The east coast of Koh Phangan is dominated by a rugged mountainous coastline that breaks into gorgeous and isolated bays where some of the best beaches on the island are situated. There isn’t an extensive concreted road system joining up the beaches of the east coast as is the case in the south and the west. For several of the activities and places mentioned below the best way to get there is to catch a longtail boat. This in itself is a fun activity.
The great selling point of the east coast is its natural beauty. Those who stay in this part of Koh Phangan are often content to enjoy the beach location rather than packing their days full of fun activities. However, there are several activity options in the east, one of which is bound to appeal.
Thong Nai Pan Wat
This small, but attractive, temple is the focus for a small number of monks who make up the local Buddhist clergy who attend to religious ceremonies for locals throughout the East Coast. The Wat (Temple) is very small. There is a large Buddha statute and shrine inside. Nearby there are larger temple buildings where the monks live and a hall where religious ceremonies take place. If you get up early enough you will see the monks collecting alms on both Thong Nai Pan Noi and Yai every morning. Many of the restaurants provide cooked food to the monks. If you would like to visit the Thong Nai Pan Yai Wat is located at the north end of Thong Nai Pan Yai beach between the main road and the beach. Follow the signs for Indian Bar and continue on the dirt road until you reach the temple grounds. The Wat is free to enter as are the temple grounds. This said it would be appreciated if you left a small donation. Donations go towards the upkeep of the temple and assisting poorer members of the local community at times of need.
Sorn Trips is a small travel agency run by the friendly and reliable Mr. Sorn. He provides 4×4 car tours around the Island for around 2,400 a day depending on where you want to go. He can also arrange shorter taxi journeys to other places on Koh Phangan such as to the ferry port or Haad Rin. In addition to taxi services Mr. Sorn can also arrange longtail boat trips for you. Mr. Sorn is based in the middle of Thong Nai Pan Noi opposite Handsome Sandwiches. Ask in the small restaurant next door which Mr. Sorn runs with his girlfriend. Alternatively call him on +66 (0) 828 148 227.
Longtail Boat Trips
Longtail boats are wooden boats with the long prow which Southern Thailand is famous for. They are powered by lorry engines mounted on the back of the boat connected to a propeller by a long metal shaft. Longtail boats are often brightly painted with distinctive religious designs. Longtail boatmen in Koh Phangan are all independent operators and if you want to take a boat trip you will need to seek them out or approach a travel agent to arrange a trip.
Along the east coast you will find longtail boats parked up on the beach waiting for business. Longtail trips aren’t that cheap anymore, but they are lots of fun and a more comfortable way to travel to some of the more remote beaches on the East Coast. You can expect to pay around 1,500 to 2,000 THB to hire the whole boat for a half day trip. Popular trips are from Thong Nai Pan to Bottle Beach and Koh Ma for snorkelling. You can also have a fun day out going south along the coast to Haad Yuan and Haad Tian stopping at small deserted beaches along the way.
The long running Guy’s bar on Haad Tian is the only regular party on the East Coast. It normally draws a crowd of 100 to 200 people, many of whom are on the island long term for diving or yoga. The bar has an outdoor area where you can dance the night away and live DJs throughout the night. Friday night at Guy’s Bar is something of a Koh Phangan institution and has an intimate relaxed feel. Haad Tian is difficult to get to. There isn’t a good road connecting the beach to the rest of the island. You can walk there in about an hour from Haad Rin but only in the daytime as the trail takes you through the jungle. The better option is to take a longtail boat there. It takes about 10 minutes from Sunrise beach in Haad Rin and costs around 200 THB per person.
Health and Fitness
Horizon Muay Thai
Horizon Muay Thai Camp is the only Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) gym on the East Coast. This is a professionally run Muay Thai camp with 4 instructors, boxing ring and weights gym. You can use the weights gym separately to the Thai Boxing training. There are structured classes twice a day every day except Sunday. Occasionally they run fight nights with a 500 THB entrance fee for spectators. They also have accommodation for rent on-site. To get there take a longtail boat from Haad Rin or one of the east coast beaches.
