Natalie Bannister reveals one of Thailand's lesser known island escapes, and says that Koh Phangan is perfect for couples looking for a chilled-out honeymoon or romantic holiday.
The locals have a saying on Koh Phangan and you'll hear it thrown around in conversations everyday – 'Sabaii Sabaii', which roughly translates as 'happy' or 'enjoying life'. That could well be the most ﬁtting motto for this idyllic island getaway in the Gulf of Thailand, a very special haven of relaxation and barefoot romance.
I first came to Koh Phangan 15 years ago, as a young and carefree backpacker with a penchant for the exotic isles of South East Asia. It was a surprise love affair... I'd been planning on spending a few weeks on Koh Samui before heading north, but a conversation with a fellow Aussie traveller in a run-down bar on Samui's Chaweng Beach strip offered up tales of an island, just a short boat ride away, with picture perfect palm fringed beaches, rustic bungalows and the infamous monthly Full Moon party. Serendipity had struck. I booked my ferry ticket the very next morning and five months later I was still swinging in a hammock under the palm tree outside my bungalow on Koh Phangan. That's the problem with paradise... once you find it, you never want to leave!
Fast track to today and southern Thailand's little island paradise, Koh Phangan, remains one of my favourite Thai getaways, an annual go-to where I know I can completely defrag from the stresses of this modern world. Much like myself, though, the island has grown up. The bungalows and beach bars with their chill out decks and worn-out hammocks are still there, but a boom in development and infrastructure in recent years has brought with it the high end villas, private resorts and luxury accommodation perfect for couples and honeymooners seeking their own island paradise, and more typical of its sister island, Koh Samui. Along with luxury accommodation options, Koh Pagnan now also attracts a more discerning kind of traveller – families, couples, young professionals and honeymooners who like a little bit of luxe with their island vibe, although the island is still attracting yogis, backpackers and hippies by the boat load. There really is something for everyone here today!
For couples looking for a different kind of beach holiday or wanting an island honeymoon in Thailand, one with a focus on simple pleasures, you can't get more perfect than Koh Phangan. Days and nights on the island tend to drift by blissfully unchanged. Colourful Thai fishing boats bob on the crystal clear water, lush green hillsides and palm trees laden with fresh coconuts frame the white sand, and nightly seafood barbecues are served up to diners enjoying the freshest of catches under the cloak of candlelight, with the languid sounds of reggae classics or lounge music playing in the background.
The picturesque north-west of Koh Phangan is an old favourite of ours, hiding gems like Haad Salad with its crescent beach that comes straight out of a tropical island fantasy. It is said to be the island's original 'Pirate's Beach', a place where seafaring bandits would come to hide their bounty, and there are still plenty of modern day 'pirates' in the well-informed travellers coming here to hide themselves away. The peace is tangible up here – it's so chilled out that one could easily wile away weeks and not notice time slipping by – and is perfect for honeymooners or romantic couples looking for the ultimate chilled-out kind of escape.
Koh Phangan's coastline leading to party town Haad Rin on the island's south west is famed for the most incredible sunsets on the island and offers some enticing accommodation options like the beautiful Chantaramas in Baan Tai. But to really retreat, take the rugged jungle road or catch a boat around to the east coast.
Popular with expats and the more zen inclined, Thong Nai Pan is the kind of place where there is little else to do than enjoy a massage on the beach, laze in the sun or float in the waters before yet another fabulous meal, eaten with your toes entwined in the sand. Some big name luxury resorts have chosen to set up home on the shore of these picturesque bays, including Santhiya which boasts stunning hillside villas that cascade down to a private beach, and the exquisite Anantara Rasananda.
The travel-hardened hippies and laid-back lovers may still be coming to Koh Phangan, but they're now mingling amongst a different crowd of hedonists who have clocked on to the delights of this tropical island paradise. Koh Phangan has a certain magic to it, and one rarely escapes the island without falling under its enchanting spell.
We loved our meal at Fisherman's Restaurant & Bar, located beachside in Baan Tai and offering fresh local seafood prepared by chef /owner Khun Thanaphorn (Lek) who is from a local fishing family. Popular dishes include House Special Yellow Curry Crab, a recipe from Lek's mother, and they have an excellent choice of cocktails and international wines. Take a seat on one of the long tail fishing boats that have been converted to dining tables and take in those incredible sunsets while you dine. Reservations are highly recommended (Phone: +66 844 547 240).
Jungle and elephant trekking, waterfalls, paintball/skirmish, thai boxing, archery, sea kayaking... there are plenty of activities to satisfy the actively inclined. There are also good opportunities for diving and snorkelling enthusiasts, with many coral-fringed beaches and bays and offshore islands to explore underwater.
Koh Phangan is one of the main departure points for day trips to Ang Thong Marine Park, a natural aquatic wonder that was also the inspiration of the cult book and movie, The Beach – think turquoise waters, magniﬁcent spiking limestone cliffs, hidden inlets and bays and the famed Thale Nai, an emerald saltwater lake hidden away like an inland sea. It's a romantic escape practically designed for two.
Couples Will Love
While there is little extravagance in the Koh Phangan lifestyle, the new class of hotel and resorts also mean there's no need to forsake a luxury Thai getaway either. You can really check in and chill out!
Koh Phangan is a short and easy 20-minute ride from Koh Samui aboard the high-speed Lomprayah catamaran. Hotels can arrange your tickets and transfers, or contact the company direct for more information.