For years one of the favorite topics of those living on Koh Phangan has been whether or not they will build an airport. For the skeptics the lack of available flat land and the perceived reluctance of the locals were strong indicators that it would never happen. For those in the opposing camp an airport
The weather in Koh Phangan is generally excellent. That is one of the main reasons why the island is such a popular holiday destination. Nearly all year round you are guaranteed hot and sunny weather, and depending on the beach, you can be guaranteed year round swimming in the sea. It must be remembered that
Prior to the first arrival of foreign travelers to Koh Phangan in the 1970s the island’s main commercial activities were coconut cultivation and fishing. Nowadays more of the 12,000 permanent residents of Koh Phangan are in a job related to the tourist industry than in employment connected to harvesting coconuts or fishing. Nevertheless, these two
The Mason’s Arms has become something of an institution on Koh Phangan. It was opened in the early 2000s and has established itself as one of the best, if not the best bar on the island. Although the bars in Haad Rin are closer to the techno / trance action at the Full Moon Parties,
Koh Phangan is Thailand’s fifth biggest island. It is located in the Gulf of Thailand near the more famous island of Samui. It is an island that has had a steady trickle of tourists go through since the Samui Archipelago opened up in the 1970s. Koh Phangan was always seen as less developed than Koh
Even though Koh Phangan has a Makro, a Tesco Lotus and boat loads of imported products arriving many of the restaurants on the island are reluctant to leave the tried and tested best sellers such as burger and fries, pizza, pad Thai and green curry. Where ever you go you are sure to find these items along with Singha and Chang beers grabbing your attention when you peruse a menu. Now read these menu items:
Mussels and Belgian fries (‘Moules frites’)
Leffe blond beer
Stassen apple cider
Salade de chêvre chaud
Carbonade cooked slowly in a dark beer sauce
Beer made by Cistercian monks
Elderflower & Lime Stassen
Yes, such menu items now exist- they are at Belgian Beer Bar located on Haad Chao Phao.
This is not an easy place to find. Follow the signs to Pirate Bar that you see on the main coastal road on the West Coast, just north of Srithanu. The beaches of Ao Chao Phao and Srithanu (also spelt Seetanu) are separated by a small headland. Confusingly, Belgian Beer Bar is on the premises of Seenatu Bungalows located on Haad Chao Phao. After a large Belgian beer the falsely eponymous nature of the bungalow set up behind the restaurant won’t give you an existential malaise.
Belgian Beer Bar has over 40 Belgian bottled beers and ciders to try. They are not cheap but for many men represent heaven in liquid form. The females in a partnership should not feel brassed off as the menu is quite a thing: big European favourites both as snacking food and entrées. The portions are big and the Belgian chef makes sure standards don’t slip.
This is a small friendly beachfront restaurant and bar. They have chilled music as well as free wifi. There are a few toys knocking around to distract children while they are waiting for their food.
This is a good restaurant that really attempts more sophisticated European cuisine rather than just steaks, burgers and chips. They also serve excellent beers in the glasses designed for them (including the glass horn!). The place is not well sign-posted and a little difficult to get to, but well worth the effort for those who set their sights higher than comfort fast food and Thai standards.
Belgian Beer Bar is open Monday to Sunday 8am to 10pm.
I don’t normally include Trip Advisor snippets on this blog, but I have made an exception in this case:
Whenever I have a DIY or computer problem I look for a YouTube video on the topic. It is much better than a written ‘how to’ guide as you can see how something is done, step by step.
Similarly when I am thinking about visiting a place, staying at a hotel or even hiring an entertainer for my child’s birthday party I look first for a YouTube video showing me the place or person in question. The video camera lies in the sense it frames an event, and that it is edited but it gives me vital hints about a place. YouTube doesn’t make a lot of money for Google because it is a massive repository of information. It has been described as ‘the attic of the internet’.
If you do a YouTube search of Koh Phangan you get a distorted view of the Thai island. Out of the 10 non-sponsored clips listed on the front page there are two clips about the Full Moon Party; there is one clip of street food in Thongsala; there is one clip of Haad Rin; there is ‘3 months in 3 minutes’ that shows random clips of Bangkok and the island not giving any captions naming places; there is a promo for diving; and 4 videos showing various beaches on the island. The more you look through videos the more you see it is dominated by young people on the beach splashing, riding bikes and getting out of their faces at a party.
The videos misrepresent what Koh Phangan is, as well as define the island in the popular imagination. Yes, Koh Phangan is a backpacker destination. Yes many people visiting the island are young and in swim wear and covered in tattoos and yes the FMP, Baan Tai and the white sand beaches are massive selling points for the island; but Koh Phangan is so much more.
