Located southwest of Bangkok in the Gulf of Thailand, some 65 kilometers from the mainland, Koh Phangan is a lusted island best known for its monthly Full Moon Parties and tropical beaches. Backpackers have been coming here since the 80s to bathe in the crystal clear waters and dance the night away, but with all the tourist crowds and raucous parties, is Koh Phangan worth visiting?
Tied to the lunar calendar, the infamous Full Moon Party draws thousands of revelers to its south coast every year, but Koh Phangan is so much more than its booze-fueled nights. Dense jungle, national parks, and a surprisingly laidback vibe all make this island unique and we think it is definitely worth visiting in 2023.
From the cafe culture to the yoga retreats, here are 7 of the many reasons why Koh Phangan still deserves a place on your travel bucket list. Let’s get into it.
The Full Moon Parties
Koh Phangan offers a trove of activities, scenery, and once-in-lifetime experiences and if partying isn’t your thing, there are still a ton of reasons to visit. However, one of the island’s biggest appeals, especially for the crowds of gap year travelers that flock to Southeast Asia every year, is the infamous Full Moon Party that takes place on Haad Rin beach on Koh Phangan every month.
What started as small hippy gatherings in the 80s, have transformed into one of the biggest parties in the world with thumping sound systems, fire dancers, beach games, and a lot of glow paint. You’ll hear all genres of music at the Full Moon, and although it has become somewhat of a tourist trap, there’s something to entertain everyone.
Depending on the season, between 5,000 and 30,000 people from all over the globe crowd the beaches on Koh Phangan for the party. Festivities start a few days early, especially in the busy months, and even though Haad Rin is the official location, events pop up all over the island on Full Moon night.
Haad Rin isn’t all about raving, but if you don’t want to party and you are visiting at the time of the Full Moon, we wouldn’t recommend staying in the village as the noise continues until the early hours of the morning. December to April is the busiest season for the Full Moon parties, and New Year’s Eve sees the largest celebration of all.
It might be a party haven, but Koh Phangan also knows how to do tranquility and its beaches offer the best of both worlds. The Andaman Islands might be famed for having some of Thailand’s best sands, but Koh Phangan, and nearby Samui and Tao, give Koh Phi Phi a run for its money. Koh Phangan is worth visiting for its sultry shores alone.
If you’re after a bit of seclusion, skip the south and head north to Haad Chao Phao on the island’s west coast. Backed by grass-covered dunes and shaded by coconut palms, this golden beach has desert island appeal but with all the nearby tourist amenities you could need.
Secret Beach and Happy Beach are also highlights in the northwest with clear shallow waters, perfect for swimming and sunbathing, while Bottle Beach in the northeast offers some of the best scenery. Hidden behind deserted headlands at the tip of dense jungle, it’s one of the hardest beaches to reach in Koh Phangan, but one of the most rewarding. It actually gets its name from the trail of bottles that lead the way to the secluded beach.
The north also has white sand beaches like Hat Khuat and Hat Thian, while in the south, most of the action happens around Sunrise Beach. Close to Haad Rin, beach bungalows are scattered along the shore and many backpackers and partygoers congregate here.
Since Koh Phangan has been a well-trodden tourist destination for decades, the beaches are well looked after and regular cleanup efforts help to guarantee this. Even Haad Rin, the notorious Full Moon party beach, is gleaming and pristine, lapped by crystal clear waters, and leaving visitors none the wiser to the fact that tens of thousands of partygoers trample its sands once a month.
Thailand is a haven for foodies. It might have one of the most globalized of all Asian cuisines, but you haven’t tried real Thai food until you’ve journeyed to the Land of Smiles yourself and the cuisine is popular for good reason.
Thailand is huge and the food culture has great regional variation, but we think South Thailand is responsible for some of the best national delicacies. Think lemon-grass and coconut curries, drunken noodles, fragrant seafood salads, and sweet and sour soups to cure any hangover. The food in Southern Thailand is also characteristically spicy, and much more so than in the north, but hearty heat is usually balanced by creamy coconut since the majority of Thailand’s fruitful coconut groves grow down south.
Head to the Thong Sala Night Market for a taste of the local food culture. It is popular with tourists, but it’s still authentic to boot and a great place to interact with locals. Smoking meat skewers singe away on BBQs, while Pad Thai is whipped up in minutes over an open fire.
The aromas in the air are unmatched and you can pretty much try anything from steamed siu mai dumplings to fiery massaman curry to Thai rolled ice cream, also known as stir-fried ice cream, a sweet phenomenon that’s just enjoyable to watch being made as it is to consume.
Koh Phangan also has a lively cafe culture, even though you might not think it at first. You’ll find some of the best coffee outside of Bangkok in Hundreds Islands Coffee Bar and Bubba’s Café. The western brunch favorites they serve up might not be quintessentially Thai, but every traveler needs to start the day with avocado toast every once in a while to keep the homesickness at bay.
Albeit not as popular as nearby Koh Tao, Koh Phangan is still a diving mecca and it boasts just as many treasures below its surface as it does atop. The island is a great place to get PADI qualified with hundreds of experienced instructors and highly rated schools but for a fraction of the prices that you’d pay in the west. We’re talking along the $400 mark, compared to the $1,000 or more that can be expected in Europe for the same qualification.
However, you won’t be sacrificing underwater views just to get a good deal. Koh Phangan’s marine life is colorful and diverse, with all manner of exotic fish, vibrant corals, and some of the clearest waters in the Gulf of Thailand.
