Ko Phangan

You don't need the spirit of a 20-year-old party animal to enjoy Koh Phangan—but it certainly helps. It's practically essential during the full moon.

Ko Phangan (sometimes: Koh Pha Ngan) might be the only destination where the high season comes once a month. The local tourist calendar tied to a lunar cycle that peaks during the monthly Full Moon Party (fullmoonparty-thailand.com) on Hat Rin Nok ("Sunrise Beach," sometimes spelled Haad Rin).

This is Beach Blanket Bingo on ecstasy, Asia's biggest and most popular rave, an all-night beach party fueled by cheap booze and designer drugs, with upwards of 10,000 people dancing on the sand to trance, techno, and reggae. 

The island's collective hangover lasts about 27 days—a trash-strewn strand, shuttered beachfront bars, deserted cybercafes, and largely empty clusters of bungalows housing a handful of backpackers who sleep 20 hours a day and spend the other four chewing cheap curries and wincing at loud noises.

If you are not into partying, this lull is the time to hang around Phangan.

Then, a few days before the moon waxes full, the next batch of partiers starts arriving, fails to find a room, camps out on the beach, and it begins all over again.

Hotels on Koh Phangan

Paradise Bungalows is Full Moon Party central, the bungalow operation that started it all—though the event now pretty much takes up the entire Hat Rin Nok beachfront (Hat Rin Nok, +66-(0)77-375-244, www.paradisebungalow.com; B200-B400 with fan).

The bungalows, though utterly basic, are darn picturesque, clustered in shady groves of trees and climbing up the hillside beyond, with a few primo huts set right on the beach under the shade of coconut palms. The breezy beach-side restaurant that isn't half bad.

But standing head and shoulders above the Paradise bungalows—on stilts no less—are the classy cottages of Sun Cliff, well removed from the hubbub of the town on the Hat Rin Nai ("Sunset Beach") side of the island where ferries land (Hat Rin Nai, +66-(0)77-375-134; TK B250-B700 with fan; B1,000-B1,400 with A/C). These most excellent bungalows are spread up and down a lush, shady slope on either side of a cement pathway that snakes its way from the end of the dirt road and into the jungle.

While several had air-conditioning, after taking a peek at several I chose to stay in fan-cooled Bungalow D2, a fabulous Swiss Family Robinson-does-Asia "treehouse" where the front end is lofted 25 feet above the ground into the lush green of the jungle canopy.

The back wall is anchored to the rock of the steep cliff behind, and in a few spots the boulders intrude picturesquely into the lofty, wood-ceilinged bedroom with its mosquito net–canopied king bed. Even the bathroom has a tree growing up through the middle of the floor and out through the translucent corrugated plastic roofing.

French doors fold back to open two whole walls of the bedroom onto a wrap-around balcony, where a small fridge and sink occupy one corner near a hammock slung strategically to maximize views over the trees to the sea.

Restaurants on Koh Phangan

Sunrise Beach is connected to the ferry docks of Hat Rin Nai (Sunset Beach) by a road lined with Internet cafes, bakeries, and souvenir shops. The main intersection, inexplicably dubbed Chicken Corner, is the island's commercial hub, and just down the side street from this crossroads you'll find the best dinner on the island at the Old Lamp, a funky joint popular with backpackers (shoes off at the door, everyone sits on the floor).


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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.