The anti-hedonist’s guide to Koh Phangan.
The party-based economy has helped turn Koh Phangan into a mecca for backpackers, ravers, and modern-day hippies. With mass tourism and moon-fueled techno bashes out of the picture indefinitely, the island suddenly has a different feel. Now is the perfect time to travel south, experience the island’s rugged beauty and natural attractions, and help local businesses rebuild for the future. Here’s a primer to prep you for a feel-good adventure.
Credit: Seaboard Bungalows
Where to stay
Ringed by coral reefs, the island boasts glass-flat, postcard-blue waters, and cornea-blisteringly white beaches. In short, it’s hard to go wrong here. Typically, much of the island’s action, for better or worse, centers on Haad Rin, better known as the “Full Moon” beach. It’s actually a lovely spot outside the parties; you just have to deal with some riffraff. If you venture in the opposite direction on the island, however, you’ll find remarkably chilled out expanses that seem to get better the further north you go, offering sugary white sands and incredible sunsets with a fraction of the crowds.
While Chaloklum at the very north of the island is a great option—it has a local village and therefore offers more activities, bars, and restaurants—we prefer the not-too-tucked-away vibe of Haad Yao. For a peaceful place to stay here, check out Seaboard Bungalows, a collection of relatively basic but pleasant rooms set on the beach and dappled with avant garde art installations (bungalows from B800/night; rates go down for stays of a week or more). Seaboard is run by a gregarious Italian woman named Paola, who organizes classical music nights every Monday, plus a local arts and crafts market followed by an electronic music party every Thursday (5pm-midnight). Between those sonic poles, the bungalows offer solid Italian food, excellent happy hours, an eclectic soundtrack, and direct access to white sands—good for the mind and body.
Closer to Thong Sala, the island’s main town and pier, Bluerama (from B700/night) is another great place to stay. The hilltop hotel aims to help you reduce your carbon footprint. The restaurant uses locally grown produce to both help farmers and reduce fuel usage, while, among other eco-friendly initiatives, the rooms feature natural fiber sheets, towels, and mattresses. Bonus: it offers fantastic sunset views from its infinity pool.
What to do
Most Thai islands feature jungly peaks in the center. Koh Phangan is no different. If you’re up for a challenge, hike to the top of Khao Ra, the island’s tallest point at 627m. (Warning: despite its relatively low elevation gain, this 5km hike isn’t easy. Carry all the fluids you can handle, because you won’t find any shops along the way, and it’s a good hour-and-a-half hike up and down if you’re moving fast.) Head to Khao Ra Terrace off Madurwan Rd. to find the trailhead. Once you begin, you’ll ascend, largely under the canopy, until the jungle clears, and then you’ll find yourself looking out across the island in every direction.
For a hike with an even better payoff, try the trek to Bottle Beach. The trailhead is located at the end of the road past Chaloklum and Haad Khom. From here, you have two options: the seaside route (harder) or the interior route (easier, but you’ll still have to get on all fours at points). The 30- to 45-minute trek takes you to what might be Koh Phangan’s best beach. At the moment, you might not find another soul on these palm-fringed sands. If you’re not up for the return trip, Smile Bungalows remain open, and the friendly manager will hail a boatman to shuttle your carcass back to Chaloklum for B300.
Credit: Food & Roots
Where to eat