Koh Phangan and Koh Tao are impressive looking islands north of Koh Samui. Koh Phangan is located in between Koh Tao and Samui, and it’s a backpacker haven and a party island. Koh Tao is very beautiful and quiet and is best known for its scuba diving. I grouped the two together since they are in the same region and since there isn’t a full article’s worth of information on Koh Tao. These islands are almost burdened by their specialty reputation, with Phangan being known for its wild monthly beach party and with Koh Tao being known mainly for the diving. But they’re both gorgeous islands that are worth a trip even if you’re not going for their main attractions.
Koh Phangan is an island north of Koh Samui, best known for having Full Moon Parties. And while the Full Moon Party is a spectacle to behold, the island has a lot of other great attributes.
The most popular way to get to Koh Phangan is to take a ferry from Koh Samui. It’s a quick ride and it will only cost you 200-300 baht. You can also take a boat from Surat Thani if you want go from the mainland.
The Full Moon Party
Let’s get the Full Moon Party out of the way first. The monthly party has been going on for many years and now attracts anywhere between 10k-50k people depending on the season. It takes place on Haad Rin beach. It’s a very young crowd of mostly European vacationers and backpackers, with some Thai’s sprinkled in here and there. Bucket sets are a very popular and cheap way to get drunk; they include whisky or vodka and a mixer. Finding accommodation on the Full Moon nights isn’t easy. Actually it’s impossible if you just show up for the party. You have to get there early or book in advance, or else your ass will be sleeping under a tree somewhere. More on this later.
Drugs and Issues at The Full Moon Party
Drugs like meth and MDMA are widely available, but setup busts are rampant and the authenticity of these drugs is in doubt. It is recommended that you do not buy any drugs, especially on the beach or from “dealers.” There are a lot of undercover police and rats in attendance! And while it’s true that you can buy your way out of the jam, do you really feel like going through that? While I do think you’re better off skipping the drugs entirely, I’ll report the common stereo types since it would be a bit ridiculous to pretend that people go to the Full Moon Parties to be sober. So from what I have seen and heard, it appears as though you’re ok if you’re buying mushrooms or marijuana from an actual bar that doesn’t hide the fact that they’re selling it and you consume them while you’re there. Apparently those establishments have things worked out and I haven’t heard of any busts in places like that. The mushrooms come in a shake and will make you trip your ass off for hours. The island seems to have this “anything goes freedom” vibe, but there are plenty of local Thai’s out there just waiting for you take the freedom too far. There have been rapes and murders and overdoses, but for the high number of young people partying all night, the number of problems doesn’t indicate that it’s a dangerous place at all unless you’re really asking for problems. Play things a bit cautiously and you’ll be fine.
Typical crowd preparation is in full effect; meaning you shouldn’t bring any more money than you need and the less items you have on you during the party the better. Things go missing and things get ruined frequently! Wear a sturdy sandal because geniuses like to break their beer bottles in all of the wrong places.
The world’s largest toilet bowl
I’m sure that if you ask any sober person if they would like to swim in a bath full of piss, they would say no. But once people are drunk and toilets aren’t easily accessible, people see the ocean as being nature’s toilet. What happened to, “I don’t swim in your toilet, so don’t piss in my pool!” I’m sure nature can handle a few pissers here and there, but I’m also pretty sure that nature can’t handle the amount of urine that hits the shallow waters on a Full Moon Party night. It’s disgusting and it makes me want to avoid swimming in Haad RIn regardless of how many days it’s been since the last party.
What actually goes on during a Full Moon Party?
Mostly young white folks get really drunk and dance, watch as some people do fire-themed activities such as: the fire limbo and fire jump roping. Dj’s are spinning all sorts of dance music and people are dancing all night long. Young guys and young girls do the things that young guys and young girls do. It’s really fun if you’re on the younger side, let’s say under 35. You’ll see people screwing by night’s end so there’s always that.
*Don't do the fire limbo or the fire jump rope; people to get minor burns that they don't feel until the next morning.
Here are the dates for the upcoming Full Moon Parties:
- Saturday 25 May 2013
- Sunday 23 June 2013
- Wednesday 24 July 2013
- Wednesday 21 August 2013
- Thursday 19 September 2013
- Saturday 19 October 2013
- Sunday 17 November 2013
- Tuesday 17 December 2013
- Wednesday 25 December 2013
- Tuesday 31 December 2013
- Wednesday 15 January 2014
- Saturday 15 February 2014
- Saturday 15 March 2014
- Monday 14 April 2014
- Wednesday 14 May 2014
- Thursday 12 June 2014
- Sunday 13 July 2014
- Sunday 10 August 2014
- Monday 08 September 2014
- Friday 10 October 2014
Is there anything else worthwhile to Ko Phangan aside from the Full Moon Party?