90% of the Koh Phangan is untouched jungle. The main economic activities (other than tourism) are coconut cultivation and fishing. These are absent from the YouTube mosaic of the island. There is a documentary about drug culture in Thailand, but not enough about the history of the island; about the dangers of the Baan Tai and Haad Rin parties. There are interviews with DJs and restauranteurs but not from indigenous Thai people. Koh Phanganers don’t have a voice on YouTube. They have environmental, educational and economic concerns that are not being heard through the popular forum.
This is part of the commercialisation and superficiality of internet searches using Google. If you type in the name of any place you get a list of hotel sites and booking engines such as hotel.com. The Wikipedia article that is usually there in the top 10 listings stands out for being the exception. Do people want to know about a place or do they just want to read reviews and book a hotel room?
Perhaps we should consign YouTube to the attic and don’t bother going back to the space under the roof. The same might be said of Google search. It is a free service that uses data of people’s search habits to offer targeted ads to commercial entities. These entities then take over 50% of the first page of results. It is self-serving; not descriptive.
Koh Phangan is so much more than you will find on the internet. Go there without booking in advance, without being obsessed about attending a FMP, without following the crowds, without adding to the stereotypes that are obscuring the beauty of the place.
Koh Phangan tourist numbers continue to be healthy despite the recent coup d’état, the falling rouble and negative news stories about Thailand in the international press. It is an island that offers something for everyone – the raver, the high-end (and often older) tourist, the backpacker, the xtreme sports enthusiast, the diver and the long-termer all are flocking to Koh Phangan.
It is possible that the tragic story of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller murdered in 2014 has driven people who would usually head for Koh Tao to Koh Phangan. Koh Phangan has plenty of dive shops and often the classes have smaller numbers. Another advantage of diving in Koh Phangan is that it is closer to Ang Thong Marine Park. It also has a number of good local dive spots such as Haad Salad, Koh Ma and Haad Yao.
Thong Nai Pan Noi Village is now filling up with businesses looking to cater for the hundreds of ‘5 star’ tourists staying at Panviman, Santhiya, Buri Rasa and Rasananda. It is looking busy, and like a cooler version of a Koh Samui beach. Indeed, those put off by the crass commercialism and excessive numbers of prostitutes on many of the beaches in Samui would find Thong Nai Pan Noi the ideal alternative. The fully concreted road between Baan Tai and Thong Nai Pan has removed a big psychological barrier for many who wanted to visit the famous beaches of TNP.
The on-going construction of Koh Phangan Airport is another impetus to high-end tourism. Although the airport is far from completion and Kan Air is avoiding committing to a completion date.
After the double murder in Koh Tao the military government made noises about shutting down parties in both Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. It turned out to be no more than noise. Interestingly many of the moon parties have failed to publish their future party dates. It looks on the net like the parties have stopped; but, actually they are still going on. The island is still full of DJs and their ilk bringing the beats to the insatiable crowds of party-goers. The Full Moon Party has become a world-renowned tourist attraction, and while dance music aficionados may turn their nose up at the event, thousands still gather in Haad Rin for what has become a backpacker rite of passage.
To make the parties affordable and to promote lots of social interaction 2014 saw numerous hostels open. They pack them in and throw pre-party bashes.
While the present government made a big deal of kicking out foreigners working in Thailand on tourist visas they have not achieved the desired result. There has never been as many foreigners working and living in Koh Phangan as now. While some have married Thais, many more continue to get education visas and non-im B visas to remain in the Kingdom. Not just in the diving sector but also in the restaurant and bar business you will encounter non-Thais working. Koh Phangan has always had a laissez faire attitude and this is an example of this attitude. Moreover, the thriving tourist industry means there is more money to be made, and to support a growing ex-pat scene.
All is not lost for the backpackers and hippies. There are still cheap wooden bungalows for rent on the nearly deserted eastern coast and Haad Khom. Smokables are still available for purchase and of course the beaches are just as stunning as ever. While many believe that Koh Phangan is no longer a hippy island, it is not necessarily true. The yoga and colonic irrigation places are doing fine. There’s still the odd foreigner living in an obscure bungalow making jewellery and eating vegetarian food.
Finally, kiteboarding has caught on in Koh Phangan. Places like KBA in Baan Tai are attracting lots of xtreme sports fans. There is also a fledgling mountain bike scene in Koh Phangan. Koh Phangan has wind, diving and virgin jungle to provide sporting opportunities. There are also a couple of zipline / canopy adventure businesses set up.
All this means Koh Phangan tourism has never been better. The challenge is to not pull down the wrath of Bangkok government on the island, and to manage the environment to prevent the degradation experienced in Koh Samui.
