Ko Pha Ngan
Ko Pha Ngan (เกาะพะง้น, pronounced KOH pa-nGan with G as in mango) is an island off the Central Gulf Coast of Southern Thailand, halfway between the islands of Ko Samui and Ko Tao. It is known as a land of coconut trees and, above all, the world (in)famous Full Moon Party that have placed the island firmly on the Banana Pancake Trail.
Places below are listed clockwise starting at Thong Sala:
- Thong Sala — The island's "capital" and main ferry port.
- Ao Nai Wok — A quiet bay with a long white sandbar in front of it. It is the first bay to the north of Thong Sala (just 7 min walk) and one of the best areas for sailing, windsurfing or kayaking. This is due to its orientation to the wind all year long and the proximity of the two wild little islands, Ko Tae Nai and Ko Tae Nok (approximately 10 min paddling in a kayak to Tae Nai)
- Sri Thanu — A volcanic peninsula to the south of Haad Son and Haad Yao with bays and beaches.
- Haad Son — A beautiful bay with a beach.
- Haad Chao Phao — A small quiet beach on the western shore of Ko Pha Ngan. It has some resorts and bungalows offering budget rooms with full facilities. Has several beach bars and restaurants where you can have dinner and drink while the sun is setting. To go there from the main pier by taxi takes around 15 min and 20 min by motorbike. If you need a real escape, here it is. Also has a Moon Set Party at the Pirate Bar. The party is arranged regularly a few days before the Full Moon Party.
- Haad Yao — A long white sandy beach just north of Haad Chao Phao, slightly more developed with more beach bars, a 7-Eleven, ATMs, and restaurants, but clean nice sea and snorkelling further from the beach with accommodations from 150 baht. Maybe the best beach on the west coast.
- Haad Salad — An idyllic cove with several high-end resorts on the northwest corner of the island.
- Haad Mae Haad — Wide sandy beach joined to Ko Maa, a national marine park, by a sand spit. Has some of the best diving and snorkelling on Pha Ngan. There is a small village and a variety of resorts, restaurants, and bars. Nice snorkelling: you'll need to go over the first, dead reef to see the coral. Make sure you get in and out during high tide as crossing the dead reef when the tide is receding can be difficult and painful. Not much else to do but snorkel here.
- Thonglang Bay — Between Chalok Lam and Haad Mae Haad, this almost undiscovered bay offers a delightful and peaceful escape from the crowds.
- Chalok Lam — Fishing village with a picturesque beach in a long beautiful sandy bay at the northern tip of the island. Not touristy because of few boats making the trip, and the western part of the bay has some of the most beautiful waters off the island with a nice narrow beach under palm trees.
- Haad Khom — 20 min walk east of Chalok Lam on a steep concrete road or a few minutes ride from Chalok Lam you will find a nice quiet beach with clean seas and soft white sand where you can relax and do some of the best snorkelling on the island. There are only around 5 accommodations with good prices (from 150-300 baht for a bungalow), so the beach is not crowded. Only the one closest to Chalok Lam, CBB, has 24 hr electricity, the others use diesel generators. Together with Bottle Beach and Chalok Lam Bay these are the best beaches on the northern coast and the entire island.
- Bottle Beach — Also called "Haad Khuat", one of the most isolated beaches on the island, on the north coast accessible by longtail boat from Chalok Lam (150 baht/person) or by a 2-3 hr long, tough hike from Haad Khom beach (this hike named the beach due to the use of plastic bottles to mark the trail). There is also the road option, on one of the worst roads on the island, but the taxi ride is so expensive that is always better go to Chalok Lam and take a longtail boat from there. Very relaxed quiet beach with few accommodations but very reasonable prices (from 250-300 baht/bungalow). Nice long and wide soft white sand beach and good clean water for swimming even during dry season. There is only one disadvantage. Due to its isolation, there are no ATMs or 7-Elevens or local restaurants so you have to buy everything for inflated prices at your accommodations (e.g., 90 baht for fried noodles). But what you pay for meals you will save on accommodations and enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches on island.
- Thong Nai Pan — Scenic area on the northeast part of the island that includes the neighbouring beach resorts of Ao Thong Nai Pan Yai and Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi, twin bays with two fantastic beaches. Thong Nai Pan Yai is the bigger one. The area caters to families with children, and singles and couples who are looking for unspoiled beaches, tranquillity, and peace. Here you get safe swimming all year except during the November monsoon which normally ends around the middle of December. Both beaches have a variety of restaurants ranging from inexpensive Thai to top international cuisine.
