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
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,
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 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
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: email@example.com
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/
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 Koh Phangan has its own micro climate governed by winds in the gulf, pressure zones, the mountainous terrain etc. The island is still 90% covered with virgin forest. It is often called ‘rainforest’. I’m not sure this is an accurate description – in the Amazon it rains nearly every day. That is not the case in Koh Phangan. Rather you will notice that after a few really hot days the humidity will raise dramatically and then there will be a quick downpour of rain followed by blue skies and lower humidity.
The wet season or monsoon in Thailand starts in the north and moves south. The timing of the monsoon varies by a few days every year. In Koh Phangan the monsoon usually hits at the end of October or the start of November. It rains heavily for about a month and then eases off. During the height of the rainy season the waves really pick up. It is not advised that you swim during the monsoon. The waves are not for surfing. They are dangerous and have a strong undertow on many of the beaches. Indeed, it is unlikely that you will stay in Koh Phangan during monsoon. Several businesses shut up during this period and many of the beaches become cut off because of flooded roads. Many of the ex-pats go up north to places to Chiang Mai during the rainy season in Koh Phangan to dodge the bad weather. Expect serious disruption to ferry and other transport links during October and November.
The peak season in Koh Phangan and elsewhere in Thailand is the Christmas and New Year period. Party organizers ignore the course of the moon and throw Christmas and New Year ‘Full Moon’ Parties that are the busiest of the year. The weather at this time is hit-and-miss. Many of the beaches will still have sand bags from the monsoon. The skies are often grey and there is the occasional downpour.
From the graphic above you can see the average rainfall and temperature for each month of the year. This naturally changes slightly from year to year. In 2011 it changed considerably – there were heavy rains in March (that flooded Bangkok and other parts of Thailand causing landslides, property damage and loss of life) and a fairly gentle monsoon. This pattern did not repeat itself in 2012 gratefully.
The hottest months in Koh Phangan are March and April. Temperatures are on average 32 degrees but can climb to 36 degrees. The other months have an average temperature of 30 or 31 degrees. These figures are slightly deceptive – June and July feel hotter and more humid than October to December.
In terms of rainfall, January and February are the driest months and October and November are the wettest months. From May to August there is a pattern of hot weather followed by sudden rainstorms.
March to November is the low tidal season. On beaches like Srithanu, Wok Tum, Hin Kong, Nai Wok and Haad Khom swimming is confined to the part of the day when the tide is high. These beaches are better during the high tidal period from December to April. Beaches in the north and East such as Bottle Beach, Chaloklum, Thong Nai Pan Noi and Yai, Than Sadet, Haad Thian and Haad Yuan have little tidal difference throughout the year – they don’t have a coral reef and are thus great for year round swimming but not snorkeling.
I personally love June the best in Koh Phangan. The sky is bright blue. The sea is flat and warm like a bath and the beaches in the afternoon are virtually empty. The summer holiday crowds haven’t arrived yet and it is often just me and a couple of dogs sitting in the shallows cooling off. I believe that June also has the best light for taking photographs. In contrast, December is the most expensive month to stay on the island and has some of the most average weather. It just goes to show how out-of-synch holidays and tropical weather can be!
The picture at the top is of the monsoon on Thong Nai Pan Noi. Below is a little widget to tell you the weather conditions in Koh Phangan at the moment.
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 economic sources are still important to the population.
In Chaloklum and Srithanu they still have fleets of boats for fishing. Many of them are traditional long tail boats with flat bottoms that can be moored in shallow bays. The main catch is squid.
There are bigger commercial fishing boats that fish far out to sea. They can often be seen at night in such bays as Thong Nai Pan. They line up across the bay seeking shelter from storms farther out to sea.
Many of the fish found on nightly barbecues on the beaches of Koh Phangan were caught in the Gulf of Thailand, some close by. Commonly found are barracuda, shark, white snapper and red snapper.
