Tag Archive for Thong Nai Pan Noi

Koh Phangan 2015

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.

The Coast vs Buri Rasa

The Coast Resort is the latest luxury resort in Koh Phangan. It has broken the trend previously set of only building luxury resorts on Thong Nai Pan Noi. This resort is in Haad Rin town near the smaller (and less beautiful) of the Haad Rin beaches – Haad Rin Nai. Prices start at just under 3,000 Thai Baht for the basic superior room in the low season. Quite surprisingly, The Coast has managed to capture the top spot in the Trip Advisor list of hotels in Koh Phangan.

The Coast

In 2013 the number one position belonged to Buri Rasa in Thong Nai Pan Noi – which at the time had rooms for under 3,000 Thai Baht a night. The same rooms now are nearly 5,000 Thai Baht a night. In 2012 the best hotel according to Trip Advisor reviews was Rasananda on Thong Nai Pan Noi.

So how come both Rasananda and Buri Rasa have more reviews than The Coast but are ranked lower? The Trip Advisor algorithm is fairly basic I would suggest, and favours new places. That is it.

With regards pricing, it is clear that just as Buri Rasa doubled its prices in its second year of business, The Coast will no doubt do the same thing.

The Coast is a bigger resort than Buri Rasa. It has a bigger pool and a gym. It attempts to be modern and stylish with a splash of red and plenty of steel and glass. In comparison Buri Rasa has much better appointed rooms and attempts an architectural theme that is carried through with its Mediterranean style Village Square complex of bars, cafes and shops.

Buri Rasa

The main difference between these two luxury hotels lies in their prospective guests: Buri Rasa is beachfront and is designed for those prepared to spend over $150 a night to stay on one of the best beaches in Thailand, namely Thong Nai Pan Noi. The Coast is near a polluted beach and is designed for those who can afford to spend $100 a night and stay near Thailand’s largest open air rave – the Full Moon Party. It is a safe bet that such customers exist as Great Western Phanganburi in Haad Rin has been doing brisk trade for several years.

The question is how will The Coast fare when it is knocked off its Trip Advisor perch by the next luxury resort to be built on Koh Phangan?

Click here to view Koh Phangan hotels and resorts

Thong Nai Pan Noi Accommodation Review

Thong Nai Pan Noi beach

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.

Anantara Rasananda

Anantara Rasananda

Anantara Rasananda

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.

Rasananda Accommodation

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.

Garden Pool Suite

Garden Pool Suite

Ocean Garden Pool Suite

Ocean Garden Pool Suite

Ocean Pool Villa

Ocean Pool Villa

Pool Suite

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 Pool

Panviman Pool

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 Accommodation

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.

President Suite

President Suite

Spa Villa

Pool Villa

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.

Santhiya Resort and Spa

Santhiya Resort and Spa

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 Accommodation

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.

Deluxe Room

Deluxe Room

Pool Villa Suite

Pool Villa Suite

Hideaway Pool Villa Suite

Hideaway Pool Villa Suite

Grand Pool Villa Suite

Grand Pool Villa Suite

Seaview Pool Villa Suite

Seaview Pool Villa Suite

Seaview Villa Suite

Sea view Villa Suite

The Rock

The Rock

Buri Rasa

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.

Buri Rasa

Buri Rasa

Sunrise Villa

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

Sunrise Villa

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

Balcony

Balcony

Living room

Living room

Floor to ceiling windows in master bedroom

Floor to ceiling windows in master bedroom

Master bedroom

Master bedroom

Dining room

Dining room

Kitchen

Kitchen

View from living room

View from living room

Phuwadee Resort

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

Phuwadee Resort

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.

Room

room

Bathroom

Bathroom

food at Phuwadee

food at Phuwadee

Thong Tapan

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.

Thong Tapan Resort

Thong Tapan Resort

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.

Wooden bungalow

Wooden bungalow

Superior beach front bungalow

Superior beach front bungalow

Superior garden bungalow

Superior garden bungalow

Thong Tapan suite

Thong Tapan suite

Tapan Noi

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.

Tapan Noi

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.

Tapan Noi bungalow

Tapan Noi bungalow

Sandee Bungalow

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

Sandee Bungalow

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: sandee_bungalow@yahoo.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.

5 Best Swimming Beaches

Thong Nai Pan Noi

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)

Haad Yao
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

Bottle Beach
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

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.

Than Sadet

Than Sadet
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)

Haad Tian East
Farther down the east coast is another beach that is inaccessible by land. That is Haad Tian. It is similar to Haad Sadet in size. The sea is fine white and the water great for swimming.

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.

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.