You know the name. You know the reputation. Koh Phangan is home to the world-famous Full Moon Party, a raging good time on the shores of Haad Rin Beach where thousands of people of all ages are dripping sweat and neon paint and chugging buckets. Yes, the Full Moon Party is reason enough to go to Koh Phangan but there is much more to the island.
My first time in Koh Phangan, I stayed just a few minutes away from Haad Rin. For my entire five days there, I hardly ever left the area. My second time around, I stayed around Baan Tai, which is about 20 minutes away from Haad Rin and the Full Moon Party festivities. A big part of the move was because my beloved Dancing Elephant Hostel had moved from Haad Rin to Baan Tai.
That decision forced me to get a scooter to get around the island, one that seemed so overwhelming to tackle before. It felt so easy staying in Haad Rin just for the convenience and simplicity but by doing so, you limit yourself to a small, highly commercialized part of the island. If a scooter is within your realm of capabilities, Koh Phangan is one of the most scooter-friendly islands out there. Most roads are paved, it is easy to navigate, and gasoline is sold seemingly on every other block.
So yeah, I’ll start this off with basically, get a scooter or make friends with someone who knows how to drive one. It typically costs around 250 baht a day and gas goes for about 40 baht per liter. With Koh Phangan’s taxi trucks usually costing 100-200 baht for a one-way trip, you immediately save a lot of money and have a lot more freedom when it comes to adventuring.
So now you got a scooter. Where to next?
The Beaches of Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan’s beaches are the main thing to do on the island, aside from partying. With the amount of parties and beaches, it might be possible to stay on the island for weeks and never hit the same beach-to-party combination. That is basically the backpacker dream right there.
Haad Rin Beach
Home to the Full Moon Party, Haad Rin is easily Koh Phangan’s most famous beach. It isn’t necessarily the best, though. While it is beautiful and surrounded by beautiful cliffs on each side of the long strip, it is also always the most crowded beach on the island. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The tourism infrastructure on this side of the island makes it easy to get whatever you need within a 5 minute walk from the beach.
At night, this beach is really the only one with any semblance of nightlife. Fire shows, loud music, beach clubs, and bucket stands populate every part of the beach. For first-timers to Koh Phangan, Haad Rin is not a bad place to stay at all.
Baan Tai Beach
Baan Tai is a long strip of beach on the Southwestern-ish side of the island. It is hardly ever crowded and is one of the most relaxing areas on all of Koh Phangan. The waters are just as blue as anywhere else on the island, although it isn’t the best beach for swimming. Unlike some of the other beaches on the island, the area around Baan Tai is full of shops, restaurants, markets, and nightlife.
Haad Yuan Beach
This is one of the most secluded beaches on the island. The fastest way to get to it is by a boat taxi from Haad Rin. There is very little to do around this beach but if you are looking for some peace and quiet, it is definitely a great beach to go to.
It is also home to one of Koh Phangan’s most famous bars. Eden Bar hosts crazy parties that last long after sunrise. With Haad Yuan being difficult to access, it is one of the bars where seemingly anything goes without any interference from the authorities.
Haad Salad Beach
I didn’t know much about this beach but decided to veer off the road just because I wanted to make a pun about salad. It turned out to be one of the calmest and most beautiful beach we encountered on our beach hopping day. It’s got a fair share of restaurants and resorts and is situated pretty close to a small town. None of those restaurants haad salad though.
Leela Beach / Coco Hut
Despite being in the Haad Rin area, Leela Beach is the complete opposite of Haad Rin’s craziness. This is one of the most serene beaches in Koh Phangan. Right on the shores of Coco Hut Resort, it is popular mostly among vacationers and honeymooners as opposed to young backpackers. It is a great beach to go for a swim and catch the sunset.
Chalok Lam Beach
This is a local beach on the north side of the island, although it is getting more and more developed to cater towards tourists. Since it is one of the beaches that is harder to access, not very many travelers make it all the way up there. The only reason I went was because I got lost and somehow ended up here. It was a solid adventure, though. It might be nice to visit if you want to experience a different, more local side of Koh Phangan.
Haad Son Beach
This is one of the more crowded beaches that I went to. It is right next to a few resorts so naturally, all the guests come here. I didn’t consider it to be anything special since I stumbled into it while searching for a different, more secluded beach. There is a restaurant and bar next to it that juts straight into the water that was really cool, though. The restaurant is called Koh Raham and it is one of the most unique and well-decorated places I have ever been to. You can dive straight into the water from the restaurant and there are tons of fish swimming around.
The Viewpoints of Koh Phangan
There are a lot of hills on the island that make for stunning viewpoints. A few places have taken advantage of those beautiful locations and set up some awesome hangout spots for good views, especially at sunset.
One of the most popular is Amstardam Bar, located close to the west coast of the island. Upon parking or being dropped off, it’s less than a 5-minute walk to the bar but it is a pretty uphill climb. A pool and cold drinks await you at the top so cooling off won’t be a problem. Amstardam gets extremely busy during a great sunset so you should definitely try to get there early-ish, sometimes as early as 3 PM during busy season.