Hotel.com recently published its results from its online poll about the amenities that guests most value when booking a hotel, guesthouse or bungalow. The list makes a good point from which to discuss the value placed on amenities in Koh Phangan.
1,000 respondents in December 2013 rated the following hotel amenities in descending order of importance:
1) Complimentary breakfast
2) Restaurant in hotel
3) Free wifi
5) 24 hour front desk service
6) Smoke free hotel
7) Swimming pool
10) Tea and coffee in the lobby
There are a few oddities in the list that clearly does not reflect Koh Phangan. The most obvious of which is the low priority to air-conditioning. For the tropical island air-con is the most basic luxury item for a room or hotel (in the list for room amenities air-con still only rates the 5th most important thing).
However, what does chime with Koh Phangan is the value placed on a complimentary breakfast. Most of the mid-range and luxury resorts on Koh Phangan include a buffet style breakfast, typically with an egg chef. This is basic stuff learnt from Koh Samui many years ago. The importance of the free breakfast for guests is clearly a point for psychological speculation. I suspect people want to feel pampered for their 7 day break on a tropical Thai island. What sounds better than rolling out of your bed to the pool side breakfast buffet? Also a free breakfast is like free postage – people clearly see it as a saving on costs.
Following on from the psychology of having the security of breakfast being only a few steps away, is the value people place on the hotel having a restaurant. What people essentially need is a room with a bed and food. Since room is covered in the definition of ‘hotel’ the next most cherished amenities are food related.
While guests value the convenience of a restaurant in a resort in Koh Phangan, most people are keener to be on the beach where they know they will find a selection of bars and restaurants nearby. Part of the fun of a beach holiday is trying out all the restaurants along the beach in search of that perfect spot. Security, especially at night, varies dramatically around the world. Koh Phangan is lucky to be a peaceful and safe place even with a Full Moon Party. It is an island where people don’t fear to leave the resort in the evening.
In the previous poll (December 2012) free wifi topped the list. For Koh Phangan visitors it is probably only second to air-con in terms of importance. Everyone has a mobile device, tablet or laptop. Although the shops with public computers for rent by the minute are dying out in Koh Phangan and all over Thailand (like video rental shops before them), there is a huge demand for bandwidth on the beach. After all, what is there to do on a paradise beach? Swim, eat, sunbathe, read and surf the net. It is all about unwinding. The internet offers personalized entertainment as well as communication. For many they need it as much at home as they do on holiday.
It must also be said that when you are paying $100 a night for a room you expect free wifi connectivity, as well as a lot more of course.
While all places in Thailand are officially ‘non-smoking’, the righteous shouldn’t get too excited. People smoke in bars and restaurants in Koh Phangan with impunity. Many smoke in their room or on their balcony. And heaven forbid, a few still smoke weed. A non-smoking hotel in Koh Phangan is an irrelevance. I find it hard to believe that the average visitor to Koh Phangan would value a non-smoking hotel over one that has a swimming pool presuming the two hotels were the same price and the smoking ban was enforced.
The same is true of parking. Most people use taxis and so don’t need a parking space. Motorbikes take up very little space: it is never a problem to find a spot to park your bike. Many of those who rent private villas will also hire a car. Virtually all the villas on the island have off-road parking available.
Finally, several hotels have tea and coffee making facilities in guest rooms. Rasananda rooms include an espresso coffee machine. This is the exception – the rest have sachets of instant coffee. It really isn’t great coffee or tea. One wonders why it should be valued so highly. Better to try the fresh fruit shakes and smoothies in Koh Phangan.
It would be great if Hotel.com made more of an effort in the future – interview more people and introduce area specific polls. Until then we can only guess the true scale of values for hotel amenities in Koh Phangan.
The Coast Resort is the latest luxury resort in Koh Phangan. It has broken the trend previously set of only building luxury resorts on Thong Nai Pan Noi. This resort is in Haad Rin town near the smaller (and less beautiful) of the Haad Rin beaches – Haad Rin Nai. Prices start at just under 3,000 Thai Baht for the basic superior room in the low season. Quite surprisingly, The Coast has managed to capture the top spot in the Trip Advisor list of hotels in Koh Phangan.
In 2013 the number one position belonged to Buri Rasa in Thong Nai Pan Noi – which at the time had rooms for under 3,000 Thai Baht a night. The same rooms now are nearly 5,000 Thai Baht a night. In 2012 the best hotel according to Trip Advisor reviews was Rasananda on Thong Nai Pan Noi.
So how come both Rasananda and Buri Rasa have more reviews than The Coast but are ranked lower? The Trip Advisor algorithm is fairly basic I would suggest, and favours new places. That is it.
With regards pricing, it is clear that just as Buri Rasa doubled its prices in its second year of business, The Coast will no doubt do the same thing.
