The Island of Koh Phangan has a diverse range of accommodation options and small towns and villages each with their own character. Some will appeal to certain types of visitor more than others. It can be difficult to choose where to stay as the guides will tend to tell you that everywhere is great, which in their own way they are, but this is of little help in choosing where to stay.
Here is our guide to choosing the beach location which will suit you best.
1. Luxury in Koh Phangan
Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach
If you are looking for a luxury break in Koh Phangan then you should head to the small village of Thong Nai Pan Noi in the North East of the island.
Thong Nai Pan Noi has one of the best beaches on Koh Phangan. It’s about 800 meters long with clean white powder sand which slopes gently into the water. Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach is perfect for swimming from December through to September. The beach is within a sheltered bay and the sea is perfectly calm most days. It’s popular with families as children can play safely in the water.
Better Than Sex Restaurant and Lounge
Thong Nai Pan Noi has a small laid-back village with a good range of independent restaurants. The best two of these are Luna Lounge and Better than Sex at the edge of the village. Both restaurants serve good quality Thai, European and fusion cooking. The food at Better that Sex is slightly better than Luna Lounge, with some unusual Burmese dishes, such as curry with sour mango, and good Italian pasta and pizzas. Also worth mentioning are Jip Shop which serves tasty Thai food at mid-range prices, and Baan Muay Thai which serves authentic Thai food at very cheap prices – try the ‘Kanaa Moo Grop’ (Chinese cabbage fried with crispy pork in light oyster sauce) and ‘Gai Pad Prio Wan’ (Thai style sweet and sour chicken).
Visitors to Thong Nai Pan Noi have no fewer than 4 luxury resorts to choose from. If you bear in mind there are only a total of 6 luxury resorts on the whole island you can understand why we describe Thong Nai Pan Noi as THE luxury destination in Koh Phangan.
Buri Rasa from 2,900 THB per night
Buri Rasa is Thong Nai Pan Noi’s newest resort which opened for business in 2012. The style of this new resort is something of a departure from the design of typical luxury resorts in Thailand. The rooms are a bit smaller, and the design is more modern with pastel colours rather than dark heavy wood tones. You get a lot for your money at Buri Rasa with room prices approximately half that of the other luxury resorts in Thong Nai Pan Noi. The beachfront location is excellent as is the hotel restaurant and bar, which are similarly good value for money. The rooms are very comfortable and guests benefit from the newness of the fittings and furnishings. The ground floor rooms feature very nice terraces with chairs and tables leading onto either the garden or the beach. Overall a reliable and good value choice, particularly for couples.
Panviman Resort and Spa from 2,600 THB per night
Panviman is one of the first hotels on Koh Phangan having opened way back in 1987. It has changed a lot since then with a lot of new rooms and facilities having been added. The design style of the resort can best be described as ‘eclectic’ which is a reflection of its organic development over the last 25 years. The newest rooms, which are luxury individual cottages, are the best. The Presidential Suite built right on the rocks at the water’s edge on the headland is spectacular. The sliding glass doors open onto a private plunge pool and terrace right on the shoreline. The hotel rooms are nicely appointed and we have enjoyed staying there on numerous occasions. However, they are packed closely together and you feel as though you lack privacy on your balcony when the hotel is full. The dining options at Panviman are good. There is a cliff side restaurant where they serve a sumptuous buffet breakfast, and a beach restaurant with a BBQ and excellent Thai menu – in our opinion the best Thai food on the island.
Rasananda from 7,762 THB per night
Koh Phangan’s most luxurious and most expensive hotel. The rooms range from hotel style to private beachfront bungalows where your terrace leads onto the sand. Built in 2008, Rasananda was a ground breaking development in the island’s hotel scene, and rivals the established resorts on Koh Samui and Phuket. It was Rasananda that established Thong Nai Pan Noi as a destination in the itinerary of the international ‘jet-set’. Several celebrities such as Jordan (Katie Price) have stayed at Rasananda.
The location and the construction of this resort is great, however, we feel that it is slightly let down by the standard of the catering. By comparison with the rest of the island its international menu is good, however, by comparison with resorts in the Maldives or the Caribbean it still has some way to go. Our feeling is that they would have been better off doing simple things well, rather than attempting a more complicated menu and failing to hit the mark. The supply chain of products in Southern Thailand makes creating a truly international menu very difficult. This said, there are so many restaurants within a short walking distance; the quality of the resort restaurant is not a deciding factor when you make a booking decision in Thong Nai Pan Noi.
