Koh Phangan: The Non-Douchebag's Guide to the Land of Vice
Thanks to Leo and Tilda Swinton, Koh Phangan was seriously ruined for a good 10 years of my life. Richard's hate-fille assessment of the island in The Beach had me convinced that the island was infested exclusively with scum o' earth like this guy
Because of my barfbag man fear I avoided Phangan like I do second-hand smoke. I didn't need chubby Legend up there crampin' my styles! Only when I found out my friend from Bangkok, Coran, was DJing at the Full Moon Party did I decide to try give it a shot. Since then I've been four times. And not that there aren't a fair amount of said d-bags, they do not outweigh the sheer awesomeness you get from being here. If you love party, adventure, and beauty this island has it all. Believe it or not, when you know where to look you'll find chill vibes, wonderful beaches and secret rave jungle parties. Best to go for about 4 days but it can easily be done in 2 nights or 3 weeks. Do not go here for a relaxed romantic trip. Your sleep count will average 2 hours a night.
Through my guide I try to point you in the direction of cheapest accommodation, what beaches to stay on, how not to pay too much for alcohol and what are the best parties to get to that aren't just the epic Full Moon Party. It has become one of my favourite islands in Thailand, after Koh Chang, and hope this guide helps you discover the best of the devil's playground.
1. Which Beach to Stay On
Haad Rin Beach: The area that is the most lively and fun is called Haad Rin beach. It's where all the party-goers head for good time central. You have bars playing movies all day, every type of restaurant around and most importantly the Full Moon Party Beach. I personally think it's one of the best beaches in all of Thailand, with sports and beach volleyball everyday, beautiful soft white sand around your toes and a stunning scenery. Nightly parties happen here so it's best to stay in this area so not to risk riding a motorbike in the tricky mountains while even slightly inebriated. The downside is that it's not very quiet and romantic so perhaps not the best place to go in a couple, but a huge group of friends is a must. Taxi is 100 Baht from the Tongsala pier.
Bantai: This is the beach area right next to Haad Rin. It's super developed and where all the dive instructors, bar owners etc live. There are good bars and nice hotels. It's a good compromise between partying and peace and quiet. Personally, not sure why you would go to Koh Phangan for the peace and quiet. If you are going to this island, experience it in full. Downside is that you have to take a motorbike through the tricky mountain stretch to get the main area. Upside? Everything is slightly cheaper.
Mae Haad: Do not stay here unless you are a) doing diving courses b) with your family or partner c) are an old grandpa . Don't get me wrong, it's extremely beautiful and there is wonderful snorkelling here. But it is far from everything fun and you will be spending more than an hour on motorbikes to get into the central area. It's perfect if you are in a couple trying to escape reality, but that's all there is- quiet pretty beach... how long can than entertain anyone? My recommendation is to rent a bike from Haad Rin and do day trips here for snorkelling.
Motorbike daytrip impromptu stop to watch amazing sunset with the boys.
2. Cheap Accommodation in Haad Rin
- Sunset Bungalows: Simple and quaint bungalows on the hill are the cheapest accomodation you can find in Haad Rin. The best part about it is that, unlike other places where the price rises come Full Moon Party, here stays the same. It has a wonderful view of Sunset Beach, a skip away from the action and the magical Reggae Bar and the management is amazing. Stayed there many a night. Tip: If you are staying more than 4 days you can bargain a cheaper price. This is true for many places.
Directions: Next to Neptune Villa on Sunset Beach
- Moonstone Hostel: Looks like the Playboy mansion on crack. Everything is pink and flashing but don't let that deter you. The facilities are new, air condition very cold, bathrooms are clean and they make an effort with the small things like blowdryers, hair straighteners, hot water, shampoo, personal fans, individual electricity outlets and lots of mirrors. Perfect for girls getting ready but not limited to the female sex. Also, there are speakers in the room that make it the ultimate spot for pre-partying! Bad sides? The beds are super close together and narrow and most importantly THE STAFF IS HORRIBLE. They don't speak a word of English and are quite rude. While I loved the accommodation I found somewhere else to stay, they were so unbearable and frustrating. Plus, lots of my clothing went missing. I wasn't willing to risk it again, but make your own risk assessments.
