Koh Phangan, Thailand

Thailand's hottest spot for the young set is Ko Phangan, a small island near the larger Koh Samui.
By: Jennifer Plum Auvil
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Photo by: Vitaly Titov

Vitaly Titov

Alex Garland's novel The Beach sent many curious 20-somethings to Thailand's islands looking for a good time. Today, the hottest island for the young set is the island of Ko Phangan, a small island near the larger Koh Samui. The main event here is the monthly full moon beach parties - hedonistic multi-day parties that celebrate this phase of the moon with pumping music, whirling strobe lights and plenty of alcohol.

Ko Phangan's beaches are great for sunbathing, swimming and even some snorkeling. The most popular beach is Haad Rin, the site of the infamous Full Moon Party. This beach is split into Haad Rin Nok and Haad Rin Nai. Other great beaches include Haad Kuat (Bottle Beach), which is surrounded by mountains on the north part of the island, and the wide soft sands of West Had Yao. These beaches are just as beautiful, but a little more secluded. Some can be reached by taxi boat. However, the bumpy and often unfinished roads traversing the middle part of the island are not for the easily carsick. Take a Dramamine and prepare for a wild ride to get around the island - but just think of how great it will be to settle into a hammock on an almost empty stretch of sandy white beach.

Getting There
Nearest Major International Airport
It takes a bit of determination to get to Ko Phangan, which is located about 400 miles south of Bangkok and about 47 miles east of Surat Thani. Travelers need to fly into Bangkok International Airport and catch a bus or train to Surat Thani. Visitors then must take a boat from Surat Thani (about 2 1/2 hours) or Koh Samui (about 45 minutes) to reach Ko Phangan.

Ground Transportation
The most popular mode of transportation around Ko Phangan is motorbike or jeep. These can be rented by the beach in Haad Rin or at the ferry dock at Thong Sala. The roads are often muddy, curvy and steep, making travel around the island dangerous at times. For those travelers who prefer to be passengers, covered pick-up trucks function as cabs, serving the basic and most popular streets on the island.

Lodging
Ko Phangan still has a wealth of affordable lodging for students and young people traveling on a shoestring budget. Simple bungalows around the Haad Rin area can be found for cheap. The Sanctuary resort is a little more removed from the party scene, but still has a relaxing social environment with an upbeat bar, great beach for swimming and snorkeling, and health and wellness center that offers classes in yoga, tai chi, belly dancing and massage. The accommodations range from inexpensive dorm rooms for a few dollars a night to more expensive bungalows and private homes. The Panviman resort on Thong Nai Pan beach is one of the most luxurious on the island, with upscale rooms, good restaurants and all the amenities of a top-notch hotel.

Cuisine
There is an abundance of quick and tasty eats around town, most of these storefront restaurants clustered around the Haad Rin area. Street vendors sell cheap authentic food, too. If you're looking for fine dining, you'll need to check out the beach resort restaurants for more options. Vegetarians should find plenty of meat-free options at many of the local restaurants.

Travel Tips
Just because drugs (mushrooms and ecstasy, mostly) abound at the full moon fete, it doesn't mean that they are legal. Undercover cops patrol the parties at Haad Rin just waiting for another drug bust to go down, and those caught can likely end up in jail. That's no way to end a good vacation.

The best time of year to visit is between December and June. The rainy season runs from September through November.

While You are Here
If your reasons for visiting Thailand are more spiritual than social, check out the Buddhist monastery and retreat center at Wat Kow Tahm. Here you can learn more about the art of meditation and balance in life.

To Fake That You've Been Here
Crack open a Singha beer and pump up the techno music to celebrate the full moon at your own personal celebration.

Linking for a Better Vacation
For more information, visit the Koh Samui website.

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