Ko Pha Ngan
Ko Pha Ngan (เกาะพะง้น, pronounced goh pa-ngan ง (ng) is a consonant without a separate G sound) is an island off the Central Gulf Coast of Southern Thailand forming part of the Chumphon Archipelago. Located halfway between the islands of Ko Samui and Ko Tao it is known as a land of coconut trees and the world (in)famous full moon parties.
Attractions & beaches
Places below are listed clockwise starting at Thong Sala:
- Thong Sala — The island's "capital" and main ferry port.
- Ao Nai Wok — Also known as Baan Manali Beach from the hotel of the same name, is 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 mins 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 (approx. 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, sand on this beach is nice, but quality of water is not so good and also not much shadow from trees.
- Haad Son — A beautiful small bay with a beach and nice water (further from beach there are plants under water so not so good for swimmers), very low development, quiet and family friendly with quite a lot children.
- 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 minutes and 20 minutes 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 7-11, ATMs, and restaurants, but clean nice sea with sandy bottom and snorkelling further from the beach (rocky bottom, lot of sea urchins), nice sandy beach with lot of palm trees providing shadow, accommodations from 150-200 baht. Maybe the best beach on the west coast because of good water, sand and infrastructure. Also very good for swimmers since in morning you don't need to go far from coast to be in deeper water convenient for swimming.
- Haad Salad — An idyllic cove with several high-end resorts on the northwestern part of the island, sandy beach is here very narrow and there is lot of shadow from nearby trees, family friendly with many children here.
- 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, although quality of water and sand here is not so good. 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 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, there is also commercial Malibu beach in western end with one of the best sand of the island.
- Haad Khom — 20 min walk east of Chalok Lam on a steep concrete road or a few minutes ride (110ccm motorbike can do it with total weight of 2 passengers around 120kg, for heavier people rent 125ccm motorbike or one person must sit down from motorbike) from Chalok Lam you will find a nice quiet beach with clean sea and soft white sand where you can relax and do some of the best snorkelling on the island with many different species, be careful to do it only in morning during high tide, later during low tide it can be dangerous to return because of rocky bottom, very easy to scratch your skin. There are only around 5 accommodations with good prices (from 250-300 baht for a bungalow), so the beach is not crowded. Only the one closest to Chalok Lam, Coral Bay Bungalows has 24 hr electricity, the other use diesel generators. Together with Bottle Beach and Chalok Lam Bay these are the best and only beaches of the northern coast and some of them even maybe the best of 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 resonable 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 7-11s or local restaurants so you have to buy everything for inflated prices at your accommodation (e.g. 90 baht for fried noodles). But what you pay for meals you will save on accommodation expenses and you will be able to enjoy one of the most beautiful and secluded beaches on island.
- Thong Nai Pan — Scenic area on the northeastern part of the island that includes the neighboring 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 nice beach. This beach went through rapid development, so don't expect quiet relaxed place anymore as advertised in old guidebooks or travel diaries. 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 3-star 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 southeastern 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. Very nice wavy ocean with blue colored water, outside of Full moon party dates the beach is pretty quiet, but you must be still careful about ocassional garbage.
- 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, but not bad option for cheap accommodation (fan/AC rooms from 300-400 baht) as base for your trips around island on motorbike.
- Ban Tai — Facing Ko Samui, the longest stretch of uninterrupted beach on the entire island.
The best time to visit the island and also high season is during December-March when the water is high, clean, and good for swimming. It's also not rainy and temperatures are pleasant. Another high season time is during July/August after dry season when the water is rising. Avoid visiting the island during dry season, Apr-Jun, when all of the best beaches on the northwest coast (Mae Haad, Haad Yao, Chalok Lam, Haad Khom) are useless for swimming due to shallow water. Swimming in this season is possible only on the north coast on beautiful Bottle Beach and on the dirtier, less accessible east coast (Thong Nai Pan, Haad Sadet, Haad Rin), where the only beach with good access and swimming is Haad Rin, which is not as crowded at this time. The south coast should be avoided all year due to bad water and sand.
Via Koh Samui Airport
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.
Via Surat Thani Airport
The next nearest airport is Surat Thani (URT) on the mainland. Flights from Bangkok are generally cheaper than if flying to Samui , as there are low-cost carriers (AirAsia) 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. AirAsia uses the old airport in Bangkok, Don Mueang, while Thai Airways uses the international airport, Suvarnabhumi. Nok Airways sell 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.