It is possible to catch these fish off the coast of Koh Phangan as well other fish such as mackerel. Legally speaking it is alright to fish anywhere along the coast of the island except for Mai Haad and Koh Ma This area is protected by marine park status. There are some good fishing spots away from human settlement areas around the island. These are not on the ‘tourist trail’. You have to pay a Thai person to take you out on a boat to show you the best fishing spots.
For many Thais on Koh Phangan fishing is both a hobby and a possibility of catching either food or something that can be exchanged for money. Such is the privilege of islander’s lives. The simplest way to go fishing in Thailand is with a hook and some line on a stick. The hook is baited with something cheap like squid and cast off from a promising rocky outcrop.
Those who are serious about their fishing might not find the Koh Phangan fishing scene so exciting. Most of the fish on offer don’t offer a great challenge to land. Moreover, much of the Gulf of Thailand has been over-fished.
The topic of fishing in Koh Phangan must include comment about fishing during the full moon. In fishing lore opinion is divided about the idea: some swear that the fish bite more during the full moon, others that it is a terrible time to fish. However, night fishing is popular in Koh Phangan. The fishermen hang strip lights off the side of the boats – they don’t rely on the light of the moon.
Putting aside the notion that the full moon has magical powers to lure fish to their doom, the brightness of the moon is not dependent on how full it is. Other factors such as weather conditions and cloud cover are more important. The amount of light from the moon does not vary very much during its various phases (except when there is a black moon). Indeed it is possible to have the astronomical event called the ‘full moon’ during the day.
Light at night will have different effects on different fish. For example, nocturnal fish will be less active if there is more light filtering down from the surface of the sea. Whereas diurnal fish will be more active if it is brighter.
In terms of equipment, there are plenty of places to buy or rent fishing equipment on Koh Phangan. There is a good market stall in Thongsala selling equipment. On the main drag there is a dedicated fishing shop that has rods, reels, bait, hooks etc. They might also be able to give you some tips about the best spots to try your luck with the rod.
Many people recommend squid fishing in Koh Phangan. This can be done virtually anywhere along the coast. Lots of locals are doing it. They wrap fishing line around a plastic bottle and use a colorful lure. They then cast out and keep turning the bottle to ensure the lure moves side to side as it is going through the water.
Food in general is becoming an expensive commodity. As a result, the temptation to take as many fish as possible from the Gulf of Thailand is a real one. This tropical region has traditionally had small populations that include the Moken or Sea Gypsies that heavily rely on fishing. The fish supply could support such remote populations. Much of the commercial fishing around the world is unsustainable. Koh Phangan that hosts up to 40,000 people at a time has created a large demand for fresh, locally caught fish as well as farmed fish and prawns.
When fishing in Koh Phangan it is worth bearing this in mind and throwing back most of the catch, just keeping the older, fully grown ones.
NB. The video above was filmed at Mae Haad according to the title. This is a protected area. We can give the Thais the benefit of the doubt. There is a good chance that the person taking the video didn’t know exactly where he or she was. Of more interest is the way that the Thai works the hook and manages to keep his cigarette in his mouth.
There are plenty of frightening statistics about the high percentage of people in America and Europe who have allergies. Some of the commonest types of allergies appear to be connected to food. The nut allergy can cause the trachea to swell and for the sufferer to die without immediate medical assistance. Then there are those people for health, green or moral reasons don’t eat meat or fish and maybe even not dairy products.
I have hung out in places all over the world and I’ve noticed that allergies are a rich country problem. As a result, I’ve never met a single Thai who had hay fever (despite breathing in pollen all year round) or a food allergy. Moreover, despite the Buddha being very clear on the reverence we should place on all living things, I’ve never met a Thai vegetarian. Thus, all these things seem slightly strange to your average Thai living in Koh Phangan.
I mention all this because if you have a nut allergy it is pointless asking a beach restaurant or market stall if they have made nut dishes in their kitchen. One of the most common Thai dishes is Phad Thai which uses ground up peanuts. Out of politeness they might declare their kitchen spotless and nut free but it’s really not worth the risk.
It is best to arm yourself with knowledge before arriving in Thailand what dishes contain food you are allergic to. This is your best safeguard against allergic reaction.
