As far as youthful or youthfully minded visitors are concerned, Koh Pha Ngan is most famous for its monthly full moon parties and indeed many travellers plan their trips to the island to coincide with this globally famous event.
For other visitors, the island is simply a place to relax, enjoy some stunning coastal scenery and meet like-minded individuals. The beaches offer lazy days, while some interesting natural beauty spots can be visited by those with itchy feet. Opportunities for leisure pursuits and health-enriching activities are also plentiful. And while you won’t find elephant riding, go-go bars or touristy attractions, which is part of the island’s appeal.
Full Moon Party
The world’s biggest beach party has come a long way since its hippy roots yet takes place once every four weeks on Koh Pha Ngan to coincide with the completion of the monthly lunar cycle.
On the night of the full moon, literally thousands of revellers descend upon Had Rin Beach in pursuit of the ultimate in hedonistic revelry, entailing excessive alcohol consumption and dancing to the beat of the trance or house music pumped out of the dozens of bars which line the beach.
Fire juggling shows are a common sight, as are party-goers in various states of inebriation. Not for the faint-hearted, if you prefer your holidays without gangs of marauding drunkeds then best to stay well clear. Open: dawn to dawn.
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Koh Pha Ngan beaches
Whether you’re looking to relax after a night of excesses, settle down with a good book or enjoy a pleasant swim in the cool blue waters, Koh Pha Ngan has some lovely and under-developed beach areas. Had Rin is the most famous and can get a little busy during high season. It’s a lovely beach, but others such as Tong Nai Pan and Salad have been spared the dense bungalow culture, and Sadet is as rustic and quiet as you could wish for. More on Koh Phangan beaches.
Pheang falls and Marbled Buddha
One of several falls on the island which are only really impressive in the height of the rainy season. There are actually two falls on this steep sided hill and they are reached by a short, strenuous hike. Also in the area is the Marble Buddha at a nearby temple. Open: always.
Location of frequent outdoor parties, this is perhaps the best of the island’s falls but is also short on water from December to June. Set in a nice tropical landscape, there is a nature trail and steep climb leading to the cascades. Located on the main road to Chalaoklum Bay.
Taan Sadet falls and beach
This is the island’s best know falls which were visited by King Rama V more than 100 years ago. He bathed in the falls and carved his name on a rock. The beach area itself is compact and delightfully deserted and from here you can hike up the lengthy cascading stream. It’s also approachable by steep dirt road via the island’s lovely lush interior. Open: call for details tel: (077) 238 275, admission: free. See our Haad Sadet guide.
Kao Ra viewpoint and hikes
Take a trip up Kao Ra Mountain, which offers the highest peak of anywhere on Koh Pha Ngan and boasts some spectacular views across the island. It’s an hour’s hike to the summit through dense rainforest. There are several other natural trials marked on the widely available Koh Pha Ngan Map which skirt the coast, making it possible to reach remote beaches from Haad Rin. They are generally easy to stick to but tend to be exhausting as they follow the steep contours of the hilly coastline. Open: always, admission: free
Spas in Koh Pha Ngan
The island has a good selection of establishments where visitors can spend time pampering themselves with treatments such as traditional Thai massage, reflexology, facials and herbal steam baths. Wat Pho, on the southwestern side of the island, has its own herbal sauna which can be used by all by donation. Open: 08:00-20:00.
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The big tree and twin coconut palm
A landmark on the Koh Pha Ngan map, this stout tree isn’t particularly remarkable but it does have an enormous girth and is an interesting stopover not far off the road from Tong Sala to Had Rin. Also nearby is the unusual twin coconut palm. Open: always.
Activities on Koh Pha Ngan
All night partying: this is the main reason most people come, and the monthly full moon parties – as well as half moon and dark moon parties in the busy season – are still the real deal 15 years on. Had Rin is the main venue for the and the place (as well as the rest of the island at peak times) packs out. Come in the low season before or after the full moon and many beaches are likely to be dead.
Archery: would-be Robin Hoods or those aspiring to emulate Legolas of Lord of the Rings can try their hand at this ancient art at the First Bow and Arrow Archery Centre near Chalaoklum. Instructors are English-speaking and visitors need not have any experience to try out this fun pastime.
Biking: exploring the island on a rented mountain or motorbike is highly recommended. Surprisingly, few visitors to Koh Phan Ngan make it past their full moon hangovers to admire this unspoilt island. The southwest side of the island is reasonably flat, but the rest is hilly and you’ll soon wish you chose a motorbike instead of a MTB. All the same, the numerous beaches to discover along the south and west coasts are great. A windy but brilliant rollercoaster of a road pierces the hilly interior and goes as far as Tong Nai Pan Beach.
Boat cruises: trips lasting around six hours in total take in the other islands situated close to Koh Pha Ngan, stopping periodically in key places for trip-goers to jump into the sea for a spot of snorkelling. Masks and snorkels are generally provided as part of the tour price, as are lunch and drinks. Perhaps the most rewarding daytrip from Koh Pha Ngan is the Ang Thong Archipelago, which was the inspiration for the hideaway island in Alex Garland’s The Beach. Trips include a night on the island.
Scuba diving: diving is as popular on Koh Pha Ngan as on any of the Andaman islands. Whether you are a complete novice or a seasoned diver, the local operators have the equipment and know-how to facilitate safe diving in the waters off beaches such as Yao, Chalaoklum and Mae Had. Chalaoklum is considered the dive centre of the island with several operators based here, but serious divers head for Koh Tao which is an hour away by speed boat.
Snorkelling: this can be arranged through dive shops with many renting goggles and snorkels. Snorkelling is commonly included in daytrips to places like the Ang Thong Archipelago. Those who fancy doing it by themselves should head for Koh Maa, a small island off the northwest corner, joined by a spit of sand. You can swim straight offshore from here and encounter coral with a reasonable fish population.
Thai boxing: Muay Thai is a skillful pugilistic activity practiced across Southeast Asia. Visitors can enjoy its thrills in a spectator capacity at regularly staged fights at Thong Sala and Had Rin, or commit to sustaining a few bruises and undergoing an exceedingly hardcore training regime as a Muay Thai student at gyms located in the same places. With the accompaniment of snake charmer-like music, the atmosphere is electrifying. Foreigners are often featured fighters.
Yoga: whether looking to continue with a practice in which you are already well initiated, or you simply want to try something entirely different in the spirit of the whole holiday experience, yoga in various forms is available at a number of centres across the island. Single classes or month-long courses are on offer according to visitors’ needs. The small bay north of Had Rin, reachable by boat only, is a magnet for new age guesthouses, particularly at The Sanctuary.
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Recommended activities providers
A well established diver opertor and course provider on Koh Pha Ngan, running daily trips to dive spots near Koh Tao, offering accomodation, live aboard dive trips and equipment sales. 25/29-30 Moo7, Chaloklum, tel: (077) 374 025.