Directions: Across from Siam Bank (Purple Bank) 2 minutes from the Haad Rin Pier
200 Baht/night away from full moon
600 Baht/night during Full Moon Party
Looks like hell for some, but really is some of the most fun you'll have in your life
- Yan's Dormitory: If you are looking for a dorm, good vibe and good people I cannot recommend this place highly enough. Along with Sunset Bungalows this is my top recommendation. Yan, the owner, is a spiritual massouse and one of the most interesting characters you'll encounter in your life. Be prepared for live Buddha demonstrations in his special Buddha room, impromptu "organ massages" and homecooked meals that are included in staying there. The facilities are basic: Bunk beds, air condition dorms and two bathrooms, but staying with Yan is an experience worth much more than all that. He is a bit quirky but his honesty and good nature makes Yan's the best place to pre-party at. We put our own music on, got the paint and Hong Thong out and went nuts. During the day enjoy movies and a comfortable lounge vibe. I stayed for 5 nights and was depressed to leave. The people you meet there are amazing too.
Directions: Centre strip of Haad Rin hostel area near Dancing Elephant Hostel
- Fubar: Probably the hippest of dorm accomodation in Haad Rin. A young hot British brother and sistah own the joint and give it its groovy vibe. Jo is a DJ and belts out great music especially on Monday night. The bar is comfortable and full of lounge cushions and the people there are the best part. It's an oasis away from the tween ditsy backpacker vomit inducing types. Here, the guys and girls have good in taste in music and are just more interesting. While I've never stayed there myself, I've met so many cool people here and spent many nights drinking and dancing that I'm not sure why I haven't stayed yet. I have seen the place though: clean, cool, solid beds and clean bathrooms. Also, extremely close to Sunset Beach!
Directions: Sunrise Beach
DJ and Owner Jo at Fubar for Monday Sessions
3. Best Parties and Bars
- Full Moon Party. Hands down of the CRAZIEST PARTIES OF MY LIFE. I do not say this lightly, it is top three. Imagine a kilometre of beach lined with 40,000 people, everyone covered in neon paint, ridiculous headbands and pumped to have the best night of their lives. It's not for everyone, like grandmas. Something you need to experience once in your life.
- Tip: The afterparties, as you see in the video below are wayy cooler than the party itself. Drink Thai Redbull and prepare yourself for a big one (Do: Mellow Mountain for sunrise and Fubar after). The other thing I have to say is that there is so much more to Koh Phangan than the Full Moon Party. Word on the street is that the parties leading up to and after FMP are the best. Below I've listed them.
- Scam alert: Sometimes they try to charge you to enter. Don't pay, find another way in.
- Monday: Monday Sessions at Fubar. If you're sick of One Direction, head here for cute DJs bustin' out badass house and electro every Monday night. One of my fav' nights in Koh Phangan. Check the video above to see Jo and Fubar at the end.
- Friday: Guy's Bar is a rave in the jungle. You have to take a boat from Sunrise beach to get there, which costs 150 Baht there and about 200 Baht back. Don't pay more than that and go with a big group of people. This is a party full of house and trans music. It's a neat experience to dance in a jungle but beware! It's a very special scene there with most people dancing with water bottles in their hands and buying very few drinks. Everything is available over the bar and one reason this party is sought after. While this may seem risky in Thailand, the bars that decide to sell anything besides alcohol take special precautions to pay off the police to stay away.
- Saturday and Thursday: Eden Jungle party. Saturday is a daytime party and Thursday is in the night. It's near where the Yoga retreat is so you get lots of hippie, ali baba pant types dancing here, but also the locals of the island.
- Reggae Bar: A little hidden gem of a bar away from the main action on Sunset beach. This bar has fluo writing all over the walls full of inspirational messages written by people on magical trips and a view overlooking the water. Go here to chill out Rasta or magical styles or for a nice beer along the sea! Good people, vibe and music but don't come here to dance.