Another popular one is Secret Mountain. This is one is a bit more inland so you don’t get quite as good of a view of the sea as you would from Amstardam. However, you get a stunning panoramic view of the island, from its mountains to the beaches.
Three-Sixty Bar is another place that I’ve heard was good but I haven’t personally been. Amazing sunset spots can be found all over Koh Phangan. Beach sunsets are hard to top so make sure you’ve got a good spot facing west when the time comes.
Since you might be partying until sunrise anyway, it might be nice to know some epic sunrise spots as well. Eden Bar is a relatively isolated bar located on some big rocks jutting into the ocean. The lighthouse party is also a pretty great spot to party until the sun rises. Of course the sunrise on Haad Rin following the Full Moon Party is also both legendary and relieving. Just try not to notice all the trash all over the once pristine beach.
The Parties of Koh Phangan
Full Moon Party
This is by far the most famous party on the island, if not all of South East Asia. Maybe even the world, honestly. Tens of thousands of people will pack the long strip of Haad Rin beach, downing cheap buckets of alcohol and dancing aggressively to all types of music. Everything you need to know about the Full Moon Party can be found on my comprehensive survival guide to the Full Moon Party.
The jungle party happens the night before the Full Moon Party and is often said to be better than the Full Moon Party itself. While it is not nearly as big, it is also a cool experience. A live DJ spins house and electronic music all night, which may or may not be your style. If it isn’t, it only takes a few buckets and beers before you’ll inevitably get into it. It costs 700 baht to enter, and taxis to and from there will probably total at least 200 baht, depending on where you’re coming from. As far as a night out in Thailand goes, it definitely is not cheap but hey, how often are you going to be able to say you went to a rave in the middle of the jungle? It’s worth it.
This name is misleading because as far as I can recall, there wasn’t even a lighthouse. The bar itself is called Lighthouse. It is another popular party for those who are into the rave scene. The best part of the night is the sun rising over the rocks for the partygoers who were able to survive the night up until this point.
I haven’t been to any of the following parties but I’ve heard they are a pretty good time. Koh Phangan always has a party going on and these are some of the biggest that I haven’t been to yet.
I was supposed to go to this one but a very unfortunate experience with some suspicious mushroom shakes immobilized me for the night. I was in full party mode until a friend suggested we go get shroom shakes at a place that has thankfully now shut down because f*ck that place. Things were fine and dandy until they weren’t. I passed out on the hostel couch in the middle of the festivities. My friend passed out near the entrance to the Waterfall Party. And the third leg of our ill-fated decision passed out at the party itself. Don’t do drugs, kids.
Half Moon Party
Black Moon Party
Where to Stay in Koh Phangan
There are so many places to stay on Koh Phangan but since this is a guide for backpackers, I’ll stick mostly to the best places to meet people and sleep on a budget. Hostels in Koh Phangan are surprisingly decent considering its reputation as a party island.
Dancing Elephant Beach Club – Baan Tai
Slumber Party – Baan Tai
Goodtimes – Baan Tai
Sea Breeze Resort – Haad Rin
Paradise Bungalows – Haad Rin
The Drug Scene of Koh Phangan
Aside from the parties and scenery, drugs are a major draw for people to come to Koh Phangan. Mushrooms and weed are two of the most easily accessible drugs on the island but it also isn’t too difficult to find most of the other party drugs, especially MDMA and cocaine. Where to get drugs in Koh Phangan isn’t the question. Sometimes the drugs come to you.
Some places even sell these drugs over the bar. Some are fairly obvious where everyone is open about selling and doing drugs as long as you stick to the premises. Others are a bit more surprising, like the now-shut-down pizza place that sold MDMA over the counter if you knew the right code words.
The whole drug situation on Koh Phangan is weird because it definitely isn’t legal but it seems like most authorities turn a blind eye to it… until they don’t. Some places, including famed establishments like Mellow Mountain, have been recently shut down in raids and it feels like Koh Phangan may no longer be the completely lawless party island that it once was. Drugs in Koh Phangan are going away but that doesn’t mean it is impossible to find them.
How To Get To And From Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan is one of the trio of the popular tourist islands that also include Koh Tao and Koh Samui. It is the one right in the middle, making it a popular stop before or after either one of those islands.
To get to this archipelago, you can either take a ferry from Chumphon or Surat Thani. Surat Thani is south of the islands, making it a closer access point from places like Phuket or Krabi. Chumphon is closer to Bangkok, only about an 8 hour bus ride away compared to a much longer ride to Surat Thani. Most tour agencies will offer combo tickets that include the bus and boat to Koh Phangan.
Trust me, leaving Koh Phangan is a lot harder than getting there. The island is such a good time that you’ll be lucky to leave without a hangover and with enough sleep. As a backpacker, it is one of my favorite places in all of South East Asia to kick back or party. The vibe is always chill but at the same time, there’s always something to do.
For more on partying in Thailand: