Ko Phangan is located in the Gulf of Thailand and is the premier backpacking destination in Southeast Asia (for good or ill). Tourists started discovering this area in the 1980’s, and due to the fame of the Full Moon Parties, it has been popular ever since. There are tons of beautiful beaches, but be prepared for a lot of partying at this destination. You can escape the madness that is Haat Rin (location of the Full Moon Party), and head to the northern or eastern beaches on the island. They tend to be a lot more low-key and relaxed than busy Haat Rin.
Hostel prices – Over the last few years, hostels have become a lot more popular on the island. You can find dorm rooms for around $4-6 USD per night. Private rooms around around $12 USD for a twin room.
Budget hotel prices – Here there are tons of guest houses, beach bungalows, and villages. Beach side bungalows start at $20 USD per night, and go up from there. For a really luxurious bungalow, expect to spend about $50 USD. A cheap rooms can be found for around $10 USD per night. During New Year’s and the Full Moon Party, prices increase by about 30%.
Average cost of food – You can find local meals for around $1.50-1.75 USD. A meal at most tourist restaurants, especially around Haat Rin, will run you about $3-5 USD per meal for Thai food. Western meals will cost closer to $6.75 USD.
Transportation costs – Songthaews (pick-up truck taxis) criss-cross the island for around $3.50 USD a ride, or $5 USD for less accessible destinations. The tuk tuk mafia runs the show here, so don’t try to bargain down. They have set their prices and don’t really offer deals unless there are a lot of people involved.
Money Saving Tips
Find deals on a room – As a general guide, the further you walk along the beach to the last resort, the better and quieter of a deal you get! If you are coming near the Full Moon Party, arrive at least three days prior to secure yourself a decent place.
Drink cheap – Buckets, the famous alcohol-filled sand pales, cost a lot of money. Save them until later (and save yourself from passing out too!). You can go get cheap beers at 7-11, and bring them onto the beach. A single beer will cost about $0.75 USD compared to $2.75-3 USD at a bar.
Top Things to See and Do
Swim in a natural mountain pool – Not to far out from Haat Rin on the way to Baan Tai, there is a turn off to the right to the “river on stone” natural pool and waterfall. It is a little out of the way to get to but well worth the effort.
Go snorkeling – They sell these trips all over the island. There will be tons variety. They usually run from 11 am-5 pm and include transportation by boat, snorkeling, swimming, and lunch for about $14-20 USD. You meet tons of people on them as well. There is also a tour called the Munchies Tour and another called the Reggae Tour and both include, as you might guess, marijuana.
Lay in the sun – The real treasure in Koh Pha Ngan are the many idyllic beaches. This is a great place to sit around, get a tan, cool off in the ocean, and play games with your friends.
Do yoga – The island is also home to a couple of yoga schools where you can go to relax and revitalize your body. Depending on how much time you have and how serious you are you can go for a single lesson or stay there for six months learning to be a yoga instructor.
Enjoy the famous Full Moon Party – The Full Moon Rave is a giant party with a lot of drinking, dancing, and partying. Each bar has its own sound system, so you’ll hear different music every few feet. The beach is lined with people selling alcohol and fire dancers putting on shows. Little booths are also set up, which sell glow-in-the-dark face paint as kids run up and down the beach hawking trinkets and glowsticks. It happens during the full moon every month. High-season parties see about 20,000-30,000 people, with the full moon around New Year seeing the most. It you miss it, there’s always the half moon party, quarter moon party, and black moon party. Really, every day is a party here.
Rent a Kkyak – Just on many of the other islands, it’s possible to rent a sea kayak and head out on the water. Head out for an hour of paddling, or be more ambitious and do an organized day-tour.
Watch (or learn) martial art – Muay Thai has gained international fame as a Thai martial art, and it’s a thrilling and disciplined sport. You can catch a fight in one of the island’s three stadiums, or sign up for a lesson and learn it yourself.
Learn to cook – Thai food has got to be one of the best cuisines in the world, and many tourists come here and just eat and eat and eat. But why not take it an extra step, and sign up for one of the island’s numerous cooking classes? Most classes begin with a visit to the local market, and they always end with a tasty meal!
Tour the temples – Thailand is covered with temples of varying religious denominations, and Koh Phangan is no exception. If you haven’t gotten your fill of culture yet, visit some of them. They are beautiful windows into Thai religion, and make for great photo opps.
Visit the waterfalls – Koh Phangan also has its share of waterfalls, although some are only seasonal, and dry up part way through the year. If you’re up for some hiking, making your way to one of these for a secluded getaway from the beach party scene.
Learn to dive – It’s not the top place in Thailand for diving, but there are still some good options. Sailrock is a very well-known dive site in the area: a rock that pierces the water, and creates the opportunity for a great wall dive down to 130 feet. The island has a couple of schools offering PADI-courses.