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 from Koh Samui
Koh Phangan lies within an easy reach of Koh Samui. You sea journey will not last longer than 50 minutes, and both Lomprayah and Seatran can whisk you to the island in sheer 20-30 minutes. It means that even if you are prone to seasickness there is no reason to miss an opportunity to visit Koh Phangan from Samui.
Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran and Seatran Discovery are the fastest options for getting from Samui to Koh Phangan. They both take about 20-30 minutes from one island to the other and cost THB 400 and THB 300 correspondingly.
Lomprayah calls to Samui’s Maenam Pier twice a day, at 8am and 12.30pm. Seatran Discovery has three boats a day, at 8am, 1pm and 4.30pm, but they pick up passengers from Bangrak Seatran Pier in Samui. Both companies then head for Thong Sala on Koh Phangan.
There is a small Haad Rin Queen boat which brings you right to the epicentre of Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan. Note that Haad Rin Queen departs and arrives from/to Big Buddha Pier in Samui. The timetable is subject to change, so check in advance. At the time of writing there were four departures a day at 10.30am, 1pm, 4pm and 6.30pm with 6.30pm being the latest boat to leave Samui. Transit time is from 50 minutes to one hour. It is not possible to buy tickets or make a booking for Haad Rin Queen online. Tickets cost THB 200.
There is also one more option to get to Haad Rin and other east coast beaches on Koh Phangan, which is a rickety Thong Nai Pan Express. Depending on your destination, expect to pay from THB 200 to THB 400 per person. Thong Nai Pan Express runs only when the weather is good.
When you arrive to Koh Phangan, 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. In any case do not leave drugs in your accommodation and do not carry any with you.