Click on the timetable links to book tickets from Koh Phangan to Bangkok. You can get cheap online tickets easily through the 12go booking system. Don’t forget to book a taxi from your beach to Thongsala the day before you leave. All journeys from Koh Phangan to Bangkok start at Thongsala. Tell your driver which
Big review sites like Trip Advisor and Agoda are a mixed bag. They are internet businesses first and foremost. They use other people’s content – namely reviews of hotels, restaurants, activities etc. and place these between several columns offering ads and booking services for hotels. Thanks to cookies these sites will monitor your visits and
The island of Phangan has made large strides in terms of improving infrastructure, facilities and amenities: the roads have got better (especially the road from Bantai to Thong Nai Pan), the electrical power supply is more constant (new poles were placed in 2008); and now there is a Tesco Lotus in Thongsala for shopping. As
The Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Sunrise Beach strongly divides locals, other Thais and foreign visitors to Koh Phangan. Those Thais whose businesses benefit from the party tend to tolerate the noise as it brings financial reward. The taxi drivers make good money. The bar owners along the beach totally depend on the party
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
The average Koh Phangan local would probably scratch their head at the prospect of choosing to get on a push bike and see the island. Why not use a moped like everyone else? These farang are a strange bunch – deliberately choosing the hard option.
And the local Thais have a point. By 9am the sun is up and at full blast. Any physical exercise is going to see even the fittest souls pouring with sweat. And there is sunburn and heat stroke to contend with. And yet…
And yet there is the love of mountain biking, the fun of technically challenging off-road trails, and the chance to explore places that mopeds struggle to get to. Not to mention the great work out and the chance to save the environment the carbon and pollution from combustion engine fumes.
Phangan Bicycle Tours has been around now for a couple of years. The fact that they continue to get good reviews on Tripadvisor suggests they have a viable business. At the time of writing they had 220 ‘excellent’ scores and 3 ‘very good’ scores. No one has marked them as ‘average’, ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’. That is quite a feat. Nearly all popular restaurants and resorts have a handful of unsatisfied customers.
Here are the tours available:
- Classic. This is from 8.45am to 1.15pm and covers 19 kilometres. The course includes roads, dirt tracks and jungle trails. The tour takes in a coconut pressing plant, a rubber tree plantation, a temple and Phangan Animal Care in Wok Tum. This is a tour of the West coast of Koh Phangan which gives visitors a chance to see aspects of the island economy that were vital until tourism. The tour includes snacks and drinks and costs 1,150 Thai Baht per person.
- Family. This is from 9.45am to 2pm and covers 13 kilometres. The tour is on roads, dirt tracks and jungle trails. Sights passed include a school, the police station and a local market. The cost is 1,200 THB per person and includes snacks, drinks and lunch.
- Explorer. This is from 3pm to 7.30pm and covers 18 kilometres. The tour is on roads, countryside tracks and through the jungle. The tour takes in Phangan Police Station, a temple, a coconut processing plant, a rubber tree plantation and the night market. The cost is 1,250 Thai Baht a person and includes drinks, snacks and dinner.
There is a pick up / drop off service for all the tours. It is free from Thongsala, Baan Tai, Baan Kai and Wok Tum. Further away an extra fee of 100 THB is charged (except for Thong Nai Pan and Than Sadet that costs 200 THB).
All tours include mountain bike, helmet and first aid kit. None of the tours are neither particularly demanding nor dangerous. For the Family Tour there is the option of hiring a kid’s trailer (800 THB), kid’s bike (800 THB) or child seat (400 THB).
The company is run by Mark and Soren. They are 2 devoted cyclists who have been at the vanguard of developing the mountain biking scene in Koh Phangan. You can book online or visit their shop in Thongsala. See below for the location of Phangan Bicycle Tours.
The tours are as much about experiencing another side of Koh Phangan and Thai culture as they are getting a workout on a bike. If you are really keen for thrills and spills on a mountain bike then speak to Mark and Soren and they might be able to sort out a more adrenalin inducing tour for you.
Address: 99/121 Moo 1, Tambon Koh Phangan, Amphur Koh Phangan, Suratthani 84280
Telephone: +66 (0)89 593 9732
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.