Almost 48 hours after leaving Vancouver we arrived on the Thai island of Koh Phangan for what turned out to be a perfect week of balance…despite the island’s reputation for overindulgence of the boozy kind.
Not too long before departing North America for Thailand we received an invitation to an event from fellow bloggers Gianni and Ivana at Nomad is Beautiful. The event was called Travel Bloggers Retreat and it was to be six days in a beach side resort on the island of Koh Phangan…home of the infamous monthly Full Moon Party.
After four planes, three buses, two taxis, one ferry and finally a Tuk Tuk we made it to the Buri Beach Resort just in time for a delicious seafood BBQ arranged by our host Travel Dave. Most of the gang was already there so we made the rounds hugging old friends and meeting soon to be new ones. This was followed by a walk down to Haad Rin beach (location of the Full Moon Party) where we sampled a couple of bars while sitting on the sand watching small boys fling around balls of fire. We were off to a great start!
Still a little jet lagged we slept like rocks that night but woke surprisingly refreshed and ready to go. We even managed a workout on the beach before breakfast. Fortunately, Travel Dave knows his bloggers and had set the first session to start at the respectable hour of 10:30am.
A perfect balance of learning, playing, working, resting, eating and socializing.
That first day, and the days that followed, were an easy and balanced routine of morning exercise, breakfast, info session, lunch, round table discussion, some form of physical activity, rest, dinner, drinks and more often than not a midnight pool party.
When you Google Koh Phangan, you’ll almost certainly find mention of the Full Moon Party within the first sentences. Tales of a frenzied sunset to sunrise celebration consisting of up to 30,000 people uninhibitedly drinking and dancing on the beach while fireworks explode and fire dancers perform is the norm. If that’s not your idea of fun don’t let that stop you from visiting this beautiful island, there are plenty of less debuacherous activities. And if an all night party IS your thing why not balance it with some healthier options on the pre and post days? There really is so much to explore in Koh Phangan, Thailand.
We were not there for the full moon so we can’t tell you our personal Full Moon Party story (we probably wouldn’t anyway) but what we can do is share some of the other awesome things to do on the island.
What to do on the Thai Island of Koh Phangan (besides party)
A group of us were led by Koh Space owner, Charlie Solares, on a 3 hour hike up a mountain to a point called Stone Wall and then through more jungle and eventually down to a beach. The trek offered up some spectacular views of the towns and shoreline below and even glimpses of monkeys swinging in the trees. After a rest and many photos from the top viewpoint we plowed on and made our way down to Haad Yuan Beach for a quick cool off and refreshment. Our final destination was Haad Tien Beach, home of the Sanctuary Spa & Yoga Resort. This spot is only accessible by boat or hiking trail which makes it a perfect place to retreat and rejuvenate away from the party crowds.
**For more details on this hike check out Nathan’s post on Fit Living Lifestyle
Beach volleyball is always a popular way to combine fun and fitness. The Cocohut Beach Resort & Spa is a great place to play a few games or just relax on the beach or in the pool.
Half Moon Festival
The Half Moon Festival, the smaller, tamer, sister of the Full Moon Party, is held in the jungle rather than on the beach and is a good way to get a little taste of the raucous big sister event at Full Moon.
Saturday Walking Street Market in Thong Sala
The Walking Street Market is held every Saturday from 5pm-10pm and the Chinese Street fills with stands selling clothing, souvenirs and all kinds of delicious food including plenty of tasty vegetarian options. The event attracts locals and visitors from all over the island so it’s not only a great place to eat but also to get a feel for the local community of Koh Phangan.
Mae Haad Beach
Mae Haad Beach is a beautiful stretch of golden sand with full amenities but it’s away from the crowds that flock to beaches like Haad Rin. Here you can enjoy a delicious lunch or sunset dinner, lounge in a hammock, snorkel in the calm waters or have a massage on the beach.
Yoga & SUP
Yoga is always a great way to start or end the day and there are lots of opportunities to join a class on the beach or sign up for a full retreat or even teacher training. We were treated to a poolside sunset session by the owner of Global Vinyasa. The lovely Candace is from Seattle but spends half her year in Koh Phangan holding yoga retreats and training along with renting out SUP boards. If you’re staying at Buri Beach watch out for her either jogging or SUPping along the shoreline.
Rent a Moped
If you’re comfortable driving a small motorbike that is the best way to get around the island and see the less touristy spots. It’s a small island so you can easily explore the whole thing is a day or two and you can usually find a rental for about 200 Baht per day.
How to Get to Koh Phangan
There is no airport on the island but you can fly in to the neighboring island of Koh Samui and then take a ferry over. Alternately you can fly, train or bus to Surat Thani and from there take a bus and ferry combo to Koh Phangan. Phangan.info has a pretty good overview of the options.
TIP:**We arrived in Bangkok late in the evening so we over-nighted near the Don Mueang airport, took a morning flight to Surat Thani and then boarded a bus which took us to the ferry. We booked the whole thing in one shot with Air Asia and it was very clean and efficient, although a bit more expensive than the all ground option.
Where To Stay on Koh Phangan
If you’re going for the Full Moon Party you’d be best to book ahead of time or you’ll find yourself far from the Haad Rin headquarters. Any of the weeks outside of the infamous party dates will give you not only more option but also a much better price. Here are some options based on our own experience and research.
We loved everything about this resort. It was right on a private beach, was not too big but had 2 pools and a restaurant/bar on site and was close enough to walk to restaurants, bars, shops and Haad Rin Beach. Plus you can choose between an apartment style room in a main building or a private bungalow for a very reasonable price (especially outside of the Full Moon Party dates). If you are on the island for the Full Moon Party it’s a great location because you can walk to the party but won’t be right in the middle of it.
The Cocohut Resort is set on a quiet stretch of beach and although it is close to town and all the trappings you really don’t ever have to leave as everything you need is right there.
If you want peace and quiet and prefer to be as far as possible from the Full and Half Moon Parties Maehaad Beach is a good choice. Maehaad Bay Resort is a beautifully landscaped property that offers a large pool, an ocean view restaurant and cozy rooms with private balcony.
Koh Phangan is a good example of a destination that may get overlooked by some due to its reputation for one particular thing…in this case a rowdy all night party of 30,000 drunk people. Of course this could also be your main reason for going. But, if the Full Moon Party is not your idea of a good time don’t let that stop you from adding this destination to your itinerary. There are so many other reasons to visit this beautiful Thai island that you’d miss out on by making a decision based on one monthly event. Whatever your reason for visiting, just make sure to check the calendar so you can avoid the debauchery…or throw yourself right into the middle of it!
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Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.