Last visited Arpril 2012
Dusk shot from balcony of budget bungalow, Bottle Beach One, Had Khuad, north Phangan.
The Hat Rin peninsula, south-east corner of Phangan. Hat Rin East (Sunrise) is the main beach. Hat Rin Sunset is across the peninsula to the left. The smaller beach left side partly concealed by the near headland is Leela Beach. The south coast stretches away towards the top - Ban Khai is about half-way along, Ban Tai a bit further. The beach on the far right is Hat Yuan (image Creative Commons-Manfred Werner)
Hat Rin bottom right, Thong Nai Pan top right, Than Sadet mid right, Mae Had top left (Koh Maa on map), Had Salad just below Mae Had (image fullmoon-party.com)
A full sized version can be seen here.
Places mentioned on this page.
THIS PAGE WAS REWRITTEN AFTER MY 5th VISIT IN JUNE 2010. AND UPDATED SLIGHTLY AFTER MY LATEST APRIL 2012 TRIP. THE PAGE WAS ORIGINALLY COMPOSED IN LATE 2006 AFTER MY THIRD VISIT TO PHANGAN. I ALSO WROTE UPDATES AND POSTED NEW PIX FROM AN AUGUST 2009 VISIT WHERE NEEDED.
IN 2009 I MADE A POINT OF STAYING AT TWO NEW LOCATIONS, HAD SALAD AND THAN SADET, AND CHECKED OR RECHECKED BEACHES NEARBY LIKE MAE HAD, CHALOKLUM, CORAL BEACH (HAD KHOM), HAD THIAN WEST AND HAD YAO WEST .
IN 2010 I STAYED AT HAD KHUAD (BOTTLE BEACH) AND HAD THIAN (the cool east coast one) AND REVISITED HAD RIN, LEELA BEACH AND CORAL BEACH.
IN 2012 I STAYED AT MAE HAD AND HAD YUAN (EAST COAST ONE) AND RESTAYED AT THAN SADET AND THONG NAI PAN. I ALSO WANDERED BACK TO HAD SALAD, BOTTLE BEACH AND HAD KHOM TO SEE WHAT HAD CHANGED.
BESIDES THE STUFF ON THIS PAGE I HAVE A HEAP OF PIX AND INFO ON THESE PLACES ON A NEW PHANGAN PART 2 PAGE PLUS IN THE TRIP REPORT SECTION (these might not be finished before mid June 2012).
On my March 2006 trip lack of time changed my original plan of doing a bungalow crawl up the east coast, along the top and then down the west coast as far at Hat Yao. So I had to confine myself to staying at Leela Beach (Hat Rin) and Thong Nai Pan Yai, visiting others either by round-island boat trip or motorcycle.
HAD RIN AREA - SOUTH EAST COAST
Don't let anyone tell you Had Rin East (Sunrise) isn't a gorgeous beach
- ain't a nudist haunt like the old days. It now has a couple of pretty nice mid-range resorts and an old style budget bungalow place and is a little too built out for overexposure. Nevertheless, it is a very laid back beach, uncrowded even on the nicest days, has nice sand which gets a bit narrow at highest tide, and good swimming except at lowest tide when lots of rocks just below surface make this difficult, although it is still dead easy to find a spot to sit in or splash around.
Leela is on the sunset side of the Hat Rin peninsula, east of the harbour and fairly close to the SE corner of the island. You can reach its western end in about three minutes from the end of the Hat Rin East main street (take the stairs and follow the sign to Coconuts) or the far eastern end in a little more than ten (follow the signs from the top of the stairs up the dirt road to Leela Beach Bungalows). So Leela is a good alternative to Hat Rin East for people wanting to stay on a nice and much quieter beach.
I stayed a little further past the beach at a place lauded in a Thorntree post, LIGHTHOUSE RESORT which is accessed by taking a wooden walkway for about 300m over the rocks from the far eastern end of Leela. “Lighthouse” gives the impression it’s on top of the headland but this resort starts on the seaside rocks and rises to about half way up the steep hillside. Nevertheless, a great location, almost on the SE corner of the island with nice views across to Samui (sensational views from the higher 800 baht bungalows especially at night when the lights came out).Wooden walkway to Lighthouse Resort with Leela Beach in background. The restaurant of Leela Bay Bungalows is the first building on the beach. (image Lighthouse Resort)
Those dearer bungalows were pretty big and looked fine. But I have to say my 200baht bungalow (outside bathroom) was a dump - its 15 degree lateral list beat a 10 degree longitudinal dip, it was pokey with a three quarter size bed and barely enough room for two people’s gear, it wasn’t very clean, had advanced wood rot in the roof beams and the veranda beam at the top of the stairs was so low it scalped me first time. The super steep stairways in several places through the grounds had PVC water pipes across the air gaps. On the plus side, the outside bathrooms for the cheapies were reasonable, the restaurant food was good if a little overpriced compared to really good value bungalow restaurants and the service was quick if unsmiling (at least from the female side - the blokes were pleasant enough).