- Haad Thien — Home of the Sanctuary Resort, a hip, up-scale resort with a nice vibe.
- Haad Yuan — A nice sandy beach on the southeast corner. A hop away from Haad Rin if you would like to get away from the party crowd.
- Haad Rin — (Hat Rin) — The most touristy/crowded village, with all the services any traveller needs and the home of the famous Full Moon Party. The biggest party scene on the island (along with Baan Tai). One of the few beaches during dry season where is possible to swim.
- Ban Kai — Between Ban Tai and Haad Rin this beach offers an idyllic setting, just minutes from the Full Moon Party. Sea also quite dirty and very mountainous terrain.
- Ban Tai — Facing Ko Samui, the longest stretch of uninterrupted beach on the entire island.
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The best time to visit the island and also high season is Dec-Mar when the water is clean, and good for swimming. It's also not rainy and temperatures are pleasant. Another high season time is Jul-Aug after the dry season when the water is rising.
If traveling to Ko Phangan during or near the time of the Full Moon Party, booking ferry transport to and from the island ahead of time is highly advised as the limited amount of ferries fill up quickly with the massive crowd coming in for the party.
The closest airport is Ko Samui (USM) which has frequent flights from Bangkok and Phuket, daily flights from U-Tapao and Singapore, and several direct flights each week from Chiang Mai and Kuala Lumpur. Transportation to the ferry dock is easy to find at the airport. Ferries depart several times a day with the last one around dusk.
The next nearest airport is Surat Thani (URT) on the mainland. Flights from Bangkok there are significantly cheaper (1,000-1,500 baht in advance, or 2,000-2,500 if booked same day, instead of 3,000-5,000 if flying to Samui), as there are low-cost carriers (Air Asia) flying there, and even Thai Airways charge 30-50% less than to Samui. However, you'll then need combined bus + boat travel to get to Ko Pha Ngan, which will surely take several hours. Air Asia uses the old airport in Bangkok, Don Mueang, while Thai Airways uses the international airport, Suvarnabhumi.
Nok Airways is now selling a combined package ticket including airfare to Surat Thani or Nakhon Si Thammarat, bus ride to the pier, and a ticket on the Lomprayah high-speed catamaran. This should be simpler for travellers than arranging the individual segments separately. Nok uses Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok.
Air Asia has a special “Island Transfer” offering that includes a flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani or Nakhon Si Thammarat, surface transport to the port, and a ferry to Ko Pha Ngan.
Watch out for scammers at Ko Samui airport who try to sell you a bus/boat combo for an exorbitant price. Make sure to walk towards the exit of the airport where there is an Information counter and taxi stands.
From Ko Tao: there is fast Lomprayah catamaran operating twice a day to Ko Tao for 400 baht at 08:30 and 13:00 or leaving Ko Tao for Ko Pha Ngan at 09:30. The ride between these islands takes 1.25 hours. A cheaper, but slower ferry operates from Ko Pha Ngan to Ko Tao by Songserm express and costs 300 baht, leaving Ko Pha Ngan at 12:30, and takes 2 hours.
From Surat Thani: night ferry leaving at 23:00 from Surat Thani city (walking distance from bus stations Talat Kaset 1 and 2) arrives at Thong Sala pier-Ko Pha Ngan at 06:00 and costs 400 baht for a space on a mattress on the boat. The night ferry leaves from Thong Sala-Ko Pha Ngan for Surat Thani at 22:00 for 400 baht arriving around 05:00-06:00.
By bus and boat
The best way in by bus is by government bus (บขส) to the Na Dan ferry piers: these are the most direct, quickest, reliable, safest, and hassle-free services. Tickets for these services can be bought at Sai Tai Taling Chan (southern) government bus terminal in Bangkok.
Buses also arrive in Surat Thani, capital of Surat Thani Province. From here you can buy a ticket for a bus + boat ride for the slow ferry (320 baht for the 3 hour ferry and bus ticket to Don Sak) or the fast ferry (400 baht for the 2 hours ferry + transportation to Don Sak pier). Both ferries stop at Ko Samui first, and will drop you off at the pier of Thong Sala. Please note that both options will require you to change buses. This should be a quick and easy change over.
If there are no available options listed above (usually only if you've arrived to the bus terminal quite late in the evening before a weekend or holiday), you can also try a bus to Chumphon and board a ferry there, see "By train" below. You can buy a combo ticket on the bus station, it will cost same as if purchased separately (and the bus arrives 2–3 hours before ferry departure, so you shouldn't be late).
