Jessica Farrugia is a Canadian/Aussie who's been living down-under since 2002.She loves travel, photography, blogging, yoga, pilates, walking, scuba diving, hot sunny days, lazing on the beach, eating sushi, and reading crime-fiction. ...Find out more!
Heading to Thailand for some time in the sun, but not sure of where to go? Thailand’s geography offers a varied selection of islands and beaches, each unique from the other. Of these, the group of 3 islands in the Gulf of Thailand is among the most popular. Koh Samui is the largest and most accessible due to its International airport. Keen divers (or want-to-be’s) should head to Koh Tao. And Koh Pha Ngan is the party island, right?
Well, sort of.
Originally an island community of fishermen, coconut farmers and then later, tin miners, the island slowly evolved to a more tourism based industry. No one can say definitively when it all started, but some time in the late 1980s, the first Full Moon Party took place on Haad Rin Nok beach, on the island’s south east coast. Today, it's still ‘Party Central’ at Haad Rin, particularly on the days leading up the monthly Full Moon and the days following. The tiny bay turns into a giant dance floor, complete with fireworks, fire dancers, vendors selling liquor pots, and loud techno beats until dawn. Attendees come from all over the world, numbering from approximately 10,000 (low season) up to 25,000 (high season). A typical full-mooner plans their arrival on the island for the day before the event and stays 3 days in total. Most of the island’s accommodations fill up during this period so be sure to book ahead. Other monthly parties have now sprung up at different locations on the island to coincide with Half Moon and Black Moon (New Moon) too.
While it’s the Full Moon party that put it on the backpacker map, there really is so much on offer here to suit most any visitor. Koh Pha Ngan is all about its numerous bays, which each have their own personalities and vibe. In fact, when you first arrive, you pretty much need to have your bay in mind to give to your transport driver, which can be a bit intimidating if you haven’t done your homework.
A general rule-of-thumb is that the farther you get from Haad Rin, the quieter it is. There are still plenty of tranquil beaches on KPN, reminiscent of the way Thai beaches used to be before the boom in the 2000s.
One of our favorites is Ao Si Thanu which is located midway on the west coast. Despite the small group of beachfront bungalows on offer here that suit many budgets and tastes, the beach still has a very deserted feel to it. A short walk away back onto the main road, there are a few shops including a 7-11, motorbike/bicycle hire shops and a very good restaurant that has the some of the best Thai food on the island.
A little farther north, Hat Yao is a picturesque bay that is a bit larger and busier than Si Thanu. Although there are a couple of larger resorts here, most with swimming pools, there’s still plenty of beautiful beach for everyone to enjoy.
Further northward on the west coast, Hat Salat is a bit of a trek along the windy and hilly road, but oh-so worth it. It’s livelier here, which may or may not be what you are looking for. The crowd here is very mixed, with lots of couples and families too. The beach is every bit as gorgeous.
For even more seclusion the northern beaches of Ao Mae Hat and Bottle Beach may appealing; the eastern beaches are even more remote. The downside though is that accessibility from these areas to the rest of the island is limited unless you have your own transport.
The town of Thong Sala is the main commercial centre of KPN. It’s generally here that all visitors to KPN will arrive by ferry. Its nightly market (next to the 7-11) is a great place to get delicious and inexpensive Thai food. On Sunday night, there is a bigger street market nearby. There’s even a Tesco supermarket here for all your other needs, along with currency changers and branches of the national banks.
And the rest of the island is definitely worth exploring too. Hiring your own jeep or motorbike is the most economical way to get around especially if there’s more than one of you, but be sure to watch for loose sand on the hilly roads and be armed with a map, which is readily available free from outside any 7-11s. There are numerous waterfalls to visit, which are best done after the rainy season that runs June to September, as well as Buddhist temples and shrines.
Koh Pha Ngan is a great all-round island destination for all budgets and tastes, suitable for singles, couples and families alike. Give it a try!