Ko Pha Ngan
Ko Pha Ngan (เกาะพะง้น, pronounced KOH pa-nGan) is an island off the eastern Gulf coast of Thailand, halfway between the islands of Ko Samui and Ko Tao. It is known as a land of coconut trees and, above all, the world famous full moon parties.
The closest airport is Ko Samui (USM) which has frequent flights from Bangkok and Phuket, daily flights from U-Tapao and Singapore, and several direct flights each week from Chiang Mai and Kuala Lumpur. Transportation to the ferry dock is easy to find at the airport. Ferries depart several times a day with the last one around dusk.
By boat and bus
Buses arrive in Surat Thani, capital of Surat Thani Province, from all over Thailand and you will find yourself inexorably swept up in the machine that will, several buses and at least one ferry later, spit you out on the rusty pier of Thong Sala.
Caution is to be exercised when stowing valuables on the bus: Keep all valuables with you in the main cabin of the bus, and not below. There have been reports of stolen goods, so be aware, and don't leave cameras, credit cards, or other such items in your bag- it could get sifted through by someone.
Better yet, take a Thai Government bus down to Surat Thani: this is widely regarded as a less hassle filled voyage than the Khao San Road (or other travel agent sold) tickets.
There are also ferries (at least 3 a day) from Ko Samui's "Big Buddha" pier directly to Haad Rin. Ferries also leave from Nathon and Maenam piers to Thong Sala multiple times a day. (check schedules before leaving.)
By train, boat and bus
Overnight train from Bangkok is an interesting option. Trains arrive in Surat Thani or Chumphon, and from there you can take the usual bus, boat combo to Ko Samui and on over to Pha Ngan. Purchase train-bus-boat tickets from any of the travel agents in Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok.
100-125cc motorbikes can be hired from around 150 baht/day; larger capacity models cost 300-1000 baht/day. Foreigners may be required to leave their passport as a deposit. Even though you don't need to present a drivers license - learning how to drive a motorbike in the hills of Haad Rin is not advisable.
Some rental shops overcharge for every scratch or dent. They don't fix, but rather replace the whole part - so note damages to the bike on the rental contract.
Avoid riding at sundown, when the bugs are out en masse, and result in brief periods of riding blind, while you desperately try to clear your corneas. Try not to go home with a 'KPN tattoo' - this can either result from your tender-skinned body sliding along a bitumen road at high speed with few clothes on, or from the inside of your leg touching too hot exhaust pipe of the moped.
Care is needed if attempting to go over the notorious Haad Rin hills, the roads at the eastern side of the island, and north of Haad Yao. Especially the "Hill of Tears" (first steep ascend from Thong Sala towards Haad Rin) needs caution - use low gear only and rather have your passenger walk, than bruised up.
Drunk driving in the West is illegal - in Ko Pha Ngan it's suicidal. Better to sit in the back of a taxi than hitting one head on at night, or end up in hospital.
Wear a helmet, avoid riding in flip-flops and stay within your limits. The slower you drive, the less it's gonna hurt.
It is also possible to rent small Suzuki jeeps, however you will find that you can circuit the island in a day.
Songthaew pick-up truck taxis criss-cross the island for around 50 baht a ride, or 100 baht for the less accessible destination of Thong Nai Pan.
Boats cruise the bays with your snorkeling gear until somewhere takes your fancy. The round-the-island 6-hour boat trip is a great way to see some of the best beaches in the island, for around 500 baht/day.
Both Thong Sala and Haad Rin sell pretty much anything you can think of, and probably some things you don't need at all. You can try to bargain, but realistically, the prices are set. You may get a deal every now and again, but it's the exception to the rule. Remember that you're in a tourist area and that prices usually are above the level of for say Bangkok.
Main purchases you will find on Ko Pha Ngan include hammocks (check out "Hammock Home" in Thong Sala) as well as some of the local artists works. Most of the clothing is of the variety that you will find in Bangkok, but generally it is a bit more expensive, as it has been imported to the island for sale.
Like the rest of tourist Thailand finding accommodation, transport, food only requires asking a local, or responding to one of the many touts that greet boats on arrival - don't be afraid to check a place out that they tell you about, and then look elsewhere - there is a wide range of standards, and they don't necessarily coincide with prices.