Buses originating from Khao San Rd (or other buses operated by travel agencies) are famous for thefts from passenger luggage. Under no circumstances should passengers on Khao San Rd buses leave valuables in bags that will go in the luggage storage areas, even if the bags can be locked. Consider it inevitable that every bag will be opened while the bus is in motion. Bus + boat joint ticket costs at the cheapest Israeli travel agencies at the west end of Khao San Rd (better said Chakrapong Rd) cost only 500-550 baht depending on whether it's before/after Full Moon Party and your bargaining skills, so if you are aware of risks using these buses and careful you can really save money instead of taking pricier government bus which does not leave from KSR but requires you to go to a bus terminal.
A very good option, a little pricier, is using the morning bus (06:00) and ferry combination from the Lomprayah company. A reputable company with an office near Khao San Rd and the option to book online through their website. The air-con bus is very new and the connection to the ferry gives the opportunity for a toilet break and to eat something. Leave early in the morning and arrive mid/late afternoon on the island. One way is 1,300 baht. They also have a night bus.
By train, boat, and bus
An overnight train from Bangkok is an interesting option. Trains arrive in Surat Thani or Chumphon, and from there you can transfer by bus and then boat. Chumphon is the option if you're planning to stop at Ko Tao, but if you're heading straight to Ko Pha Ngan, consider Surat Thani. Both stations are on the southbound Hay Yai line, but arrival times in Chumphon (when using night trains) are annoyingly early in the morning. For example, the (recommended) express train number #85 arrives around 04:00 after which you'll have to wait about 3 hours for the ferry. On the other hand, if you continue down to Surat Thani you can sleep an extra 3–4 hours plus you will arrive in daylight. Considering the waiting time in Chumphon and the longer ferry trip you will eventually get to Ko Pha Ngan at about the same time.
Combined train-bus-boat tickets can be bought direct from the official Advance Booking Counter at Hualamphong station in Bangkok, although if your train is late, and your boat is already gone then you will have to pay extra for the next boat. Thus the joint ticket may not be the best choice.
If e-booking is not available or not suitable to you for some reason, train tickets may be reserved up to 60 days in advance and paid for by email. In reality, the Thai authorities are lax in returning emails and/or will give the runaround, or flat-out refuse to reserve seats for non-Thais during peak travel periods (Dec-Jan and the Songkran holiday in Apr). If your heart is set on going by train, start early, be persistent, and have a backup plan to go by bus or plane.
Upon arrival at the pier or all around island don't forget to pick up a free guide book, Phangan.info, with a lot of useful information for travellers (ferry timetables, prices of taxi boats, taxi trucks, where to eat, what to do/see, party dates, maps, accommodation and more).
There are many rental locations all over the island. 100-125 cc motorbikes can be hired from 100 baht/day for semi-automatic scooters (no clutch, just change gear up/down, easy to operate after a couple of hours and saves some fuel compared to an automatic) to 150 baht/day for fully automatic scooters; larger capacity models cost 300-700 baht/day (700 baht for a big enduro motobike). These are asking prices before bargaining and any discount. If you rent motorbike for longer, you can get bigger discount. For example, for 3 days rental at 150 baht/day you can bargain it to 120 baht/day or from 100 baht/day to 90 baht/day. For 2 weeks the price drops even more, from 100 baht/day to 75 baht/day. There is good rental shop, Sak, with low prices just next to Nira's bakery in Thong Sala, a short walk from the pier with a couple of other rental shops with similar prices. Rentals are for 24 hours, so if you rent motorbike at 16:00, you have to return it before 16:00 the next day if you don't want to pay a surcharge. Motorbikes are rented without fuel, so you have to go first to petrol station (figure on about 40 baht per litre of 91 octane gasoline at big petrol stations), more in remoter places like jungle road to Thong Nai Pan 50 baht/1 l). Foreigners are asked to leave their passport as a deposit, or a copy of their passport and a large cash deposit (1,000-10,000 baht). You are strongly advised not to leave your passport. Renting through the place you stay might be a better option, but does not guarantee that you will avoid the bike repair scam.