The Coast is a bigger resort than Buri Rasa. It has a bigger pool and a gym. It attempts to be modern and stylish with a splash of red and plenty of steel and glass. In comparison Buri Rasa has much better appointed rooms and attempts an architectural theme that is carried through with its Mediterranean style Village Square complex of bars, cafes and shops.
The main difference between these two luxury hotels lies in their prospective guests: Buri Rasa is beachfront and is designed for those prepared to spend over $150 a night to stay on one of the best beaches in Thailand, namely Thong Nai Pan Noi. The Coast is near a polluted beach and is designed for those who can afford to spend $100 a night and stay near Thailand’s largest open air rave – the Full Moon Party. It is a safe bet that such customers exist as Great Western Phanganburi in Haad Rin has been doing brisk trade for several years.
The question is how will The Coast fare when it is knocked off its Trip Advisor perch by the next luxury resort to be built on Koh Phangan?
In the good old days there were internet cafes where people spent an hour or so sending and receiving emails. Once that task was out of the way the average tourist was free of the net and could enjoy a swim in the ocean or a good book. Wifi and 3G networks have changed all that.
Those internet cafes that haven’t started offering other services such as ticketing must be experiencing very lean times. People simply don’t like to use public computers anymore. Instead they bring their own computers with them. These computers are either laptops, tablets, iPads or smartphones.
While several hotels and guest houses as well as bars and cafes offer free wifi in rooms and public areas, it is often the case that people prefer to have access to the internet anywhere and at anytime.
It has reached the stage where travellers and long term residents look to their smart phone as their portal to the internet. It is a simple matter to use a Smartphone as a modem in order to access the web.
Koh Phangan is an island that doesn’t have its own undersea cable to the mainland for the internet. At the moment it piggy backs off Koh Samui’s connection. This affects the speed of the cable internet on Koh Phangan.
At the moment the only 3G network with coverage all over Koh Phangan is DTAC. This is a great way to get cheap internet on the island. You can buy pre-paid plans that range from 49 Thai Baht to 890 Thai Baht a month. No longer can internet places in Koh Phangan charge 2 to 5 Baht a minute with impunity. The monopoly is being broken.
The situation is due to get better in the summer of 2013. AIS and TOT have announced they will roll out island-wide coverage. At the moment DTAC is far from ideal as the service is over-subscribed.
It seems that in 2013 Koh Phangan will really get connected. It won’t be many years before the whole island has good 4G coverage.
Dongles in Koh Phangan
If you are using a dongle then the situation is a bit more complicated. It seems that each network (DTAC, True, TOT and AIS) requires users to buy their dongle – you cannot change sim cards on the one dongle.
The thing about extreme sports is that words and pictures do not properly convey the adrenalin buzz you get from doing them. What is really needed to express the excitement of things like kiteboarding, windsurfing and mountain biking is video. And finally, businesses in Koh Phangan are beginning to realize this.
Google, that irritating company who regards itself as the internet, bought YouTube and now (surprise, surprise) ranks highly video footage in its search engine results. For those who haven’t switched over to Bing or Yahoo the best way to promote a business is to now make a video.
One company that has made impressive inroads in this respect is SLK2 Adventure. It is a shop based at Baan Manali Resort (that’s a great place in India, BTW) on Nai Wok beach, near Thongsala. Their website is poorly designed but that is an easy fix. What I do like is the 2 videos they have made. Time and effort has gone into the videos and they really ‘sell’ the sports.
I am sure SLK2 will be a successful venture primarily because the videos are great and people visiting the island now have more money for activities. Without further ado here are the videos. Enjoy!
Kiteboarding in Koh Phangan
Windsurfing in Koh Phangan
The traditional type of accommodation on the island of Phangan for many years has been the wooden bungalow on stilts. Until the late 1990s the vast majority of visitors to the island stayed in a simple bungalow structure made of local wood and thatched with coconut fronds. This has changed and now there is a full range of accommodation options in Koh Phangan from backpacker cheapies to hostels to hotel rooms with private pools.
The first alteration to the basic wooden bungalow was to build concrete bathrooms on the back of the bungalows. As bungalow operators gathered more money with increased occupancy levels many put their profits back into their business by upgrading their accommodation. This meant knocking down the wooden bungalows and putting up concrete units with air-con, hot water and satellite TV. By doing so a landlord could increase rent from $3 a night to $30 a night and more.
The next stage is naturally putting in a swimming pool and then building a hotel with rooms rather than villas or bungalows.
Naturally not all beaches in Koh Phangan have developed in the same way. Thong Nai Pan Noi has gone very much up market, but beaches like Haad Sadet and Haad Khom have stayed with the simple bungalow format. In Haad Yuan Centara Pariya has gone for round eco bungalows. On Haad Yao there is a good combination of backpacker bungalows, boutique accommodation and hotel rooms. This mixture of accommodation is best exemplified by Haad Rin.
