Ko Phangan- In Search of the Perfect Beach
After spending a good deal of time partying it up for my birthday and Songkran, I was really looking forward to a solid 5 days of chilling on the beach before Ko Phangan’s famous monthly Full Moon Party. After combing through blogs and gathering suggestions from friends we settled on spending 3 nights at the remote beach of Thong Nai Pan Noi on the northeast coast of Ko Phangan.
Upon our initial arrival to the pier at Haad Rin we had our first run in with the transportation “mafia” that are famous on the islands of Thailand. Often it costs the same amount and sometimes even less to get a ferry from one island to another, and then even more money to get a taxi shuttle to take you there. Also despite what people say about Southeast Asia there is no bargaining to be done regarding these absurd transportation scams. So finally after realizing we had no other options we piled into a shuttle towards Thong Nai Pan Noi.
While I've vacationed to more remote beaches in the past with my family, Jeremy was a little more used to more long stretching action packed beaches so Thong Na Pan was a bit of a shock upon arrival. Especially because we were visiting during the low season at times it seemed like we had the small beach all to ourselves. For $20 a night we had an air conditioned bungalow perched among the trees and rocks above the beach. Our hotel also had an excellent beach front restaurant with really reasonable prices that seemed to be the most popular on the beach.
After eating at the number one rated Thai Place called Jip Shop in the little village area, we changed into our swim suits to hit the beach. This blog is a little behind (Sorry!) and now we've been to three different islands and so far Thong Nai Pan has been my favorite beach with one more left to check out. Crystal clear waters, no seaweed, white sand and absolute peace and quiet. It was the perfect place to take three days and just do nothing. We took a break from moped riding, snorkeling, and drinking and it was absolutely amazing. We spent the following three days reading (I finished two books and Jeremy one!), splashing about in the water and using the beach chairs and towels the resort provided to recover from the action of the past two months. Although it wasn't like a standard lazy weekend in Chicago of Netflix and walking the lake path, it was just as good, maybe even better!
After our third day we decided to switch it up and head to the northwest side of the island where we'd heard about the amazing sunsets and beautiful beaches. After some more taxi madness we arrived in Haad Yao and discovered that this beach may be even quieter than Thong Nai Pan! Despite the beach being almost as nice, it was not nearly as swimmable, since in April the tides start to change which means the beach is very shallow and you can walk super far out and have the water come up just past your calves.
Despite the beach being a bit longer than Thong Nai Pan, there was not a ton of shade and because we were on the west side of the island there were few places to hide as the sun goes down. But we soon discovered that Haad Yao becomes much more happening as soon as the sun starts to set, people come out of the woodwork to sit on the beach and watch the sky turn pastel shades of pink, blue and purple. We were lucky again to find that our hotel’s restaurant had reasonable prices and good food so we ended up just eating there after watching the sunset.
The next day we decided to rent a moped and explore some more of the beaches on the northwest side of the island. I'd heard of a beach, Mae Haad, where a sandbar appears during low tide and you can walk between Ko Phangan and a small tree covered uninhabited island just 300 meters away!
On the way to Mae Haad we stopped at another beach called Haad Salad. It was beautiful and a little bit deeper and shadier than Haad Yao and we wished we had decided to stay there instead. But that's part of traveling, you sometimes have to guess at what you think would be best.
We've also learned a valuable lesson while traveling in Thailand. It's usually best to just book a hotel in advance for just one night and then you can always extend your stay later if you like it, or move on if you don't like the hotel itself or the area. This has been a tough mental challenge for the both of us as it’s a lot culturally different from what we're used to in America. We would never book a flight and vacation and then just a hotel for one night there! But while traveling its really nice to have that flexibility and considering we are visiting Southeast Asia during their low season (it's hot as F), most hotels are not usually full unless there is some sort of holiday (like Songkran or Full Moon).
Back to our beach tour...after a quick stop at Haad Salad (we vowed to come back later that day) we made our way to Mae Haad to have a look at the beach and unique sandbar situation. Mae Haad was also very beautiful, although the beach here was a bit shallow as well. We were able to find a nice shady spot on the beach and we set up shop there to read and podcast for the next couple of hours. We also treated ourselves to a massage for Jeremy and a much needed foot scrub for myself. After spending two weeks walking around the beach barefoot and wearing nothing but sandals and flip flops your feet can really take a beating. I even got Jeremy to join me in a pedicure earlier on our beach trip!
That evening back at Haad Yao a little hippie craft market popped up on the beach right around sunset which we browsed while drinking some large Chang beers from 7-11. One of the cool things about the islands of Thailand is that there are no open container laws (like New Orleans) so you can just grab a beer or a bucket if you should choose and just kind of walk around or sit on the beach and relax. Our last night before the full moon party madness we treated ourselves to an Italian dinner with seafood pasta and pizza- it was perfectly delicious! The next day we were about to embark on a journey that we would never forget...