Ko Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand isn’t as well-known as its sister island of Samui and has no airport, but this is part of the attraction. Visiting to this lush green getaway requires effort, and the reward is an off-the-beaten-track ambience.
Visitors to Ko Phangan can feel that they’ve stumbled into a secret paradise with beautiful empty beaches, jungle-clad hills and a cool, laid-back vibe. But you don’t have to come here simply to chill out and relax. Adventure lovers can trek in the hills, explore the off-shore wonders and go island hopping. If cultural exploration is your thing, this island offers many ways to be creative or to discover the local way of life. You may even want to do a little soul searching with a yoga or meditation retreat.
So here’s a quick run-down on this amazing island.
Being less developed than Samui and with over half of its area made up of national park, scenic Ko Phangan feels pristine. It boasts often-empty beaches, the most famous being Hat Rin, where people like to party. But, if you’re willing to explore, you’ll find more tranquil stretches of sand. One not-to-be-missed beach is Mae Hat where a sandbar stretches to the island of Ko Ma, and it’s a messianic experience to walk between the two bodies of water. Ko Ma itself has great snorkelling and a viewpoint if you fancy a climb. Sunset lovers should visit Phangan’s west coast beaches – Hat Yao, Hat Salad and cute Ko Raham where a quaint local restaurant offers refreshing sundowners and Thai dishes.
Ko Phangan has always been popular with creative, artistic and spiritual types who visit to get away from the world and recharge their batteries. And now there are lots of courses that cater for people who want to explore their own spiritual side. It’s possible to take hatha and vinyasa yoga teacher training courses, meditation classes in the hills and go on detox and mindfulness retreats.
If you just want a quick and fun outlet to express your creative side, try a little tie-dye. There are several places teaching the basics in making your own souvenir dress, sarong or t-shirt. Garments are folded or twisted, bound with rubber bands and dipped in dye or peroxide to create a huge array of patterns. More vibrant designs involve extra steps and colours, and this lovely work is available to buy if you’re seeking a new island outfit.
A Royal retreat
Not many people know that they’re following in Royal Footsteps when they visit Ko Phangan. King Rama V the Great loved the island and was known to have visited Ko Phangan many times during his reign. The revered King’s influence is still felt on the island and a statue of him has been erected at Thongsala Beach. Here visitors can also tour the huge Thai Royal Navy Ship, Ko Phangan. Since 2015, this huge vessel has sat in the dry dock of Thongsala and deep in the interior there’s a permanent exhibition informing visitors about the island’s Royal connections.
People who consider themselves too cool for Samui or Phangan head to tiny Ko Tao, which is easily reached from both islands. Ko Tao has a laid-back vibe and the party scene on Mae Hat and Sairee Beaches attracts international beachcombers and happy-go-lucky travellers. Rock climbing is becoming popular on the island, but above all, Ko Tao is a diving venue. The underwater wonders begin a few metres from the beach and as well as Thailand’s best coral, you can find rays, sharks, sea snakes and turtles – even the majestic whale shark puts in an occasional appearance.
Ko Nang Yuan
Tourist brochures tend to show Ko Nang Yuan when selling Ko Tao because of its picture-postcard perfection. Made up of three lush little islands connected by a sandbar of pristine white sand, Ko Nang Yuan is a little paradise a couple of hundred metres from the western coast of Ko Tao. It’s easy to get a long-tail boat for the trip, but do get there early (or later on) as Ko Nang Yuan can get somewhat crowded during the day. Most people come to spend time on the amazing sandbar beach, but thanks to clear, sheltered water, this is a great snorkelling spot with hard and soft corals. There’s also a lookout across Ko Nang Yuan and the climb isn’t too taxing. Once at the top, you’re treated to what’s probably the best island view in all of Thailand.
Something no visitor to Ko Phangan can miss is the hundreds of thousands of coconut palms on the island. These are vital to the island’s economy and the sweet coconut milk and flesh is used in many local dishes. To celebrate this vital crop, the island holds a Colourmoon Festival every April and there’s the chance to see how coconuts are used by the locals, enjoy live music, try tasty food and discover some of the island’s history. So do pop by if you’re on this island during the Festival.
For high-resolution pictures, please visit TAT Newsroom Photo Gallery – Attractions: Ko Phangan, Ko Tao and Ko Nang Yuan.