Thailand: Koh Phangan, the magical island

Koh Phangan is like the manifestation of “I want to live on a tropical island” dream hence there are hundreds of expats who have chosen this paradise island as their second home. It also sits on a quartz rock, which creates a strong connection with the moon, that is also probably the secret behind its magic πŸ˜‰

While growing up, I always dreamed about living on a tropical island but never thought it would come true. I’ve been living on a paradise island for the last few years, surrounded by animals, fresh mangos and coconuts, breathtaking beaches, waterfalls, and awesome people from all around the world.. and I can call it home! Dreams do come true!

If you can manage to do a remote/ online job, or have some sort of rental income coming from your home country, you can join the expat community here easily. There are several options from 6 month tourist visa to education, volunteer to retirement visa, which also make living in Thailand easier than most of the other countries.

When to visit:

  • December to March is the high season as the sea level is high, the temperature is very pleasant and the activities are in their fullest capacity. But beware of the fact that it will be harder to find a long term accommodation without a preparation beforehand and the hotels/resorts will cost higher compared to other seasons.
  • April to June is super HOT, water is low and like bath water, and full of plankton. The island is half-deserted and activities are at a minimum.
  • July to the end of September is the second high season and the beaches are enjoyable but the water level is still lower due to low tide. As an alternative to beaches, there are many waterfalls on the island to cool off in the scorching hot days. Also expect occasional rains.
  • From October to December is the rainy season and it usually rains continually (in December). Most houses are not equipped well for rain and they fill with moisture and mold and deep puddles cover all the roads. Sometimes you can’t even dry your laundry. Staying in a concrete house with an A/C would be the best solution during this wet season.

Where to stay:

What makes Koh Phangan great is that it offers something for everyone from yoga and wellness centers to candlelight dinners, vegan music festivals to techno music, and trekking in the jungle to nude beaches.

Check out this  map to find out which part is best for you. I’m located in Srithanu in Zone 5 100%,  which is the yogi/healthy part with lots of yoga schools and conscious shops and restaurants πŸ˜‰
spheres-of-activity-in-Koh-Phangan

This map is missing Haad Thian, Wai Nam and Haad Yuan beaches that host Sanctuary, a leading detox and wellness centre as well as Guy’s Bar and Eden Bar, two popular late night party spots. If you want to have fun while watching the sunrise, they can be reached by taking a longtail boat @ Had Riin beach (in Zone 2).

If you are traveling as a family/with kids and need activities during the day, one of the resorts in Had Rin would probably be more entertaining as there’s a big shopping area and white sand beaches. Check out Cocohut Beach Resort on Leela Beach.

Accommodation options: 

It’s easy to live on Koh Phangan on a budget either in the jungle or on the beach.

If you are staying longer than 2 weeks, renting a bungalow would be the best choice as it will be cheaper and you’d enjoy having a kitchen/fridge and privacy. The best way to find a bungalow is by following a few Facebook pages that list available housing on the island or by just going around the island and asking people. Just look for the House for Rent signs and don’t be shy to talk to people or call the numbers listed.

To give an example, my bungalows on Hin Kong Beach in two different times cost me $300 and $380 (10,000- 13,000 thb) and and I know there are places for $250/month (8,000 thb) if you’re more tight on your budget.  So for an average cost of 10,000 baht monthly (including electricity, gas and internet wi-fi) you can get a private bungalow (about 40sqm + terrace) equipped with a kitchen with gas stove, fridge, bathroom with hot water, and a bedroom with a king size bed. Don’t know why but all the beds are huge in Thailand.

UPDATE: In 2019, the prices almost doubled and the food and accommodation costs went up remarkably. But I still manage to pay 12,000 thb/month for a beautiful concrete house in the jungle. If you come here during the high season (Dec-Mar), be prepared to pay 15,000 thb  and up.

For short term stays around Srithanu, you can check out these budget options on the beach:

  • Phangan Cove
  • Nice Sea Resort
  • Seaview Rainbow Bungalow
  • Zen Beach Bungalows
  • Haad Chao Pao Resort
  • Loyfa Resort (has luxury bungalows and dorm rooms)

Prices

Since I get this question a lot, I will list the prices of some of the daily expenses here so you can calculate how much money you will need:

  • Rent: 10,000-15,000 baht/month, daily bungalow in a resort 300-1000 baht/night depending on the season and luxury you need
  • Scooter rental: 150-200 baht/day
  • Banana 40 thb/kg, tomatoes 30-50 baht/kg, coconut 30-50 baht, cappuccino 60-100 baht, bottle of local beer 🍺 60-100 baht
  • A dish in a Thai restaurant 50-100 baht
  • A dish in a western restaurant 100-200 baht
  • Beaches and most music events – free!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8TEKM9Fpv0

Conscious activities on Koh Phangan

The reason for my first random visit to this paradise in 2015 was to get my Yoga Teacher Certificate at Samma Karuna, one of the many yoga schools scattered around the island. Before that, all I knew about the island was the infamous Fullmoon Parties but that was far from my plans.

When I did an internet search on my couch in Brooklyn, I was looking for peaceful beaches and yoga and didn’t know I would hit the jackpot. At this point I don’t believe in coincidences anymore and I know I was led by the universe to Koh Phangan to open the next chapter in my life.

Since my yoga school was located in Srithanu, on the West coast of the island where all the other spiritual schools are situated, I fell right in the middle of the conscious/alternative community without searching much.

What’s great about this little beach town is that expats from all over the world who made Thailand their home share their skills and talent. I have learnt so much from the community as well as discerning since it sometimes becomes like a spiritual supermarket (inevitably). It’s good to judge what is best for you and what’s not since you can cause more harm than healing if you are in the hands of an inexperienced “teacher”. Luckily my travels and spiritual growth in the last few years gave me a solid perspective to make good decisions.

Some of the workshops/practices offered:

Tantra Courses (at various places but most importantly at Agama, the tantra university), meditation, yoga (all kinds from ashtanga, hatha, vinyasa, therapeutic/restorative, acro, aerial, nidra..), rebirthing, ayahuasca, hoolahoop, ecstatic dance, kirtans, reiki, therapy dance, fire dancing, connecting with femininity, women circles, yoni/lingam massage, dreamcatcher making, meditative drawing, macramΓ© jewelry making, raw vegan cooking, sweatlodges and so on…

These practices opened my eyes to a new reality and I’ve become so much interested in investing my time and energy into the path of self-realization to compensate for the years I’ve spent without self-work.

To get informed about the current events on the island, you can check out the message boards in cafes and Koh Phangan Conscious Events facebook group.

Digital Nomading in Koh Phangan:

Over the last couple of years the island has become more and more popular among digital nomads. The high speed internet connection and co-working spaces that popped up one by one made this paradise appealing for people who travel and work at the same time. I’ve been working in KP on my online job since I’ve arrived either from the comfort of a beautiful coffeeshop or a restaurant with a view.

You can see the list of the co-working places here. I personally like to work out of Dots Cafe in Thong Sala. Here’s some important info if you’re planning to come to KP to try working remotely:

Yes
No
Weather β˜€οΈ
βœ”οΈ
βœ”οΈ
Keep in mind: Rainy season is usually between October-December and the dry season is April-June.
Good Internet πŸ’»
βœ”οΈ
Awesome super fast internet in most of the places. Lots of Co-working spaces in beautiful settings.
Safety πŸ”«
βœ”οΈ
I’ve never had any safety problems while living alone or as a couple
Clean Water/Air 😷
βœ”οΈ
Fresh Food/Produce πŸ₯¦
βœ”οΈ
Cheap πŸ’°
βœ”οΈ
1 month rent for a bungalow: $250+
In nature 🌴
βœ”οΈ
Awesome jungles, beaches and waterfalls
Conscious community πŸ§˜πŸ»β€β™€οΈ
βœ”οΈ
Eco-friendly 🚲
βœ”οΈ
They still use a lot of plastic and there’s no recycling program in most places

Yoga on Koh Phangan:

The island is full of yoga and healing studios and these are the ones I have tried or have friends who teach classes there:
  • Agama Yoga (for tantra yoga courses and workshops). This is a controversial tantra school that offers profound yoga teachings. Yoga is done with the purpose of uniting with our higher selves vs fitness. The poses are held longer and relevant chakras for each pose are activated. 8 limbs of yoga are practiced in its entirety (with a great emphasis on pranayama and meditation techniques). I am so grateful for having found Agama!
  • Orion Healing Center: It is basically a detox center but they offer several yoga classes all day long, in addition to herbal sauna, kirtans, and a yummy restaurant and health store. Bonus: It has a lovely setting with hammocks right on the beach.
  • LOYFA wellness resort: It’s a newly renovated resort with luxury bungalows and dorm rooms, yoga and wellness classes, pool and restaurant in the heart of Srithanu.
  • The Sanctuary: On the East side of the island in a secluded setting ,which you can only access by boat.
  • Samma Karuna: sort of a spiritual circus with teachers at all levels. Offers nice volunteering opportunities and their location on the beach is really beautiful.
  • One Yoga: known for their good TTCs with advanced teachers
  • La Casa Shambala
  • Pyramid Yoga: It’s known for kirtans, workshops and ecstatic dance party on Sunday mornings. You need to ride up a very steep road to get there but it’s worth it.
  • Jaran’s Yoga
  • Ananda Yoga & Detox Center
  • Wonderland (picture below): Yoga classes, Sunday pool party w/vegan brunch