You’ll also find Mu Koh Angthong National Park to the southwest of Koh Phangan, covering 50 square kilometers of pristine sand bars, desert islands, and coral reefs—a diver’s dream. The park was the original inspiration for Danny Boyle’s blockbuster The Beach, starring Leonardo di Caprio. If that isn’t a testament to Koh Phangan’s beauty, we don’t know what is.
There’s a host of dive schools on Koh Phangan, most of which are located in the bustling port of Thongsala, but it’s easy to book PADI packages through your hotel too. Do your research and read reviews before choosing a school as your safety should always come first? That said, Koh Phangan is a well-trodden island and there are plenty of longstanding and trustworthy businesses at every corner.
One of the biggest appeals of Thailand, whether it be for a six-month jaunt or a two-week holiday, is escaping the brisk winters of the Northern Hemisphere for the warm embrace of the tropics.
Thailand is influenced by monsoon winds and May sees a string of warm moist air from the Indian Ocean sweep over the country causing heavy rainfall. This is especially bad in mountainous regions, while the capital gets unbearably sticky and humid in between downpours. Koh Phangan, on the other hand, has some of the most favorable year-round weather.
The island experiences its fair share of rain during the wet season, but it is always warm with sunny spells throughout the year, unlike northern Chiang Mai which can get quite chilly at night, or humid Bangkok with its smoggy atmosphere. It rarely dips below 75 degrees Fahrenheit on Koh Phangan, while the highs hover at a pleasant 84 degrees.
December to April sees the best weather with slightly cooler temperatures and plenty of sun, but the island is a year-round destination and you can bask in the glorious sunshine and cool off in the tepid seas whenever you visit. Just be prepared for some tropical downpours in October and November.
It might be a heady nightlife hotspot where booze-fueled parties erupt every month, but Koh Phangan has done well to balance its wild reputation with its slower pace and the island is actually a major yoga and wellness haven.
The buzzing south coast is the partying mecca of Koh Phangan, but wander west and you’ll find a much more bohemian atmosphere. Things start to chill out on the north-heading Hin Kong road. Srithanu Beach with its cluster of secluded bays, including the appropriately named Zen Beach, is scattered with yoga studios, hippy cafes, and scenic viewpoints.
Healing centers and yoga retreats punctuate the jungle-clad hillsides as you reach the top of the island. Ananda Yoga and Detox, Wonderland Healing, and the Yoga Retreat are among the island’s most popular centers and you’ll find everything from drop-in Vinyasa classes to intensive silent retreats that can last for weeks on end.
Even outside of the official camps, the north of the island has a much slower pace than Haad Rin and Thongsala, and all the way up to Mae Haad in the northwestern corner, you’ll find quiet beaches, boutique hotels, and welcoming hippy communities that would have you fooled that Koh Phangan was a party island at all.
The Muay Thai
Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport. Sometimes referred to as Thai boxing, it is a combat sport that involves everything from stand-up striking to roundhouse kicks and elbow jabs. Muay Thai has been nicknamed the ‘art of eight limbs,’ but it’s not as hectic as it sounds. Rather, it’s a refined discipline and athletes go through rigorous training before taking to the ring.
Koh Phangan has risen as one of the main hubs for Muay Thai training outside of the capital. Whether you want to master the art of the sport yourself or you’re just looking to whip into shape, there are plenty of training camps on the island that offer introductory lessons, accommodation, and even fight training for the more experienced boxers.
You can be trained by world champions in the sport while following all of the grueling regimes and dietary requirements that it takes to be a professional Muay Thai fighter. Who knows? You might just climb your way up the ranks yourself.
Even if you’re not interested in an intensive course, we recommend getting involved in at least one class while you’re in Koh Phangan. Muay Thai is a huge part of Thai culture and an hour’s training is great exercise—perfect for burning off some of those Pad Thais and Full Moon buckets. Be sure to catch a local match if you can too and soak up the energy of the crowd.
Check out some of the best Muay Thai camps in Thailand here, many of which are located on Koh Phangan.
How do you get to Koh Phangnan?
There’s no international airport on Koh Phangan, but there is one on nearby Koh Samui, and many travelers choose to fly into the bigger island before taking the 30-minute fast boat to Phangan. If you’re coming from Bangkok or further north, it’s just as easy to fly to Koh Samui, but you also have the option of taking the overnight train or bus down to Surat Thani, a journey that takes between 8 and 12 hours, before catching a two to three-hour ferry over to Koh Phangan. This takes a lot longer but the route is frequented by backpackers since it can be much cheaper than taking a flight.
When is the Full Moon party?
The Full Moon party takes place on a different day every month, but it’s always on the night of, before, or after the full moon. Many Buddhist festivals in Thailand take place on the 1st or 15th of the lunar month, hence if the Full Moon falls on one of these days it could be pushed forward or back to accommodate Buddhist tradition. The consumption of alcohol is forbidden during religious celebrations.
When is the best time to visit Koh Phangnan?
Koh Phangan is always warm and experiences sunny spells throughout the year, but the best weather lasts from December to March when it’s cooler and dry, the parties are also most raucous during this time. If you want to go to a Full Moon Party, check the schedule ahead of your visit to make sure you don’t miss it. There’s also the Half Moon, Quarter Moon, Black Moon, and a handful of jungle parties held throughout the month if you can’t make the big bash.