Lighthouse Resort - good views across to Samui from just about all bungalows (image Lighthouse Bungalows)
UPDATE AUGUST 2009 - I rechecked Lighthouse latest trip. The place seems little changed. The more expensive bungalows still look pretty sweet and as can be seen from the shot below, the obstacle course to some of the cheaper bungalows was still present.My elcheapo bungalow from the 2006 trip had not fallen down - closer inspection showed a fair bit of new woodwork. This is a 2009 shot.
If I were looking for a cheapie in this area I’d try LEELA BEACH BUNGALOWS which had a lot of 300 baht (with bathroom attached) places up the back row. They looked okay in a pretty pleasant setting, maybe a little close together. LBB was putting in new beachside bungalows in March, which looked like they were to be aircon. Nice position - absolute beach-front.
One downside may be this outfit’s two dogs, who got over-exited from terrorizing a beach jogger and then decided to harass all passers-by. Maybe not such a good idea when one of those passers-by was a dog-hating Orstrayan with his really big bush stick.
For people looking for a nice midranger on the beach close to Hat Rin main street, COCO HUTS on Leela looked pretty nice to me. They have a pool.
UPDATE - Leela Beach Bungalows was not operating when I revisited in August 09. But when I called in in June 2010 it was open. No sign of the pesky dogs.
Coco Hut had also been redeveloped and has headed upmarket from lower midrange.
Adjacent to Coco Hut is a lower midrange place with some more budget bungalows up the back - Sarikantang. Check Google for plenty of websites and reviews.
2009 shot of Leela Beach from the western Coco Hut end. Lighthouse Bungalows are out of sight around the headland at the far end (click to expand pix)
UPDATE 2010 - Low tide shot - still some nice bits deep enough to sit in between lumps of almost exposed coral. Lack of people indicates low season nature of June - compounded by impact of Thai political trouble and world financial crisis.
Leela - same time, opposite end.
HAD RIN EAST BEACH
As for HAD RIN itself - I like it. Despite the bullshit from the Full Moon Party haters, East Hat Rin Beach is clean, wide, great for swimming.The town has heaps of restaurants, shops and services (people who haven’t ventured down through Western Hat Rin for some years will be astounded by development here).
And for one of the best people watching places anywhere, grab a beer from the corner store fridge at the “crossroads” in HR East main street and watch the passing parade.
Crossroads mid Hat Rin Main Street and mid beach access lane. My favourite corner store at left. This August (high season) 2009 shots shows fewer people than normal - the World Financial Crisis seemed to be having a bigger impact on backpackers and budget travellers than midrangers from what I could see. Not that Hat Rin is now only a backpacker/budget haunt - there was a big hotel-like development midbeach-front with a pool, and even bigger joint midway between sunrise and sunset beach, and a fair few smaller bungalow places seemed midrange now. Not to mention plenty of expensive looking people tanning on the beach and hopping into speedboats to fang off on some daytrip. But hey, few sunlounges on the fine beach and still plenty of budget places to stay.
UPDATE JUNE 2010 - I'll qualify my enthusiasm for Had Rin having stayed on the beach for one night (arrived too late for a longtail up to Had Thian east) - it sure is noisy. Loud music until 4am on a non-full moon party night. May be best to stay on Leela or some other more distant place and use Had Rin's beach and town facilities during the day and evening.
Hat Rin East (surnrise/moonrise/party beach) is not shabby at all - white white sand which is very clean (see shot of mechanical beach cleaner on the POLLUTION page), clear water which is not too shallow a short distance out and some nice shade from trees in back of beach particularly towards this northern end. Budget beachfront bungalows out of frame to the right - more high on the headland behind camera with some pretty cool restaurant/bars. On the passing ferry from Than Sadet to Samui I also noticed some cool not too expensive looking headland bungalows above the seaside rocks out of frame to left, far end of the beach (if you click-expand the shot top of page you can see some of them) - it would be maybe a 10 minute walk from these to central Hat Rin and the beach. Note the relative lack of people on the beach at prime 1100 sunning time in Phangan's second high season (because of the better weather, Phangan/Samui/Tao tend to have an August high season almost as busy as Christmas/January).
