Infamous for being the home of the mother of all beach parties, Koh Phangan has been unfairly typecast as a destination only fit for young, gap-year backpackers. And that’s a shame. With the Full Moon Party only being held for one night per lunar cycle, and only in one central location on the entire island, it leaves a lot of time and largely unexplored space where one can have an unforgettable holiday, rather than just one night where most of the details are lost in a haze of alcohol and other (illegal) drugs.
From quiet, untrammeled temples, to lofty peaks reaching up into the clear, blue sky, there are many things that make this tropical paradise worth an extended stay. And apart from the beach that everybody and their mother knows about, there’s tonnes of largely empty beaches, surrounded by lush jungle and limestone outcroppings, that are just waiting to host you and your desire to escape the hectic rigours of everyday life.
So go ahead. Have a blast raving at the Full Moon Party when our biggest satellite is at its brightest. The rest of this isle’s treasures will still be there waiting for you when you recover from your 2 day hangover after one of the most epic parties on planet Earth.
Natural and Cultural Experiences
Believe it or not, there are some cultural highlights that can be seen on Koh Phangan. You will not hear about them much, but they are there. First, make your way to Wat Khao Noi, which is the oldest temple on the island. It has some well-constructed stone spires, making it a fine specimen to photograph for temple enthusiasts.
Next, we run into a style of Buddhism that varies from the Thai (Theravada) brand, at Wat Paa Sang Tham. Being the centre of worship for the island’s Chinese Buddhists, it features different designs than its Thai cousins, bearing golden statuettes of dragons, red coloured beams, and orange-tiled roofs with green trim. Completing the scene is its location within the mountainous interior of Koh Phangan, making the location very serene indeed.
Finally, be sure to stop at Wat Pho, just off the main road between Thong Sala and Haad Rin (not to be confused with their bigger brother in Bangkok). Here, you will find monks that specialize in the art of herbal massage, where an invigorating rubdown is combined with a relaxing sauna afterward.
Moving on to this island’s natural assets, head inland via motorbike to Than Sadet-Koh Phangan National Park. Here, you can see many spectacular waterfalls, and then continue on to climb many of this island’s highest peaks. From the top, you’ll get an unmatched view of the settlements and beaches below, and the surrounding Gulf of Thailand, and on an exceptionally clear day, you might be able to see the protected islands of the Ang Thong archipelago, which inspired the novel “The Beach” by Alex Garland.
In Phaeng National Park, you will delighted to find Phaeng Waterfall, which is a favourite among visitors for cooling off. After a long day hiking up and down mountains, it will surely be the moment of relaxation that will make the day the best in your trip to this incredible island.
Finally, there are tonnes of beaches to explore along the lengthy coast of this tropical haven, but the one that stands out above all the rest for a combination of relative seclusion and straight-out beauty would be Bottle Beach. With only a few bungalow resorts here, and access only possible via a lengthy boat ride or a rickety track through the jungle, you can feel free to act out your deserted beach fantasies here, while knowing that you have a sufficiently stocked resort to back you up at night!
Parties and Other Activities
In Haad Rin town, where many travelers to Koh Phangan end up staying while waiting for the Full Moon Party to arrive, there are no shortage of tour operators that offer activities designed to keep you entertained until the festivities begin. As mentioned earlier, the hauntingly beautiful island of Ang Thong National Marine Park lies just offshore, and tour purveyors offer day tours of these deserted gems, complete with meals, drinks, and trips to prime snorkeling grounds. Divers are well taken care of as well, with diving outfitters taking their charges deeper into the depths that surround these islands, with colourful schools of reef fish and exquisite growths of coral being their just reward.
28 days is a long time to wait for a big party, so there are smaller, but no less festive occasions held beforehand across the island. There are half moon parties when the crest of the moon is at half staff, and parties when it disappears from view (Black Moon Culture). These two parties take place in locations that are completely different than the full moon party itself, so consult the handbills prior to their occurrence for details on the exact location!
Finally, when the moon shines at its absolute fullest for the month, the Full Moon Party revs into high gear on the sands of Sunrise Beach in Haad Rin. Buckets of alcohol + Red Bull/Coke are widely available for disgustingly cheap prices, and the throngs of partygoers (which can swell to as big as 30,000 people on busy nights) grooves to dance, trance, and electronic music until the sun rises the next morning. Be sure to (a) secure your valuables (b) watch your drink at all times, and never buy from a bucket vendor that mixes your drink out of sight and (c) stay away from drugs at all costs, as they can be spiked and undercover police are everywhere on this night. Despite the risks, countless people have the night of their lives here: take care and you’ll likely have a similar experience!