img_7109

My favorite Restaurants and hang out places around the island:

I am a pescatarian and yogi and my recommendations will be towards healthy eating and doing. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
  • The Dome – It’s a herbal steam sauna and a popular hang out spot among Koh Phanganers located on the road to Chaloklum. Try to go when there’s live music and experience the magic around the fire.
  • Gaia Nature Spa: Pretty cool and newer herbal sauna on the island that offers music events some nights of the week
  • Taboon – Israeli plates, yummy salads, falafel, hummus, etc. and nice ambiance
  • Green Gallery  – They offer a strictly vegan kitchen with Middle Eastern inspiration (fantastic shish kebab veg) that can be enjoyed in the beautiful garden or under the veranda.  In the menu also they offer a wide selection of smoothies and extracts. Don’t miss the drum circles around the fire on Fridays!
  • Pure Vegan – opened in 2017 and offers a wide selection of vegan dishes
  • Eat.Co – Vegan cuisine, yummy raw desserts, yoga clothing and jewelry. Breakfast in their Thongsala location is out of this world!
  • Karma Cafe – Vegan/vegetarian restaurant. I love their burritos!
  • JJ’s – International cuisine and hammocks on the seaside
  • Romanzo Tropicale – Romantic Italian sunset dinner on the beach
  • Orion Healing Center Healthy cuisine as well as detox and yoga programs
  • Aree’s Ayurvedic Cafe: A great ayurvedic vegan buffet for 150 bath
  • Anutta – Local Thai eatery run by a Thai family. You can’t beat the price!
  • Kupu Kupu– a bit upscale but awesome for the pool, sunset views and drinks
  • Cafe della Moca Located in Chaloklum, serves yummy Italian pastas and pizzas on the beach, romantic ambiance, wine, candle light, you got the drill.
  • Chana Masala: Indian food on Hin Kong Road
  • Bake Sense coffeeshop on Hin Kong road
  • The Dots coffee shop and co-working space in Thong Sala
  • The Jam for live music/open mic/stage jam sessions nights on Wednesday and Sundays
  • 360 Bar Viewpoint – a must visit! Amazing vibes and breathtaking panorama.
  • Top Rock Bar – a much better version of Amsterdam Bar next door. A nice place to chill, eat, drink and watch the world go by.
  • Phantip Food Market in Thong Sala: this is an open food market with various stalls and mini restaurants in the center of Thong Sala.  Soul Organics prepares tasty vegan dishes for around 60 thb.
  • Purina Mini Sheep Farm: This is an unusually fun activity if you have a couple of hours to spare. For 100 thb/person, you can feed the sheep with bottles of milk. They seemed very happy to see us πŸ™‚

Volunteering opportunities in Koh Phangan

PAC Animal Shelter: If you have time to spare to care for dogs, PAC is a great place where you can donate your time for.  They provide medical care for stray and wild animals but when I volunteered with them, they only had dogs. Get in touch with them to see when/if they need help.

Trash Hero: The Koh Phangan arm of a much larger organization that organizes beach clean up days in SEA. You can also buy their reusable water bottle for 200 thb and refill it in participating restaurants for free!