The other option is self-catering. There are now a few private villas for rent around the island. They have varying cooking facilities. It is a good option if you have transport as villa rental in Koh Phangan is now becoming a cheaper option than staying in many of the resorts.
Vegetarian and Vegan Food
Food is not bad in Thailand if you are a vegetarian. Most dishes can be made with tofu instead of meat. The tofu is of the frozen variety and not as delicious as that found in China or Japan, but nevertheless fairly appetizing and good with Thai food.
There are also beans and nuts for protein. Many places have a veggie burger option – again I expect frozen food. The best thing is that fruit tastes delicious in Koh Phangan, and is very cheap if you go to the market. Mangosteens, rambutans, mangos, pineapples and bananas are all easy to find. When it is the rambutan season they are almost giving them away. In fact, sometimes they are.
It is possible to find in places like Big A supermarket things like lentils and pulses. Several places in Thongsala stock imported cheese. This however, is fairly expensive and probably not vegetarian or vegan cheese.
Being a vegan in Koh Phangan is not much harder than being a vegetarian. Other than eggs few dairy products are used in traditional cooking. Indeed you can substitute dairy products with coconut milk and cream. Coconuts are a wonderful food source and maybe the reason why so many Koh Phanganers look so healthy.
I have been a vegetarian in Koh Phangan with no problems. I never asked if Chang beer was vegetarian or not for fear of the wrong answer. If you have a serious food allergy then don’t rely on the waiter passing a message through to the cook. The safest thing is to cook or prepare your own food. With a selection of shops that is improving every year, this is becoming easier to arrange.
When discussing the best beaches in Koh Phangan you can enter a minefield of contention. People often visit Koh Phangan for the first time and choose a beach and then continue going back to the same beach year after year. They fall in love with the beach and tend to even get proprietorial about the beach, seeing it as in somewhere theirs.
Thus, you will find plenty of staunch defenders of Haad Rin Nai beach. They come to Haad Rin for the nightlife and parties and enjoy relaxing on the beach. For thousands of people this is a heavenly routine and therefore, Haad Rin is the best beach.
To avoid controversy I’m limiting my scope to just the best beaches in Koh Phangan for swimming. I am not concerned with nightlife, hotels, swimming pools, shops or transport. What counts is the quality of the sand, the cleanness of the water, the tidal difference and the shape of the sea bed.
Generally speaking most of the beaches on the west coast of Koh Phangan have large tidal differences. Places like Srithanu turn into mud flats at low tide. This is great for bird watching, but not ideal for swimming in the sea as the sea is far away and the sea bed can feel muddy underfoot.
Haad Yao (west)
The great exception on the west coast is Haad Yao. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘perfect beach’. It is a fine white sand beach that stretches for about 1 km. It is wide enough to play beach games on, and not to disappear during the rainy season. The bay of Haad Yao is protected by a coral reef that holds plenty of marine life and is great for shallow dives. Haad Yao offers great year round swimming. It has a small tidal difference and has soft sand underfoot. It gets deep neither too quickly nor too slowly as you walk out into the sea.
Although Haad Yao has recently seen resort development it still retains its natural charm.
Bottle Beach used to be the place to go to get that remote feeling. It is still remote, but is now connected by road to the rest of the island. The small white sand beach on the north coast draws beach lovers because of its beauty. It is a clean beach with lush mountain covered forests behind.
The sea at Bottle Beach is usually calm and the tidal variation is minimal. Again walking into the sea from the beach is great as it gets gradually deeper. The sea bottom is sand. Both the sea and the beach are clean. At the right time of year you can easily spot small fish in the water at Bottle Beach.
Thong Nai Pan Noi
In the north-east corner of Koh Phangan is the double bay of Thong Nai Pan. Of the two beaches Thong Nai Pan Noi has the more beautiful beach. It is about 800 meters long and is composed of fine white sand. The tidal change is small and the sea bottom sandy. It is an ideal beach for swimming. In June and July the sea is very still and makes for perfect photos.