Bungalows on the sand - Had Rin East. These are at the far northern end (turn left on reaching the beach). I think they are called Sea View.
You don't have to wait for the Full Moon Party for a fire twirler show - this can be seen on many beaches most nights (image ASIAEXPLORERS
THE SOUTH COAST
The beaches along the south coast of Phangan are not as nice as the east and north west, but not shabby. My first Phangan stay was in this area and I remember fine views back to Samui, water which got quite shallow at low tide and a really good shuttle of songthaews along the main road between the pier/main town Thong Sala and Hat Rin. I noticed in my latest August 09 trip that a lot of really nice midrange places have developed in places like Ban Khai, Ban Tai and Bang Charu - although there are still a lot of cheapies along here. A good place for Full Moon Party goers because of the transport. And the monthly no-moon parties are held in Ban Tai.
THE EAST COAST
THONG NAI PAN
This twin beach area is towards the north end of the east coast. Once considered a laid back retreat compared to Had Rin it now has become a good compromise area - way more relaxed than the former but with sufficient entertainment and variety of accommodation to keep most people happy. Labels may be clearer if you click image to expand.
THONG NAI PAN YAI
- is a really nice beach surrounded by rain-forested mountains, quite a lot of accommodation from basic to mid-range, some beach bars etc, but with a laid back, uncrowded feeling. There is a separate village with several small supermarkets, some restaurants and an ATM.
I’m a sucker for elevated el-cheapo bungalows with stunning views, so in March 2006 I got myself a 200 baht job at WHITE WIND, built up the steep headland hillside at the north end of the beach. What a contrast to Lighthouse! A well built, clean bungalow in good condition. Restaurant with fantastic views - see 2nd shot below.
White Wind bungalows on the southern headland of Thong Nai Pan Yai. Tezza's cheapy is partly seen far left side just above rocks.
UPDATE August09 - I walked over from Than Sadet to recheck TNP. That's the view from White Wind's restaurant above.
White Wind had expanded in the restaurant area - this is on the top deck of the left building below. The mid and ground levels contain an internet cafe, art and tattoo studio, a store/travel agency. The small structure to the right is a bar and lounge area with some sun lounges in front. The bungalows are up and to the right, overlooking the rocks and sea. Prices were still pretty attractive - 200b small outside facility bungalows, 300 for bigger and 500 for bigger with bathrooms.
STOP PRESS - Jan 1 2011 - I just got this message from Abby:
"Wanted to let you know that White Winds on Thong Nai Pan Yai is out of business. After seeing this for ourselves, we were told that the place was being "renovated" (looked like it was becoming more upmarket and would include a spa) but I'm not sure if it still maintains the same owners."
STOP STOP PRESS - May 2012. I stayed a couple of nights on Thong Nai Pan a few weeks ago. Yep, White Wind is shut down. It has been purchased by Panviman. The bungalows were still there but vacant and the restaurant was out of action. Panviman is slowly moving around the headland - they had some new to me villas not too much more than 50m from White Wind.
Note that the beach bar in the above shot was still operating. Nice place to spend time.
I have a fair few pix and more info on my latest stay in the PHANGAN TRIP REPORT section.
The other main change in this area is that the SHORT CUT TRACK from TNP Yai to TNP Noi up thru White Wind and Panviman has been THOROUGHLY blocked off, not partially as in 2009 - you now have to take the longer road route between the beaches.
This is the view of Thong Nai Pan Yai from the viewpoint constructed by Panviman Resort which straddles the headland between TNP Yai and TNP Noi.
I saw someone bad-mouthing Panviman on Thorntree - “new headland hugging concrete monstrosity mega bungalows“- hey, looked pretty good to me and http://www.panviman.com/shows an attractive 3 day package even if the daily rate is a bit over the top (that website also shows Panviman Ko Chang - don't confuse).
THONG NAI PAN NOI
- is a slightly smaller beach on the northern side of Panviman's headland. This used to be considered slightly more a backpacker hang but my latest visit confirmed that midrange and better places are becoming more established here than on TNP Yai. The small main street area has more restaurants, bars and shopping opportunities too.
Thong Nai Pan Noi. If you click to expand you can see Santhiya's little beach across the small headland from the far (northern) end of the main beach.
In early 2012 I saw a post on a travel site claiming the whole beach at Thong Nai Pan Noi had been taken over by one high-end resort. Which was a major reason for me returning to the area for a few days in April 2012.
