No Full Moon Parties: Off-Season on Ko Phangan, Thailand
For my last 10 days of backpacking in Southeast Asia I chose to relax on the beach and rest from hectic travelling. What a better place for that than the islands in the south of Thailand. Ko Phangan was the first on the list. I didn’t know much about that particular island, apart that it’s the main Full Moon party destination. Since I wasn’t traveling there during the full moon, I was curious to see what else it has to offer and what the off-season is like.
Reaching Ko Phangan Island
There are a few ways to reach the islands, the most common one being with a bus/plane to Surat Thani and continuing with a ferry from there.
Since I was already in the south, I took the bus from Rilay Beach to Surat Thani and there we were transferred to the ferry for Ko Phangan. The whole trip took around 8-9 hours and cost around 450 BHT. On the ferry there are usually some local people trying to sell you their accommodation or rental services. Don’t immediately accept that because their prices are sometimes double the regular ones on the island.
The Ko Phangan Off-Season Picture
Based on some online reviews I had read, I booked a hostel on my phone and called rental agency Budget Two (absolutely recommending this place!) to prepare a scooter for me. I was happy everything went smoothly and about one hour later I was already riding towards the night market for some food. After a delicious pad thai I headed to Echo Beach Hostel.
To my surprise, the hostel was completely empty with me being one of 3-4 guests in total, but then I remembered I was there in the peak of the low season. I decided to drink a beer and stay in that night.
Mae Haad Beach
The next day I woke up at reasonable time to enjoy the whole morning on the beach. First, I had some breakfast in front of the hostel in a hammock til my brain woke up. It took me around 30 minutes with the scooter on the harsh sun to reach the northwestern end of the island but it was well worth it. I was sunbathing on the beautiful thin sand strip that was part of the Mae Haad Beach.
There were only a handful of people on the beach. One of them, a curly haired girl was snorkelling, unsuccessfully trying to find a living creature in the shallow sea around. I pointed her to something red that was moving along the sea bottom close to me. She rushed to see what it was with her GoPro, hoping to take a picture of a magnificent sea animal. Disappointment followed, but at least we had a laugh about it. It turned out to be just a big leaf tumbling on the sand.
Martine was a Dutch girl on a two week vacation. I learned that she was on the island for the third time. After chatting a bit, we both agreed that it would be good to eat something. We actually spent the rest of the day together going around the island.
Food, Sand and More Sun
Our first stop was one of the restaurants on the western side called Jumpahom. It had a few terraces, handmade decorations and a nice view. When we got inside, the restaurant was empty and the owner was sleeping in a hammock. While thinking whether we should wake her up or not, she heard us and crawled out of her comfy hanging bed. We both had green curry with rice that was delicious!
Our next stop was Salad Beach just down the hill where we decided to go for a coffee. The beach is quite narrow and covered with palm trees reaching almost to the sea. Despite being full of restaurants and bars, it didn’t look overcrowded or ugly. Actually, it turned out to be my favourite beach on the island, especially when showered in the golden light of the setting sun.
Martine also told me about the Zen Beach where a lot of people come daily to watch the sunset. It was a nice opportunity to see more people gathered at the same location, as lots of places were empty due to the low season. We moved there and picked up a few beers on the go. It was just as she had described – white sandy beach, a bunch of people singing and playing instruments, beers and decorative lights around the trees and a bar were a perfect setting for the sunset.
Partying Without a Full Moon on Hat Rin Beach
Later that night, we decided to check Ko Phangan’s nightlife. After resting in our hostels for a bit, we met again to go to the eastern side of the island. We had a beer on Hat Rin Beach where the famous Full Moon party is held. After watching a few quite impressive fire shows, we headed to the Lighthouse Bar where a big party was held. To go there, we had to go through numerous little streets and the long wooden bridge built on the rocks just above the sea. It was an epic entrance. Although the ticket was 500THB, we gave it a chance and at the end had a blast.
By that time I had already changed the hostel. I checked in to Ko Phangan Arena, a big hostel with pool tables, football pitch, outdoor gym, game corner, bar and other facilities. It was one of more populated hostels at the time and quite affordable at 160THB a night.
The next day I had mostly reserved for the Bottle Beach in the north of the island. I heard just too many times that it’s a must-see place so couldn’t miss it. After a delicious French breakfast at Nora’s bakery, I filled my scooter with petrol and headed towards the north east. That ride across the whole island was one of my favourite things I’ve done there. Winding, empty, and at some points extremely steep road that goes through the forest and hills towards the coast was a pure enjoyment for my senses. I wanted it to last forever. Be careful if you’re a beginner driver, though, it can also be dangerous.
A few kilometres before the beach the road turns to mud and dirt. At one point, there is even a sign recommending to continue by foot or call a number if you want to be picked up with a 4×4 vehicle. That part of the way was really steep, so I chose to go by foot as I didn’t want to risk getting stuck or destroying the rented scooter. After 20-30 minutes walking past hundreds of palm trees, a lot of different bird species and groups of monkeys, I finally reached my destination.
That place was stunningly beautiful! Desolate, vast and tranquil like it wasn’t part of anything I’d seen before. I spent a few hours there just walking around the sand and rocks, embracing its calmness, before jumping in the sea. Later, I had a chat with the local restaurant owner and then headed back to my scooter looking forward to the epic ride again.
Later that day, still under the spell of Bottle Beach, I went again to Zen Beach to see the sunset with couple of people I met in the hostel.
My last full day on the island was spent on the western side which is known as ‘chilled’ side of the island. Unlike the southern ‘party’ side, this one is a heaven for relaxing in any imaginable way. I must say it reminded me a little bit of Pai, the place in Northern Thailand I had visited before. I recommend you visit Amsterdam bar for the best view in this area.
Ko Phangan in the Off-Season: An Island for Everyone
Despite being a popular island, Ko Phangan’s prices are still low and the offer is huge. The scooter is the king here as it’ll take you everywhere within minutes, and they cost 150-250THB a day. Phantip Night Food market will cover you no matter what your taste in food is, and the range of accommodation is just crazy. ‘Party’ or ‘relax’ mode, anything goes.
All in all, this island is 100% on my ‘visit again’ list. It just feels nice and cosy wherever on the island you decide to go. I met a lot of friendly people and it’s definitely one of the places I personally connected with. Due to the off-season, I was lucky to experience it genuinely, without the chaos of tourist crowds. Maybe next time I’ll try the high season just to see the difference.
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