Some rental shops overcharge for every scratch or dent. They don't fix, but rather replace the whole part - so note damages to the bike on the rental contract. Be aware that your passport will be held until you pay the extortionate repair cost. You can negotiate the costs down from exorbitant to high, but keep your cool, don't yell and stay polite. This practice is very common all over the region. It's not unheard of that you are asked to pay for damage you haven't done. In most cases, it's the combination of very bad & dangerous roads and inexperienced or intoxicated driving that causes accidents. Some good advice is to take pictures of your bike as you rent it, but if the guy has your passport, this won't do any good. If you don't know what you're doing, stay on the safe side and stick with songthaews.
Avoid riding at sundown, when the bugs are out en masse, and result in brief periods of riding blind, while you desperately try to clear your corneas. Try not to go home with a "Thai tattoo", this can either result from your tender body sliding along a bitumen road at high speed with few clothes on, or from the inside of your leg touching a hot exhaust pipe. Also keep in mind that many, if not most, travel insurance policies will not cover motorcycle accidents, especially if you do not have a Thai drivers license.
Care is needed if attempting to go over the notorious Haad Rin hills, the roads at the eastern side of the island, and north of Haad Yao. Especially the "Hill of Tears" (first steep ascend from Thong Sala towards Haad Rin) needs caution - use low gear only and have your passenger walk. This is still quite good concrete road where you need only use brakes compared to mud roads on the northeast part of the island to Bottle Beach, Had Sadet which are the worst on the island with many potholes.
Drunk driving in the West is illegal (not on Ko Pha Ngan, where police don't check). On Ko Pha Ngan it's suicidal. Better to sit in the back of a taxi than hitting one's head on at night, or end up in hospital.
Wear a helmet (police can fine you 200 baht and do it occasionally (before noon in Thong Sala for example)) and stay within your limits. The slower you drive, the less it's gonna hurt.
It is also possible to rent small Suzuki 4WDs, however you will find that you can circle the island in a day.
Songthaews criss-cross the island asking from 100 baht a ride, if you share the taxi with other people. You can and should bargain for a lower price, especially if your destination isn't that far. The taxi driver cartel tries to fix prices at 200 baht a ride. Do not accept the price at the pier and walk rather 300 m to the roundabout in Thong Sala where there is a taxi station with normal prices. From Thong Sala to Baan Tai/Khai or Chalok Lam should be priced around 100 baht/person, Haad Rin 150 baht/person, Haad Yao/Salad 150 baht/person, Thong Nai Pan or Had Sadet 250 baht.
It is important to note that ALL taxi service on Ko Pha Ngan is provided by songthaew (pick-up truck). Should you choose to go with a freelancer on a motorbike or in a pickup, make arrangements quickly, quietly and pay surreptitiously.
Usually is the best option to save money and be flexible and avoid using songthaews at all is to rent a motorbike after arriving in Thong Sala as you will be probably leaving from this pier. You can later return the motorbike here and it can save you a lot of money. If there are two of you and you pay 150 baht/person for one taxi ride, your total expenses to/from beach will be 600 baht. For that you can have a semi-auto motorbike rental for 6–7 days or a fully automatic for 4–5 days and you are free to ride anywhere between arrival and departure and it's also the best way when looking for accommodation instead of taking taxi and walking around with a lot of baggage.
Cruise the bays with your snorkelling gear until someplace takes your fancy. The round-the-island, all-day boat trip is a great way to see some of the best beaches in the island.
- Than Sadet-Ko Pha Ngan National Park The park (free of charge) is named after the river Than Sadet (literally, "Royal River"). The river forms the largest waterfall on the island, which was visited by several Thai kings. Very difficult to reach on motorbike, one of the worst roads on island. Down at the sea at Than Sadet Beach, there are a few places to stay.
- Visit the beautiful waterfalls and lookouts in the interior of the island. The best lookouts are Domesila viewpoint, a 15 min hike from Phaeng waterfall in Phaeng National Park (free of charge). There is another waterfall viewpoint a 20 min walk from Phaeng waterfall. From Bottle Beach you can hike to the rocky viewpoint above valley with great views over northeast part of island, hiking to the top should take 30-45 min depending on your condition. You can visit Wat Khao Tam viewpoint on the road between Thong Sala and Haad Rin which you can reach on motorbike and then it's easy walk for few minutes to the temple with viewpoint at Ko Samui and southern coast of Ko Pha Ngan. Another viewpoint is in Chalok Lam on the road to Haad Khom, it's well signposted from the main road.
- Visit Ko Maa off the northwest coast of Ko Pha Ngan. It offers one of the best snorkelling places on the island. Other places to do snorkelling are Haad Khom beach (very shallow water on the coast during low tide, be careful) and Haad Yao.
