Thong Nai Pan is a spectacular double bay in the north east of Koh Phangan. It is shaped like a ‘w’ on its side. The southern part of the bay is taken up by Thong Nai Pan Yai beach, the headland in the middle is occupied by Panviman Hotel and the northern beach is called Thong Nai Pan Noi. ‘Yai’ means ‘big’ in Thai and is the bigger beach. ‘Noi’ means ‘small’ and is about three quarters the size of its sister beach across the bay.
Yai and Noi beaches are two of the standout beaches on the island. The volcanic mountains behind the beaches have created a deep bay ideal for a beach. The mountains create a natural water source for Thong Nai Pan as water streams down the limestone slopes to the sea. There are two waterfalls in Thong Nai Pan: Than Prawes and Wang Thong Waterfall. In short, it is an outstanding natural setting, and one that has attracted thousands upon thousands of visitors over the years.
Back in the 1990s Thong Nai Pan was one of the least accessible areas on Koh Phangan due to the unpaved road from Ban Tai that became treacherous after heavy rain. Only those in the ‘know’ would make it to Thong Nai Pan. At that time Yai and Noi were very similar in atmosphere – they were both primarily backpacker destinations with plenty of cheap bungalows on the beach.
Things started changing in the first decade of the Twenty-first Century. Large parts of the road to the area were paved and the electricity supply to the beaches became more dependable.
At the same time land deals in Noi meant that the predominately backpacker feel to the beach started shifting to a more high-end market. First Santhiya was completed in 2005, a large resort on the small beach north of Noi. Then in 2007 work started on the third luxury resort on Noi called Rasananda. In 2012 the fourth up-market place was built on the same beach called Buri Rasa. At the same time Tapan Noi bungalows closed down. This means that there are now no cheap wooden beachfront bungalows.
At the same time the nightlife scene in Noi completely ended – Hideaway was pulled down and the Monday night Jungle Bar parties fizzled out to nothing.
Noi village has a few cheap local restaurants and a few nightspots but the rowdy all-night crowd has gone. Noi is now a family beach and a beach for people who have a budget of hundreds of dollars a day.
By contrast Yai has not seen the same shift in demographics – young, budget orientated people still pack into bungalows in Pen’s, Dreamland, Central Cottage, Longtail Resort and Dolphin Bungalows. There are still bars like Indian House, Nu Bar, Flip Flop, Funky Buddha and Game Bar that put on late night DJ events. The only real high-end accommodation in Yai is Havana Resort. Despite swimming pools at Havana, Dreamland, Starlight Resort and Central Cottage Yai remains a beach for young and budget conscious people.
Yai is the administrative centre of the area and as a consequence has more facilities: there is a post office (of sorts), a medical centre, a middle school and a 7-11. It is also the place where the policeman and the major lives (neither of which you are ever likely to see).
The sea in Noi is slightly better for swimming than Yai because Yai has a rocky reef at its southern end.
Finally, it is noticeable that whereas in the past the ex-pat community was spread over the two beaches, it is now largely focused on Yai beach.
For people who stay at Sunrise Villa the closer Noi beach is the obvious choice for swimming. However, Yai has better shopping and more going on at night. With either a rental vehicle or an on-call taxi both beaches are at the disposal of guests who can enjoy discovering the subtle differences between the two excellent beaches of Thong Nai Pan.