construction underway for the island's first airport, come 2014 Koh Phangan will be even more accessible than it is now.

There are several scheduled ferries and catamaran connecting Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, including from Big Buddha, Maenam or the main Nathon piers. Main operators are Lomoprayah and Seatran.

If traveling outside of the scheduled times, speedboats and long-tail boats can also be hired to take the 10 to 20 minute journey to Koh Phangan.

Low cost carriers Nok Air and Air Asia also offer combo tickets for flights from Bangkok to Suratthani or Nakhon Si Thammarat, including a transfer to the pier and ferry directly to the island.

Getting in and out of Koh Phangan By Train and Boat

From Bangkok, Phun Phin or Chumphon are the closest railway stations to Koh Phangnan. Chumphon is closer to Bangkok, but depending on what time the connecting boat departs, it is perhaps advisable to get that couple of hours additional sleep and disembark at Phun Phin near Suratthani instead.

From Chumphon, Lomprayah offers convenient combination bus+ferry tickets to Koh Phangan, a sea route that is also serviced by Songserm.

From Phun Phin, Phantip Travel offers a combination land and ferry transfer from train station to Koh Phangan for THB400 (US$13).

Most ferries (which also transport cars to the islands) leave from Donsak Pier, about a 1.5 hour transfer from the train station. Raja offers five daily journeys from Donsak from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., a 2.5 hour journey that costs THB250 (~US$8) per passenger, or THB620 (~US$20) for a vehicle plus driver.

Getting in and out of Koh Phangan by Bus and Car

From Bangkok, Chumpon shaves a few bus hours off (as opposed to disembarking at Suratthani province). Travel agents usually offer joint bus-boat tickets – take this option, as it will cost less or the same as booking them separately, and that's not to mention the convenience.

Lomprayah does a Bangkok to Koh Phangan journey in between 10 to 14 hours – either all day or overnight – for THB1,300 (~US$42) all in.

If driving, the ferry from Suratthani's Donsak pier costs approximately THB620 (~US$20) including vehicle plus driver on Raja ferry.