Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Best Party on East Coast

The east coast of Koh Phangan is probably the least renowned on the party island for its parties. All the big parties happen in Haad Rin and Baan Tai. In Chaloklum on the north coast there are a few lively bars and a jam night at Omega bar. On the West coast you can party the night away at Rasta Home (Haad Yao), Jack’s Bar (Haad Yao) and Eagle Bar (Haad Yao). You can also attend a free beach rave at Pirates Bar on Haad Chao Phao 2 days before the Full Moon Party. Hin Kong has open mike nights on Wednesdays and band nights on Saturdays at the Jam Bar. All of these venues and events cast the east coast as the least interesting in terms of night life.

This is particularly true since Thong Nai Pan Noi dismantled its nightlife – Hideaway closed in 2012 and Jungle Bar is a shell of its former self. The mantle of the TNP party beach was never really adopted in Yai – Game Bar is too laid back and sophisticated to really get the house jumping, and Funky Buddha only opens when it fancies – which is not often.

This leaves only one contender for the accolade of the best party on the east coast: that is Guy’s Bar in Haad Tian. Every Friday they have an all night party. The party features resident DJs as well as the semi-famous Peter G who does the Blue and Green Sramanora Waterfall Party in Ban Kai. It is a free party and it is well attended not just by a horde of Haad Rin party-people but also by the ex-pats on the island.

It is a simple bar with a corrugated tin roof, wooden furnishings and low seating and cushions – very much in a traditional Koh Phangan vein. The power for the party is from a generator.

Haad Tian is a typical east coast beach in that it is small, without an off-shore coral reef and isolated. Normally, the beautiful beach is populated by just a few people staying at one of a couple cheap bungalow resorts or the New Age Sanctuary.

You can only get to Haad Tian beach by longtail boat or 5 km jungle trek from Haad Rin. Few taxi drivers will attempt the dirt road to Haad Tian and certainly not at night to carry drunken party people. The majority of those who go to the Friday night party at Guy’s Bar come by longtail boat and stay all night and take a boat back to Haad Rin.

People choose the east coast to escape the cares of the world and the noise of the party scene, but for one night in Haad Tian something of the colour, beats and insanity of the Haad Rin/Ban Tai party zone happens on the east coast.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Linking up the East Coast

Than Sadet Roundabout

The challenge for regional planners and for developers will be to ‘link up’ the beaches on the east coast of Koh Phangan. When you look at a road map of Koh Phangan it will soon become apparent that there are no roads on the east coast of the island.

Instead there is the Baan Tai to Thong Nai Pan road that winds its way over mountains and through jungles. From this road a number of dirt tracks go down to such east coast beaches such as Than Sadet, Haad Yao and Haad Nam Tok.

There are a number of footpaths joining up parts of the east coast. There is a path from Thong Nai Pan Yai to Haad Sadet, one going from Haad Rin Nok to Haad Yuan and one going from Haad Sadet to Haad Thong Reng. It is not impossible to walk up the east coast, beach hopping, but it is very difficult; and such an undertaking would be very much going ‘off the beaten track’.

At first glance at the geography of the region, the notion of an eastern coastal road seems a challenge for engineers that might be prohibitively difficult and expensive. However, the same was said about building an airport at Than Prapad. Moreover, work is already underway creating a road that goes around Koh Phangan. The first stage is to finish concreting the Baan Tai to Thong Nai Pan Road. The next will probably be upgrading the Thong Nai Pan to Bottle Beach Road. Then it is likely that the road will be extended to Chaloklum. When this happens Thong Nai Pan will be easily accessible from the north of Koh Phangan. At that point the east and the west will be joined.

If eastern beaches like Haad Sadet and Haad Thian become centres of hotel development there will be pressure to first provide better access roads to these beaches – The Haad Sadet road is already underway – and to build roads going north-south, not just east-west.

These questions are partly the territory of land speculators who look to predict the future and get in on the ground floor. Opposed to the money incentive are those purists who love the east coast beaches exactly because they are hard to get to and cut off from the rest of the island.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Than Sadet

Than Sadet literally means ‘royal river’. The area was given this name in honour of King Rama V who visited the area several times during his reign. It is customary to also call the beach Than Sadet although perhaps more accurately it should be called ‘Haad Than Sadet’.

Despite its beautiful beach and royal connections, Than Sadet has resisted becoming a major tourist attraction on the island. This is because of the difficulty of reaching the beach, and because it is a small beach owned by local families who have kept to the simple formula of catering to backpackers with basic Thai style bungalows.