For an authentic experience (and cheaper than the well-decorated cafe/restaurants by Haad Rin beach), look at the more modest cafes where you might see some Thais eating.
The best area for authentic cheap eats is defintely Thong Sala, the main town on the island.
There is more to Ko Pha Ngan than the full moon party and Haad Rin, so don't be afraid to venture out to other beaches. You can still get to the party from just about everywhere.
The decent rooms tend to run out a few days before the full moon party, and throughout the peak season (December-February). If you have a short vacation or like to have a soft landing, you might want to book a room in advance.
If you decide to test your luck, try to arrive as early in the day as possible to have the most time and options for accommodations.
For a cheap bungalow, literally moments from white beaches (but no surf whatsoever), turn left from Thong Sala and you will pass strings of quiet bays, each with one or more 'resorts', featuring a bar, a restaurant, rooms and bungalows, and a few dozen laid back tourists and travelers for company. Try Haad Yao, Haad Son, or any of the others along the same strip.
Thong Nai Pan (Noi and Yai) is to the Northeast and is more remote, but is well worth the bumpy drive through the forest. It is a pair of particularly beautiful and relaxing beaches with plenty of accommodation, restaurants, and nightlife.
Yes, the Full Moon Party (as well as others) is full of drugs, but these days it's also full of plainclothes policemen out to bust you. Be very careful if you intend to consume illicit drugs. Roadblocks are common, particularly in the week before the FMP between Thong Sala and Haad Rin. Thai police have also been known to force urine tests. Remember that the Thais have harsh penalties for drug offences and the police are working to meet their "quota". Be aware that you may NOT be able to bail yourself out of trouble - especially if you get transferred to Surat Thani - and that bribing Thai police will at least cut a deep hole into your travel budget, if it is possible at all. Do not keep drugs on you, in your room, or on your vehicle.
If you plan to drink at a party, make sure you have reliable transportation set up beforehand. The roads here are nothing to mess with, and too many people try to drive home because they don't have a taxi waiting. If nothing else, find a safe corner and sleep it off before you head home.
It's not a good idea to accept drinks or food from strangers, there are reported incidents of spiked drinks (from both: locals and "fellow" travellers). There have been reports of LSD buckets foisted on unsuspecting partyers in Haad Rin. Drugged drinks are often and unfortunately followed up by robbery, sexual harrassment, or even (gang) rapes. Best idea is to afford your own drinks and stay with your friends.
On closer inspection of the buckets sold, most liquor bottles are unsealed, so who knows what is really in there. This may be why so many people get sick. Before buying a bucket, check the seal of the bottle. Apart from that, remember the fact that buckets can be VERY strong and unpredictable. If you intend to get drunk, try to have solid food beforehand, or you might "lose it" very fast.
It's advisable to leave all valuables in a safety deposit box or at your guesthouse owner's hands instead of taking them to the party.
Wear shoes or sandals to avoid injury from broken bottles or burning cigarettes.
If you're averse to getting knocked on the head with flaming batons, then don't venture too close to the Fire Poi swingers on the beach, as skillful as they may be, the fire sometimes gets out of hand and hits nearby tourists.
If you plan to leave the island the day after the Full Moon Party, be aware that the boats are usually packed with other tourists who have the same idea. Make sure you're not getting on an overloaded boat. Same applies to taxi-boats before and after the FMP. The Thai frequently overload their longtail boats and lost luggage is at your own expense. Rather get off, reclaim your money and wait for the next one.
There are many good places to stay in Ko Pha Ngan, if you want to stay close to the action, but not TOO close you may choose the resorts on the "sunset side" of Haad Rin. You can stay just about anywhere on the island and still get to the Full Moon Party, so don't be afraid to venture away from Haad Rin, which is the most developed and least Thai beach of them all.
Try to WALK AWAY from every potential conflict with locals. You will stand no chance and it's a surefire way to get hospitalized. In April 2007 an Israeli tourist got stabbed to death right on the dancefloor in one of the bars on Haad Rin beach - violence is frequent. The locals will not help you in a fight and will in fact gang up on you whether you are right or wrong, and "fellow" travellers will do their best to stay out of it, too. If you find yourself seriously aimed for, LEAVE THE PLACE IMMEDIATELY and don't come back the same night. Thais who lose their temper usually are back to normal the next day. Be friendly and smile - you're on a holiday! Everything is best done with a smile here as this is Thai culture.