Via Chumphon Airport One of the best options for travel to the island is via Chumphon Airport . Located 30km north of Chumphon city in Pathio District (alternative spelling Pathiu). It has direct daily flights connections with Bangkok's two airports, Don Meueng Airport - Budget & Low cost flights (DMK) and Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK). There are also onward flights to Ranong Airport (UNN). Flights from Bangkok are around 60 minutes. High-speed Lomprayah (www.lomprayah.com) catamarans depart from Chumphon to Koh Pha Ngan. Nok Air (www.nokair.com) operates two daily flights between Bangkok (Don Mueang - DMK) and Chumphon Airport, Pathio District, Chumphon (CJM). Nok Air offer a combined flight and ferry ticket on their website. Happy Air (www.happyair.co.th) operates a flight between Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi Airport - BKK) to Chumphon 6 days a week. it also flys Ranong to Chumphon. The Chumphon Airport has transit agents for onward connecting travel to the islands of the Chumphon Archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand including Koh Tao, Koh Phangan. The TAT Tourism Authority of Thailand, Chumphon has a tourism information counter at the airport offering information on the region.
From Ko Samui: There are at least 3 ferries a day from Ko Samui's "Big Buddha" pier directly to Haad Rin. Ferries also leave from Nathon and Mae Nam piers to Thong Sala several times a day. Fast Lomprayah catamaran costs 300 baht (3 times a day), while Songserm Express 200 baht (twice a day).
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 and Chumphon: there is fast Lomprayah catamaran operating twice a day to Ko Tao for 450 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 350 baht, leaving Ko Pha Ngan at 12:30, and takes 1.5-2 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. Songserm Express boat from Surat Thani city or train station including bus transfer costs 350 baht and takes around 3.5 hours.
By bus and boat
The best way in by bus is by Government Bus 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 (which is actually located in west of 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 (350 baht for the 3 hour ferry and bus ticket to Don Sak) or the fast ferry (450 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 650-700 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. Tourist buses originating from Khao San Rd are officialy leaving at 6PM, although as usual in Thailand your bus will depart after 7PM, in the morning after 10hr ride (incl. 40mins toilet break around midnight) you will arrive around 6AM to place to change bus, from there around 7:30AM you will take bus to Don Sak pier, from where Songserm Express boat leaves around 9:30 and you will arrive to Ko Samui island around 11:30AM or Ko Phangan around 12:30PM with one pee break around midnight in halfway after 5 hours.
A very good but pricier option, is using the morning bus (6AM) and ferry combination from the Lomprayah company arriving to island around 4:30PM with one way ticket price 1300 baht. 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. There is also overnight bus+catamaran combo, bus leaving Khao San Rd at 9PM, arriving to island around 11AM, cost 1350 baht. 
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. Moreover, the ticket bus-boat is sold 550 bath at Hualamphong train station while you can pay it 400bath once arrived at Surat Thani. 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.
There are many rental locations all over the island. 100-125 cc motorbikes can be hired from 120 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 170 baht/day for fully automatic scooters (calculate around 2.5L petrol per 100km riding 2 persons on 110ccm on hilly west coast); 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 170 baht/day you can bargain it to 140 baht/day or from 120 baht/day to 100 baht/day. For 2 weeks and longer the price drops even more to 80-90 baht/day (semi-automatic). Always compare prices and bargain lower. 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 a 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/bottle). Be careful to spot difference between price per 1 litre and price per 1 bottle which is usually 500-750ml, so it's much more expensive than proper petrol station, don't fall for this petrol bottle scam and always refill tank at big petrol stations, petrol machines or at least at local places where they have proper glass tank for petrol with litres scale.
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). Renting through the place you stay might be a better option, but does not guarantee that you will avoid the bike repair scam. To have clue about prices of repair visit repair shops and know that brand new fully automatic 110-125ccm scooter Honda Scoopy or Honda Click cost between 43-45000 baht in Thailand, pair of new mirrors for motorbike around 200 baht, fixing flat tire around 50 baht.
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 Songthaew.
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 or damage done on motorbike, 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 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.