Things are slowly changing. The road from Ban Tai to Thong Nai Pan has been paved and now work is starting on improving the road to Than Sadet. At present the island’s electricity supply doesn’t reach the beach resorts at Haad Than Sadet. Instead, electricity comes from generators that are switched off in the evening. No doubt over the next few years this will change.

Waterfall and National Park

Than Sadet is a village, beach and large national park that stretches over a wide area. It is free to enter the park. The park is famous for its waterfall course that was a favourite spot of King Rama V. He signed his name on one of the rocks. Subsequently two other Kings of Thailand, including the present King Rama IX, have added their signatures.

The picture shown below was taken in July when the water levels are at their lowest. The best time to visit Than Sadet waterfall is between December and February.

In this picture you can see all three royal signs. From left to right, the authors are Rama V (in 1901), the current king Rama IX (in 1962) and Rama VII (in 1928).

Accommodation in Than Sadet

There are a couple of bungalow outfits to stay at on the beach. The most popular is Mai Pen Rai Bungalows. They are located right on the beach front. These beachfront bungalows cost between 1,000 THB and 1,300 THB a night depending on the season. They come with fans and are beautifully built using natural materials. Some are built around the large granite boulders which are a feature of North East Koh Phangan. Bear in mind that all electricity in Than Sadet comes from a generator, which is switched on only between 11am and 4pm and 6pm and midnight.

Mai Pen Rai Bungalows also has a beach restaurant. The food is good, particularly the Western dishes with a French co-owner overseeing the kitchen.

At the opposite end of the beach to Mai Pen Rai bungalows there is a cluster of small restaurants and bungalow resorts clinging precariously to the steep headland.


The climb to the top of the headland is by concrete steps pinned into the granite rock face. It’s not far, but it is steep. It is worth making the effort as the view from the headland is magnificent. The picture is taken from the restaurant at Silver Cliff Bungalows, where small bungalows with an equally good view are available for 400 to 500 THB a night. You can't book these bungalows online, only by telephone a few days in advance. This said they are rarely full, and there are plenty of other places to choose from, so if you want to stay perhaps it’s less hassle to sort it out when you get there. Bon chance!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

East Coast About to Open Up

In June 2013 work began on the small stretch of road just before Than Sadet that remained dirt track. When it is completed (due 1st October) it will open up the east coast of Koh Phangan to further tourist development.

At present it is only the Thong Nai Pan area that has luxury hotels and a mass tourist appeal. However, this situation could all change within a few years. The west and south coasts suffer from large tidal differences. In the high season of July and August the sea recedes a long way at low tide. It means people have to walk 1 km out to be able to swim. Although beaches like Haad Salad and Haad Yao on the west coast have coral reefs and diving and snorkelling opportunities, for those just wanting a swim these beaches are far from ideal. The best swimming beaches are definitely on the east coast in places like Thong Nai Pan, Than Sadet, Haad Nam Tok, Haad Thian and Haad Yao East. It is these pristine beaches with great swimming conditions that developers will be looking to build hotels and luxury resorts on.

Koh Phangan Airport is under construction and due to be finished in late 2013 or early 2014. With a good road linking the airport to the east coast beaches it is only a matter of time before people stop looking at Ban Tai and Haad Rin and start casting their attention to the eastern beaches.

In Snowdonia in Wales high gates have been placed in the park that are commonly referred to as ‘granny stops’. They are designed to deter the masses from over-running the national park. Only the better and fitter climbers and walkers make it over the high gates to enjoy certain parts of the park. This is to protect the environment.

The bad condition of the Ban Tai to Thong Nai Pan Road was in effect a ‘granny stop’ that held in check mass tourism and large scale development projects. When the 3.75 km part of the road is paved the granny stop will be removed and more people will start to explore the beautiful east coast.

The least well known beaches in Koh Phangan are set, in a few years, to become the best known. That is ‘progress’.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Haad Yao East and Than Phraphad Developments

Haad Yao East

Haad Nam Tok waterfall
Haad Yao East and Than Phraphad are small beaches on the East Coast of Koh Phangan that are usually off the radar for visitors to Koh Phangan. One has been sold to a luxury hotel developer and the other is up for sale. Quietly, this part of the island is attracting interest from those wanting to build high-end resorts.

Haad Yao East is largely unheard of because there is another beach on the island called Haad Yao. It is located on the west coast and is a popular holiday destination as it has a 1km long beach and a nearby coral reef. This beach is sometimes called ‘Haad Yao West’.

