Ko Pha Ngan – Thailand

Rin Nok Beach overlook, Ko Phangan, Thailand

Rin Nok Beach overlook, Ko Pha Ngan, photo by Andre Namtan

Visiting Ko Phangan (Koh Pha Ngan)

Phangan (aka Pha Ngan) is not an island of plush beach resorts and family attractions. It has a Thai population of a few thousands, a tropical climate and pleasant downmarket facilities aimed at backpackers and budget travellers who are unhurried (it takes a while to get there) and enjoy a simple life interspersed with occasional full-on raves such as the Full Moon Party.

The island is covered with tropical rainforest, 40% of which is classified as National Park which should slow down development, and sports around 30 beaches, large and small, busy and untouched.

Wat Samai Kongka, Koh Phangan, Thailand,

No, Ko Ph-Ngan is not all about Full Moon parties, there are masses of temples and shrines on this (generally) quiet little island.

Ko Phangan bungalows inland, Thailand

Budget bungalows just off Phangan’s beaches.

Chalk Lam Bay, Ko Pha Ngan. Photo by Craigb100

Chalk Lam Bay beach. Photo by Craigb100

Hat Rin peninsula, Koh Phangan, Thailand. Photo by zhaffsky

Haad Rin peninsula, Koh Phangan, Thailand. Photo by zhaffsky

Full Moon Parties

The famous Full Moon Parties take place mostly on Haad Rin Nok, the white strip of beach visible in the centre of the picture. To the right of that is Haad Yuan.
The whole narrow part of the isthmus connecting the peninsula to the main island of Ko Ph Ngan is known as Haad Rin, and the bays stretching north (left side) from Haad Rin are Ban Kai, Ban Tai and Bang Charu. See a Ko Phangan island map by Manfred Werner (in German).

The sea water on the west (left) side of the island is generally less clean and swimmable than other parts. The second bay on the west coast, Ban Tai, is the island’s longest and dirtiest, in two senses. The water is unclean and the main beach business is sex tourism.

Hat Rin Full Moon Party fire-skipping-rope, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Haad Rin Full Moon Party.

This massive beach party takes place once a month on Haad Rin Sunrise beach. International and local DJs play varied music of rave persuasion such as techno, trance, drum ‘n’ bass, dub and reggae on huge sound systems set up along the beach. Partygoers are usually young budget travellers who like to get seriously wasted and are sold food and drink by a selection of bars and restaurants around the sands.
Parties continue till well into the morning and tend to be excessive (‘too much is just enough’), though illegal drug use is sporadic as the police make a habit of busting the place.

Stay safe at Full Moon parties

• Don’t turn up to a party and expect to find accommodation available. Haad Rin beach, the location of the Full Moon parties, is booked out a few days before, during and after the party. Those arriving on the day of the Full Moon event can take advantage of the free, guarded space on the beach for people who need to crash and have nowhere to go.

• The road between the island’s capital Thong Sala and Haad Rin is steep, dangerous and extremely busy on the day of the Full Moon Party. Accidents are common and occasionally deadly. The police set up a road block on the way into Haad Rin and check all revellers for drugs. Try to get there early or days before.

• Under no circumstances should revellers accept drugs from strangers. These are likely to be drug peddlers selling useless or dangerous substances, plain clothes police, or gangsters posing as police.

• The ‘mushroom shakes’ available at the Full Moon Parties are not particularly strong but consuming anything in excess poses risks.

• The ‘whiskey buckets’ that most visitors consume – a combination of hard liquor, a soft drink and an energy drink – are extremely potent and if consumed quickly can lead to immediate and total inebriation.

• Drunken or drugged party people should not enter the water. There are no life guards and drownings occasionally occur. Box Jellyfish can be a problem in this region and have been responsible for fatalities, especially around the Gulf of Thailand and Phuket, along with Australia where swimmers/snorkelers know to wear ‘stinger suits’. See our Jellyfish page.

• Women travellers should take care not to travel to and from the party alone or with unknown men, whether local or foreign. Sexual assaults on foreign women take place with alarming regularity in Thailand, and in the event of an incident, the police can be unsympathetic and may even side with the attacker.

• Pickpockets operate at the party and revellers are advised to take only bare necessities. Phones and purses are particular targets.

• Haad Rin Beach may be on the receiving end of broken glass and burning cigarettes during the event so visitors should always wear flip-flops or sandals.

• Occasionally Thai gangs, usually competing for business interests, fight each other during the Full Moon Parties. Revellers are advised to leave if violence occurs and never challenge locals guys.

• Cheap guesthouses around the island occasionally experience burglaries on Full Moon Party nights.

• During the party there’s a refuge area on Haad Rin Beach which is guarded by volunteers. Those who have drunk too much can pass out here without having to worry about being mugged. First aid is available.

A smaller and even more remote island, Ko Tao, is 35kms north if Koh Phangan is too busy for your tastes.

Getting to Ko Phangan

The island has no airport and is generally accessed via Ko Samui (island) which is 15 kms (10 miles) away and does have an international airport connecting to Phuket, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and external destinations, but domestic flights to Ko Samui are considerably more expensive than those to Surat Thani on the mainland, as budget airlines fly to Surat. Surat Thani is also accessible by bus and train from Bangkok. It will, however, take quite a few hours longer to reach Ko Phangan from Surat Thani than from Ko Samui.
Koh Phangan’s ferry port is also the capital city, Thong Sala.