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.