Siam Island Hopper Guide to Koh Phangan
Situated smack dab in the party archipelago, with Koh Tao to the north and Koh Samui to the south, you might think Koh Phangan is only worth a visit on a full moon. Unless you’re not into all night neon raves and questionable milkshakes, in which case you might be avoiding Koh Phangan all together.
But avoid this beautiful island, you should not. Take a look and see for yourself.
Koh Phangan has a reputation for being rowdy, but with 40 kilometers of coastline dotted with gorgeous beaches and tons of quirky, fun, sporty island activities, Koh Phangan will live up to your high (pun intended) expectations.
Before the island became a rite of passage for college kids and a promised land for ageing hippies, Koh Phangan was a retreat for royalty. King Rama V visited the island numerous times in the 1800’s. Before that the jungle-covered island was inhabited only by fisherman and sea gypsies.
As tourism developed since the 1980’s it has become home to an island incredibly unique counter culture . If Koh Samui is a place to relax and treat yourself, and Koh Tao is the place to go on an outdoor adventure, then Koh Phangan is the place to experience an alternative lifestyle centered around health, healing, embracing nature and celebrating life with some epic parties.
Get your beach on
You might be surprised to know that the Thai island most famous for wild parties has some of the most beautiful and peaceful beaches in the Gulf of Thailand.
Let’s start on Koh Phangan’s northern coast. Experience the sophisticated side of the island at Chaloklam, a quiet beach with some nice resorts and a sleepy little expat community that stays well away from the party beaches. Chaloklam is also the usual starting point for longtail trips to Koh Maa and Mae Haad.
A longtail trip around the island is a great way to spend an afternoon. You could join a planned excursion, but we prefer to gather some friends and hire a boat for the day. Choose your beaches and bring lunch and beers. It might be more expensive than an organized day trip, but the exclusivity makes it worthwhile.
Koh Maa is a small island off the northwest tip of Koh Phangan connected to Mae Haad beach by a sandbar. The yellow, coarse sand is different than the white sands of Koh Phi Phi, but the beach is no less beautiful. It’s also a favorite for snorkeling. Just under the shallow waters you’ll find all types of coral, seaweed, sea cucumbers and friendly fish.
Koh Maa and Mae Haad
Haad Kuad or Bottle Beach is another nice little stretch on the northeast coast of the island. Here you’ll find a white sand beach and a really chilled out atmosphere. If lazing on the beach all day is your plan, we found just the spot.
Leela Beach is on the island’s southeast peninsula. There are a few boutique and luxury resorts; perfect if you want privacy while staying close to the action. Explore the mangroves or join a game of beach volleyball. You might even catch some professional players on this beach.
On the opposite side of the peninsula from Leela Beach, is the infamous Haad Rin. During the Full Moon Party 40,000-80,000 people stream onto the beach – island hedonism at its most debaucherous. But the bay is clean by sunrise, thanks to the LEO Beach Cleanup and during the day you’ll find a fun-loving crowd of young people hanging out, playing paddle board and swimming.
From Haad Rin you can take a longtail 10 minutes to Haad Yuan. Or you can trek there. There’s a rewarding path that takes you on a 1.5-2 hour walk through the jungle (bring mosquito spray!) complete with a spectacular 270 meter high viewpoint. Haad Yuan is more upscale and chilled out, with a family friendly atmosphere and nice restaurants on the rocks overlooking the beach. This could be a welcome departure if you need a break from the Haad Rin debauchery.
From Haad Yuan walk to over to Haad Tien. In true Koh Phangan style, this beach is known for its psychedelic parties AND detox centers. Somehow, on this island, these things go hand in hand!
Where to eat
With an expat community and a vibrant local population, Koh Phangan has a lot to offer food-wise. Sure, typical touristy restaurants with decent grub can be found all over, but there are a few culinary gems on the island. We recommend planning some nice meals to balance out your party schedule.
