The notorious Full Moon Party lures up to 30,000 backpackers to the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand each month. The party takes place on the sands of Haad Rin and has become infamous worldwide as one of the biggest beach parties on the planet.
However, although young travellers rarely linger long enough as the hangover subdues to find out, Koh Phangan has A LOT MORE to offer than alcohol buckets and glow-paint. With a beautiful national park, jungle-clad mountains, waterfalls and palm-fringed deserted beaches, Koh Phangan is a nature lover’s heaven… And, if you’re looking for a peaceful tropical beach escape, it is possible to completely avoid the party-goers and their nocturnal antics altogether!
The west side of the island has become a magnet for yogis and spiritual seekers where you’ll find a variety of classes, workshops, satsangs (talks) and courses offering everything from abdominal chi massage to Qi Gong, Reiki and Tantra. With this subculture comes a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan restaurants as well as open-mic nights, poetry sessions, you get the picture… For those wanting to take their yoga practice to another level, there are many schools offering yoga teacher training and you can also find Thai massage courses and meditation teacher training.
Koh Phangan is also popular amongst divers and snorkellers. There’s coral right off the beach on the west coast of the island, and just offshore you’ll find the fantastic dive site of Sail Rock (AKA Whaleshark City), often celebrated as the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand.
And if all that adventure tires you out just thinking about it, Koh Phangan is also a great place to just relax. There are so many uncrowded beautiful beaches, lots of pretty jungle walks and stunning spots to watch the sunset with a cocktail (or a Kombucha tea). With something to satisfy almost every need, you may just find this island hard to leave – we always do!
NB – Click here for an overview of backpacking in Thailand.
Where to stay in Koh Phangan
There are some great hostels, guesthouses and beach bungalows in Koh Phangan, it just depends on whereabouts you want to base yourself on the island. It’s not a large island, you could ride around it on a motorbike in one day, but the place you stay will certainly determine the type of holiday that you have as each place has a very distinct vibe.
WARNING: In 2018 many hostels were shut down by the police for not having the correct license. Many blogs are still recommending hostels that are now closed so be sure to check on Booking.com if the hostel you have been recommended still exists! Among the closures was the popular Baan Tai Backpackers and Echo Beach Backpackers. See our list here of the best hostels in Koh Phangan that are actually open!
Haad Rin – Home of the Full Moon Party, Haad Rin is probably the most famous beach on Koh Phangan. If you’re wanting to go to the Full Moon Party, you’ll be steps away from the action if you base yourself here, but it’s certainly not a necessity as, during the festival, hostels all over the island arrange transport (in the form of Songthaew taxis) to the event so that nobody misses out! When it’s not party time, Haad Rin offers a beautiful, tranquil beach where you can catch longtail boats to explore other parts of the island. As an old backpacker ghetto, the town itself is a little rough around the edges, especially since the police got serious and shut down a load of bars and hostels that were operating without a license. Check out our Koh Phangan hostel guide to see the hostels that are still open.
Baan Tai – Baan Tai is the strip of road that links Haad Rin with the main town of Thongsala. Some (me) would say it is the tackiest most commercial part of the island with fast food joints, large supermarkets and seedy go-go bars. However, there are some advantages to staying here. First of all, you’re close to the action if you want to go to the Full Moon Party, second of all, it’s home to some great backpacker hostels and finally, you’re not far from the beach at all times.
Thongsala – The so-called ‘capital’ of Koh Phangan is a fun place to base yourself for a few days. There’s a night market which is a great place to grab cheap food, lots of cheap bars and restaurants and even free aerobics in the park at 6 pm every night! You won’t quite find the tropical island escape vibe here and the best beaches are to be found elsewhere.
Sri Thanu – The yogis and hippies have completely taken over Sri Thanu and created their own world on the west coast of the island. Yoga schools, massage centres and vegan and vegetarian restaurants abound in this tiny area where you’ll find people wandering around shoeless gazing into each other’s eyes. Zen Beach is their go-to sunset spot and some of the most popular yoga schools include Samma Karuna and Agama Yoga, which was recently the subject of a huge scandal involving their founder, Swami Vivekananda, who was accused of sexual assault by 14 women. We interviewed Swami back in 2013.
Haad Yao and Haad Salad – Two beautiful beaches in the north of the island, Haad Yao and Haad Salad offer a few options for backpacker accommodation. Head here if your desire is to relax, have loads of cheap massages (300 Baht a pop) and do some snorkelling off the beach.
Chaloklum – A gorgeous fishing village in the north of the island with a lovely stretch of beach and some great restaurants, Chaloklum is a hang out for long-term residents on the island. Head here if you want to get away from it all and chill with the expats of Koh Phangan. (Also have a great pizza at Cafe Del Mar!)
Top 5 Backpacker Hostels in Koh Phangan
When it comes to backpacker hostels, here are a few of our favourites in some of the most popular areas, but for a full lowdown on hostels in Koh Phangan, check out our Koh Phangan hostel guide here.