Beaches:

img_6637
Chaloklum Beach
  • Happy Beach and Zen Beach (next to each other in Srithanu) for great sunset views, socializing, sunset jams, nude beach, and other surprises! πŸ˜‰
  • Secret Beach – A favorite spot during high tide (but the water is warm and low during low-tide). There’s also a nice little beach bar hut and restaurant. Perfect for watching the sunset. From there, you can walk to: Haad Son Resort ⬇️
  • Haad Son Resort – Perfect to jump in the water from the rocks and snorkeling even during low tide. Shakes are good but a bit pricier and I wouldn’t recommend the food. Lots of small fish are awaiting in the water!
  • Had Yao Beach: Try Wednesdays and Fridays sunset parties and flea market at Seaboard Bungalow

A music videoshoot @Secret Beach:

  • Mae Haad Beach and Koh Ma, which is a small island connected to Koh Phangan by a sandbar  – great for snorkeling and hanging out on the quiet beach
  • Coral Bay Beach aka Haad Khom is a narrow and long beach, very quiet and picturesque in Chaloklum
  • Tan Sadet, Thong Nai Pan Noi and Thong Nai Pan Yai (adjacent to each other). A bit hard to reach but it’s worth spending a whole day in the shade on these beautiful beaches. Lots of resorts and food options.

When the beaches are not good during the low-tide season (due to super shallow and hot water), luckily there are so many pools that become handy and these are some of my favorites:

Summer Resort: My favorite pool on the island. Quiet, beautiful and free!

  • Bluerama Hotel – especially if you don’t want kids’ noise, this is an adults only hotel! Enjoy good food and drinks in the infinity pool overlooking the sea. Great for watching the sunset.
  • ODT inside  Le Divine Comedie Hotel
  • Kupu Kupu Resort (in low season it’s free but in high season, they asked us to spend 500 thb on the menu)

How to get to Koh Phangan:

I had to prepare a guide to my friends who visited me so I am copy/pasting it here. It seems a bit of a hassle but the reward is definitely worthy! πŸ˜‰

  • The fastest and most expensive way to get to KP is with a Bangkok to Koh Samui flight (one hour) and then a 45 minute ferry ride from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan with Lomprayah or Seatran which you can arrange at the airport once you land in Koh Samui.
  • A more economic way but longer is with the all-inclusive “Island transfer” package from AirAsia departing from the second/smaller Bangkok Airport, Don Mueang (DMK), conveniently accessible by taxi or shuttle from Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK). The package includes flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani (1 hour), bus to Donsak (1 hour) and ferry to Koh Phangan (3 hours). Seven hours in total if you take the flight of 11:40 and arrive at 18:30 and $70-80

How to get by on the island:

β™₯ Rent a scooter: I highly recommend to get a scooter in order to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Koh Phangan like any other parts of Thailand. Otherwise you will be stuck in your bungalow and miss out on all of the amazing beaches and activities.
β™₯ You can also rent a bicycle from a shop on the main street but it still won’t get you too far.
β™₯ Get a songthaew /collective taxi – but it will be costly (around 200 thb each way) and you never know when they will pass by.

IMG_6778
My cute scoopy πŸ™‚

I rode my first scooter in Thailand in 2015 with the help of a guy who taught me in an open area close to his store. You can ask any of the local rental shops to teach you, which won’t take too long. As long as you use caution while driving and wear a helmet, you will appreciate the freedom it will give you all around Asia!

The daily rental fee is usually around 150-200 thb but you can negotiate a weekly or monthly price. For instance I rented my Scoopy for 2500 thb/month at Ohm located on Srithanu main road.

Beware of scams!: Some scooter rental places in Thong Sala (where the ferry port is located) charge a ton of money for the damages on the bike even if you didn’t make them! Yes. Make sure you take a video and lots of photos of the scooter when you rent it. And do not rent it from Thong Sala.

Hospitals and Emergency

img_5176
Scooter accidents like this happen all the time

Based on my experience and the things I saw around me, I cannot emphasize the importance of having a basic travel insurance when traveling in Asia.  Worldnomads or Insuremytrip are some of the top websites to compare different plans and prices. This should be done as soon as you have purchased your ticket since if you forget (like sooo many people do!), you may end up with bills that add up to thousands of dollars. Trust me I heard many examples and saw many fundraisers to help these folks.  You can also check out this Consumer Advocates site that compares different plan options and might be helpful.

Some private hospitals charge a ton of money especially for overnight stays (Best Western Hospital) and/or transport you to Koh Samui if your case is too complicated for KP.  I’ve used Koh Phangan Hospital, which is a public hospital for minor infections and the bill did not exceed $100 + my insurance reimbursed the entire bill.

In case of Emergency call Thai Police at 191 and Ambulance at 1669 or 1554

If you go to Koh Phangan and stay for a while, you will probably have several conversations with people about how much they feel connected to the island hence they keep coming back again and again. I hope you get inspired by the serenity and the generosity of this beautiful island like many of us do.

Please visit my other blog entries about Thailand here and leave a comment if you visit Koh Phangan!

 

 

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