Thongsala is the principal town of Koh Phangan. It is also the main transport hub for the island. There are three piers that take most people on and off the island. Nobody considers staying in Thongsala because of its beach.
And yet to both sides of the main port area there are stretches of white sand beach. You can walk past the Lomprayah Pier east and come to the end of China town where there is a pretty patch of beach.
The beach immediately to the east of Thongsala centre is sometimes called Ao Bang Charu. As far as most visitors to Koh Phangan are concerned, the end of Thongsala is the beginning of Baan Tai.
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Baan Tai Beach is located on the long stretch of coast line next to the main road that goes from Thongsala to Haad Rin. Many people consider this long sandy strip to be all part of Baan Tai. Other maps mark the beach part near Thongsala as being Ao Bang Charu and the last part before the steep hill that leads to Haad Rin as Bankai. The border with Bankai is a river that flushes out to the sea 200 meters before the 7-11.
Since nobody uses the name Ao Bang Charu we will divide the long southern beach into Baan Tai and Bankai.
The beach at Baan Tai is one of the longest on the island. At low tide it is possible to walk the entire length of the beach.
Baan Tai beach is a sandy beach. Parts near Thongsala have plenty of tree cover behind the beach; other parts are next to the road and not so scenic. While the views of Koh Samui in the distance and the sunsets are impressive the swimming is often not great at Baan Tai: during the lower tidal months from May to October the sea recedes a long way at low tide.
The better Baan Tai resorts have swimming pools. The main draw for this beach is what is becoming known as the ‘party zone’. This refers to the area of Baan Tai, Ban Kai and Haad Rin that hosts a number of big outdoor parties that include the Full Moon Party, the Half Moon Party, the black Moon Party, Jungle Experience, Shiva Moon Party and Rhythm and Sands. During about 10 days around the Full Moon Party there are parties nearly every night. Baan Tai is a great central location for this party scene.
There is a small fishing village at Baan Tai. It has a few bars, restaurants and shops. It is not great for shopping but has a few good bars. There is also a small pier at Baan Tai. Private speed boats and fishing boats use the pier.
Bankai starts near the 7-11 on the main Thongsala to Haad Rin road and goes to the rocky headland that marks the start of Haad Rin.
As with Baan Tai, Bankai is a sandy beach that is great for sunbathing but not so good for swimming during the low tidal months.
As with Baan Tai the resorts, hostels and hotels along the beach are geared towards those wanting to attend all night parties. In the jungle behind the beach is the setting for the tech/house Blue and Green Sramanora Waterfall Party.
It is a short walk from Bankai to the main road where there is a selection of shops, restaurants and bars.
Since both Baan Tai and Bankai are so near Haad Rin and Thongsala lots of people rent motorbikes and drive up down the main southern road to do their shopping and dining. Convenience is another major reason why people choose to get a room in this area.
Haad Rin Beaches
Haad Rin Nok
Haad Rin Nok is also known as Haad Rin Sunrise Beach and the Full Moon Party Beach. This is the best beach on the Haad Rin peninsula and the biggest. It is thus the obvious place to hold the Full Moon Party. The added bonus is that not only does the full moon shine brightly at night above this beach but also at dawn the sun rises over the ocean in a collage of yellows and oranges.
Haad Rin Nok is about 700 meters long. It gently curves around the bay. At the northern end of the beach is a large headland. You can climb up the steps to Mellow Mountain, a favourite bar during the big party, where you can sit and admire the view over the beach.
It is tempting to imagine that the Full Moon Party Beach must be full of trash and debris from the monthly parties. Thanks to teams of cleaners the beach returns back to its unlittered best within hours of the party closing down for another month.
This was the first beach in Koh Phangan to develop a tourist trade in the late 1970s. It is a wonderful beach and an ideal place for tourism to begin in Koh Phangan. The sand and sea is free of corals and the sea bed slopes gently down providing perfect swimming conditions year round.
Back in the day the beachfront at Haad Rin Nok was dominated by cheap bungalow resorts. While there are still a few resorts on this beach such as Palita Lodge, Sunrise Resort and Paradise Bungalows it is very hard to get an actual beachfront bungalow or villa on Haad Rin Nok. The sea view locations are reserved for the dozen or so bars that comprise the party. During the lulls between full moons these places sell food and drink but often offer nothing more than a bare bones service.
Haad Rin Nok is not a beach for snorkeling. There are dive shops in Haad Rin that take people to better sites for diving and snorkeling both around Koh Phangan and farther afield. You can rent kayaks and at your own risk (to your wallet), jet skis.
As would be expected, this beach fills up as the full moon approaches. It is the place to hang out, make friends and relax when you are not damaging your liver.
Haad Rin Nai
On the other side of the peninsula from Haad Rin Nok is Haad Rin Nai. This is a west-facing beach and is consequently the best place to go in Haad Rin to see the sunset.
Haad Rin Nai or Haad Rin Sunset Beach is smaller and less picturesque than its bigger sister. The beach is about 150 meters long. At the northern end of the beach is a small pier with a regular ferry service to Big Buddha pier on the north coast of the neighbouring island of Koh Samui. The Haad Rin Queen Ferry service uses a boat that holds about 50 people. The boats run at full capacity during the full moon period.
The beach is not much of a spot to sunbathe and swim. The sand is not as fine as on the sunrise beach. Moreover, the inevitable pollution from the ferry service affects parts of this beach.
In contrast to Haad Rin Nok there is plenty of accommodation with sea views on and near Haad Rin Nai. It is a good spot to base yourself for the party as there are plenty of facilities nearby, and it is slightly quieter as the Full Moon Party sound systems are pointing away from this beach.
It takes about 10 minutes to walk between the sunset and sunrise beaches on the Haad Rin peninsula.
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Seekantang Beach is also called Leela Beach. It is a long west facing beach below Haad Rin Nai. The name of this beach is a bit confusing for first time visitors as there is a resort on this beach that is called Sarikantang Resort and Spa.
To get to this beach you have to walk through the centre of Haad Rin Town and take a right at the end of the road and go up the hill. From there follow the signs to Sarikantang Beach Resort.
It is a beautiful white sand beach that stretches for over 500 meters. The northern end of the beach has large resorts while the southern end has more of an old-style Koh Phangan feel.
The beach has fine white sand and is good for swimming all year round. The beach has plenty of tree cover and although it becomes busy during the full moon period, this beach never feels crowded.
The beach is narrow at points. The trees fringing the beach include mangroves. For being so close to the main party beach, Haad Seekantang is a surprisingly pristine and diverse nature spot. As a result, those in the know often prefer staying at this beach when attending the Full Moon Party. It takes only 15 minutes for those lodging at Seekantang to walk to the party and when they have had enough revelry they can go back to a quiet room overlooking a stunning beach.