Tag Archive for Koh Phangan airport

Changing Image of Koh Phangan

Tesco Lotus in Koh Phangan
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 Samui and a place for hippies and backpackers who didn’t mind slumming it. These perceptions are beginning to change, as well as visitor numbers to Koh Phangan.

The main advantage of Koh Samui over Koh Phangan as a tourist destination has always been amenities and facilities. Since the late 1980s Koh Samui has had an airport, big modern hospitals, international schools, well-stocked supermarkets, luxury hotels and fine dining options. Areas like Chaweng and Lamai also offer entertainment areas teaming with bars and clubs that are famous for offering intoxicating nightlife.

In contrast, Koh Phangan kept development to a minimum. Rainforest protection meant that 90% of the island retained its original tree cover. Building heights were restricted. Road repairs were slow. The hospital was kept basic – capable of only dealing with minor medical problems. There were no supermarkets like Tesco. Most of the accommodation was traditional thatched bungalows on the beach and few places had swimming pools.

Two things have changed the image of Koh Phangan: the Full Moon Party and Thong Nai Pan Noi beach. These two factors are pulling in the opposite directions but have both drastically increased visitor numbers to the island and the revenue of its businesses.

The Full Moon Party started out as a small beach party attended by a few hundred hippies. It was influenced by the Goan trance parties in India. As the party became more notorious so more people started coming to Haad Rin Nai just for the party.

Party numbers grew at an alarming rate and the main beach in Haad Rin changed from being a place full of cheap bungalows to being a strip of bars catering to the full moon hoards.

The people going to the Full Moon Parties are often not cost-conscious backpackers but people with income to spend on better accommodation and lots and lots of alcohol. As a result Haad Rin today is full of mid-range resorts with swimming pools and lots of bars offering pizzas, English breakfasts and drink deals.

I have been to several Full Moon Parties. Official figures say that 20,000 people go to the average party. I’m not sure it is that many but it is certainly thousands.

Thong Nai Pan Noi used to be a travelers’ secret – a perfect beach tucked away from the world surrounded by an amphitheater of mountains. A place for the discerning traveler with cheap prices and an addictively laid back atmosphere. Even the only hotel on Thong Nai Pan Noi, the Panviman, cost just 500 Thai Baht a night ($15) back in 1998.

Developers soon realized the potential of Thong Nai Pan Noi to attract ‘5 star customers’. From 2000 to 2008 two other luxury hotels were built on the beach – Anantara Rasananda and Santhiya. At present another is being built and Panviman is expanding. These places often charge close to $1,000 a night for private pool villas.

The hotel resorts in Thong Nai Pan Noi have high occupancy levels – much higher than their Koh Samui counterparts. It seems the wealthy prefer the unspoiled nature and idyllic beach of Thong Nai Pan Noi over the loud and brash beach culture offered on Koh Samui.

As a result of the Full Moon Party and Thong Nai Pan Noi’s popularity the roads have been improved around the island, a Tesco Lotus has been opened in the main town of Thongsala and several of the other beaches have started upgrading accommodation.

In early 2012 permission was given to start building Koh Phangan airport. The authorities have not offered much more information but it looks like it’s going to be near Chaloklum village and be used by the low cost carrier Kan Air.

Clearly the central and provincial governments have realized the potential of Koh Phangan to become a major travel destination in Thailand. No longer, it seems, is the island deemed as a ‘backwater’ and a ‘little brother to Koh Samui’.

At the moment there are still obscure beaches like Haad Khom, Than Sadet, Haad Yuan and Haad Tian East where the old hippy feel has been maintained but these places are beginning to feel like relics, albeit charming ones, from the past as Koh Phangan becomes more and more the reserve of those who want to party all night and those who want 5 star luxury.

Koh Phangan Airport

Koh Phangan airport
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 on Koh Phangan seemed an obvious progression for the island: tourism is booming like never before and places like Thong Nai Pan Noi are attracting high-end customers who are prepared to pay for the convenience of flying to the island.

The argument is now over. They are building an airport in Koh Phangan. At first it seemed it was going to be located on the east coast between Than Sadet and Thong Nai Pan. There was considerable land clearance in the area, but that has now stopped. The reason has not been given. It must be assumed that the initial site was found to be unsuitable. Now the workers have moved to an area near Chaloklum village.

It is going to be Kan Airways that are going to run flights to Koh Phangan. Few other details are available. There are posters around the island in Thai that announce the construction of an airport in Koh Phangan. They thank some official and give no other information. The authorities on the island have not seen the need for further comment. This is partly the way things are done in Thailand. Construction goes ahead, and only when it is fait accompli do the facts come out: consultations about changes are not openly invited.

We can only guess to the details, but it looks like the Chaloklum site will allow a long enough runway to accommodate aircraft that can make it all the way from Bangkok to Koh Phangan. A short runway would mean the inconvenience of transfers in Suratthani.

Kan Airways is traditionally a low cost carrier, however demand and limited places will no doubt drive the prices up. That said, the current option of flying to Koh Samui is overpriced thanks to the monopoly that Bangkok Airways have. Moreover, the convenience of not having to catch a boat to Koh Phangan will be worth paying for. It is time consuming and sometimes the boats pitch up and down and cause motion sickness. That is particularly true of the Lomprayah catamarans which bounce over the waves.

We can only speculate when Koh Phangan airport will be finished. Obviously before the peak season around Christmas and New Year 2012 would make commercial sense.

For Koh Samui the writing is on the wall. Hotels are already running at 40% capacity. Koh Phangan airport is no doubt going to draw further business away from the island – which many see as justly deserved for the sin of over-development.

Interesting times are ahead for the population of Koh Phangan.

For updates on Koh Phangan airport visit www.kohphanganairport.com