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.
The next nearest airport is Surat Thani (URT) on the mainland.
By bus and boat
The best way in by bus is by Governmnent Bus to the Na Dan ferry piers: these are the most direct, quickest, reliable, safest, and hassle-free services. Tickets for these services can be bought at Government Bus Terminals.
Buses also arrive in Surat Thani, capital of Surat Thani Province, from where passengers are 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.
Buses originating from Khao San Road (or others with travel agent sold tickets) are notorious for thefts from passenger luggage and should be avoided at all costs. Under no circumstances should passengers on Khao San Road buses leave valuables in bags that will go in the luggage stowage areas, even if the bags can be locked; consider it inevitable that every bag will be opened while the bus is in motion.
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 transfer by bus and then boat. Combined train-bus-boat tickets can be bought direct from the official Advance Booking Counter at Hualamphong station in Bangkok, although sometimes train get late, and your boat is already gone and you have to pay extra for the next boat. Thus joint ticket is not the best choice.
In theory, train tickets may be reserved up to 60 days in advance and paid for by email. In reality, the Thai authorities are lax in returning emails and/or will give the runaround, or flat-out refuse to reserve seats for non-Thais during peak travel periods (December - January and Songkran holiday in April). If your heart is set on going by train, start early, be persistent, and have a backup plan to go by bus or plane.
100-125cc motorbikes can be hired from around 200 baht/day; larger capacity models cost 300-700 baht/day. Foreigners may be required to leave their passport as a deposit.
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. Be aware that your passport may be held against you until you pay the exorbitant repair cost.
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 100 baht a ride, or 150 baht for the less accessible destination of Thong Nai Pan, if you share taxi car with other people.
It is important to note that ALL taxi service on Koh Phangan is provided by songthaew. Should you choose to go with a freelancer on a motorbike or in a pickup, make arrangements quickly, quietly and pay surrepitiously.
Boats cruise the bays with your snorkeling gear until somewhere takes your fancy. The round-the-island, all day boat trip is a great way to see some of the best beaches in the island.
Under Thai law, travel agents that offer ticket, tours, tourism services, hotel reservations in Thailand must be registered with the Tourism Authority Thailand to improve quality of service and help protect the customer from fraud. Please check to make sure you are booking through a TAT registered travel agent.
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.
Art Galleries are also considered to be rising business in Koh Phangan, most of the places will offer variety works and services including custom orders and art reproductions. These galleries have reputations in affordable prices and fine quality artist skills.
Tesco-Lotus open 10.00 - 22.00, in Thongsala
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 definitely Thong Sala, the main town on the island.
As a general guide: As further you walk along the beach to the last resort, the better and quieter deal you get!
You can usually find accommodation at the pier when you arrive, many of resorts offers taxi service from pier for free! However, during Full moon period it is worth booking ahead unless you want to sleep on the beach or spend the night in one of the more expensive lodgings. If you are thinking of booking accommodation online before you arrive, make sure you book with the actual resort or a trustworthy booking site as there are numerous fake sites for several well known Ko Phangan resorts appearing on the Internet.
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 harassment, 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; thus there is unsurity about the true contents of every bottle. This may be why so many people get sick.
However a local club owner states "we use the small bottles for the buckets and it is cheaper and easier for us to re-use the small bottles. The local stockists always run out of small bottles so we often replace the contents with that from a larger bottle of the same liquor (some clubs use cheaper liquor - ask POLITELY at the bar for original liquor and be prepared to pay more for original liquor). The hangovers come from dehydration - most kids drink buckets all night then party in the morning sun on alcohol - best advise is drink water regularly - even at night as its hot and sweaty!"
So before buying a bucket, check the seal of the bottle and politely ask what's in it if you are worried. 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 guest house 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 hit nearby tourists. "Fire Skipping Rope / Jump through Fire Hoop" are dangerous games provided a few of the beach bars, take care of participating in these games, especially if you are drunk!
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. There are aver 30 coves and beaches on the island, each with it's own distinct qualities. Check out local information to find which beach suits you.
Try to WALK AWAY from every potential conflict with locals. You will stand no chance and it's a surefire way to get hospitalized. Also try not to get inappropriately rowdy or swear at the beach bar staff. 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.
Internet cafes are plentiful and typically also offer international calls, fax services and flight confirmation. The connection and speed is generally good. Expect to pay 60 baht/h (1 baht/m) for internet in the central locations. One baht per minute is typical for predominantly tourist-oriented shops, many of which also offer lower rates for pre-paid blocks of time. It's not difficult to find well-equipped, quiet, air-con Internet cafés that charge 60 baht/hour if you shop around a little; likewise shops that can accommodate users who want to hook up their own laptops can easily be found. Printing (black/white) is usually 10 baht/page (30 baht/page for colour).
Overseas calls can be made from many agencies and Internet shops, as well as guesthouses/hotels and the like - most advertise a rate of 15 baht/minute (or 25 baht/minute to mobile 'phones).
The Pha-Ngan's post office is located south of Thong Sala. As well as the usual postal services, it handles Western Union transactions and hosts a large number of post/security boxes. On weekdays (except public holidays) it's open 08:30-16:30, and on Saturday and Sunday and public holidays it's open 09:00-12:00; tel. 077 377 118