There is the Dancing Elephant in Haad Rin. It has air-con dorms with optional double beds for couples. I am not sure if that is an invitation to exhibitionism but it shows how Koh Phangan has adapted the hostel format.
The other notable hostel in Haad Rin is Same Same Lodge. It has 1 dorm for 10 people and 2 dorms for 16 people. This is very much a party hostel. During the Full Moon Party week they throw buffets and live music parties. This is a hostel unlike in other countries such as Italy or France where nobody is expecting to go to bed early. Haad Rin is the party capital of Koh Phangan, and its hostels reflect this hedonistic attitude.
The thing about these hostels is that they are not cheap. A bed in a fan dorm in Same Same Lodge costs 550 Thai Baht a night. Moon Paradise Resort is close to the party beach of Haad Rin Nai and has bungalows starting at 550 Thai Baht. If you are a couple hostel accommodation makes no financial sense at all. The party Sunrise Hotel with swimming pool and foam parties has comfortable air-con rooms with TV, hot water and fridge starting at 1,150 Thai Baht.
At the top end of the accommodation spectrum at Haad Rin is Best Western Phanganburi Resort. It has rooms and cottages with air-con, hot water, bath tub, and satellite TV set in manicured gardens with a beach front pool and spa. Prices at the Best Western Phanganburi Resort start at 2,000 Thai Baht. That is only 4 times more expensive than a hostel bed.
In terms of profit per square meter it is very likely that hostel beds are a better business model than building expensive 3 and 4 star hotels. If there is demand then it is likely that more lease owners will convert to hostel-style set ups.
This is the big ‘if’ since many visitors to Thailand, especially old Thailand hands still expect to stay in a bungalow near the beach. This traditional Thai accommodation is environmentally friendly and often sociable since people hang out on their balconies and socialize. Time will tell whether hostels spread to other beaches on Koh Phangan.
Thong Nai Pan Noi is the leading beach for those looking for luxury accommodation on Koh Phangan. The beach has undergone significant change over the last 10 years. It’s gone from one of the best hippy beaches in the world with a great range of bargain and mid-range accommodation to an enclave for ‘5 star guests’. The only constant in this process of change is the beach itself. It remains a perfect stretch of white sand fringed with coconut palms and surrounded by jungle covered mountains. Thong Nai Pan Noi has all year swimming. The sea bed drops off at a perfect angle for swimming – neither at too shallow an angle nor too quickly.
The beach is dominated by Anantara Rasananda Resort. It belongs to the popular Anantara brand that has luxury hotels all over Thailand and Asia. Anantara offers beach front villas that have 2 storeys. Many of them have small plunge pools with salas. The villas are furnished in a contemporary style and feature 32 inch LCD TV, DVD player, iPod dock, rain shower, expresso machine, air-con and IDD telephone.
There are 7 villa types to choose from:
1) Pool Suite – 100 sqm of living space
2) Garden Pool Suite – 130 sqm of living space
3) Ocean Pool Suite – 100 sqm of living space with ocean views
4) Ocean Garden Pool Suite – 200 sqm of living space with ocean view pool, private garden with sala and day bed.
5) Lagoon Pool Suite – 140 sqm of living space
6) Thai Pool Villa – 180 sqm of living space with Thai interior styling
7) Ocean Pool Villa – 260 sqm of living space with open-air bathroom, garden courtyard and beach front pool.
Anantara Rasananda has a reception area that features a communal pool with swim up bar. The restaurant offers a Michelin trend menu with a wide range of wines. The resort also has a fitness room and a spa set in a tropical garden. For those who want luxury on the beach in Koh Phangan Rasananda is the best option.
Panviman Resort and Spa
Panviman Resort and Spa is the original 5 star hotel in Koh Phangan. It is located on the headland between Thong Nai Pan Noi and the southern Thong Nai Pan Yai. The headland is a large area and over the years Panviman has expanded to fill the land available. In 2012 Panviman gained ownership of the entire headland and now plans to expand its operation to offer villas with access to both beaches in Thong Nai Pan Bay.
Panviman has the best located swimming pool possibly on the island; it is on the peak of the headland with an infinity lip that allows guests to hang over the edge and gain a view of the bay. The pool drops through a series of terraces making smaller pools, one of which is also a Jacuzzi. Next to the pool is a decking area and restaurant that serves food during the day.