1. Phanganist Hostel (Baan Thai) – Opened in the last few years, Phanganist Hostel quickly solidified its reputation as the best party hostel on the island. Perfectly located in Baan Tai, close to the beach, the Full Moon Party and the main town of Thongsala, this hostel is a great choice at $15 US per night for a dorm bed. With a swimming pool, pool table, nightly events like Latin dancing classes, and loads of common spaces to enjoy, this is a great hostel to meet fellow backpackers.
2. Goodtime Koh Phangan (Thongsala) – Located in the main town of Thongsala, this hostel has it all – even a 100 metre right in front of the property. With activities like beach volleyball, ping ping, as well as their own swimming pool, this hostel is ideal for those who are looking for the perfect beach holiday and to relax in a social environment. Dorms are just $11 US per night per bed.
3. Same Same Guesthouse (Haad Rin) – Run by two Danish ladies, this long-term, much-loved backpacker establishment is right in the heart of the action in Haad Rin. If you’re planning a trip to the Full Moon Party, you better book it fast! Dorms are $14 US per night.
4. Shiralea Backpackers Resort (Haad Yao) – Arguably the most beautiful side of the island, Shiralea Backpackers is located on the west coast, near to the gorgeous Haad Yao Beach. There is great snorkelling, diving and jungle treks from here and if you hire a motorbike you can explore every nook and cranny of the island from this location. The hostel has a swimming pool, a bar and a chilled out social atmosphere. Great for those who want to party but have a beautiful place to retreat to and nurse that hangover. Run by French-Canadian and Aussie owners, this place comes highly recommended!
5. OPENING DECEMBER 2018! Mad Monkey, Koh Phangan (Thongsala) – The biggest party hostel chain in Southeast Asia has finally landed on the island of Koh Phangan and they’re ready to make some noise! Situated just five minutes from the main town of Thongsala, the pier and the night market, Mad Monkey is perfectly situated for backpackers who want to party and/or explore the island. With a lovely swimming pool, nightly events, and entertaining “Customer Experience Reps”, Mad Monkey is bound to be the most happening place in town! Watch this space. Make the most of your Full Moon Party or Half Moon Festival experience by staying here! With dorms from $8 US per night.
Staying long-term in Koh Phangan
Like many digital nomads, I’ve made Koh Phangan my base on several occasions during the past few years. I lived there for 5 months back in 2014 and just recently spent 3 months there in 2018. If you’re staying for one month or longer on the island, the best thing to do is to rent yourself a bungalow, or a ‘house’ as they advertise. You can’t ride around the island for five minutes without seeing a sign saying HOUSE FOR RENT. To find the best deals, don’t bother looking anything up online, simply hire a motorbike, drive around the island, stop at every place that has a sign and ask the owners the price and if you can have a look round the property. We recently rented a lovely little place for 10,000 THB / month with WIFI, balcony, hot water, kitchen and pet dogs included!
Top 10 Things to do in Koh Phangan
1. The Full Moon Party:
For over twenty years, the lure of the ‘Full Moon Party’ has enticed revved up travellers each month, who flock to Koh Phangan to experience the most famous beach party on earth. There are various stories about the origin of the party, but so one rumour goes, it all started with a group of backpackers playing guitars on the beach for someone’s birthday party. Whoever’s celebration it was, they certainly left behind an impressive legacy! Today, up to 30,000 people congregate on Haad Rin Sands for a frenzied concoction of dance, drink and devilishness from dusk until dawn! Click here for party dates. Tickets cost 100 baht.
2. Koh Phangan’s Other Parties
These days, it’s not just the Full Moon Party that draws party-goers to Koh Phangan. Twice a month, the Half Moon Festival takes place in the jungles of Baan Thai, as well as the Black Moon Culture party happening every month. There’s also Loi Lay Floating Bar Party and the Waterfall Experience. Not to mention, the notorious beach rave at Guy’s Bar taking place every Friday night on the tiny Haad Tien Beach. Basically, whatever time you visit Koh Phangan, there’ll be a party going on!
3. Yoga Retreats, Yoga Teacher Training and More!
Like Ubud in Bali and Arambol in Goa, India, Koh Phangan is a magnet for yogis and spiritual seekers. Every type of yoga you have ever heard of can be found here and a whole load that you haven’t! Most yoga schools are based on the West coast of the island near to the hippie hub of Sri Thanu, where you’ll also find vegetarian restaurants and vegan cafes galore. Yogis hang out to watch the sunset on Zen Beach and perform circus tricks at the same time! Famous schools include Samma Karuna, the Yoga Retreat, Sunny Yoga, Casa Shambala and the rather controversial Agama Yoga. Yoga Teacher Trainings take place all year round in Koh Phangan in a variety of different styles, languages and offering different facilities.