UPDATE: Rasananda is currently offering Japanese cuisine. This appears to be more of a successful departure.
Santhiya Resort and Spa from 4,700 THB
Santhiya is a self-contained resort with the Island’s largest swimming pool, complete with faux waterfall. If you have children they will happily entertain themselves for the whole holiday in the pool whilst you relax with a drink at the poolside restaurant and bar enjoying the panoramic sea views. The accommodation is split between hotel blocks and individual cottages, some with private pools. The resort is a truly magnificent construction, made largely in wood along the design style of the Northern Thai Lanna culture. The reception and restaurant are masterpieces of intricate wood carving, all designed by the owner who is an architect.
The decision to use this much wood works well in the communal areas but has proved a poor one when it comes to the older cottages, which alas are looking slightly tired now. It was built in 2004 and the original rooms are in need of some modernisation. How much you enjoy your stay may well depend on which rooms you get.
This is the most successful hotel on the Island with a constant stream of visitors from all over the world (particularly Asian countries) on package tours. The vast majority of the visitors enjoy their stay and tend to remain within the confines of the resort for the whole time they come to Thong Nai Pan Noi. This is partly because the catering is good, and partly because it is slightly difficult to reach the main beach and village from the resort. If you want to easily access the local restaurants, as opposed to having a resort based holiday, you might be slightly better off staying at one of the other hotels.
2. Parties in Koh Phangan
Half Moon Party
Most of the people who come to Koh Phangan come for the parties. If you fall into this category you are best off staying in the Ban Tai area, which is the beach running northwards from the main port town Thong Sala. Many people immediately opt for staying in Haad Rin which is the location of the Full Moon Party, however, you are much better off staying in the Ban Tai area for three main reasons. Firstly, aside from the Full Moon Party, Ban Tai is where most of the action is. The Ban Tai area is close to the Half Moon Party, Jungle Experience, Loi Lay party, Ban Sabai after party, Black Moon, Sramanora Waterfall Party, MerKa Ba and Ku Club. There is something going on most nights throughout the year. Secondly, by staying in Ban Tai you can access a really good range of restaurants and bars. The restaurant options include the excellent Fisherman’s Restaurant, fast food at the Food Factory, or Muu Gra Tat, a type of hotpot cooked at your table, at Hell’s Kitchen. Lastly, and most importantly Ban Tai is much more relaxed than Haad Rin. The constant influx of often badly behaved tourists to Haad Rin has given the locals something of a hard edge.
There are lots of affordable accommodation choices in Ban Tai, many with a pleasant beach side location. Depending on your budget, you might consider one of the following three resorts:
Beach Village from 250 THB per night
If you are on a budget, or don’t care too much about where you stay because you haven’t come to Koh Phangan to sleep, The Beach Village is an excellent choice. They have a range of dormitories beds and small inexpensive bungalows. They also have a swimming pool, a bar and restaurant, and host the popular Rhythm and Sands party. This is a good choice if you are on your own and you want to meet people.
Milky Bay from 890 THB per night
This is a very nice bungalow resort in peaceful garden setting. It’s a cut above the other Ban Tai bungalows resorts with 6 different room choices. All the rooms have air-con and satellite TV making them great places to recover from the night before. There is a pool, restaurant and gym, where they teach Muay Thai, on-site. Milky Bay is a professionally run resort from the same people behind Lime N Soda and the Food Factory.
3. Families in Koh Phangan
Haad Salad is a small tucked away bay. Pirates used to hide here, hence the name which means Pirate Bay. It’s a bit away from the parties and crowds that come to Koh Phangan. Everything tends to shut down (except the Reggae Bar on the edge of the village) at about 9 pm. The peace and quiet, in combination with the value for money family friendly resorts, makes this an ideal place for a family holiday.
There are things to do and see a short taxi journey away. There is great snorkelling in Mae Haad, which is the next beach. About 3 km to the North is Chaloklum where there is a range of activities such elephant trekking, archery and wake boarding. To the south is Haad Yao which is a great swimming beach with a lively town.
Salad Beach Resort from 1,200 THB per night
Salad Beach Resort is the most popular resort for families on the West Coast. It’s value for money, it’s friendly, and the facilities are a good standard. It’s busy all year round and you should book in advance. There are lots of things in the hotel grounds: beach front restaurant, pool, spa, supermarket, and motorbike rental shop. The resort is fairly large with 53 rooms, about half bungalows and half hotel rooms. All the rooms have air-con and satellite TV. The hotel rooms all have balconies, and the bungalow have verandas where you can sit outside. The accommodation is set within a lovely landscaped garden with water features.