- On the road between Thong Sala and Chalok Lam is a beautiful Chinese Temple (free) overlooking Chalok Lam Bay.
- There is an elephant camp on the way from Baan Tai to Thong Nai Pan (300 baht for a 30 min ride. Also one close to The Chinese temple on the road from Thong Sala to Chalok Lam (300 baht for 30 min ride. On the price list it's officially 500 baht). Very close is also an archery range.
- Archery (First Bow and Arrow Archery) (Close to Chalok Lam on the road to Thong Sala). Four archers can have a go at the same time. People are very friendly (German spoken during high-season) and helpful. 15 min for 150 baht.
- Diving. Ko Pha Ngan has lovely sites around the island which are perfect for both beginners and trained divers. From easy dives off the beach to longer trips by boat you can experience the world of tropical diving. The waters around Ko Pha Ngan are much nicer than most people know: fine hard corals with a good range of reefs and tropical/pelagic fish. Sailrock, undoubtedly the most famous dive site in the Gulf of Thailand. Between Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao, all the wonders of this exciting site can be explored by all levels of divers. This spectacular rock rises out of the water creating the best wall dive with a maximum depth of 40 m. Providing a great range of marine life, spectacular underwater scenery, rock formations. There are several PADI dive-schools on the island, including: Haad Yao Divers a PADI 5 Star IDC Dive Resort on Haad Yao and Haad Chao Phao; Reefers Dive Resort on Haad Yao Beach; Sail Rock Divers; Lotus Dive Resort, both in Chalok Lam; and Phangang Divers, in Haad Rin. You will, however, find many more dive schools throughout the island. Under Thai law, dive operators must be registered with the Tourism Authority of Thailand to improve quality of service, safety and help protect the customer from fraud. Check to make sure you are booking with a TAT registered dive centre.
- Full Moon Party. If you're after party heaven you can't do better than Haad Rin, an expanded village of beach bars, cheap chicken burgers, and low cut figure-hugging outfits. It is most popular one night a month, the night of the Full Moon Party. Every bar is hopping, the beaches packed with trance, dance, buckets, and various other suspicious substances. However, if the sight of thousands of bottles and other trash repulses you, make sure you leave the beach area before the sun comes up, or grab a garbage bag and help tidy up a little. If you're not on Ko Pha Ngan during the full moon, don't worry: there are other parties to be had, including Half Moon (twice a month), Black Moon, Jungle Experience (1 & 9 days before every full moon party) as well as the Shiva Moon party. Haad Rin offers a variety of entertainment venues just steps away from the famous Full Moon Party beach, where travellers and locals come to get away from the repetitiveness of the beach party scene.
- Herbal Sauna (Near the 7-Eleven in Baan Thai, on the southwest side of the island.). Daily, 13:00-19:00. * The herbal sauna at Wat Pho with separated mens/women's rooms is a great relief after long party nights. Always wear a sarong (over your bikini, for men it's OK to use shorts). Remember that you are on temple grounds and locals find nudity offensive. This is not a European sauna, sitting naked will get you into trouble. You can stay as long as you want. 50 baht, towel 10 baht.
- Hiking. Can be done all around the island. There is a trail that leads between Haad Rin and Haad Tien, which many enjoy. The route can become difficult to discern, and bringing enough water is necessary. If you are feeling adventurous, ride a motorbike to the end of the concrete road at Haad Khom from where you can hike through steep terrain and jungle on the coast to isolated Bottle Beach. The overgrown and difficult trail is occasionally marked with bottles and the hike takes 2–3 hours. Ride back to Chalok Lam with a taxi boat (150 baht/person) from where it's 30 min walk uphill to the Haad Khom main road where you parked your motorbike (or you can hike all the way from Chalok Lam). Another good trail is to the best viewpoint on the island (in good weather), Khao Ra Viewpoint, on the highest hill on the island.
- Muay Thai. Gyms such as Thai Jungle Gym offer training and workout facilities, as well as camps such as "Horizon" located in Haad Tien (east) which is an intensive training camp. There are also frequent bouts in Thong Sala and Haad Rin for spectators.
- Watersports. Rent or take courses in sailing, windsurfing, kite-surfing or paddle boarding. All are available in only few locations such as, Sl2k Adventure at Baan Manali Resort in Ao Nai Wok or "Cookie Salad" at "Haad Salad".
- Yoga. Offered at multiple places including Agama Yoga, which is in the northwest of the island and has month-long intensive courses.
