Say "Koh Phangan" and here you are in the middle of the partying crowd, old-school hippies and modern flashpackers, party animals and adventurous party goers from all over the world who come to the island to partake in a once in a lifetime celebration experience. Koh Phangan’s epic Full Moon, Black Moon and other ‘Moon’ parties rock the island creating an overwhelming atmosphere of freedom and happiness. If drinking and partying all night through is not your thing, it does not mean that Koh Phangan is a total no-no for you. A stunning island has much more to offer. When the parties are not raging, the island settles into a sleepy hippie town, perfect for the unconventional traveller who is looking for an organic experience. The terrain of the island is quite mountainous and provides a picturesque backdrop for white sand beaches and infinity pools in mushrooming luxury five star hotels and resorts which are consistently gentrifying the island, slowly transforming it from a budget destination to a Babylonian one.
Getting to Koh Phangan
The departure point for Koh Phangan is Donsak Pier in Suratthani. There are ferries linking Koh Phangan with its neighbours – Koh Samui and Koh Tao – and making island hopping as easy as it can be.
>From Bangkok via Chumphon/Suratthani bus + ferry
Buses to Chumphon/Suratthani leave from the Southern bus terminal in Bangkok. They take from 6½ hrs to 12 hrs to arrive. Buses depart regularly during the day, the majority reaching Suratthani between 1am and 5am, so be ready to while away some time before boarding your ferry to the island. There is a convenient bus+ferry option offered by Lomprayah company with buses leaving from their office in Khao San Road in Bangkok which is a good option if you are staying somewhere in the area. The bus brings you directly to the pier in Chumphon from where Lomprayah catamaran delivers you to Koh Phangan with two-or-three-hours transit at Koh Tao (no direct ferry to Koh Phangan) before proceeding further and terminating at Koh Samui as the last stop. Book a couple of days in advance. Opposite to all other ill-famed Khao San Road buses, there are no theft-related issues with this service.
>From Bangkok via Suratthani train + bus + ferry
You have a wide selection of trains heading down to the south from the capital, offering the full range of coaches, from the cheapest fan seats to the comfy AC 1st class sleepers leaving during the day. There is a very convenient #85 train departing from Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok at 7.30pm and arriving to Suratthani around 7am. Even the 2nd class sleeper gives you enough privacy with personal curtains; the 1st class sleeper is a more chic choice but costs nearly double.
Do not, thought, disregard the earlier trains as they give you an opportunity to soak up the scenery. Limestone cliffs, farmlands and epic jungles pop up throughout the journey, each more beautiful than the next.
If your book a joint ticket to Koh Phangan (which may work out cheaper than finding your own way), then you will be picked up at the station in Suratthani about one hour after your train arrives and transported directly to Donsak Pier for your 1½ hr journey to Thong Sala Pier on Koh Phangan.
Tip: The lower berths are the first to sell out. Book them as much in advance as possible. They are also considerably wider than the upper ones. If you are travelling with a baby, opt for the lower berths by all means.
>From Koh Samui to Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan lies within an easy reach from Koh Samui. Lomprayah and Seatran take sheer 20 minutes to get to the island; there are slower Songserm (30 min.) and Haad Rin Queen (50 min.) ferry boats, too. All the boats – except for Haad Rin Queen – arrive to Thong Sala Pier.
>From Koh Tao to Koh Phangan
There are three ferry companies serving this direction with Lomprayah and Seatran offering the fastest service (80 min.). Songserm takes 1hr 50 min. for the route.
How long does my sea journey to Koh Phangan last?
Depending on the company you travel with, your journey to Koh Phangan from the mainland (Donsak Pier in Suratthani) may take from 1½ hr to tiring 6–7hrs.
Lomprayah – 1½ hr (twice a day in either direction)
Raja Ferry – 2½ hrs (four times a day in either direction)
Songserm – 3½ hrs (twice a day in either direction)
Night ferry – from 6 to 7 hrs departing at 10pm daily from Koh Phangan and at 11pm from Suratthani.
Besides Lomprayah (20 min. to Koh Samui, 80 min to Koh Tao, both 4 times a day) and Songserm (30 min. to Koh Samui, 1hr 50 min to Koh Tao, both twice a day), there are two more companies which connect Koh Phangan to Koh Samui and Koh Tao: Seatran (20 min. to Koh Samui, 80 min to Koh Tao, both twice a day) and Haad Rin Queen (50 min. to Koh Samui, 4 times a day).
There are a few ways to get around the island which depend on your budget and your desire to explore or immerse yourself in the island experience.
Taxis, or songthaews, are pick-up truck which connect the busiest parts of the island. Depending on your destination they will cost between 100 THB and 200 THB per person. The prices are usually fixed and tend to double after the sunset. They are convenient, but limit your freedom to explore, and cost quite a bit when you add it up. They are however the best and safest option for full moon party goers – you know why.
Motorcycles can be rented from shops all over the island. They are a great way to admire the scenery on the coastal road which boasts awe inspiring views, quaint resorts and pit stops along the way. Fuel is cheap, and normally brought in whiskey bottles from local shops or from brightly coloured coin operated machines. Rental for motorcycles will cost around 150 THB per day and you're generally expected to give up your passport until you return the bike. So take photos and look after it. But above all drive carefully, you will undoubtedly see plenty of tourists walking around with bandages and scrapes, more often than not from motorcycle accidents.
Bicycles can be rented all over the island for about 50 THB a day. As usually, they are a great way to explore the island, but do not underestimate the tropical heat. Follow secret jungle trails or just move about the flatter parts of the island at a leisurely pace. Koh Phangan is very hot though, so keep plenty of drinking water at hand.
Long-tail boats are usually moored at the beaches and are an amazing addition to the island experience. With these you can cruise between the bays taking in rich scenery, including cliff formations which can only be accessed by a boat or by hiking. Besides that, they are probably the quickest way around the island. Prices are negotiated with the boats' owners, and usually works out quite well if you're in a group.
Where to stay
No matter which beach appeals to you most, if you come for the Full Moon Party, do arrive early. It means 4–5 days before the party hits the island; otherwise you risk counting the stars by night – literally. Almost all the guesthouses require the minimum stay of at least three nights, with some places not letting you in for less than a week. There is transportation to Haad Rin, where the Full Moon Parties are held, from all the beaches, so it is not so important where you finally settle down.
Families and those looking for some serenity and peacefulness should try the remote Haad Thong Nai Pan Noi with its elegant resorts which bring an air of Samui to Koh Phangan.
Tip: If you fail to find accommodation on Koh Phangan during the Full Moon period, consider staying on Koh Samui which is the closest option.
With the diving mecca of Koh Tao within an easy reach, there is no much sense in visiting much more modest diving sites of Koh Phangan. Still there are nice spots for snorkelling in the vicinity, including Koh Ma, and you may also sign up for a hiking and snorkelling adventure in the Ang Thong Marine National Park. Waterfalls and worthy trekking trails await those to venture to the island’s hinterland. Climb the highest island’s pick, a 630m Khao Ra, or hire a kayak and reach some hidden beaches and visit Saturday Walking Street market in Thong Sala (the best time to do so is between 6pm and 8pm) for local souvenirs and cheap tasty food.
If you are going to the Full Moon Party not just to party and drink, but to take drugs as well, remember that drugs are completely illegal in Thailand and punishment is severe. To get inspired, watch Bangkok-Hilton and think twice.