The island of Koh Phangan is a gem sitting in the Gulf of Thailand just waiting to be explored.
Sadly the island’s beautiful landscape and tropical beaches are often overshadowed by the infamous Full Moon Party. The reason for this is that Koh Phangan is thought of being just a party island and nothing else.
In reality Koh Phangan is so much more and in fact it’s our favourite island in the south of Thailand. Unless visiting around the full moon dates, the party scene seems to be nonexistent.
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Things to do in Koh Phangan
Beaches, viewpoints, sunsets and great nightlife are what people look for on an island. Basically that’s what Koh Phangan is, an island that can be appealing to any, from the tourist seeking relaxation to the backpacker looking for a few wild nights out in Haad Rin beach.
Swim, sunbathe & stroll – Koh Phangan best beaches
Mae Haad Beach
Great for swimming, snorkeling and sunsets, this beach really has it all. An island close to the bay is reached by walking along a narrow sand bar that forms during low tide.
The reef just a few meters from the shore offers a good snorkeling experience with its underwater life and colourful coral reef. Also with the sun descending from beside the little island the views from here are spectacular.
Haad Rin Beach
When it comes to beaches, Haad Rin is one of our top picks. The clear water and white sand along with lush greenery to the ends of the bay make this the most picturesque beach. Although every 4 weeks the Full Moon Party is held here the beach is pristine and very well maintained.
One of the most rewarding beaches in Koh Phangan is Bottle beach. The reason being is that the beach is so difficult to reach. The main draw here is a trek through the jungle which will finally get you to this beach.
A trek through the jungle with a path marked by bottles tied to ropes leads to this beach. This is where the name bottle beach originated, or so we heard. Can’t say about the trek as we couldn’t even find the starting point. But still we got there, just barely by scooter. A dangerously steep, sandy, rough, basically a steep road adequate for a dirt bike leads to the beach. And honestly we wouldn’t try it again with a scooter.
The white sand beach lined with trees and sparkling blue water looked like paradise after the difficult task of getting here. And if trekking, rewards would be even better, just imagine trekking through the humid jungle and finding a beautiful tropical beach with crystal clear waters where to cool off.
Take in Koh Phangan breathtaking sunsets
Zen beach is one of the best beaches to enjoy a great sunset with a lively vibe. Every evening just before sunset the beach shifts from a tranquil spot for meditating to a more lively atmosphere. Expats and foreigners alike join in, all playing different instruments and practicing all kinds of skills and hobbies.
Three Sixty bar
This bar is close to Mae Haad beach, actually above the hills of the beach. Three Sixty bar is a laid back lounge overlooking the ocean and the small Ko Ma island. Arriving well before sunset is the best option for getting a good spot on the deck area. From here you get one of the best sunset spots in Koh Phangan.
Explore Koh Phangan lesser known spots
As most other trips, while on Koh Phangan we had left a free day which we hadn’t planned. With a bit of creativeness these days usually end up some of the best. This day was spent just exploring the island and stopping at various places for a drink, food, a swim or to soak in a beautiful view.
Although Koh Phangan isn’t such a big island, the beautiful landscapes and scenery along with the different lifestyles are all unique in their own way. The mountainous parts of the island are cooler than the lower areas and offer some good views of the ocean and nearby islands. Riding along the lush green jungle and beautiful landscape can be an activity in itself.
Koh Phangan Waterfalls
Waterfalls are found all around the island. Some of them are easy to reach by scooter, others a little harder to reach and others might not be found.
One of the waterfalls we tried to hike to was Than Sadet. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to see the fall as the path isn’t clear so we opted to head back before getting lost in the humid jungle with just a bottle of water.
Wang Sai and Phaeng are the best waterfalls on Koh Phangan. Unless you visit during or a couple of months after the rainy season the waterfalls might be dried out.
Koh Phangan Temples
Koh Phangan has some Buddhist temples and a Chinese temple which can be explored whilst touring the island. We had visited Wat Phu Khao Noi which is an old Buddhist temple in a natural quiet setting atop a mountain.
Yang Na Yai Tree
Yang Na Yai tree is the largest tree in all of Thailand. This tree is found by doing a short detour on the way to Haad Rin beach. The tree is huge and is really a sight to see especially the gigantic branches beneath which have fallen off over time.
