Koh Phangan - Samui’s pretty sister
With mountains and tropical forests making up over seventy percent of Koh Phangan, this beautiful island is a perfect getaway for those looking for adventure off the beaten track. Amy Sharpe takes a trip over the water.
Only 12km from Samui, Koh Phangan has developed at a much steadier pace than Samui, and although there are rumours of a superstore and even an airport in the near future, its national parks and sandy beaches have secured Phangan in the hearts of international travelers forever.
Although Koh Phangan has changed rapidly since the arrival of the first backpackers twenty years ago, life for many Thai’s on the island is still very simple and traditional, with the village temple, or Wat playing a major role in their day to day lives. There are still many active farms and coconut groves, fishing communities and local markets and the bustle of Thai family life starts early in the morning while the western holidaymakers lay fast asleep.
The Bronze Drum of the Dongson Culture (500 BC-100 BC), found in Samui in 1977 was hailed as evidence of settlements on Samui and Phangan more than 2000 years ago. It is believed that the islands first inhabitants were Muslim Sea Gypsies (Pigmy, Semung & Proto-Malay) who traveled by boat from the Malay Peninsula. Later came the Chinese migrants of Hainan, about 200 years ago and there are now around 14,000 people on the island. The faith on Phangan is predominantly Buddhist with a small Muslim community in the fishing village of Bantai.
Koh Phangan is also a Mecca for well-being with Yoga, massage and fasting centres, Thai Chi, and many alternative healing arts found in beautiful locations across the island. The most famous centre is The Sanctuary in Haad Tien. Accessible only by boat, this renowned wellness centre attracts an international crowd who come to rejuvenate and refresh their spirits in peaceful tropical surroundings.
Thong Nai Pan on the North East coast has the finest beaches on the island, with Noi (small) home to some of Koh Phangan’s most luxurious accommodation such as the Panviman and Santhiya resorts.
Other attractive places to stay include Milky Bay in Ban Tai, which offers lovely rooms in a tropical garden atmosphere with a steam room, gym, swimming pool and stunning views over to Koh Samui.
Meanwhile, Thansadet is home to Koh Phangan’s most famous national park, where Thailand’s past Kings have visited the stunning waterfalls, nurturing the island’s fame throughout the Kingdom. The northeast coast is also home to giant monitor lizards, which can grow up to three metres in length.
For a more remote experience and great snorkeling it’s best to head for Koh Mah, boats to some great dive sites leave from around this small island daily. The beach at Haad Yao, or Long Bay is also a real hit with holidaymakers and developing fast. But for that unmistakable Phangan feeling, just choose a beach to watch the sun set over the ocean while you listen to the sounds of laid-back reggae tunes.
Thongsala is Phangan’s Thai capital, with thriving markets selling fruit, vegetables and fresh fish. The Tropicana Resort is a quiet relaxing base here to explore the island and has reasonable room rates and friendly owners. Enterprising Thai and Foreigners have created a lively social scene in Thongsala, even building a small cinema so you can catch all the latest releases and timeless classics on your holiday.
For shoppers, great jewellery and fashion accessories are available in Haad rin, home of the infamous full moon party.This small fishing village has grown into a town thanks to the thousands of revellers from around the globe that come to dance by the light of the moon, providing a thriving tourist industry for the island.
With the arrival of luxury hotels and villas, Koh Phangan is also starting to see the emergence of higher standards of service, including Phangan’s first fine dining restaurant, Menu. Chic nightspots like Chaloklum’s Sheesha Bar and swanky bars and restaurants are also popping up in Haad Rin. Room rates are also on the rise as Phangan begins to shed its backpacker culture and embrace the lucrative market of the higher spending holidaymakers.
Things are still a little rough and ready on Koh Phangan, so if shopping centres and five star services sit at the top of your agenda, this may not be the island for you. For those in search of something a little more adventurousthough, Koh Phangan offers a stunning, tropical escape, only 20 minutes away from Samui by speedboat, allowing you the opportunity to experience the beauty of some of the finest beaches in the Gulf of Thailand.