I found "... the whole beach" is a slight exaggeration - Anantara Rasanada takes about 60%. A new high end place under construction had the southern 20%. The only survivor of the bunch of neat budget joints from the good old days was Baan Tapan which had about 15% of the north end. There are still budget joints on the inland side of the shopping restaurant street and one on the small headland between Santhiya and the main beach.
This is the high end Santhiya Resort and Spa on its own little beach just 20 metres over a low headland north of TNP Noi. The last time I saw this little bay there was no sand (it was shipped in - the original beach was pebble) and the resort was less than 50% complete.
Note there is now a good path crossing the small headland near camera to the north end of the main beach, meaning Santhiya is now not isolated from some variety in restaurants, swimming etc - a complaint in early user reviews.
CHANGE AT THONG NAI PAN
The biggest change I saw on both beaches was the upgrading of bungalows. There seemed to be few budget bungalows beachfront on Noi - most were upmarket jobs. And if you look closely at the near headland bungalows on the Yai Shot 4 images up you will see swimming pools which didn't exist on my first visit.
However many of the upgraded places on Yai still have some inexpensive bungalows up the back and there are a few places towards the north end like Longtail Bungalow where I stayed in (April 2012) which are predominantly budget-flashpacker. I have details of Longtail Bungalow on the TRIP REPORT LINK a few paragraphs up this page.
ACCESSING THONG NAI PAN
As recently as a few years ago I wrote: The long road into TNP from the south coast is a little better than last time I visited, but still super steep and rutted in many places, real easy for the inexperienced to stack a motorcycle. Please take care, particularly if you have your trusting girlfriend on the pillion.
The good news is that on my April 2012 trip I found this road much better. All the super steep parts had been paved plus quite a lot more. I am an amateur motorcyclists but I now wouldn't hesitate to take a bike into Thong Nai Pan.
Heading left to Than Sadet the pavement goes for less than 1km - past there the road still needs fairly high caution in parts - say 3km.
There seems to be only two public songthaews from THONG SALA each day, but several bungalows send pick-ups to meet most ferries (you would be looking at 150-200 baht in 2009. I'd baulk at over 200 in 2012 - I did a much longer Mae Had to TNP Yai trip then for 700 including a non-share trip in an aircon pickup from Thongsala).
Water-taxi longtails will bring you up from Hat Rin East but these guys look at all farangs as a walking ATM - be prepared to bargain hard. I wouldn't go much above 600 in 2012 prices although the bozos owning the price board in the shot below wanted 1500.
The good news is the small ferry which leaves TNP about 9am, picks up at several of the little beaches down the east coast, calls in at Hat Rin east beach and then goes on to Mae Nam on the north coast of Samui for 300-350 baht. This comes back in the afternoon (see the Than Sadet section below for more info). Latest - in April 2012 I did TNP to Than Sadet on this ferry for 150 - Than Sadet to Had Thian which is not too far north of Had Rin for 250 and Had Thian to Samui for 350.
Both beaches now have a reasonable shopping/restaurant street behind the beach. There are no banks but Yai has 3 ATMs, Noi at least 1. Yai has a medical clinic.
TREKKING AROUND THONG NAI PAN
You can walk into TNP Yai from Than Sadet on a trail considerably closer to the coast than the roads - see the opening map. This leaves Sadet about 5 minutes up the main Sadet access road just inland from the Ranger Station - follow the signs to Viewpoint Bungalows but veer left where the track to Viewpoint turns hard right uphill after another 5 minutes. This track is not for motorbikes being super rutted in sections and narrowing to a one-person rainforest path in the highest third. It dumps out adjacent the small supermarket/travel agency/motorbike hire place about midway along TNP Yai's inland main street. The track took me 55 minutes to walk - beach to beach 65 minutes. I also have modified a Google Earth image to show this page on the PHANGAN PART 2 PAGE.
You can also walk from Thong Nai Pan to lovely Bottle Beach on the north coast and if you are crazy like me, continue on to Coral Beach further west on the super steep jungle track over the mountains. You can see this route on the opening map at the top of the page too - plus I have constructed a map on the PHANGAN TRIP REPORT PAGE.
Thong Nai Pan Noi, right - TNP Yai left. That's part of high end Panviman Resort on the headland between.
- is south of TNP on the east coast. This laid back beach had a surprising amount of accommodation, much built up the steep hillsides both sides of the beach, and a small waterfall about 1 km up the road with a good pool for swimming and a big rock with a small cave from where you can actually enter the pool by swimming underwater a short distance.
Mai Pen Rai, which has bungalows on the beach, riverside and hillside, gets lots of good comments on the travel forums. So on my August 2009 trip I spent quite a few days at Mai Pen Rai - report and pix on the Phangan Part 2 page.