Take a tour to Mu Koh Angthong National Park
Lush forestry on the limestone cliffs jutting out of the turquoise waters beneath looks like something you would see on a TV documentary. Although this park is not in Koh Phangan, it is very close by. Tours operate regularly but for the best experience a private tour would be best option.
Personally we didn’t do this attraction but we would surely recommend it. We usually prefer to do tours either in a small group or privately. This allows the boat driver to choose different time frames than the bigger tours which tend to use the same routes and same time frame therefore each spot is usually crowded and the experience is significantly decreased.
Take a Yoga class
An ever increasing Yoga practice in Koh Phangan which over the years has become part of the island’s culture attracts many travelers from all over the world. To really get into Koh Phangan spiritual vibe, head to the west coast where many yoga and healing centres are found. Zen Beach is also on this side of the island.
Tip: We were told by our host that Samma Karuna holds free yoga classes. If interested checkout the schedule with Samma Karuna directly.
>>Other Gulf islands include Koh Tao and Koh Samui and reaching these two other islands from Koh Phangan is easy. We island hopped from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan and Koh Samui by ferry. Check the ferry schedules for the 2 major ferry companies, Lomprayah and Songserm here.
Indulge in some great food
Thongsala night market / Phanthip food market
Yet again the food is on the list and with good reason. The market in Thongsala offers some mouthwatering Thai dishes and cheap eats, one of which is the meats cooked in an Indian style clay oven and which is a must try.
Other food not so common in the Thai market but which you will find here are Italian style pasta, Mexican food, Brazilian food and an Italian panini bar. Smoothies and sweet dishes such as the yummy mango rice are also found here.
Arguably the best steakhouse on the island. Outlaws Saloon offers a good selection of meat cuts and burgers. As the name suggests this restaurant has a cozy western pub style which gives a nice welcoming touch. Events here such as the Friday live band and the delicious Sunday roast are a hit among many.
While in Koh Phangan one restaurant you must not miss is Pum Pui. This Thai restaurant is said to serve the best Pad Thai, which we can personally confirm along with loads of other people who suggested this place to us. Getting here before everyone leaves Zen beach is suggested or you might be out of luck on finding a table.
This traditional Thai restaurant is one of Koh Phangan’s lesser known eateries. We visited Anutta a few times while in Koh Phangan and the food was always very good and tasty. As this restaurant isn’t around the touristy area’s prices are on the low side.
Tip: Restaurants advertising a 50 Baht meal are found throughout Koh Phangan. Our experience in these eateries wasn’t good. With 50 Baht you get a tiny portion that has little to no meat and is also tasteless. Rice is also charged extra for 30 Baht.
Best area to stay in Koh Phangan
The southern part of the island, mainly Haad Rin, is where all the buzz is and is also home to the Full Moon Party. This part of Koh Phangan is popular among backpackers and will be very busy around the full moon days. Restaurants, bars and clubs are found all along the beach and streets in Haad Rin.
West coast is also a touristic hotspot on the isle. Accomodation and restaurants are found all along Hin Kong road. This street is also known for the amount of yoga classes. Also a few of the best beaches are found on this side.
Thongsala is the most popular part in Koh Phangan, the main pier, night markets and a large selection of accommodations, restaurants and bars are found in the area.
Heading further north the island is a lot more traditional and less touristic. A few good beaches are found in the north but depending on the tide these might not be a good option. We were in Koh Phangan mid April and sea level especially at Chalok Lam was very low and murky.
On the East coast more remote beaches are found therefore are very unspoiled and quiet. Some beaches are accessible either by boat or off road vehicle or by trekking through the jungle. Most accommodations along this coast are very basic beach bungalows. One thing to take note of is that this part of Koh Phangan is limited in amenities.
How to get to Koh Phangan
Getting around Koh Phangan
Songthaews are found along the streets of Thongsala and travel all over the island. Longer distance fares are expensive and go up to around 300 Baht during the day and at night maybe more. Another thing to keep in mind is that songthaews usually leave once the van is full which may take some time.
Scooters are the cheapest option to get around. Roads are good enough but be aware of the occasional pot and sand on corners. Something to be aware of is the bugs flying around at night which can blind you for a couple of seconds and be a big risk while driving.
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