4. Ecstatic Dance
Every Sunday morning at 11 am at the Pyramid Yoga Centre, people of all ages go to a daytime rave in the jungle. (What must the locals think!) The idea is to ‘dance like no one is watching’ and once you get over your initial giggles, it can be very liberating! Alcohol and drugs are not allowed, though the grinding and swirling around on the floor will make you wonder if some people haven’t taken something before they got to the event. No matter who you are, no matter what you plan to do, it’s guaranteed that you will not be the weirdest person there.
5. Vipassana Meditation
Located up a hill in the forests of central Koh Phangan, Wat Kow Tahm International Meditation Centre offers 10-day silent Vipassana retreats for those wanting to try this famous S.N, Goenka style of meditation. The retreat is on donation and includes meals and accommodation.
6. Healing Workshops
Abdominal chi massage breathwork classes, qigong, life coaching, tai chi, drumming therapy, angel healing, family constellations, rebirthing, yoni egg therapy (we’ll let you Google that one), every single type of holistic, spiritual and healing therapy you can think of is available here in Koh Phangan! (For a price). To keep up to date with such events, join the Facebook Group ‘Koh Phangan Conscious Community’. There’s also a ‘Koh Phangan UNconscious Community’ which has sprung up as a counter-culture to the movement.
While most backpackers head to Koh Tao to dive, it is possible to visit the same dive sites from the nearby island of Koh Phangan. Taking a PADI course or an Advanced PADI Course will cost you just a little bit more than it would from Koh Tao, simply because the dive sites are a little further away. The most famous dive site in the area is the stunning Sail Rock, the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand. At certain times of the year, whale sharks are frequently sighted here.
8. Trek to Bottle Beach
From the very tip at the north of the island, take the jungle trail that leads over the mountain to the beautiful bottle beach. (It is possible to walk around the coast as well.) Take water with you as there are no stores along the way. Have a swim when you get to this gorgeous stretch of sand and then take a long-tail boat back.
There’s some great snorkelling on the West coast straight from Haad Yao or Haad Salad or Mae Haad in the north. However, it must be noted that box jellyfish have become an issue in recent years and there have been several reports of death on the island. Thee highly poisonous creatures can kill in minutes! The authorities are taking action on the problem and nets have been installed at some of the beaches on the island (notably on the Full Moon Party beach of Haad Rin). Watch out for warnings during the time you visit.
10. Scooter explorations:
In Koh Phangan, hiring a mountain bike or a motorbike is a great way to get to explore. Coastal roads, jungle trails, tracks to deserted beaches; Koh Phangan has lots of hidden gems for you to discover. Whilst the shores of Koh Phangan boast unspoiled sands, the interior of the island is mostly covered in jungle and national park. 90% of Koh Phangan is, in fact, untouched natural rainforest, home to wild monkeys and tropical bird life! A visit to the waterfall Nam Tok Than Sadet is a must! Warning: When riding a motorbike in Koh Phangan you should drive extremely carefully. The roads can be ‘very challenging’. Read this article: 10 Tips for Hiring a Motorbike in Thailand.
A Day Trip from Koh Phangan?
Not so far from Koh Phangan is the natural wonder, Ang Thong Marine Park, made up of 42 separate islands, one of which is home to a beautiful enclosed salt water lake. On some beaches in the Marine Park, you can go ‘Castaway’ and camp out underneath the stars. Read more about Ang Thong Marine Park here.
For those wanting more specific information about travelling to Koh Phangan, Phanganist.com provides stacks of up to date advice and information. It has an online daily updated party list, interviews with the best DJs on the island, party movies, photo galleries, a hotels price compare engine, a business index and more…
How to get to Koh Phangan
Flights to Koh Phangan
Overnight buses to Koh Phangan
Trains To Chumphon or Surat Thani
Trains go directly from the main Bangkok Train Station (Hua Lamphong) every day to Surat Thani. You can get a sleeper with a fan for around 800 baht. Once at Surat Thani Station, you’ll take a songthaew (Big Tuk Tuk) t the pier where it’s a two-hour boat trip to the island.
Where to go next?
- Koh Tao: A beautiful gem of an island just 1-hour ferry from Koh Phangan. Many backpackers learn how to dive here.
- Koh Samui: Just half an hour a way on the ferry, Samui is more touristy and less hippie than Koh Phangan. Voted number 5 on our reader’s poll The Worst Places in South East Asia, It won’t be to all tastes, but it has good spas and other ways to treat yourself if you’re looking for more of a “holiday” than an “adventure”.
- Ang Thong Marine Park: Can be visited in a day from Koh Phangan. Cast your eyes on natural lagoon or camp out.
- Khao Sok National Park: One of the most ancient natural rainforests in Thailand. From Surat Thani, it’s a one-hour bus journey.
- Penang: It’s only a boat ride to the captivating island of Penang, where you can begin your Malaysian adventure or just head over the border on your Thai visa run!
- Chumphon: Rarely given the time it deserves on a backpacker trip. National Park, deserted beaches, hot springs – and you’re the only one there! Ssssh.