There are four restaurants in Panviman Resort: the pool bar just mentioned, Pan Sea Restaurant, Stone Beach Restaurant and Cool Sand Pub and Restaurant. Pan Sea Restaurant is a large round building on the hill. Stone Beach Restaurant is on the beach and has a popular BBQ and buffet in the evening. Cool Sand Pub is also on the beach (Thong Nai Pan Noi side) it has live music most nights. The music is easy listening and nobody seems interested in either the music or the high drinks prices.
Panviman has hotel style rooms as well as individual villas. All rooms have recently been refurbished so the rooms don’t have that ‘tired’ look that many luxury hotels in Thailand seem to develop after a few years in business. All rooms have air-con, LCD satellite TV, private bathroom with bath tub, mini bar, telephone safe, and tea and coffee making facilities.
There are 7 different grades of accommodation to choose from:
1) Superior Hotel Rooms with 32 sqm of living space
2) Deluxe Hotel Rooms with 44 sqm of living space
3) Deluxe Cottages with with 51 sqm of living space
4) Family Cottages with 2 floors and a total of 80 sqm of living space
5) Pool Villas with private pool and 109 sqm of living apace
6) Spa Villas with private outdoor Jacuzzi and 80 sqm of living space
7) President Suite with private outdoor Jacuzzi and 121 sqm of living space
The high-end villas and suites are built around huge granite boulders that form part of the interior and exterior design. This adds a certain drama to the accommodation and also helps to keep the interiors naturally cool.
Panviman has a small beach at the bottom of the headland on the Thong Nai Pan Noi side. Here there are sun loungers, free towels and drinks service. No doubt they will also try to claim a piece of Thong Nai Pan Yai beach.
Panviman has a spa overlooking the bay called Viman Spa. There is free wifi throughout the resort.
Santhiya Resort and Spa
On the opposite end of the beach to Panviman is Santhiya Resort and Spa. It is on its own small beach. The resort used to be accessible via a walk through Tapan Noi Resort. The Santhiya management has closed this route and now guests have to take a hilly, unpaved jungle road to get to the main beach. Most of the guests staying at Santhiya have booked through travel agents and are unaware until arrival that they have been artificially isolated to make sure they spend most of their money in the bars and restaurants of Santhiya.
On the plus side Santhiya is certainly a very imposing resort. There is strong attention to detail with the teak lanna-style architecture. The landscaping is also beautifully done. The swimming pool is massive. It covers several levels and includes a giant waterfall. Since the ‘Santhiya Beach’ has slightly coarse sand the guests seem to spend most of their time around the giant pool.
Chantara Restaurant is perched on the headland and has a great view of both Thong Nai Pan beaches. This is the main eating area in Santhiya. The restaurant specializes in fresh fish, steak and Thai food. It is also possible to organize private beach dining. Mahkok is a small coffee shop in a shady spot with a small shop.
There is a spa called Ayurvana that offers the usual scrubs, wraps, facials and massages. It also has Swedish massage. Somewhat stingily free wifi is only available in the lobby and restaurant area.
Finally, there is a health center with weights, tread mill and other exercise equipment.
Santhiya has 99 rooms and villas. All villas have air-con, hot water, satellite TV, DVD/CD player, IDD telephone, mini bar, toiletries and hairdryer. Deluxe rooms are in a low rise building with verandas enjoying a sea view.
There are 11 different types of accommodation on offer:
1) Santhiya Deluxe Room – 43 sqm of living space
2) Santhiya Supreme Deluxe – 48 sqm of living space
3) Santhiya Supreme Deluxe Pool Access – 48 sqm of living space with access to a dramatic swimming pool with a great sea view
4) Santhiya The Rock – 86 sqm of living space over 2 storeys. There is a large rock downstairs that forms part of the décor.
5) Santhiya Sea View Villa Suite – villa with 85 sqm of living space.
6) Santhiya Junior Pool Villa Suite – villa with 115 sqm of living space and a plunge pool.
7) Santhiya Hideaway Pool Villa Suite – villa with 115 sqm of living space a private swimming pool
8) Santhiya Sea View Pool Suite – villa with 115 sqm of living space, a private pool with sea view and indoor / outdoor bathtubs.
9) Santhiya Grand Villa Suite – villa with 150 sqm of living space over 2 floors, a private pool.
10) Santhiya Sea View Pool Villa Suite Plus – villa with 115 sqm of living space and sea view private pool.
11) Santhiya Royal Grand Pool Villa Suite – villa with 197 sqm of living space, private sea view pool, living room, 2 bedrooms, open-air bathroom and private garden.
Buri Rasa is the latest addition to accommodation options in Thong Nai Pan Noi. It is located at the southern end of the beach. The hotel is still under construction. So far the restaurant and a coffee shop are open for business. Buri Rasa is designed to fill the gap between the luxury of Rasananda, Panviman and Santhiya and the more local style of other places.
