Located just 12 km north of Samui, Phangan can be easily accessed by a half hour boat ride. Once it was just a backdoor neighborhood of Samui. But it is getting a new look.
Since Samui has begun to target up-market tourists, more and more backpackers and budget travelers have found the great hideaways here. It becomes increasingly attractive to other travelers who discover that Samui has nothing matching with their interests. Less expensive and less crowded are two main advantages experienced by backpackers. There are 160 places to stay around the190 square km of the island, at a cost of about 100 baht. Except for Rin Beach, many of the beaches are nearly deserted.
The island has two main attractive sites: Rin Beach and others. Rin Beach is a center for parties and hanging out while other beaches are tropical escapes with untouched nature and breath-taking scenes. Phangan has long been famed for its astonishing beauty which attracted King Rama IV to make regular visits here. Thong Nai Pan, one of the top five of Thailand's best beaches, was his long time favorite.
There is not the full range of modern development and tourist entertainment like the atmosphere of Samui. Not to mention no airport, big resorts, hotels, or paved roads. But it is a real paradise for all the senses, with undamaged nature and raucous parties, which may seem to be a contradiction, but the island has a certain magnetic power which makes it magically possible.
Getting There: Speedboats leave Samui daily from Maenam and Bophut piers to Thongsala at 8.30 am at a cost of 250 baht and also leave Nathon at 12.00 am, then return from Thongsala at 10.30 am for the price of 150 baht.
Songserm Express operates express ferries from Thatong, Samui to Thongsala via Nathon. The ferries leave Thatong at 8.30 am, arrive at Nathon at 10.30 am, then leave Nathon at 11.00 am and arrive at Thongsala at 11.45 am. They also run a car ferry service from Kanom to Thongsala via Na Thon. The ferries leave Thongsala at 6.30 am, arrive Na Thon at 8.00 am, and reach Kanom at 9.30 am. The return trip from Kanom leaves at 6.00 pm, arrives Nathon at 7.30 pm and reaches Thongsala at 9.00 pm.
Longtail boats run from Maenam pier to Phangan at three main destinations: Rin Beach for 120 baht, Tien Beach for 150 baht and Thong Nai Pan for 200 baht.
For an alternative route, but a longer trip, you can take nightboats from Ban Don, Surat Thani to Thongsala. The boats leave at 10.00 pm and take six hours and a half for the price of 170 baht.
Getting Around: It's recommended to take a songtaew as it's the fastest and most convenient means of transportation on the island. Fares depend on the destination, but are not higher than 100 baht around the island. Or else you can hire a motorcycle which is pretty much more expensive depending on how great you are at bargaining. There is crowd of motorcycle taxis outside Bovy Supermarket near the pier at Thongsala.
The interesting beaches and natural attractions on the islands include:
Thongsala: Thongsala is the only main port and it is also the only town on Phangan, houseing most of the island's residents. It provides all kinds of necessary facilities you may need including banks, ATMs and a post office. Aside from that, there is not much of interest about the town, just a small under-developed Thai village with some construction in progress.
The town is busy during the day because crowds of tourists come and go. At least, if you have to hang out waiting for the boat, there is a line of restaurants along the road leading toward the pier. There are lots of alternative choices here to enjoy local and western style food. For a more entertaining moment, you can absorb the Thai art of boxing at a boxing stadium within Thongsala. Or there are a few karaoke restaurants that create a bouncing atmosphere. Tourists go wandering away from Thongsala at night and the local people are left with a quiet and sleepy town.
Rin Beach and Full Moon Parties: On the far southeast of Phangan, Hat Rin is the liveliest and craziest beach. It has been marked as "something different" from all other places in Thailand, and probably the world. It now has become a spot for a travelers' community whose members truly believe in hedonism.
