Koh Phangan is an island located 30 minutes from Koh Samui.
It is particularly famous for its full-moon parties held on Haad Rin beach every time there's a full moon. This huge open air 'rave' has changed a great deal over the years. Having started off as a rather hippy-style affair, it has since become one of the region's most commercial events. Whenever there's a full moon, groups of young people disembark at Thong Sala to spend the evening on the island. Life on the island revolves around the moon and if you wish to spend the night on Koh Phangan when there's a party going on you'll need to book in advance. The so-called 'bucket', in which alcoholic cocktails are served at ridiculous prices, is the centrepiece of the Full Moon Party. As you can imagine, excess is the key idea here. The Full Moon Party attracts huge crowds and is starting to get a bad reputation, with many thefts, fights, and other unwelcome incidents reported on a regular basis. It goes without saying that you should always keep an eye on your personal belongings and never bring any valuables with you.
If this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, you'll no doubt prefer Koh Phangan on a normal day when there's no full moon on the horizon! The island itself is very green and abounds in natural surroundings. This is due to its terrain, which has meant that no major roads have been able to be built here, thus maintaining the gentle pace of the place. This being the case, a trip to the island is all about relaxation and offering tourists a truly authentic taste of island life barely 30 minutes from the tourist hub of Koh Samui.
One thing to remember when visiting Koh Phangan is that the beach forms a focal point for everything else. Barely have you left Thong Sala (the point of arrival and departure for the transfer boats) and Haad Rin (which is already well known for its Full Moon Party) when you find the tarmac-covered road ends, only to be replaced by dirt tracks that are best explored by jeep (or perhaps by scooter if you're careful!). This being the case, it's easier to reach most of the beaches by water taxi than by car. The beaches on the east coast are simply spectacular, with countless little bays peppering the coastline, including those at Ao Haad Yuan, Ao Haad Thian, and Ao Thong Nai Pa Noi (to the far northeast). The long Ao Chaloklum beach to the north and Ao Mae Haad beach to the northwest are connected at low tide by the islet of Koh Ma, which can be reached on foot, and are also just as spectacular and idyllic.
Further inland you'll find the landscape rather hilly, with lots of forest cover and plenty of sights of interest to visit, such as the Peang waterfall in the Thansadej-Koh Phangan National Park and even a Chinese temple. Built by the island's Chinese community, this Chinese-style Buddhist temple tucked away up in the hills is home to various Chinese representations of the Buddha. Don't come here expecting an ancient temple like the ones at Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai though. However, the silence of the place, broken only by the chiming of the bells, makes it well worth a visit.
Generally speaking, "wats" (the island's Thai temples) are not the finest examples of sacred architecture. Nevertheless, it's still nice to visit them, particularly when they come alive during the Buddhist festivals and offer a valuable insight into the region's culture.
How to get there: Koh Phangan is connected to Koh Samui by a ferry that operates several times a day, the two main companies being Lomprayah and Seatran (offering around 4 crossings a day). You can also get to the island of Koh Tao from Koh Phangan, but bear in mind that there are only 2 crossings a day.
Ko But Island lies at the northern end of the beach, and can be reached on foot at low tide.© Patrice Hauser
The village of Thong Sala always boasts a lively food market, and additional stalls often spring up around the temples.© Patrice Hauser
This stunning temple was built by Phangan's Chinese community© Patrice Hauser
Peang National Park is home to many impressive waterfalls© Patrice Hauser
As well as its lively Full Moon parties, Koh Phangan is known for its thai boxing training centers.© Patrice Hauser