Sunrise Villa is located on a hill behind Phuwadee Resort. It is the best value for money private villa for rent in Thong Nai Pan Noi. The villa was completed in 2011 and since then has hosted both families and young couples.
Sunrise Villa has 3 double bedrooms. Two bedrooms downstairs and a master bedroom upstairs. All rooms are en-suite with hot water showers. The rooms have air-con and are fully furnished. The master bedroom has floor to ceiling windows that provide spectacular views of Thong Nai Pan bay.
These views are also available from the wrap-around balcony at the front of the house that is accessed from the living room. Also downstairs is a fully equipped kitchen and dining area.
The villa is set in a large landscaped garden in a quiet area. Sunrise Villa is about 800 meters from the beach. It takes only a few minutes to walk to the beach, but the return takes longer because of a steep hill. It is a good idea to rent a bike or a jeep if staying at Sunrise Villa.
The villa comfortably accommodates 6 people. A flat rate of 5,000 Thai Baht is charged per night, except during the peak season around Christmas / New Year.
To find out more about Sunrise Villa visit their website: www.sunrisevilla.info
This place was previously called Raiwin Resort and then Thong Nai Pan Resort. It is now called Phuwadee Resort. It has a series of concrete bungalows near the beach in a garden. They all have air-con, hot water shower, electronic safe and TV with only a few channels.
Phuwadee Resort was the first place to offer concrete bungalows and a pool on the beach. The owners did themselves no favors by painting the bungalows pink. Now there are mostly 5 star prices for beach front accommodation Phuwadee Resort is good value.
The service is not great and the food and drink at the restaurant is average. If you put aside these deficiencies the room rates are competitive, and there is a small swimming pool to enjoy. The location of Phuwadee on the middle of the beach is also great.
Thong Tapan is a locally owned resort that also owns the budget bungalow Tapan Noi Resort next door. Thong Tapan are a friendly and organized operation run by a family. Most of the bungalows are set in a beautiful tropical garden on a hill just back from the beach. They used to have a great restaurant serving the best Thai food on the beach. Now it is closed and guests use the next door Tapan Noi restaurant.
Some of the bungalows have been recently refitted and slightly upgraded. Thong Tapan offers both simple single room bungalows and family villas.
Wifi is available for garden suite, superior beach front, 2 bedroom villas and the Thong Tapan suite.
The resort has recently taken over the failed Tropical Dive Club. They now offer dive courses as well as fun dives. Another innovation on Thong Tapan’s part is a Full Moon Package deal.
Thong Tapan Accommodation
There are 30 accommodation units to choose from. They are divided into the following categories:
1) Standard Wooden Bunglaows – with king or twin beds, fan, small veranda and shower
2) Superior Garden Bungalows – with king or twin beds, bathroom, veranda and air-con.
3) Garden suite – king or twin beds, air-con, larger living space, bathroom and 30 meters from beach.
4) Superior Beach Front Bungalows – with king size bed, dressing table, air-con, bathroom, wall fan and on the beach.
5) 2 Bedroom Villas – 2 bedroom, shared balcony, air-con, dressing table, bathroom and 20 meters from the beach.
6) Thong Tapan Suite – with king size bed, bathroom and air-con. Up a flight of stairs overlooking the beach.
People are apt to see the Tapan Noi as an extension of Thong Tapan Resort. It is the same people who own it and the restaurant for the Tapan Noi serves both resorts. The restaurant is on the beach and has a popular BBQ most nights during busy times on the beach.
Accommodation at Tapan Noi
Tapan Noi has a number of wooden bungalows on the rocky headland at the northern end of the beach. They vary from simple bungalows without toilets to bungalows with separate living / eating area. The bungalows cost about 300 Thai Baht a night to rent. They cannot be booked in advance or online. It is first come, first served. Some of the bungalows have real character (even if they are a bit shabby) and great views. These are the cheapest bungalows available on Thong Nai Pan Noi beach.
It used to be that you could walk through Tapan Noi onto ‘Santhiya Beach’. This route has now been blocked.
Sandee Bungalow used to be the favorite place for regular returnees to the beach. They had a range of good value bungalows, some of which were really cheap if rented by the month. These bungalows have been torn down and replaced with more expensive units.
Sandee Bungalow still is good value compared to much of the other accommodation options on Thong Nai Pan Noi. They are open to negotiation. You can email Sandee to book a room in advance.
Sandee Bungalow is on the corner as the road leaves the village and turns left and parallel to the beach. It takes about 1 minute to walk to the beach from Sandee bungalow.
The restaurant is closed. The only service they offer is clean sheets once a week. Opposite Sandee Bungalow is an internet place where the management are to be found. They offer the best motorbike rental deals.