L’Alcove is a cozy restaurant in Hin Kong run by French expats. Although slightly pricey, the fresh meats, cheeses and grilled seafood will blow your mind. Plus, having dinner here is a unique experience – authentic French comfort food on a picturesque Thai beach with a friendly crowd of people from all over the world. Have a glass of wine and listen to the live music, which could be anything from a soulful blues singer to authentic French folk music depending on the day.
Not all our favorite spots are fancy though. The Mango Tree in Chaloklam is a cute little Thai restaurant run by a Thai woman and her British husband. They make authentic, very reasonably priced Thai food with delicious ingredients in a nice ambiance. It’s also a great place to stop for breakfast or brunch.
Nong View in Baan Tai is a casual Thai restaurant that both you and your songtow driver can agree is delicious. If you’d like to eat a Thai meal like a local, this is the place to go. Order any standard island dish and be surprised at the quality of food you can get for the price. The seafood, like fish fried in fish sauce, or Pla Tod Naam Pla, is especially amazing.
Nong View Restaurant
Every Saturday evening from around 4pm there is a lively walking street in Thongsala. You can buy everything from produce to second hand clothing to delicious Thai snacks. Walk, browse, eat and enjoy a nice change from tourist oriented activities. Plus, you’ll be supporting the local community.
If you’re looking for a dinner spot in Haad Rin, try Lucky Crab. It’s a shabby, low-key seafood restaurant but everything is fresh, tasty and inexpensive. Don’t bother with the thick menu full of Western and Thai dishes, go straight for simple, fresh seafood in any form (try grilled squid or prawns dipped in seafood sauce or steamed fish with chili and lime).
Fisherman’s Restaurant is a well-known seafood spot in Baan Tai. It was established by a local man from a fisherman family and is now run by him and his Irish wife. The atmosphere and service are nice, with tables right out on the sand. Come enjoy the sunset and a strangely refreshing Tom Yum cocktail at the beach bar. It’s the top restaurant on TripAdvisor for a reason – so make a reservation in advance.
Check out Amsterdam Bar in Wok Tum for a very Koh Phangan experience. As you might have guessed by the name, the menu features more than just drinks and yummy Thai food. It’s worth a trip here for the sunset view alone, though. Wok Tum is known as the best sunset spot on the whole island.
Party in Phangan
Koh Phangan has a unique alternative party scene. Forget pop music and dance clubs. Think body paint and mind bending techno music. People come from everywhere in the world to Koh Phangan to trip out, have fun and let loose in this amazing island setting.
Sramanora Waterfall Party
There’s always a party somewhere on Koh Phangan, especially during the epic lead-up to the Full Moon. The Sramanora Waterfall Party and the Jungle Experience are two of our favorite parties, and some of the most unique nightlife you’ll find on the Thai islands.
While not exactly an underground event (you can buy tickets online) Jungle Experience is an unforgettable night of techno music, body paint and dancing in the jungle. Sramanora is slightly more subdued and smaller in scale, with house music, fire shows and chill jungle vibes.
To experience the island’s famous psychedelic beach parties check out Eden Garden on Haad Tien. Even if mushroom shakes and questionable substances aren’t on your bucket list, Eden and Guys Bar next door are a unique experience.
Slip N Fly is one of Koh Phangan’s best daytime parties. There is a massive waterslide, a pool party, burgers and beers and a nice lawn for chilling or sunbathing. Flying through the air against a backdrop of lush, green coconut groves is one of the most thrilling experiences on the islands.
Slip N Fly
The Full Moon Party is the most famous party, and it needs no introduction. It’s a wild night of dancing, drinking and going from party to party on the huge expanse of beach that is Haad Rin. So throw on some neon clothes, make your way to the beach, grab your beers and buckets and dance all night until the sun comes up over the ocean. If you can last all night, the sunrise from this beach just happens to be one of the most beautiful on the island.