Had Sadet aka Hat Sadet, Than Sadet from the wonderful restaurant deck of Plaa's Thansadet Resort.
I was so impressed with the above view and the food at Plaas that when I returned to Than Sadet in April 2012 I stayed a few nights there. More details in the TRIP REPORT section.
AO THONG RENG
For people looking for really quiet out of the way beaches, Hat Sadet would not be a bad start, but it gets more chill along the strip south towards Hat Rin starting 5 minutes over the small headland at AO THONG RENG site of the Tree House Phangan run by the same people started Tree House Lonely Beach Ko Chang.
UPDATE JAN 2012 - I just got news that Tree House has lost the lease to their land - the lease-owners have sold out to some upmarket developers. Jeez, I was planning a couple of nights at Tree House in April.
HAD YAO (EAST COAST)
There are a couple of seemingly deserted beaches heading south of Thong Reng. The second is Had Yao (the east coast one) which actually has a couple of small places to stay.
LOWER EAST COAST BEACHES
HAD WAI/WHY NAM
Tiny HAD WAI NAM on the lower east coast. One bungalow place here - the laid back Wai Nam Hut with budget and flashpacker accommodation - much of it up the slopes behind the beach and on the southern headland. Yoga classes available. 3 minutes across the far headland is the equally attractive beach of Had Thian East.
Wai Nam is a bit rocky on entering the water at low tide but no problems other times. Reasonably good coral in north end of bay closest camera to the right out of frame.
HAD THIAN/TIAN/TIEN EAST COAST
HAD THIAN (east coast) is the new-agers' beach with funky The Sanctuary Resort (flashpacker thru midrange plus a dorm) with its rehab and personal development courses and wonderful restaurant in the corner of the beach, plus another 4 budget into flashpacker places including Horizon Hut with bungalows high on the southern headland adjacent camera (and a kick-boxing school), and the very good value Beam in a great garden setting about 200m behind the beach where I stayed in June 2010 - more info/pix on the second Phangan page.
No problems with rocks or water depth on most of the beach low tide - a nice sunbathing platform mid bay out of shot and surprisingly good coral north end, the beach end of which you can see half way across shot.
Lots more Thian info/pix on the PHANGAN PART 2 PAGE. 10 minutes walk behind the camera is the bigger but still attractive Had Yuan (east coast) below.
HAD YUAN EAST COAST
HAD YUAN (east coast one) is only a few minutes longtail ride from Had Rin and has become a sort of overflow beach for that area. However it is a very attractive beach with white sand, deep water all tides and wide range of accommodation. Nearest camera on the northern headland are some budget/flashpacker places with great views, down on the beach are nearly a dozen flashpacker into midrange and midrange+ joints, and if you click to expand the shot you will see a wooden walkway along the far headland with some very funky budget/flashpacker places built on the rocks.
There is a walking track over that far headland which is supposed to start behind Big Blue on the beach but I could not find it and locals there didn't have a clue. And a new road which I believe is pretty rough meaning most travellers still access via longtail from Had Rin.
I'm penciling in this beach for my next Phangan visit. It's a nice one.
This trio of interlocked beaches - Had Yuan, Had Thian and Had Wai Nam - has become just about my favourite Thailand location. So I made a point of staying at Had Yuan on my Phangan crawl in April/May 2012. More info and pix on Yuan on the PHANGAN TRIP REPORT PAGE.
THE NORTH COAST
BOTTLE BEACH (HAD KHUAD)
Lovely sheltered beach on the east end of the north coast. Nice white sand, water not too shallow at low tide although it does take some distance to deepen. 4 relaxed accommodation places here with ranging from budget into midrange - Bottle Beach 1 and 3, Bottle Beach 2 (Had Khuad Resort) and the well regarded Smile. I stayed at Bottle Beach 1 in June 2010 - got a beachfront budget room right on the sand for 400b - despite low season, pretty good value for a joint with a lovely pool. More details on the Phangan Page 2.
This used to be a difficult beach to get into with access only by longtail from Chalok Lum 20 minutes around the far headland. This has improved slightly so that Bottle Beach's bungalows in busy times now bring in guests by 4 wheel drive vehicles over the long rough mountain track north of Thong Nai Pan. The last few km of this track is too steep and rough for all but skilled motorcyclists. Having used this road and the longtail, I much prefer the latter.
This pic is shot from the viewpoint east of the beach which you can climb in about 30m - very steep in some sections, moderately steep in others. There is an equally steep track over the far headland to Coral Beach (Had Khom - see shots below) - one way you are looking at an hour.