Under Thai law, travel agents that offer ticket, tours, tourism services, hotel reservations in Thailand must be registered with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to improve quality of service and help protect customers from fraud. Please check to make sure you are booking through a TAT registered travel agent.
In both Thong Sala and Haad Rin vendors sell pretty much anything you can think of, and probably some things you don't need at all. You can try to bargain, but realistically, the prices are set. You may get a deal every now and again, but it's the exception to the rule. Remember that you're in a tourist area and that prices usually are above the level of Bangkok. The further you go from the ferry piers, the better your chance of haggling gets.
Main purchases you will find on Ko Pha Ngan include hammocks (check out "Hammock Home Gallery" in Thong Sala) as well as some of the local artist's works. Most of the clothing is of the variety that you will find in Bangkok, but generally it is a bit more expensive, as it has been imported to the island for sale.
Art Galleries are considered to be a rising business on Ko Pha Ngan. Most of the places will offer variety works and services including custom orders and art reproductions. These galleries have reputations for affordable prices and fine quality artistic skills.
- Tesco-Lotus (Thong Sala). 10:00-22:00. The biggest supermarket on the island. Sells cheap microwaveable dishes. The bakery makes a change from Thai food.
- Individual listings can be found in Ko Pha Ngan's places articles
For the most part, this is not the place to come to experience Thai food or culture. For a slightly more authentic experience (and cheaper than the well-decorated cafe/restaurants by Haad Rin beach), patronise the more modest street carts where you might see some Thais eating.
The best area for cheap eats is definitely the food carts in Thong Sala, the main town on the island. In the evening you can eat at the night market (from 40 baht/meal (usually curried meat with rice or fried rice or pad Thai), soups from 30 baht, pancakes from 20-30 baht, meat on sticks 10-30 baht/stick.) Free Wi-Fi in a roofed hall. Across the road from 7-Eleven in Chalok Lam are also some Thai street stalls where you will find locals eating. In front of Tesco you can buy sticks with fried meatballs for 5 baht/stick and at the junction next to entrance to Tesco parking lot you can buy in the morning (07:00-09:00) sticky rice with pork/chicken/livers packed in banana leaves for 10 baht for a small portion. There are also a few street stalls. There is also a small market next to 7-Eleven in Thong Sala in the direction of Haad Rin (after Walking St traffic lights) with Thai meals for 30-50 baht.
- Individual listings can be found in Ko Pha Ngan's places articles
- Individual listings can be found in Ko Pha Ngan's places articles
As a general guide: As further you walk along the beach to the last resort, the better and quieter the accommodation.
You can usually find accommodation at the pier when you arrive, many of resorts offers taxi service from pier for free. However, during the full moon period it is worth booking ahead unless you want to sleep on the beach or spend the night in one of the more expensive lodgings. If you are thinking of booking accommodation on-line before you arrive, make sure you book direct with the resort or a trustworthy booking site as there are numerous fake sites for several well-known Ko Pha Ngan resorts appearing on the Internet.
There is more to Ko Pha Ngan than the Full Moon Party and Haad Rin, so don't be afraid to venture out to other beaches. You can still get to the party from just about everywhere.
The decent rooms tend to run out a few days before the Full Moon Party, and throughout the peak season (Dec-Feb). If you have a short vacation or like to have a soft landing, you might want to book a room in advance. This can be quite hard on the less accessible beaches, such as Haad Tien or Haad Yuan.
If you decide to test your luck, try to arrive as early in the day as possible (09:00 seems to be a good time) to have the most time and options for accommodations.
If you come in relatively low-season in Jul and Aug, it is a good idea to book a room in advance just for the first night and rent a motorbike to look around. Beaches differ a lot (some of them are good for diving/snorkelling, some are good for swimming), so do villages (some are really quiet, some are packed with bars). Motorbike trip by the seaside to Chalok Lam and all the places on the way, and to Haad Rin on the other end of the island. Should not be a problem even for less experienced riders and will help you to choose the perfect place which suits your preferences. More remote places are harder to get by motorbike, so if you are thinking about staying in Thong Nai Pan or Bottle Beach, you have to rely on reviews.
For a cheap bungalow, literally moments from white beaches (but no surf whatsoever), turn left from Thong Sala and you will pass strings of quiet bays, each with one or more resorts, featuring a bar, a restaurant, rooms and bungalows, and a few dozen laid back tourists for company. Try Haad Yao, Haad Son, Haad Salad or any of the others along the same strip.