If you are unexperienced driver opt for fully automatic motorbike, it sits on the road better and there are less hot parts (engine/exhaust) to burn your legs compared to semi-automatic (lower rental price and little bit lower fuel consumption).
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 trys 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 5-6 days or a fully automatic for 4-5 days (petrol not included, fully automatic consumes around 2.5L/100km) 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 (be careful about local dogs which can be agressive) 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.
- The herbal sauna at Wat Pho with separated mens/womens rooms is a great relief after long party nights. It's near the 7-11 branch in Baan Tai, on the southwest side of the island. Always wear a sarong (over your bikini, for men it's OK to use shorts, although you won't see any monks nearby but they have to make money somehow). Remember that you are on temple grounds and locals find female nudity offensive (male nudity is perfectly fine). This is not a European sauna, walking around naked will get you into trouble. The cost for entering the herbal sauna is 50 baht and you can stay as long as you want, if you want a towel (sarong) the price is 10 baht. Open 13:00-19:00, sauna is hottest in the beginning and later in the evening is getting cooler.
- 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 entrance) overlooking Chalok Lam Bay.
- There are elephant camps on the way from Baan Tai to Thong Nai Pan (300 baht for a 30 min ride), the other one close to the Chinese temple on the road from Thong Sala to Chalok Lam (300 baht for 30 min ride, must bargain, on the price list it's officially 500 baht). Another newer elephant camp is next to Phaeng waterfall (around 300 baht per 30 min ride after bargaining). Always bargain in elephant camps and don't fall for official displayed pricelist price, especially during low season and when you see camp is not busy, they should want to make any money better than no money.
- Archery can be attempted at the "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.
- Explore the beauty of Pha Ngan Island, through exciting day, evening and adventure tours. Experience, diving, snorkelling, kayaking, speed boat excursions to Ang Thong National Marine Park, muay Thai, fishing trips, cultural tours, elephant riding. Enjoy the beauty of nature that the Ko Maa area has to offer and have a relaxing boat trip. With so many things to see and do your time on Ko Pha Ngan will be truly memorable.
- 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 (2 times 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. Before going to one of these parties. You must be aware of a couple of things; Wear protective footwear, because there are cigarettes and glass everywhere. Don't bring a purse or a bag and keep your money on you at all time. And make sure you book your accommodation for the Full Moon Party ahead, because there is a limited availability.
- Jungle Experience, Ban Tai. 21:00 to 08:00. In the jungle near Baan Tai, Jungle Experience features the best of underground electronic beats - house, tech & progressive. Site incorporates a magical flower garden criss-crossing a river, plenty of areas to sit down and chill-out complete with UV decorations and laser lighting, dancers & performance artists. Professional world-class DJs. 2013 Schedule: 1 day before and 4 days before every Full Moon Party. 300 baht. edit
- 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 "Jungle Gym" in Haad Rin and Thong Sala Thai offering 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 who don't want to learn the sport.
- Scuba 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. Located 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 located on Haad Yao and Haad Chao Phao; Reefers Dive Resort located on Haad Yao Beach; Sail Rock Divers; Lotus Dive Resort, both located in Chalok Lam; and Phangang Divers, located in Haad Rin. You will, however, find many more dive schools throughout the island.
- Snorkeling The island is surrounded by shallow coral reefs so you don't need to scuba dive to enjoy seeing aquatic life. Options for snorkeling include swimming straight out from the beach (try Mae Haad), chartering a Thai long-tail boat or joining an organised snorkeling tour such as the Catamaran Snorkeling Cruise.
- Watersports Rent or take courses in sailing, windsurfing, kite-surfing or paddle boarding. All are available in only few locations such as, Sl2k Adventure located at Baan Manali Resort in Ao Nai Wok or "Cookie Salad" at "Haad Salad".
- Yoga is offered at multiple locations including Agama Yoga, which is located 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, say, 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. edit
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, 1 or 2 toppings with rice for 50-60 baht, don't forget to try fruit ice shake for 20 baht) Free WiFi in a roofed hall. There is also small local restaurant maybe 10 meters south from market in the small street offering different thai dishes including rice from 40 baht (write your order on paper and prepare for long waiting from Thai grandma chief). Across the road from 7-11 in Chalok Lam are also some Thai street stalls where you will find locals eating for local prices you won't get, these street stalls are not recommended anymore since the basic small portion of meal cost there 50 baht and they charge even extra 20 baht for rice, so you will end up on 70 baht or more and for this price you can eat in better normal restaurants.