Absolutely, and it’s a shame that the island is only known for the party. First of all the party never really stops at Haad Rin beach. They have half moon parties too, and the bars are good on most nights. Some might even prefer Haad Rin’s nightlife when it’s not the Full Moon Party.
Don’t underestimate the size of the island; there are 30 other beaches! And some of them have a nightlife, such as Thong Sala, which even has some lady bars. The beaches are wonderful; be sure to check out Thong Nai Pan Yai, Thong Nai Pan Noi, and Haad Salad, three of the best tourist friendly beaches. All over the island you can also find a lot of the typical island activities, including: elephant treks, great hiking, snorkeling, massage, kayaking etc. You’ll find that outside of Haad Rin, prices are pretty good for a tourist island.
If it wasn’t for the Full Moon Party, we’d think of Koh Phangan as a charming and affordable island with a good nightlife, excellent beaches, and plenty of things to do. And thanks to one party, once per month, the island will never be thought of like that. The Full Moon Party is a lot of fun but even if you’re not into it, Koh Phangan is still a great place to travel to.
Best hotels for the money:
There are a few amazing resorts, but the Anantara is probably the best.
Listed at 5 stars, you can’t go wrong with the Santhiya, which can be booked for under 4,000 baht with good timing.
My personal favorite since it comes out to less than a little over 1,500 baht with points if you book in advance and it’s in a great location.
If you’re on a budget, how’s twenty bucks a night sound? Check out the link; you really get a lot of value for the money; it’s not a bad place to stay at all and it’s cheaper than sh*t.
Budget on Haad Rin (for Full Moon Party)
Book in advance and you’re looking at 1,100 baht unless it’s in the heart of busy season. You won’t find better for cheaper so this is the sensible choice for someone on a budget headed for Haad Rin and the wild party.
Koh Tao is beautiful, and it's well known for it's diving and it's picturesque beaches. If you want to learn how to dive, this is the place to go. Other than that, I would recommend going to Koh Tao if you at least enjoy snorkeling and you want a quiet island experience.
Koh Tao is an hour past Koh Phangan on the ferry from Koh Samui, so it takes a total of about 90 minutes to get there. You can also go direct from Koh Phangan and from Surit Thani (3 hours).
The scuba diving is pretty serious on Koh Tao; you will be solicited by at least a handful if you go there. Some of the hotels actually do diving packages since that really is the main draw to the island. There are many dive companies so make sure you find out the full price ahead of time since some of them like to add fees. There are instructors from all over the world so make sure you can easily understand yours before you go out.
It’s not as if the island is dead outside of diving. Koh Tao has plenty of restaurants and even a slew of bars and some night beach partying. There are no bar girls on the island though so don’t go for that. The island has a pulse at night, just nothing close to what Samui and Phangan have. It’s smaller than those islands too, though there are still a few beaches. Sairee Beach is where most of the action is but you’ll find things to do on the other beaches and you can easily get to where you want to go on a motor bike rental. Snorkeling, hiking, and mountain biking are top notch on Koh Tao, so you can still have some adventure even if you’re not into diving.
The beaches on Koh Tao are unreal and a few of them don’t have many people if you go at the right time. The food is good and the prices aren’t too bad. If you want to go diving it’s a no brainer since a 4 day introductory course is under 10,000 baht (sometimes including a room). If not, you’re still going to have a very relaxing and enjoyable stay on Koh Tao as long as you’re with a lady. The nightlife is good enough for you and your girlfriend or wife to have a good time together. There are a lot of places to go in Thailand and I can’t say that Koh Tao should be first on your list if you’re not into diving, but if you’re traveling around and you’re going to be in Koh Samui, you might as well spend a couple of nights on both Koh Phangon and Koh Tao and see which one you like the best.
Best Hotels for the Money:
I don’t think you get a lot of value for the 6,000 baht+ hotels on the island, so if you’re looking for luxury you’re better off booking the Koh Tao Cabana Hotel for about 3,000 baht since it stacks up favorably to the others anyhow.
Deeply discounted off peak, the Koh Tao Resort can be booked for as low as 1,200 baht and is an absolute steal at that price given all that it has to offer.
The Sairee Sea View is in a great location and it’s only 850 baht per night off peak as long as you book in advance. It’s a great value if you want to be close to the main part of town.