For long-term stay, you can rent whole house (1 bedroom, small kitchen, bath, Wi-Fi, electricity/water included) for 5-6,000 baht/month, not on the beach. Bigger houses with 2 bedrooms from 10-12,000 baht/month. For a 2 week booking, don't expect half of the monthly price. Two weeks in a 2 bedroom house costs a minimum of 7-9,000 baht, 1 bedroom 3-4,000 baht.
- Fire: dial 199
- Police: dial 191 (077 377 114)
- Tourist Police: dial 1155 (this supersedes the old "1699" number)
- Phangan Rescue Centre: dial 077 377 118
Yes, the Full Moon Party (as well as others) is full of drugs, but these days it's also full of plain clothed policemen out to bust you. Be very careful if you intend to consume illicit drugs. Roadblocks are common, particularly in the week before the FMP between Thong Sala and Haad Rin. Thai police have also been known to force urine tests. Remember that the Thais have harsh penalties for drug offences and the police are working to meet their "quota". Be aware that you may not be able to bail yourself out of trouble, especially if you get transferred to Surat Thani - and that bribing Thai police will at least cut a deep hole into your travel budget, if it is possible at all. Do not keep drugs on you, in your room, or in your vehicle.
If you plan to drink at a party, make sure you have reliable transportation set up beforehand. The roads here are nothing to mess with, and too many people try to drive home because they don't have a taxi waiting. If nothing else, find a safe corner and sleep it off before you head home.
It's not a good idea to accept drinks or food from strangers; there are reported incidents of spiked drinks (from both locals and "fellow" travellers). There have been reports of LSD buckets foisted upon unsuspecting partyers in Haad Rin. Drugged drinks are often and unfortunately followed up by robbery, sexual harassment, or even (gang) rapes. The best idea is to take your own drinks and stay with your friends.
On closer inspection of the buckets sold, most liquor bottles are unsealed, so there is uncertainty about the true contents of every bottle. This may be why so many people get sick.
However a local club owner states "we use the small bottles for the buckets and it is cheaper and easier for us to re-use the small bottles. The local stockists always run out of small bottles so we often replace the contents with that from a larger bottle of the same liquor (some clubs use cheaper liquor. Ask politely at the bar for original liquor and be prepared to pay more for original liquor).
Hangovers come from dehydration. Most kids drink buckets all night, then party in the morning sun on alcohol. Best advice is to drink water regularly, even at night as its hot and sweaty.
Before buying a bucket, check the seal of the bottle and politely ask what's in it if you are worried. Apart from that, remember the fact that buckets can be very strong and unpredictable. If you intend to drink a lot, try to have solid food beforehand, or you might "lose it" very fast.
It's advisable to leave all valuables in a safety deposit box or in your guest house owner's hands instead of taking them to the party.
Wear shoes or sandals to avoid injury from broken bottles or burning cigarettes.
If you're averse to getting knocked on the head with flaming batons, then don't venture too close to the fire poi swingers on the beach, as skillful as they may be, the fire sometimes gets out of hand and hits nearby tourists. "Fire Skipping Rope / Jump through Fire Hoop" are dangerous games provided by a few of the beach bars. Take care when participating in these games, especially if you are drunk!
If you plan to leave the island the day after the Full Moon Party, be aware that the boats are usually packed with other tourists who have the same idea. Make sure you're not getting on an overloaded boat. The same applies to taxi-boats before and after the FMP. Thais frequently overload their longtail boats and lost luggage is at your own expense. Better to get off, reclaim your money and wait for the next one.
There are many good places to stay in Ko Pha Ngan. If you want to stay close to the action, but not TOO close, you may choose the resorts on the "sunset side" of Haad Rin. You can stay just about anywhere on the island and still get to the Full Moon Party, so don't be afraid to venture away from Haad Rin, which is the most developed and least Thai beach of them all. There are over 30 coves and beaches on the island, each with its own distinct qualities. Check out local information to find which beach suits you.
Walk away from every potential conflict with locals. You will stand no chance and it's a surefire way to get hospitalized. Do not get inappropriately rowdy or swear at the beach bar staff. In April 2007 an Israeli tourist got stabbed to death right on the dance floor in one of the bars on Haad Rin beach. Violence is frequent. Locals will not help you in a fight and will in fact gang up on you whether you are right or wrong, and "fellow" travellers will do their best to stay out of it. If you find yourself targeted, LEAVE THE PLACE IMMEDIATELY and don't come back the same night.
