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Weather in Koh Phangan

Monsoon

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.

Koh Phangan Weather
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.

Fishing in Koh Phangan


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.

Food Allergies, Vegetarians and Vegans

Thongsala Market
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.