Haadlad Prestige Resort and Spa from 4,200 THB per night
Haadlad Prestige Resort and Spa is one step up in luxury from Salad Beach Resort and two steps up in price. The two hotels are next door to each other. The rooms and bungalows are better: bigger and better furnished. There are two restaurants, the main restaurant and the beachside BBQ terrace. The resort runs a very popular Thai cookery course with the jovial Chef Tummy. There is also a large beachfront swimming pool, which is filled with saltwater – good to know if you are allergic to the chemical used to clean the water in the pool.
4. Peace and Quiet in Koh Phangan
Mae Haad Beach
There are plenty of deserted beaches in Koh Phangan. However, many of these are difficult to get to and have too few facilities for most visitors. Of the beaches you can get to fairly easily, and have enough restaurants, telecoms connectivity and shops to satisfy most visitor’s basic needs, Mae Haad beach is probably the most peaceful.
Mae Haad is a sleepy little village with a handful of restaurants, bars and resorts. There are also a couple of independent shops including Om Bakery. It tends to only get busy during the late morning and afternoons with people who come here for the snorkelling, which is the best on Koh Phangan. There is a coral reef about 25 metres from the shore line with plenty of fish – the area is a protected national park. Snorkels and flippers can be rented by the hour from Island View Cabana. As well as snorkelling, and chilling out on the perfect beach, there is also a waterfall in the jungle about a 10 minute walk from the beach.
In Mae Haad you have two good accommodation options:
Island View Cabana from 300 THB per night
Island View Cabana has classic Thai style wooden beach bungalows right on the beach. There aren’t too many of these left now on Koh Phangan as the larger resorts have gone ‘up market’. There are 4 grades of bungalow, some have air-con and fridges, others fans. It is not the luxurious rooms or facilities which you come here for, it’s the beach front location. If you are after a beach and inexpensive days chilling on a great beach, you can’t go wrong with booking at this resort.
Mae Haad Bay Resort from 2,300 THB per night
Mae Haad Bay Resort is a decent 3 star resort. The rooms feel luxurious. There are 7 room types, the smallest is a generous 45 sqm. Bear in mind that the average room size in a smart Bangkok hotel is 32sqm. The largest room is the massive 129 sqm Sunset Beachfront Suite Room. The centre piece of the hotel is the impressive swimming pool and adjacent decking area. All the rooms look onto the pool area. This great hotel has an open air restaurant & BBQ, a lobby lounge and a poolside bar. It’s close, but not right on, the main Mae Haad beach. The walk though is less than 1 minute around the side of the resort.
5. Beach Lovers in Koh Phangan
If the most important thing for you is the quality of the beach, then we recommend Bottle Beach (‘Haad Khuat’ in Thai) in the North East of Koh Phangan.
Bottle Beach used to be a hippy enclave with no electricity and very basic bungalows. It was, and still is, a little bit difficult to reach. The road to Bottle Beach starts near Thong Nai Pan Noi and it’s rough going in places. The road journey to Bottle Beach requires a 4×4 car or a white knuckle ride on a motorbike (you can do it on a moped but we don’t recommend it). The other way of getting to Bottle beach is by long tail boat from Thong Nai Pan or Chaloklum. There isn’t much there, a few bars and restaurants and no real night life. The beach though is fantastic and very good for swimming in the sea. There is a certain charm to Bottle Beach and it’s a good place to chill out for a few days.
Bottle Beach has only four resorts. The best two are:
Haad Khuat Resort from 400 THB per night
Haad Khuat Resort has 15 hotel rooms, which are quite good, and 13 bungalows which are very basic. The hotels rooms are probably the best rooms on the beach, and the restaurant here does the best food.
Bottle Beach Resort 1 from 700 THB per night
This a bigger resort with 6 different room types. The cheapest, the standard fan bungalows, have the best location the beach. The quality of the room though goes up with the deluxe bungalows. This family run resort has lots of character. The service here works on ‘island time’. This is a relaxed place and a few delays with the orders doesn’t seem to bother the clientele much.
