Welcome to Koh Phangan
In the last 20 years, Koh Phangan has moved from the 19th century quickly into the 21st century with its accompanying benefits and drawbacks. It now has three large supermarkets; Tesco Lotus, Makro and Big C (a Thai company). There is only one main town called Thong Sala on the southwest corner of the island, which acts as the main port of arrival for most ferries. It has its own fresh market where fruits, vegetables, meat and freshly caught fish can be bought straight from the locals who thrive from this industry. There are a large variety of restaurants offering cuisines from all over the world available all over the island, from Italian and French cuisine to Uzbekistan and Indian. Local markets with traditional Thai stalls also make great hubs to sample authentic Thai food.
Haad Rin, home of the infamous Full Moon Party, is located on the southeast end of the island, far away enough to not bother us. However, is it is well worth a visit during the quieter parts of the month. Because of its peninsular location, visitors can enjoy beaches for both the sunrise and the sunset. And while the Full Moon Party might be overrated for many, it is nevertheless a significant part of the rich tapestry of our island.
High season, from December – March, is when Phangan is at its busiest. The weather begins to heat up towards the end of March, with the hottest time of the year being mid-April. No worries, the Thais suitably celebrate their New Year during this time with a massive water fight to cool off! The weather begins to cool down again during the end of May. I personally prefer the island during low season (from April – November, with a few anomalies in between!), as there are fewer people and a more relaxed atmosphere – not to mention the flights to surrounding areas are cheaper (we do not have an airport on Koh Phangan). However keep in mind that lower season means that local businesses that depend on tourists tend to have more difficulty staying afloat.
Car and motorbike rentals are easily available here from local shops, rather than big names like Avis and Budget; a great example of an attraction of the island – we are not yet totally under the spell of free market forces. Motorbikes are inexpensive to rent but any damage to the bike can incur expensive repairs, and as rental is secured by handing over your passport, payments are made accordingly. With the right recommendation, you should not have a hefty issue with damages. I personally recommend renting from Budget 2, as I have known the owner since his teenage years, and have had dealings with his trustworthy family for almost 17 years. Unlike some other stores, any damage to the motorbike is not profited off; Fung (the owner) will not add any mark-up to the cost of the repair as he is a fair man. He has recently entered the car rental business in recent years.
Taxis, in the form of song taews, are also readily available to take you around the island. Prices are generally fixed per person, but you usually have to wait for the taxi to load an agreeable amount of passengers to load the vehicle, unless you are willing to pay an extra fare.
Massages are readily available here, as they are throughout Thailand. You don’t even need to go anywhere, they are available just a phone call way, in just a short wait (where sometimes short means ‘slightly longer than you wanted to wait’ but accept our ‘island time clock’ and it is worth it). You may have to exert yourself by getting out of the hammock and onto the mattress. Alas, inertia is prevalent on this island! Embrace it… don’t try to do too much in one day.
‘Mai Pen Rai’ is the backbone phrase of this country, a phrase that you will likely have heard if you have visited before. Thai people use this multi-meaning phrase often; it can be the equivalent of “you’re welcome”, “never mind”, “ok”, “just let it go”, “it’s not important”… you catch the drift. The attitude behind this phrase reflects an outward attitude of calm, rather than indifference.
Like in any country, Thailand also holds its potential hazards. Do not expect Western standards of health and safety when you are out and about. It is also unrealistic to expect the familiarities and conveniences of the Western world (not that they are not to be found if you know where to look). You may struggle with a different climate, change of routine, unfamiliar environments, and reduced mental dexterities, but at the end of the day, we all get what we need to learn on our journey through life. Perfection generally only manifests in the realm of Mind, so relax – if it is warm, take a swim. If it is hot, enjoy the breeze from the top of a mountain. Thai culture is deeply embedded in its own Buddhist-influenced roots, and keeping your cool when facing different scenarios, as well as taking responsibility for your own actions, will help you settle into daily life here with ease. After all, you are most likely here to relax and recover from the trials and tribulations of your life back at home.
Once again, keep in mind that Koh Phangan is notoriously popular for its monthly full moon parties, so keep in mind that the population of visitors to the island tends to revolve around this monthly occurrence. Try to avoid booking travel immediately before and after the full moon, as it can lead to disappointment or extra expenses. Don’t forget to plan ahead!
Information booklets and maps are available at many shops, restaurants and travel hubs around the island, providing monthly up-to-date publications on current information around the island, including vouchers and taxi fares. You can also find information on the publisher’s website www.phangan.info, but the site is not updated regularly as the print publication.