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.