6. Foodies in Koh Phangan
The best food is to be found in, and around, the main town Thong Sala. For authentic Thai food your best bet is Phantip Market in the centre of Thong Sala. From around 4 pm there are around 40 market stalls selling a wide selection of Thai dishes for the cheapest prices on Koh Phangan. If you are after a taste of Southern Thai cuisine try one of the rice and curry shops. There are some unique southern dishes such as Gaeng Som (yellow curry), Khua Kling (very spicy dry mince pork curry) and Gaeng Sataw (spicy thick curry with a bean similar to a peeled broad bean).
For more refined dining you should head along the Ban Tai Road towards Haad Rin and then towards the Fisherman’s Restaurant and Fish at Thips both close to Ban Tai Pier. For European food try John’s Bistro or Santorini both in the centre of Thong Sala. There is also a very good, and relatively inexpensive, Mexican Restaurant called Ando Loco just on the outskirts of Thong Sala. The owner’s giant Margaritas are legendary and his home grown chilli gives the food that authentic Tex-Mex taste.
The list of really good restaurants in this area goes on and on. There are some small ‘treasures’ to be found if you search around. One particularly good restaurant is just around the corner from Home Mart. Coming from Ban Tai turn right immediately after Home Mart and immediately on your left you will see a small restaurant on your left. There is no English menu, but probably the best Issan food on the Island. Ask for ‘Laab Moo’, ‘Namtok Moo’, ‘Gai Yang’ and ‘Khao Nio’ for a taste of authentic Issan food. You won’t be disappointed, but be warned this food is very spicy and they don’t tone it down for the tourists!
There are lots of places to stay in Thong Sala. These are our two recommendations, one is a bungalow resort, the other a hotel.
Lime N Soda from 560 THB per night
Lime N Soda is the perfect kind of beach bungalow resort. Cheap and well maintained with a swimming pool and affordable on-site restaurant. The bungalows are fairly basic but good value for money. This place gets very busy around Full Moon but is a really pleasant and laid back place to stay for the rest of the month. It’s an easy walk into Thong Sala or to Ban Tai Village where there is some good nightlife.
Baan Busaba from 950 THB per night
Baan Busaba is the kind of well-run and nicely furnished mid-range hotel you find all over mainland Thailand, but not unfortunately in Koh Phangan where most of the accommodation is either bungalows for party goers or more upmarket accommodation for families. You might not think about staying away from the beach during a trip to Southern Thailand, however, we say give this hotel a go. It’s a slice of metropolitan comfort with a good range of satellite TV channels and a comfy bed. The only downside of this hotel is that it’s about a 1 km into the centre of Thong Sala and a bit further to Ban Tai. If you ride a moped then it’s a very simple straight road into town and onto Ban Tai. If riding mopeds is not your style then you can normally find a motorbike taxi or songthaew (pick-up truck taxi) who will take you the short drive back to the hotel at night.
7. Detox in Koh Phangan
Yoga in Koh Phangan
Whilst Koh Phangan is best known for its party scene, and more recently its emerging luxury tourism market, it has a long history of yoga, meditation and alternative therapies. Meditation and fasting is an important part of the Thai Buddhist culture. For a traditional Thai Buddhist ‘spiritual detox’ go to Wat Khao Tam in Ban Tai. For a cleansing herbal steam bath try Wat Po temple also in the Ban Tai area in the South of Koh Phangan.
For a yoga and detox you are best off heading to the west coast of the island around Sri Thanu and Haad Yao. Agama Yoga in Sri Thanu is the number 1 yoga centre on Koh Phangan. There is also the Yoga Retreat on the main road from Haad Yao to Chaloklum. There are also some places on the west of the island where you can learn Thai massage. C&M Study Centre in Sri Thanu runs massage courses as well as Thai language and cooking classes. You might also want to visit Chantima Massage and Holistic Massage Training centre where they offer an impressive range of beauty treatments and 5 day Thai massage courses. Our sources tell us that the courses are professionally run and the centre is kept very clean.
UPDATE: Agama was embroiled in controversy a few years ago when its head swami was accused of sexual misconduct. He fled the island and the authorities.
Ananda Wellness packages from 4,000 THB
Ananda Wellness is a hotel where they run detox programmes combining fasting, herbal detox, colonics, massage, yoga classes and steam sauna. There are courses for different periods of time: 3.5, 7.5 and 11 days. The accommodation is either bungalows or hotel rooms. They are adequate but basic. In addition to the facilities related to the treatments and courses, they have a salt water swimming pool and restaurant called ‘Love Kitchen’ which serves vegetarian and vegan food, as well as a full Thai menu.