Koh Phangan is a beautiful island in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Phangan is the middle island within a chain of popular tourist islands which include Koh Tao and Kau Samui. We skipped Koh Tao mostly due to a geographical misunderstanding but that meant we were on Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party, one of the ‘greatest’ parties in the world!
Staying and exploring Koh Phangan
We stayed in 2 different locations on Koh Phangan, Moon Beach Bungalow in the small township of Srithanu and Salad Beach at Salad Beach Resort. Srithanu was a chilled out town with a nice hippy vibe and great vegan restaurants. I had my first Thai massage here! Massages are only B300 ($12 NZD) but it was pretty painful, small Thai ladies are strong! The beach in this area at this time of year was sadly too shallow for us to swim and as taxi’s are a complete rip off we had to hire a scooter for a few days to be able to enjoy the beaches. The scooters were cheap at B200 for 24hrs compared to a taxi at at least B200 per person, per journey!
Tip: Enjoy the vegan restaurants in Srithanu
Hiring a scooter
There are many horror stories of scooters, especially on Koh Phangan. We made sure we got a good one from a trust worthy person by asking around, Ali practiced to ensure he felt confident to drive us and we took it slow and steady and of course we wore a helmet. Koh Phangan was actually a pretty good place to get over my distrust of scooters, the roads are pretty easy to drive and there was virtually no traffic. If you aren’t an idiot about it and trust me we saw many, it should be all good. We just made sure we did our research and checked with our accommodation to find the best place to hire one as the island is known for its scams.
Tip: Ask around to ensure you find a scooter hire business that is trust worthy. Avoid handing over your passport if you can and take photos of the whole bike so you are able to contest any false damage fees.
The scooter allowed us to explore the whole island, we learnt that Haad Rin (town with the Full Moon Party) is awful and meant we could enjoy the northern beach at Chaloklum Bay instead. We also visited the non-existent (due to season) waterfall in Koh Phangan National Park, rode past a sadly chained up elephant (avoid any elephant tour if you are a decent human being!) and found a water taxi to the remote and beautiful Bottle Beach.
Bottle Beach is at the Northern most point of the island and it can only be accessed via water taxis. We decided to travel around for lunch which was well worth it. It was very quiet and the beach was very nice.
Tip: Take an afternoon trip to Bottle Beach using a local water taxi
Salad Beach and bed bugs
Salad Beach is beautiful, it is still shallow but full of resorts and small restaurants. We thought we were onto a good thing at Salad Beach Resort, it was cheap at $40 NZD per night and had a nice pool and beach access. They also provided a return shuttle to the Full Moon Party for B400 each which was pretty good value. However, what started as a nice stay turned into a disaster. We woke up to bed bugs! My first experience with them in all my years of travel! The resort had no night staff so we could not change rooms so spent the night on pool mats on the floor as the bed was impossible to sleep in.
The Resort to our disappointment handled the situation very poorly and lied to us about providing a refund. Hence TripAdvisor knows all about.. It really put a dampener on otherwise a good time on Koh Phangan. Lucky for us our next stop, Koh Samui was only a B300 boat ride away so we could move on easily and we have had a great experience with our accommodation here.
Tip: Avoid Salad Beach Resort
The Full Moon Party
We went to the 19 June 2016 Full Moon Party, our resort was very quite so we spent the evening before the party drinking red wine and listing to fun music on our balcony. We jumped in the shuttle (also know as the back of a pickup truck) at 9.30pm and made the journey to the party! On our shuttle ride we met some nice girls from Amsterdam and a group of Scottish girls! It took quite a while to get to the party as we were on the other end of the island but the journey was in good sprits. Our driver did get pulled over by police at the entrance to the party. The police were out in force that night!
We arrived at Haad Rin and it was chaos, there were so many people! God knows where they all came from as the island was dead but they were there and ready for a good time. We each paid B100 (about $4NZD) each for our ‘entry’ wristband which looking back we realised was bullshit. However, at the time we were not sure how legitimate this was but most other people were wearing one so paid it anyway and headed to the nearest 7/11 for some beer.
The 7/11 is probably the best place to buy beer as it can be trusted, it was cold and it was fairly priced. The nice girl at the counter even opened it for us. It was never our intention to buy the buckets, they looked deadly and by the state of some party goers they were.
For the Full Moon Party, the beach at Haad Rin is packed by thousands of people, there are many beach side bars playing similar ‘oomph oomph’ music, lots of dancing, lots of glow in the dark paint, lots of “Full Moon Party” t-shirts and lots of passed-out/sleeping or stumbling people in the sand.
The ocean is also used as a toilet for many men so swimming is not an option. We remained in good sprits for the evening but did not get wasted. The energy of the crowd kept us dancing until 3am but by then we had had enough and caught the shuttle back, so no sunrise for us.
Tip: Don’t swim in the ocean at night as it becomes a toilet
Tip: Sealed beer from the 7/11 is the safest thing to drink as it is less likely to have been tampered with
Overall, Koh Phangan is a chilled out island and less developed than its neighbour Koh Samui. However, we found that there is a seedy undertone here and something about the place just felt a bit off. Apparently a lot of it comes from the years of abuse from Full Moon Party tourists as well as gangs. Nevertheless, if you take it for what it is, it was worth the visit.