Rin is composed of two beaches: sunrise on the east and sunset on the west. Sunrise beach is a wide stretch of white sand in a stunning curved bay while sunset beach is not really as nice. All ranges of accommodation from low budget to air-con bungalows are concentrated around the two beaches. There are no comfortable and luxurious five-stars hotels and resorts here as Rin's reputation is for cheap and wild living.
Rin Beach is the ideal for all kinds of pleasure that the young and young at heart are searching for. It is a venue for the world famous Full Moon Party happening every month on the sunrise beach. Hanging out, going to parties, meeting wild and weird people, matchmaking, listening to techno, garage, house music, marijuana, drugs and spiritual awakenings all can be experienced at Rin Beach. Hat Rin has all kinds of music to fit with everyone's tastes and you'll not be disappointed.
The party starts when the first gleam of golden moonlight touches the white sand. The beach is lighted up with thousands of lamps and is full of thousands of travelers until dawn. Have fun and get wild!!!
Thong Nai Pan Beach: Thong Nai Pan is a magnificent double bay which is split by a narrow cape creating two wide beaches of white sands: Thong Nai Pan Yai and Thong Nai Pan Noi.
As a major attraction for members of the Thai royal family, the beach has long been kept as a secret and hidden place away from the crowds. There is not much development going on around here and it has the old and authentic atmosphere of Thai beach village. You may have to put in some effort to go there, but it is well rewarded with perfect beaches and friendly people.
On the southern bay, Thong Nai Pan Yai, the bigger of the two, is the residence of nearly all the local population. The beach has a wide sandy beach and a small village encircled by coconut plantations. There are a few bungalow resorts along the beach, two shops and a few bars and restaurants and the locals own most of the businesses here. Thong Nai Pan Noi, the quieter of the two, is a magnificent long beach of white sands with coconut trees in the background and surrounded by mountains. There are plenty of beach huts and bungalows along the beach. Thong Nai Pan Noi is a good place for pleasurable swimming and snorkeling.
There are two ways of commuting to Thong Nai Pan. You can take a pick-up songtaew from Thongsala and it can be accessed by boats from Thongsala, Rin Beach and Maenam.
Yao Beach: On the west coast of the island, Hat Yao means Long Beach. It has almost one and a half kms of white sand with deep water making for good swimming. There are just a few basic and low budget bungalows on the beach, but a more comfortable and expensive resort is in the process of construction.
One main thing to be informed of is that Hat Yao is quite a laid back village, but under development. Once Hat Yao was quite difficult to reach because there was no proper paved road, but now the situation is better as the road from Thongsala to Hat Yao is almost finished. Not everywhere in Hat Yao has electricity yet. All the electricity used during a few hours each evening comes from the main generator. So no nightlife entertainment at all.
Than Sadet Waterfalls: Than Sadet Waterfalls means "Royal Stream" as many members of Thai royal family have made frequent visits here, including King Rama V, King Rama VII, and King Rama IX, the present king. For a confirmation, the three kings left their signature on the rocks below the falls. So it could be assumed that the waterfalls must have some sort of extraordinary beauty to attract even the rulers of the country to come for a vacation. The falls have been guaranteed and it's really worth it to prove it for yourself.
Situated at Thong Nang Village, you can reach it by taking the road from Ban Tai Village to Thong Nai Pan Beach. Then turn-off about halfway up the road and head east toward Sadet Beach at Thong Nang Village. The trail follows a river along which you can see a series of waterfalls.
Phaeng Forest Park Waterfalls: About halfway between Thongsala and Chalok Lam there's a turn-off heading to the waterfalls. The waterfalls themselves are worth a visit, but you can have some pleasure absorbing the magnificent nature and stunning viewpoints on the way. Uncountable coconut trees, pure white sands and deep blue sea colored with a bright blue sky can be seen from here. Along the trail to the falls there is a marble Buddha Image which is said to be one of the finest statues on the island.
The best way is to get a motorcycle to explore the splendid vistas. It is most convenient to rent one. You need at least 125cc to travel up and down the hills because some roads are dirt tracks which are sheer and uneven.