In Thong Sala in "Chinese" (Saturday walking) street you can eat at few local eateries different dishes for 40 baht, which includes good portion of meat with rice, small soup and iced water, probably the best deal on island you can get, although don't expect some gourmet heaven. 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 (7-9AM) 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 7-11 in Thong Sala in the direction of Haad Rin (after Walking St traffic lights) with Thai meals for 30-50 baht.
- Ando Loco. Thong Sala's Mexican restaurant of the year for two years running. Authentic cuisine using imported spices. Best tequila and margaritas on the island. edit
- Fellini, Srithanu, . Two Italian restaurants, in Haad Rin and Srithanu. Stone-cooked pizzas, a wide choice of pastas, steaks, seafood, salads. Fellini is famous for its homemade pestos and for the home-grown hydroponic lettuce and roquette. A tiramisu and chocolate mousse to die for. In Srithanu a good choices of wine, probably the best of the island. edit
- Little House, Central St, Haadrin. Seems to be always busy, popular with the locals. Fairly large cafe-style diner with an open kitchen and resident puppy. Friendly staff but don't expect a chat unless you speak islander Thai. Four gorgeous and filling curries can be had for 200 baht. A coffee shake at D's across the street will cost the same just for one. edit
- Nira's Home Bakery, Thong Sala (100m to the east of 7-11 at the junction next to the pier). If you are feeling homesick you can find here many European bakery items like delicious baguettes for 22 baht/1 piece. edit
- Umi, 73/10 Moo 1, Thong Sala, ☎ +66 77 377 815, . 10:00-18:00. Vegetarian. Simple and delicious curries, salads and soups from around the world. Daily specials menu including Indian, Korean, African, Mediterranean and other world food. edit
- Club 9 is the largest indoor club on Ko Pha Ngan just steps away from the famous 'full moon party beach' It's a newly established nightclub in Haad Rin that attracts people for its mixture of full moon entertainment, live music, reputable DJ's, themed parties and private VIP service. This club offers a fresh entertainment atmosphere that differs from the repetitiveness of the beach party scene.
- The Livin' Room. Sip cocktails while you enjoy air-con & movies on a 5 m screen with your own private phone to order drinks & food. edit
- Sheesha (Chalok Lam). A classy take on the Thai bar, definitely worth a look. edit
As a general guide: As further you walk along the beach to the last resort, the better and quieter deal you get!
You can usually find accommodation at the pier when you arrive, many of resorts offers taxi service from pier for free! However, during 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 with the actual resort or a trustworthy booking site as there are numerous fake sites for several well-known Ko Pha Ngan resorts appearing on the Internet.
Be careful where you choose to stay, if you have a bad feeling about a place, trust your gut and leave. Some guesthouses may try to charge you extortionate prices on your checkout for the smallest paint marks on bedsheets or in the rooms (e.g. Black & White Bungalows) and if you refuse they will call in the local mafia and you may be assaulted and/or thrown in jail.
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 and travellers for company. Try Haad Yao, Haad Son, Haad Salad or any of the others along the same strip.
For the north of the island, Haad Khom & Bottle Beach are popular.
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 it's 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. At the 2012 New Year Full Moon party a British tourist was shot dead. 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 agressive, 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 agressive 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 7-11 next to the pier) the friendly foreigner owner Thomas (not his local employees) is famous for not taking charging customers so 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 20-30 baht instead of 40-60 baht, but don't abuse hospitality and it would be nice to book there at least boat ticket when you are already there, because anyway boat ticket prices are fixed everywhere and you can't really bargain over them and get better price in different agency or even directly in Songserm Express booth.
Next door to the 7-11 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 7-11s. 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. 077 377 118. 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 (1000-1250 baht from the island to BKK using A/C sleeper train or around 850-900 baht for fan sleeper train, book in advance to get berth).
- Ko Samui — the biggest and most touristy island (on the east coast) of Thailand, many boats departing for there from 200 baht (Songserm Express).
- Ko Tao — "the biggest dive school on the planet" (Songserm express ferry leaving Thong Sala at 12:30 for 350 baht).
- Sail Rock — popular diving destination, mid-way between Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao.
- Surat Thani — closest city on the mainland.