To reserve a room email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thong Nai Pan Noi Village
Thong Nai Pan Noi has a few good restaurants in the small village leading from the beach to the main road. These are Better Than Sex, Luna Lounge and Jip Shop.
For fast food the place to go is Handsome Sandwich on the corner where the road to Tanaporn starts. They do a great burger. Next door is H20 Scuba School.
The popular Tanaporn Massage House offers massages, facials etc. at much cheaper rates than the spas at the big hotels. Next to Tanaporn Massage House is the Star Hut Restaurant.
Other places to try in the village are Again and Again, Bamboo, Jungle Bar and La Hacienda. There are other places that come and go fairly frequently as rents become due. The village has cheaper food and drinks than the beach resorts. It also provides a chance for tourists to meet Thais who aren’t serving customers. At the end of the village is a big shop with fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. It also sells petrol.
We recommend venturing into Thong Nai Pan Noi village and taking the time to explore the immediate surroundings. It is a wonderland.
One of the most obvious omissions in Koh Phangan facilities and amenities has been a decent school. Now we are soon to have Koh Phangan airport, it has been deemed the right time to start the ambitious project of a school. For many who regularly visit Koh Phangan the move has been seen as another example of how the island is becoming like Koh Samui. For most of the ex-pat community on the island the news of a school has been met with indifference. And for all but the wealthiest Thais the school is of little import. Indeed the biggest reaction to the news of an international school in Koh Phangan has been from teachers looking to find a job in paradise.
Si Panya School is located opposite Wat Pho near Ban Tai village. It is just off the road leading to Thong Nai Pan. The school follows the British curriculum and is for children aged 5 to 12 years old. The curriculum covers the following subjects:
The school opened in March 2012, and so far has about 7 children enrolled. The website does not list either the number of teachers or their qualifications. From looking at the gallery pages I estimate there are 3 foreign women involved and probably one Thai teacher.
Is it time for an International School in Koh Phangan?
For an international school to succeed there obviously needs to be a fairly wide catchment area with a suitable amount of demand. Few will argue that the Thai schools in Koh Phangan are of a poor quality. Nationally speaking Thai education is good at basic numeracy and literacy – figures show literacy is well over 90%. In terms of more sophisticated education the system has failed many Thais; and this is especially true in Koh Phangan. The wealthy Thais on the island normally send their kids away to the Catholic school in Suratthani for their education.
It is not just education at stake: Koh Phangan is famous for its parties. Inevitably drugs, organized crime and prostitution follow in the wake of the party scene. These are bad influences for kids growing up on the island.
The majority of foreigners who are staying legally and semi legally on the island are connected to tourism. They run bars etc, teach diving or call themselves DJs. It is a young demographic, most of who don’t have kids. If they did it is unsure how many of them can afford 7000 Thai baht a month for their kid’s education.
The cheaper option is distance learning packs. The Australian government has an excellent distance learning program with free books and online lessons.
In Koh Samui the International Schools have a wider pool of ex-pats to draw on. Until recently the boom in the luxury residential market meant foreign professionals resided on the island.
Ban Tai Center of Learning
Ban Tai is conveniently placed between Haad Rin and Thongsala, the 2 towns with the most facilities. Except for the hill just before Haad Rin it is also a flat area. It is for this reason that the off-shoots to the Full Moon Party are also located along this stretch of land. In Ban Tai and its surroundings are the Jungle Experience, the Half Moon Party, Shiva Moon Party, Ban Sabai After Party, Blue and Green Sramanora Waterfall Party and the Black Moon Party. Moreover, there is live music at The Sound on Fridays and Sundays.
The coastline from Thongsala to Ban Kai is full of cheap and mid-range resorts that cater to a young, party orientated crowd. The parties are outdoors and go on all night. The sound of the bass carries for miles. It is unlikely that they are going to turn it down on school nights.
Living in Paradise
Not thousands but millions of Westerners fed up with high taxes, bad weather and the alienation engendered by urban living dream of living in a place like Koh Phangan. The notion of ‘island life’ where people are laid back and friendly, where no one worries about being late, where everything is cheap, where a gorgeous beach is just a stone’s throw away is almost a Jungian archetype. It is thus no wonder that comment boxes for articles about Si Panya School are already filling up with job requests. Perhaps a better business model would be teacher training on Koh Phangan!
Despite my irony I would like the school to survive. I would also like for its fees to drop and for more Thai kids to have a chance at getting a better education. There have been rumours of oil exploration in the Gulf and this might lead to the success of the school. We will have to wait and see. As with the airport story, Koh Phangan International School is one that is bound to provoke a response, if only from teachers looking for a job.
For those interested the website for the school is: http://www.sipanyaschool.com/