Notice Ko Tao on the far horizon.
There are a lot more info and pix on Bottle Beach on the Phangan Part 2 page and in the TRIP REPORTS section.
HAD KHOM (CORAL BEACH)
This is how it looked I first visited. Pretty sweet - and with 4 very relaxed budget/flashpacker resorts.
I returned in June 2010 and you can see dead low tide sure makes a difference to the place. Nevertheless Coral Beach gets very good posts from travellers and it's one I intend to stay at in the future.
Access to Coral Beach is now very good. From the west the track from Chaloklum is now a concrete road for several km and ends just past the beach where the walking track over the headland to Bottle Beach begins. There are steepish access roads from the concrete road into the bungalows.
The mountain between Bottle and Coral Beaches isn't quite as formidable as this oblique image implies (I cranked up the vertical exaggeration a bit too much) but it does give a good workout - I have done the trip each way 3 times now - look for around 80-100 minutes beach to beach.
This fishing town is in the middle of a large bay in Phangan's north. The town itself despite the two busy piers is pretty laid back with a good range of shops, restaurants and services and tends to attract long term travellers with some inexpensive places to stay at. The beach is not too hot close to town but at both ends of the bay it gets pretty nice, despite the water getting very shallow at low tide. There are some very nice resorts both ends - a bigger range at the western end.
This pic was actually shot off the dining terrace of Coral Bay Bungalow - the pic two shots up was snapped from its eastern bungalows. Good shot to click-expand.
Another place which caught my eye on my very first visit was TT poster and Phangan resident girllrig’s favourite non-TNP location, MAE HAD (Hat Mae, Mae Haad), a nice smaller beach (TT says the beach “isn’t fantastic”. Well technically that’s right, but it’s pretty nice) on the n.w corner of the island, with good swimming away from lowest tide, some good coral near a small offshore island, about half a dozen bungalow places, but not too crowded. This seemed to have mainly young Euro couples and families staying. Between the boat trip and the motorcycle I visited three times, including a great sunset last evening while using up time waiting for the night ferry. I have done a bit of research on less expensive places to stay for my future trips. Wang Sai resort on the slopes overlooking the beach and with the restaurant beach-side has had good posts in the past. I have used the restaurant which was standard Thai budget type - tasty and inexpensive.
The other place which appealed to me was Ko Ma Resort - some budget bungalows on tiny Ko Ma which is joined to Mae Hat beach by a spit of sand. At high tide there is a boat shuttle.
MAE HAD from the sand-spit leading out to tiny Ko Ma Panoramio-The Globetrotter
TRIP REPORTS section.
I also found Mae Had like most Phangan beaches now has some more upmarket accommodation.
HAD SALAD/HAT SALAT etc
HAD SALAD is the next beach south of Mae Had. Really nice location with mainly midrange accommodation these days. Lots more info/pix on the Phangan Part 2 page.
HAT YAO WEST
Hat Yao (the west coast one) was similar to the present Mae Had when I first visited in ‘97. Now it is fully built up, with a big array of bungalows, restaurants/beach bars, dive centers etc. Nevertheless, it is still an attractive place. Hat Yao (west coast), low tide August 2009. It gets a bit shallow here on the low tide, like most west coast beaches. Sand is white, water clean, lots of accommodation in all price ranges on the beachfront, the headlands each end and in the small township along the main beach road behind. A fair few bars/restaurants meaning some good nightlife without being over the top like Hat Rin.
Phangan Part 2 has some extra info/pix of both Mae Had, Had Salad and it's near neighbour, Had Yao West.
TREKKING ON PHANGAN
The size and ruggedness of Phangan plus a lot of delightful beaches to trek into make this a good island for the hiker. I have a fair bit of info and maps on the following:
Than Sadet to Thong Nai Pan on the Phangan part 2 and Trip Report pages
Thong Nai Pan to Bottle Beach (ditto)
Bottle Beach to Coral Beach (ditto)
Had Yuan to Had Thian and Had Why Nam (ditto)
Had Yuan to Had Rin on the Phangan Trip Report page
Mae Had to waterfall, Had Salad and Chaloklum (ditto)
Than Sadet to the waterfalls (ditto)
Had Rin to Had Kongthi (ditto)
Had Salad to Had Yao (west coast), Had Kruad, Had Thian (west coast) on the Phangan Part 2 page.