Dancing on a table at Half Moon Party, NBD.
- Half Moon Party. This party is amazing. I went to one before FMP and after and I must say the one after was much epic. The music is house/jungle and it takes place in the jungle, cool! Downside is that it's 500 Baht entrance and a 100 baht minimum taxi ride to go. People get painted up and go all out since they're compensating for missing the Big poppa of parties. Some people prefer it over FMP. If you can, do both.
- Mellow Mountain: Same as Reggae bar for what you can buy over the bar and same prices too. Difference being that it is on the main party beach and with a mega wicked view over the ocean and up high. This place is a bit more popular and touristy but still stunning and fun. If you are looking to be closer to the action than this is your best bet. Come here on a night where you don't plan to get wasted off your face, say a few days before or after Full Moon Party.
- Tip: The two bars on the hill are famous for magic shakes. It's been said that closer to the Full Moon Party that it gets, the more watered down the shakes' potency becomes (More demand, fixed supply = makes sense). So if this is something you want to try, best to do it before or after when it's not too busy.
- Warning: Don't leave the mountain with any illicit substance. While the bars pay off the police from coming up to the top and busting people, you will not enjoy the same immunity if you stupidly stumble on the beach with something on you.
4. Cost of Living/ Drinking
Cheapest day is around 700 Baht. Accommodation is around 200 + (2) 50 Baht for fried rice/pad thai + 40 Baht for fruit shakes + 2 buckets for 150 Baht each. The only way you can do cheaper than that is if you eat instant noodles from 7/11 and cut out alcohol. Most likely you are not a mini girl and you will actually need to drink way more than that. Also, a lot of the parties beyond Full Moon Party require you to pay taxis and/or entrance fees.
Where to eat? The shacks are on a street with Greenpeace restaurant. They are local food stalls with deliciousness and authenticity for a cheap price.
Motorbikes are 150 Baht/day. This is very cheap but be careful, they charge through the sky if you have even the slightest scratches on it. My German friend paid 4000 baht extra just from a few extra scratches when she dropped it. Be careful. The mountains are a bit tricky but anyone with a brain can do it. Seriously, it's so fun.
Buckets are 200-300 Baht for local alcohol. Any cheaper than that than you are probably getting less than other buckets.
Alcohol in the store 150 Baht. Get a giant bottle for 5 dollars, buy your own mixers and even throw it in a bucket for good measure.
Warning: If you think you are getting a good deal they are probably ripping you off. Buckets for 100 Baht mean they are using local vodka or whiskey that they're hiding behind their bar and sometimes it's not even the real deal. Be careful to see if the seal of the alcohol is broken. One bartender told me the vodka is usually fake. Thai whiskey is the best way to go.
5. Things to DoRent Motorbikes. It's scary but get over it. They're super easy to learn and as long as you're not a moron you should be okay. You don't need a license. Go slow, get used to it and rent your ticket to freedom in Asia!! Be careful, as I note above.
Hunt Waterfalls. Go with the mates in a giant biker crew and check out waterfalls. Sometimes they're dry and they are more like water puddles. Still amazing and fun to get in nature.
Don't go chasing waterpuddles. Bathing in dried out waterfalls still a blast. woo.
Snorkel in Mae Haad. On your motorbike trip go snorkeling. The coral is pretty cool, the beach is beautiful and calm. Provides a wicked reprieve from perennial waste-case feelings of sleeping till 2 pm and lounging on Sunset Beach.
Go to Mellow Mountain During the Day. Best time to be there is when you can see the view. Whatever you buy up there is best done then too.
Beach Volleyball. The reason sunset beach is my favourite beach is because of how active people are during the day there. The sand is soft and white, the beach is clean and everyone is either tanning or playing sports. Beach volleyball is pretty serious on Sunset Beach Haad Rin. There are usually multiple games for different levels. This is how I spent 3 weeks of my life. Enjoy.
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*Thanks Shan, Grain and Ashlie for letting me use their pictures!