The Living Room Gym
The Living Room Gym is the only gym non-hotel residents are free to access. Buri Rasa, Rasananda and Santhiya on Thong Nai Pan Noi all have gyms but only for guests. This gym room is air-conditioned and features free weights, a multi-gym, running machines and an exercise bike. To use the gym ask downstairs at the Living Room restaurant and bar. They serve drinks and English breakfast in the morning and Italian/Thai food in the evenings. Most Sundays in high season they serve a good English style Sunday roast for around 200B a person depending on the meat.
The Yoga Studio
This small Yoga Studio is tucked away near Wang Tong waterfall. On the way into Thong Nai Yai beach there is a turning on the right to Wang Thong waterfall. You need to follow this dirt road about 300 metres to get to the Yoga Studio. Classes are held in a covered studio with three sides opening onto a tropical garden. The Instructor, Mel, has studied with Yogi Vijay Amar in Dharamsala, India and teaches Hatha style Yoga. There is also a Vegan cafe on site and small art gallery with works from local artist, Top.
The Sanctuary Island Resort
This is the Island’s largest wellness centre offering a range of programmes including Pilates, yoga and alternative therapies such as detox courses. They also have a tree house spa offering massage and beauty treatments. A traditional Thai massage costs 600 THB an hour. They offer good quality accommodation for those who want to stay and have a vegetarian/raw food/seafood restaurant for healthy eating.
Haad Tian is a beautiful beach and a good place to visit and stay even if yoga and alternative therapies aren’t your thing.
This is a French managed water sports business with jetskis and a small speedboat. They offer jetski rental and jetski tours. A guided jetski tour around the Island costs 16,000 per person with a guide. They also run day trips by speed boat to Ang Thong Marine Park for 17,000 for the whole boat, or 2,000 THB per person for groups. You will find them on the beach where they set a stall every day when conditions are suitable at sea.
H20 Scuba is the East Coast’s most popular dive school. They run professionally managed dive trips by luxury boat most days. Children and beginners welcomed, as are more experienced divers who can take advanced courses and do more adventurous dives. You can contact them (Lee or Alice) on +66 (0) 811 86 16 16 or through most of the resorts in Thong Nai Pan. They also have shops on the beach in both Thong Nai Pan Noi (Phuwadee resort) and Thong Nai Pan Yai (Pen’s Bungalows) and a further office in Thong Nai Pan Noi village by Handsome Sandwiches. The office in the village is open from 6pm to 9pm every night.
Tropical Dive Club
Their booking office is located at the north end of Thong Nai Pan Noi beach at Thong Tapan Resort. They run a full range of SSI and PADI courses in both English and German. Dive trips are made by converted wooden fishing boats. They can be contacted on +66 (0) 77 44 5081.
Located at the Dreamland Resort they offer a full range of PADI and SSI courses in several languages. Dive trips are made on Dreamland Resort’s very own converted fishing boat. They also offer snorkelling trips for non-divers. They can be contacted on +66 (0) 77 44 5181
Spa and Massage
Tanaporn Massage House
Open since 2007, Tanaporn Massage House is the most popular independent massage business on the East Coast. Ably run by husband and wife team, Greg and Porn, Tanaporn Massage House owes its popularity to providing spa quality service at a fraction of the cost. The massage house itself is a traditional Thai house construction out of coconut and other sustainable local materials. The lady of the house, Porn, is a highly experienced masseuse having worked at major spas in Bangkok and elsewhere. Tanaporn Massage House offers a variety of massages and beauty treatments. Bear in mind that they are busy and you are likely to need to book one or two days in advance. Either visit the reception to make an appointment or telephone +66 (0) 810 787 814.
Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach
Thong Nai Pan Noi has been popular with tourists for over 20 years now. It used to be considered a must-visit destination on the independent traveller circuit. More recently the independent travellers have all but disappeared and Thong Nai Pan Noi is now a luxury destination with three 5* Hotels and one very good 4* Hotel. What has been attracting generations of travellers is the stunning natural geography. Thong Nai Pan Noi is one of two bays separated by a headland. Both bays have a powder white sand beach, and calm seas making it perfect for swimming. Going back from the beach is an amphitheatre of steep forested hills, virtually untouched by development. What has kept Thong Nai Pan Noi relatively pristine has been its remoteness. It has been pretty much cut off from the rest of the island with the only access being by boat or by difficult drive along a 20km dirt road through the jungle. However, this has all changed now. Half the road is now concreted, and other half of the road is set to be completed in 2014. The easier access now makes Thong Nai Pan Noi perfect for a day trip.
Than Sadet Beach
Than Sadet Beach is much less developed, and smaller, than Thong Nai Pan. There are two places where you can stay or eat: The excellent Mai Pen Rai Bungalows and the less expensive J S Hut Resort. It has a really laid back ambience. It’s like it was visiting Koh Phangan ten or more years ago. You need to make your own entertainment here. There is no mobile telephone signal, no internet, no TV and the electricity is from generators which are turned off every afternoon. The beach is a great distraction. It’s excellent for swimming and you can rent kayaks from J S Hut to do the 20-minute paddle to the nearby tiny Island of Koh Kong.
There is plenty to see and do around Than Sadet in the adjacent national park with its historic waterfalls and trekking opportunities. To get to Than Sadet you need to either take a boat or 4×4 car.
Haad Nam Tok Beach
Haad Nam Tok is a pretty much deserted beach. It’s difficult to get to. It is also one of the island’s most beautiful places. To reach Haad Nam Tok, take the road from Ban Tai towards Thong Nai Pan. About 400 metres after Jungle Flight there is a turning on the left sign posted towards ‘Than Prapad’. If you follow this steep dirt track though the jungle you first come to the site where they are building Koh Phangan Airport. Carry on past the short stretch of concrete road downhill. When the road starts to get very steep and broken leave you car or bike. Be warned, if you carry on beyond this point you will really struggle to drive back up. From there continue on foot. Keep to the right turn when you get to junctions. It’s about a 1km walk down to the beach. The last stretch is very steep and there is a rope in place. The beach has no permanent development. There is a bar with no electric opened for party nights, a small toilet block and a few tents pitched on the beach for rent. No shop, no water, no food. You need to bring your own.
Than Sadet National Park
The best known part of the national park is its waterfall. It stretches 2km down to the beach in a series of waterfalls. The most spectacular part of the waterfall is at the bottom near Than Sadet beach. The waterfall is at its best November to March when there is a stronger water flow. By August it’s pretty much dry. Three Thailand kings have visited the waterfall, including the current King, Rama IX. They all left an inscription on rocks around the area. One of the rocks has the signature of all three Kings. Beyond the waterfall, the National Park is pristine tropical rainforest.
The National Park authority lists the following animals as living in the national park: cervus monkey, spectacled langur, slow loris, javan mongoose, brahminy kite, white bellied sea eagles, snakes including pythons, cobras and green tree snakes, Blyth’s mountain frog, and land tortoises. In addition to these we have spotted beavers, deer and civets. If you do go trekking into the jungle please remember it’s very easy to get lost. Bring water, food and a local guide.
Than Prawet Waterfall
Very few people ever visit this waterfall which is a shame as its one of the best on Koh Phangan. The waterfall is located on the way into Thong Nai Pan Noi village. As you turn from the main road down to the village there is a valley on your left. The waterfall is in that valley. To walk up the entire length of the waterfall, start at the small bridge on the opposite side of the road to the large general store at the edge of the village. The track is a bit over grown. Just follow the stream uphill. As the hill steepens the waterfalls start. They get better the further up the hill you go. The easiest way to walk up is on the larger boulders in the stream. There are pools where you can swim from November to around April. The going gets more difficult the further up the hill you go and you will need to climb up some short cliffs to make it all the way up this stretch of waterfalls.