I first went to Koh Phangan in 1997 for a holiday with my new girlfriend. We still hadn’t decided on where to stay. I asked a man with dreadlocks in his hair and beard. He was very pleasant. He explained that all the beaches were great, but if you were a couple looking for a quite beach then Thong Nai Pan Noi was perfect. If you wanted more nightlife then Haad Rin was a good bet.
We watched from the deck as the Songserm ferry slowly approached Thongsala Port. The weather was perfect and the blue of the sea and green of the island tree line made the area look like paradise. At the pier we said goodbye to the hippy who had given us advice and went to find a taxi for Thong Nai Pan Noi.
The rest is history; my then girlfriend and my now wife and mother to my child loved Thong Nai Pan Noi and Koh Phangan on that first holiday to Thailand. It was not only the perfect antidote for living in a Chinese City being a teacher for 2 years, but it also coincided with my how I imagined a tropical paradise should be. Blue skies; warm, clear ocean; overhanging coconut trees; and an atmosphere where nothing mattered and nothing was stressful.
Every day we swam, played cards, chilled out, played Frisbee, read our books and had a great dinner on the beach gazing at the stars. We met several of the locals including the famous Mr. Handsome with his monkey.
We stayed in a simple wooden bungalow with a thatched roof and coconut floor. It didn’t have a toilet, just a fan, mattress, light, plug socket and a mosquito net. It was $3 a night and just a minute’s walk from the beach.
The 2 weeks on the beach flew by and we had to say goodbye to Koh Phangan.
Since then we’ve visited Koh Phangan nearly every year and at one point found ourselves almost living there. Although we keep returning to Thong Nai Pan Noi we have also tried several of the other beaches around the island. All those years later it is exactly as that hippy said: all the beaches are great but if you want to meet lots of people go to Haad Rin.
The roads have improved in Koh Phangan. The electricity supply has been upgraded and has reached all but a few beaches. The shopping options have improved tremendously. You can now buy a wide range of food items in the supermarkets. Car hire is simple. Wifi is everywhere. Most beaches have resorts with 3 or 4 star quality accommodation. Work is now underway on the airport. Koh Phangan is rapidly developing but not in bad way. Most of the island is forest and remains protected from felling or developing by Thai law. There is limited space for new hotels, businesses, estates so development in Koh Phangan has been more channeled into improved infrastructure. It looks unlikely that Koh Phangan will become like Koh Samui.
That’s why I love Koh Phangan. It has a timeless quality. The beauty of its beaches doesn’t diminish over time. The laid back friendly way of Koh Phangan beach life doesn’t lose its charm. The sight of birds, monkeys, fish in the sea, butterflies, flowers of paradise, coconut trees; the smell of Thai cooking; the taste of cold beer at the end of the day; the sound of the waves lapping on the shore; and the touch of the sun on my back are experiences that I never weary of having.