PHANGAN PART 2 PAGE
PHANGAN TRIP REPORT PAGE
GETTING TO PHANGAN
- the cheapest would be train or bus to Chumpon and then hop on one of the fast ferries which goes to Phangan via Tao. Chumpon is a long way north of the popular alternative of Surathani. I know the sleeper train south (I think final destination is Hat Yai) gets into Chumpon in good time to catch the first express boat out each morning.
I have seen a lot of posts saying Lomprayah ferry company's bus/fast catermaran combination is very reliable - there are two services a day - one bus goes overnight.
UPDATE - I used Lomprayah to get from Samui to Phangan on my August 09 trip. The Mae Nam (the pier is at the western end of the beach) to Thong Sala trip was pretty quick at about 30 minutes, but they do pack the passengers in. Note that the 1130 trip out of Samui (which goes on to Tao and Chumpon) includes free transfers from your Samui accommodation which will save you a 300 to 500 baht taxi fare from Chaweng/Lamai areas. Similarly the incoming boat which arrives in Samui at 1100 will shuttle you to your accommodation gratis. I noticed one shuttle bus had AIRPORT on it.
I came back to Samui on the smaller east coast ferry which starts in Thong Nai Pan and arrives at a different Mae Nam pier (central beach). Plenty of taxis, motorcyle taxis and charter songthaews meet this - Lady Tezza and I paid 100 each for a songthaew which also shuttled some people to the airport for 50 each. More information for this ferry can be seen on Mae Pen Rai's website and under the photo at the bottom of this page.
A more expensive time-saver is to fly to Samui and then hop across to Phangan or fly to Surathani and catch a ferry. Bangkok Air and Thai fly into Samui from Bangkok - and Bangkok Air also flies in directly from Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai and U-Tapao near Pattaya. Thai and maybe others fly into Surathani.
UPDATE 2012 - on my latest trip I noticed Lomprayah had billboards up promoting a joint Solar Air flight/Lombprayah fast catamaran service via Chumpon.
Direct flights into Samui are offered by Bangkok Air from Hong Kong and Singapore. Berjaya fly from KL as does Firefly.
I have a copy of losing_touch's great ferry timetable here.
Note that ferry companies can change times etc so it's a good idea to check each company's website for latest info.
What is the latest boat you can get from Samui?
Travel forums get a lot of questions from people arriving on late flights into Samui wanting to get to Phangan on the same day.
The last boat at time of writing is at 1830 - the Had Rin Queen from Big Buddha.
It takes around 10 minutes by cab from the airport to Big Buddha pier.
The 3 ferries which leave from near the airport are Lomprayah from western Mae Nam, Seatran from Bo Phut/Bang Rak, Had Rin Queen from Big Buddha and the east coast beach ferry from the central "pier" on Mae Nam.
The first 2 go to Thong Sala, where pickups are waiting to transfer all over the island - the last one is good if you want to go directly to the east coast beaches (last stop is Thong Nai Pan) but runs to Phangan early afternoon only, Had Rin Queen is great if you want to go to that place or nearby because of the frequency of its trips.
Other ferries on the link start on the Surathani coast and pick up in Samui's Na Thon which is a long way from the airport and from the popular east coast Samui beaches.
The closest ferry piers to the airport are Bo Phut/Bang Rak and Big Buddha. There’s quite a lot of good inexpensive accommodation there - google travelfish for reviews of places there and at Bang Rak which is part of this area.
Mae Nam is maybe 15 minutes west of the airport by taxi or shuttle bus - plenty of cheapies there.
Note that Lomprayah has a free shuttle to their ferry (well the second daily one at least) so it doesn't matter where you stay if you use that one.
If arriving too late for the last ferry, I wouldn't use a longtail to cross at night - can be quite bumpy and wet, sometimes outright dangerous - and it would cost a bomb. A bigger fishing boat would be outrageously expensive and still bumpy and maybe wet.
Spedboats can be chartered - would be very expensive, particularly after dark. I have travelled this area in pretty big seas on speedboats, they tend to throttle back and ride the swells reasonably - not good if you suffer seasickness though. And very bad if overloaded as on Full Moon Party dates.
I'd stay on Samui, go down to one of the little restaurant/bars overlooking the beach/piers and have a nice first night relaxing.
From the Andaman or the South
- most people come in through Surathani. Some ferries leave from the town itself but more, including vehicle ferries depart from piers around Donsak 30-40km further east on the coast. If you are coming in via the bus station, the airport or railway station (the last 2 both out of town), there are travel counters or adjacent travel agents who will sell you a shuttle bus-ferry ticket right onto the island.
