Sharon, originally from Israel, lives on Koh Phangan in South Thailand, the island most famous for the world-renowned Full Moon Party. He runs the popular website www.phanganist.com, dedicated to showing off the natural beauty of the Thai Gulf island, as well as celebrating its growing party scene.
We caught up with Sharon to ask him a few questions about the legendary party and other activities in Koh Phangan, the reputation of the island and how the island changing in recent years…
So, Sharon, tell us a little about you. How did you end up in Koh Phangan doing what you are doing now?
I worked in high-tech in Israel for many years – but I never stopped dreaming about doing something more creative. Although I really loved my life in Tel Aviv, I always dreamed about moving to a beautiful tropical island to concentrate on my art. So, to cut a long story short, I quit my job in a bid to find that very place. I came here to Koh Phangan for one month about eight years ago – and it was here that I found so many reasons to stay.
When I first arrived, I spent a lot of my time painting, but all the while I was searching for a project that would combine my experience with technology and my passion for art: in this case, photography. The creation of Phanganist.com was a perfect solution. It gave me a platform to show my love for this island via articles, photography and information for the traveller.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Having this platform that enables me to practice my art – my love of photography. I also get to know many parts of the island and meet many interesting people because of my job.
Of all the islands in Southeast Asia, why did you choose this particular island as your home?
Koh Phangan has everything. The island is blessed with beautiful, quiet beaches, is home to the best parties in the world, with the best DJs that come to play here; it is also one of the world’s biggest yoga centres with so many people coming to practice and study yoga, meditation, healing and all other kinds of spiritual practices.
Koh Phangan is also wonderful for diving, and for its nature. It is certainly not just about the parties! It is very hard to find a place that encompasses everything in such a small area like Koh Phangan does. You have only a maximum of a thirty minute drive to get anywhere you like. Plus, of course, there’s the weather!
Is the Full Moon Party still THE party to go to on Koh Phangan? What other parties are becoming more popular?
The Full Moon is definitely the main draw of the island; the most amazing event that takes place here on the island. It gathers more than 20,000 young people from all around the world who all come to get to know each other, dance together, and have one of the best nights of their lives! So many people from so many countries – all coming together in unity. When you think about it, this is a really precious thing!
In addition to Full Moon, the development of all the other parties during the last few years have brought about some seriously great events. As a result, Phangan is now one of the biggest party centres of the world, rivalled by the likes of Ibiza.
What if you’re not a party animal? Should you steer clear or should you still visit Koh Phangan? What else does the island have to offer?
The island has so much to offer all types of travellers: Muay Thai, nature, yoga, waterfalls, fantastic restaurants, wake-boarding, diving, kitesurfing, water parks… The list is endless. This is probably one of the most wonderful islands in this part of the world. The nature is really second-to-none.
Do different sides of the island cater to different types of travellers? (i.e. yoga crowd on the west coast, party crowd in the south, more expensive resorts in the east – and is this a good or bad thing?)
Yes. I think this is one of the biggest advantages of Koh Phangan compared to any other tourist destination. Young people and all the party-goers come here and stay in Baan Tai and Haad Rin (south of the island) to take advantage of all the beach and jungle parties; yoga lovers stay in Sri Thanu (west of the island) and families with children stay all over the island and enjoy the benefits of the nature and sheer beauty of the island. There is a place for everyone here.
Have you seen the island change over the past eight years since you’ve lived here?
Koh Phangan has developed enormously during the last six years since Phanganist started. The party scene developed from mostly trance parties to one of the biggest centres for trance, house and techno parties; Sri Thanu is now one of the most famous worldwide centres for yoga, and lately we see more and more families that choose to live here.
Are the type of travellers who visit Koh Phangan changing? Is it still the ‘backpacker paradise’ it once was?
Travellers used to stay in cheap bamboo bungalows on the beach, but now due to more development on the island, this has changed. Most young people who come for Full Moon stay in hostels and dorms in Baan Tai, whilst the beaches are now more for families and travellers who want a little more luxury.
In your experience, do many tourists just come for the Full Moon Party and leave after a few days? Is this trend changing?
The young tourists definitely fix their visiting dates to the island according to the Full Moon Party, but the island is always occupied by people who come to enjoy all the other activities Phangan has to offer. This place is not just about Full Moon!
What type of travellers ‘settle’ on the island for six months or more? (Give us an idea of the expat community currently inhabiting Koh Phangan?)
More and more families are coming to stay for six months or more; they take a sabbatical from work to enable their children to experience a completely different culture. This is really valuable for them, I think. Due to the development here on the island, there is a lot more job opportunities for expats, and of course there are many people who are eager to find a way to stay for as long as possible in paradise – even if it means working harder and for comparatively less money.
With so many tourists coming in and out of the island, is there still a sense of community amongst local people and expats on Koh Phangan? (Can you give us some examples of island solidarity?)
Yes! The community here is no less than you would get in your home town, surrounded by friends you have known your whole life. The expats who live here all care about each other; there are different communities of course (yoga/artists/Muay Thai fighters/DJs/hostel owners/bar owners etc.), but they all combine and we all know and look out for each other, just like family!
What are your future plans? Can you see yourself still here in 10 years?
One of the things that you learn when you’re on Koh Phangan as opposed to living in the Western world – is not to plan far. You live in the moment and are grateful for every day you can afford to spend here in this magical place.
How do you think the island will continue to change in the coming years? (Are there still plans of an airport, fancier resorts, posh restaurants, more expensive etc.)
The island has developed considerably in the last few years and this appears set to continue at the same rate. Yet the local families who live here and the associations such as the Tourist Association of Koh Phangan are putting a lot of focus and effort to preserve the nature and the special beauty of the island. In all honesty, I think it’s just going to get better… I feel very lucky and grateful to be part of this island’s community, and honoured to be one of the people who, through Phanganist.com, have the platform to showcase and document Koh Phangan.