Compared to most of Thailand (and especially the north), citizens of Ko Pha Ngan are generally aggressive, rude, and unfriendly after decades of particularly rowdy tourism. Don't expect to be treated as much more than a human ATM. However, it is worth bearing in mind how you would feel if you had to tolerate some of the appalling and disrespectful behaviour from foreigners that you will see here in your home community. Beware also of other travellers who can also be pretty aggressive when drunk, male or female.
If you walk on some of the smaller backroads of the island, dogs can be a real danger. Many of the dogs you encounter will be highly territorial and unfriendly (barking, baring their teeth, getting very close), especially if it is a group of dogs. Getting bitten means an urgent flight to Bangkok to get rabies treatment, so this is important to avoid. Do not stare directly at the dogs (but do look at them every once in a while as it seems to deter them somewhat), and do not run. Try talking to them continuously in a calm and friendly voice ("what a good dog", etc.) and move slowly but surely, either away from the dog, or, if it's critical for you to pass, then as far away as possible from the dog's "home territory" (e.g., if it ran out of a house on the left side of the road, move along the right side). In an emergency, remember that they're probably as scared of you as you are of them, so any violent motion (like throwing something) will likely send them running back, but only temporarily. Do this only as a last resort.
Internet cafes are plentiful and typically also offer international calls, fax services, and flight confirmation. The connection and speed is generally good. Expect to pay 60 baht/hr (1 baht/min) for Internet in central locations. One baht per minute is typical for predominantly tourist-oriented shops, many of which also offer lower rates for pre-paid blocks of time. In travel agency Tan Tour (50 m to west of 7-Eleven next to the pier) the friendly owner Tomas is famous for not taking charging customers very seriously, so if you stay only a short time you can usually use the Internet for free, or for a longer time you will usually end up paying only 20 baht instead of 40-60 baht.
Next door to the 7-Eleven in Thong Sala at the pier there is free (open) WiFi for everyone in Sweet Cafe, so if you don't mind sitting in the sun you can use it for free. Also in the food court in the Thong Sala night market (actually open all day) there is free WiFi for everyone. It's not difficult to find well-equipped, quiet, air-con Internet cafés that charge 60 baht/hr. Shops that can accommodate users who want to hook up their own laptops can easily be found. Printing (black/white) is usually 10 baht/page (30 baht/page for colour).
When you venture away from the more developed beaches, expect to pay up to 3 baht a minute. It can be cheaper just for staying in touch (e-mail/IM) to buy a SIM card where you can activate a 30MB data package for 1 month for 107 baht (D-Tac or AIS) or a 100MB data package for 1 month for 214 baht (AIS), which is enough for basic mobile Internet without images/videos in your mobile phone.
Mobile phone/SIM cards can be bought and topped-up all around island in many 7-Elevens. Mobile signal strength for D-Tac (Happy) or AIS (1-2-Call) is good all around the island. Avoid using the TrueMove network which has very bad coverage.
Overseas calls can be made from many agencies and Internet shops, as well as guesthouses/hotels and the like. Most advertise a rate of 15 baht/minute (or 25 baht/minute to mobile phones). Pretty much every Internet place will have headsets for Skype use, which will be free if you don't have to call to a telephone.
Ko Pha Ngan's post office is located southeast of Thong Sala. As well as the usual postal services, it handles Western Union transactions and hosts a large number of post/security boxes. On weekdays (except public holidays) it's open 08:30-16:30, and on Saturday and Sunday and public holidays it's open 09:00-12:00; tel. +66 77 377118. There is also a smaller but still official post office in Haad Rin, very close to the ferry pier on the west side. Open similar hours to the main post office but possibly slightly more restricted, as it is really only a quarter the size of Thong Sala's.
- Ang Thong National Marine Park — 2 hours away by boat and a great place for a day-trip only (snorkelling, swimming, kayaking, viewpoint over 42 islands) through travel agencies, not on your own. There are huts and tents available. The main highlight when staying on Ko Pha Ngan.
- Bangkok — Easily reachable by boat + bus (from 750 baht) or boat + train (1,000-1,250 baht from the island to BKK via air conditioned sleeper train).
- Ko Samui — the biggest and most touristy island (on the east coast) of Thailand, many boats departing for there from 250 baht.
- Ko Tao — "the biggest dive school on the planet" (Songserm express ferry leaving Thong Sala at 12:30 for 250 baht).
- Surat Thani — closest city on the mainland