The Full Moon Party
Sleeping it off
Koh Phangan has every form of accommodation from exclusive villas to backpacker dorms. One of the most beautiful houses on the island is Lord Jim’s Retreat, a nine bedroom luxury villa overlooking the scenic Haad Thong Lang, in between Chaloklam and Mae Haad. Thong Nai Pan Yai Beach, also on the island’s north end, is another area with luxury digs.
Affordable, but still luxurious, resorts in Baan Tai are plentiful and close to the action. Stay at Phangan Beach Resort and be near some of the best kiteboarding and paddle boarding on the island.
Kiteboarding on Baan Tai Beach
For a budget stay, look no further than Phangan Island View Resort in Thongsala. It’s away from the ocean (hence the budget price) but the resort is new, clean, comfortable and perfect if you want to spend most time exploring the island anyway. The restaurant is great for easy cheap sandwiches and Thai dishes too.
If a backpacker experience is what you’re after, Koh Phangan is probably the best place on all our island hopping routes. There are tons of options, but we would suggest calling Baan Tai your island home. You’ll be near other travelers, good food, lively bars and all the best parties. Some hostels in the area with an extra dose of personality are The Magic Wave, Nomad House and Slumber Party.
If you decide to stay on Haad Rin during a full moon you’re in for quite an experience. The Full Moon Party takes over the entire beach but Paradise Bungalows, site of the original Full Moon Party, is the epicenter. There’s a water slide from the second story straight into the crowd, fire jump rope and a stadium style elevated dance floor right on the sand.
If you’d like to stay in Haad Rin and get the full-on backpacker treatment, but still get some sleep, then stay at Seaview Sunrise Resort. It’s right on the north end of Haad Rin, towards Mushroom Mountain, and slightly separate from the raucous partying. Rent a kayak from Sunrise Seaview Resort and get some insider tips on where to go snorkelling, like Haad Kon Tee, a private, abandoned beach next to Haad Rin.
Exploring on your own is one of the best things to do on Koh Phangan. If you’re a confident driver, rent a motorbike and explore the island’s waterfalls and jungles without spending too much on songtow taxis. Just be careful of the winding roads and other drivers. You’ll soon get a feel for the vibes of the different beaches and see what make this island so special.
Koh Phangan is known for detox, yoga and holistic wellness. The island’s health industry and party scene are the perfect (and ironic?) bookends to the Koh Phangan experience. To experience this side of Koh Phangan, take a lesson at one of the many yoga retreats or visit one of the island’s wellness centers to learn about detoxing.
Standup paddle boarding
Besides wellness and partying, Koh Phangan is great for staying active. You’ll find kayaking, Muay Thai and beach volleyball all over. One of our favorite ways to enjoy the beach and get some exercise is Stand Up Paddle Boarding. When the waters are calm, yoga on your paddle board adds another element of balance, relaxation and fun. Koh Phangan is also making a name for itself as the island to learn and practice kiteboarding. The beach at Baan Tai gets excellent wind, making it a great place for everyone, from beginners to pros.
During the busier times on Haad Rin, aka full moon, there are beach football and beach volleyball tournaments that anyone can join. Get yourself a team and sign up for a small fee. It’s an afternoon well spent before the madness of the Full Moon Party starts.
Explore Koh Phangan by foot on an invigorating hike through the jungle. Other than the trek between Haad Yuan and Haad Tien we would recommend hiking to the island’s highest viewpoint at Khao Ra. It’s an intense trek of about 2 hours so bring water, snacks and don’t even think about wearing flip flops.
From Khao Ra you’ll have a great view of the dense jungle all the way to the ocean. Yes, even as the home of some of the world’s most famous parties, Koh Phangan is still a wild jungle. A wild jungle where people come to let go and to feel good, in more ways than one. But after experiencing all that this island has to offer, you can’t help but discover more about yourself. And that might be the most interesting thing about Koh Phangan.
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