One of my favourites is the night ferry which leaves at 2300 from the town pier, chugs down river and then across the bay, you on your designated matress and pillow, arriving in Phangan about 0500 where transport is waiting at the pier to take you to your beach of choice. You can grab a swim and brekka while all those lazy travellers are still tucked into their bungalows cutting the zzzzzs.
From Phi Phi in one day.
This question and its reverse trip gets asked lots of times on the travel forums. Poster english_dave gave this answer in April 08:
"'P.P.Family' - I think this is the only company that does the full trip in one day.Phangan -> Phi Phi - leave at 7am from Thong Sala, Arrive Phi Phi at 3:30pm - cost = 700baht
Phi Phi -> Phangan - leave at 9am, Arrive Phangan about 6pm - cost = 800baht.
Pretty much any travel agency in Phi Phi or Phangan will be able to arrange these tickets for you."
A small caveat here. There have been lots of complaints of thefts from luggage in the underbus storage area of coaches put on by private travel companies between Krabi and Surathani (and KSR and Surathani) So to be safe don't leave any valuables in your luggage - have them in your carry pack in the cabin.
Maybe a BIG caveat - PP Family probably gets more complaints than any other regular Thai transport operator - not only for underbus thefts but for time wasting and general lack of care - travelfish advises against them. I reckon if you catch the first ferry out and the normal Krabi-Surathani minibus you would make it in a day. Catching the night ferry from Surathani town pier around 2200-2300 assures this. Actaully you would probably be able to leave PP on the afternoon ferry and still make the night ferry.
WHEN TO GO.
The Phangan/Samui/Tao area tends to have a different wet season to most of Thailand. Normally this kicks in late September/early October and runs into early January, although the fact that Christmas/New Year is peak season indicates that it can't be too bad come late December.
The good news is that when the Andaman and Eastern Gulf islands are in wet season midyear, the Phangan area is usually much drier. Sure it will rain a bit in these months but usually sunshine dominates. This drier weather means a second high season in July/August and consequently not the bargain accommodation prices you will find in Phuket, Krabi or big Ko Chang etc.
February thru April are even drier. Note March April can be pretty hot.
A point about Phangan's wet season - frequently this can be as holiday friendly as most other areas, but every now and then they have a shocker. In all the years I have been following Thai weather this is the only place I have seen forum posters complaining about persistent bad weather, prolonged heavy rain etc. This seems to happen every 3rd or 4th year, but not necessarily on a regular basis. So if I was planning a Thai beach holiday in say Oct, Nov or early Dec I might think more about the mid or eastern Gulf or the Andaman. However if these months were the only time I could visit and I really wanted to see Phangan, I would not be put-off - my first visit into this area was in a November and I got real nice weather, as good as my 3 August visits.
A smaller point - May in this area and many other Thai regions often gets a little blip of extra rain compared to adjacent months. Usually this is not enough to make it a mini wet season but once again I occasionally see complaints from the Phangan/Samui/Tao areas about prolonged rainy spells.
For the price conscious, you are going to get good discounts in wet season. But note months like March, April, June and a lot of Septrember are usually not wet, yet many accommodation places go into low season pricing. Note too that low-budget places are much less variable in pricing compared to midrange and high-end joints.
A really good link which has all sorts of info on Phangan, including great maps, accomm from basic to swish is www.phangan.info.com HERE
Top deck of the slow ferry which starts at Thong Nai Pan around 0900 and heads down the east coast of Phangan picking up at several beaches including Than Sadet, Hat Thian and East Hat Rin and then goes across to Mae Nam on the north coast of Samui, not too far from the airport and Chaweng Beach in around 2 hours from TNP - cost from Than Sadet August 09 300baht. The boat returns starting early afternoon. Some real nice mountain/beach views passing down the coast. Don't be alarmed at the tilt - the boat is doing a turn out of Hat Thian's bay here.
ONCE AGAIN THERE IS MORE INFO ON HAD SALAD AND THAN SADET, AND BEACHES NEARBY LIKE MAE HAD, CHALOKLUM, CORAL BEACH (HAD KHOM), HAD KRUAD, HAD THIAN WEST AND HAD YAO WEST ON THE NEW PHANGAN PART 2 PAGE.
AND THERE ARE MORE PIX AND LOTSA INFORMATION ON BOTTLE BEACH, MAE HAD, THAN SADET, THONG NAI PAN AND HAD YUAN (east coast one) IN THE TRIP REPORTS SECTION
XXXX - If you have exta info or see mistakes in the above, please post below. But if you have any questions, please ask them in THE FORUM rather than below. I don't get a chance to check all threads daily, but unless I'm travelling I'll try to monitor THE FORUM regularly.