For many, Thong Nai Pan Noi is undoubtedly the best swimming beach on Koh Phangan. The scenery is magnificent as the bay is surrounded by mountains. Birds of prey can be seen floating in the thermals, yellow butterflies flutter in the shallows and the area boasts lots of colorful flora and impressive granite boulders.
While many prefer the neighboring Thong Nai Pan Yai because it has cheaper accommodation, more of a Thai feel and a bigger beach, it is hard to argue that Thong Nai Pan Noi isn’t the better beach for swimming and sheer natural beauty.
The east coast of Koh Phangan doesn’t have any coral reefs but it is more sheltered and its beaches have very small tidal differences. Most of the east coast beaches are isolated as mountainous terrain makes it hard to access the beaches from land.
One such beach is Haad Sadet. This is a small beach just south of Thong Nai Pan Noi that is famous because 3 kings of Thailand have visited the nearby waterfall of Than Sadet.
The beach at Haad Sadet is great for swimming. The water is clear and the beach clean. It is a very peaceful beach as it is hard to get to and few people stay here. You can also walk to the even more remote beach of Haad Thong Reng that is also great for swimming.
Haad Tian (east)
As with the other beaches on the east coast, development has been kept in check in Haad Tian. The beach maintains its friendly hippy vibe and is popular with French people. For taking a dip in the sea and relaxing on the beach it is hard to better Haad Tian (also spelt Haad Thian).
Apologies to those whose beach wasn’t featured in this list of 5 best swimming beaches in Koh Phangan. There are of course several other great swimming beaches in Koh Phangan including Haad Rin Nok.
Little has been written down about the history of Koh Phangan. Speaking to the older people who were born on the island can reveal things about the island that are both surprising and shocking. It is not our place to re-tell these stories related in confidence; but needless to say that until tourism arrived in Koh Phangan in the 1970s the islanders meted out their own version of justice, and as with many of the other islands of Thailand the central government let Koh Phangan run itself in all but name.
The first thing that should be mentioned about Koh Phangan is that it was probably inhabited as far back as 500 to 100 BC. The evidence for this is an ancient bronze drum. Obviously, these people are very distant from the present ethnic group called ‘Thai’. It is thought that maybe these early people were related to the present day sea gypsies or Moken found in Ang Thong National Park and other out of the way islands in the Gulf.
Some 600 years ago a group of monks arrived on the island. They settled in Wat Phu Khao Noi just outside of Thongsala. There is also an old stupa from the same period at Ban Nua Village (near Ban Tai).
About 200 years ago Chinese people migrated from the island of Heinan. They originally started out fishing, but many moved to working on the tin mines. There were mines at Thong Nai Pan, Srithanu and Laem Son Lake near Haad Yao. The latter tin mine was only closed in the Twentieth Century.
The next historical marker for the island is the frequent visits of King Rama V between 1888 and 1910. The King had bought a steamship and toured his Kingdom. He fell in love with a small beach and waterfall in the east that was renamed Than Sadet meaning Royal Stream.
In 1970 Koh Phangan stopped being considered a sub-district of Koh Samui. At this point Koh Phangan became a separate sub-district and placed under Suratthani Province.
In the late 1970s regular tourists started appearing on Koh Phangan. The first placed to start catering for this new income source was Haad Rin. Despite people swearing it was this or that date, or Wikipedia and its false authority saying it was 1985, nobody is really sure when the first full moon party took place on the island. This typifies the slippery nature of Koh Phangan history.
Nobody is quite sure when the first Muslim people came to Koh Phangan either. Some think they are connected to the sea gypsies, others than the Muslims are a much newer addition to the island.
The constants of Koh Phangan history are probably fishing and coconut plantations. Both are still today important to the local economy of the island, and were probably so hundreds of years ago.
There are a number of old families on Koh Phangan who can trace their lineage back to well before the island became a tourist destination. In the case of some beaches these old families still hold on to the land and preserve a more low-key type of development. On other beaches the temptation to sell up was too great and outside developers have moved in with more grandiose schemes.
It is hoped that with the new interest in things creative on the island, someone will spend time to collect more information about the history of Koh Phangan.