Than Phraphad is a waterfall and jungle area near Haad Nam Tok. It is a famous beauty spot for Thais but has been largely over-looked by foreign visitors to the island due to its inaccessibility. Moreover the neighbouring waterfall of Than Sadet with its royal connections and better facilities has become part of most boat tours of the island.

It is only with the commencement of construction work on Koh Phangan Airport near Than Phraphad that the area has had any media exposure.

Already some smart investors are beginning to see the potential for the region. It has the best beaches, pristine jungle, spectacular mountain scenery and, most importantly, Thong Nai Pan Noi with its 4 luxury hotels clearly indicates the viability of high-end tourism in the region.

The dozen beaches on the east coast are all owned by local families. It is unusual for ownership to change hands: rather beach land is customarily leased out. Yet already rumor has it that Haad Yao East has been sold and Than Phraphad is up for sale. The success of Thong Nai Pan Noi has not gone unnoticed by the local communities along the east coast of Koh Phangan.

Change will not come immediately. It takes 2 years to make an environmental impact assessment before building work can begin on a resort. Also Koh Phangan Airport is probably 3 to 5 years away from being fully operational. Investment in the region is a mid to long term strategy that requires plenty of financial clout and perseverance. Rasananda in TNP Noi was up and running in just over a year, as was Santhiya. The mooted developments require a different model.

Time will tell, but anyone who has regularly visited Koh Phangan over the last 10 years will tell you how tourism and infrastructure on the island has changed dramatically.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The East Coast and Koh Phangan Airport

Lots of people were surprised to discover that Koh Phangan Airport was being built on the east coast of the island. It seems the least likely spot for an airport. There is flat land in the south near Ban Tai, and there are also areas along the west coast that seem more suitable for a runway.

The east coast of Koh Phangan is the least accessible part of the island. There are still beaches such as Haad Nam Tok, Haad Thian and Haad Yuan East that you have to trek to or catch a boat to. The mountainous terrain and the jungle have left these beaches cut off from the rest of Koh Phangan.

What then is the reasoning for attempting to construct an airport in the east of Koh Phangan?

We can only guess the rationale behind Kan Air’s choice of site. Perhaps there wasn’t any other land available?

More people are inclined to think it is to do with the luxury resort beach of Thong Nai Pan Noi in the north east of Koh Phangan. Thong Nai Pan is a magnificent double bay with towering mountains behind covered in thick jungle. In the 1980s it was a travellers’ secret – two perfect beaches very underdeveloped and very ‘chilled’.

The secret got out and in the early 2000s there was a rush to build luxury accommodation on the smaller of the two beaches – Thong Nai Pan Noi. Now there are three 5 star hotels – Rasananda, Santhiya and Panviman. There is also one stylish 4 star resort called Buri Rasa. All the cheap beachfront bungalows have been pulled down. This year (2013) even the old Tapan Noi bungalows on the headland were pulled down.

The village has even been altered with Buri Rasa setting up a European style paved café / shop enclave at the end of the village road where it leads down to the beach.

The people who visit Thong Nai Pan Noi are the most likely to be willing to pay a premium to fly directly to Koh Phangan, and more so if the airport is just 10 minutes from their hotel.

Moreover the site for Koh Phangan Airport is close to all the major parties on the island – the Full Moon Party, the Half Moon Party and the Jungle Experience. These seem the two most likely factors influencing the placing of Koh Phangan Airport.

For those interested Koh Phangan is currently being built near Than Praphad Waterfall and Haad Nam Tok. It is a very short runway that ends at a cliff. Kan Air hopes to fly 2 flights a day between Koh Phangan and Bangkok. They plan to use 12-seater propeller planes. For more information and updates go to

Friday, 10 May 2013

Haad Nam Tok

Haad Nam Tok is one of the smallest and least visited beaches in Koh Phangan. It’s on the East Coast south of Than Sadet beach. Very beautiful and also very hard to get to.

From Haad Rin or Thong Sala, you need to take the Bantai Road until you get to the turning by the 7Eleven to go to Thong Nai Pan. Follow the Thong Nai Pan road about 500 metres past Koh Phangan Jungle Flight. On your right you will see a turning to Than Praphad and Kung Bungalows. It is a dirt track.

Be warned this is a bad road. You can do it on an automatic motorbike if there is one person per bike and you are fairly confident at riding. The track is steep and rocky in spots. You need to follow the road and sign to ‘The Beach’ for about 4km; keep an eye on the road ahead because there comes a point you need to leave your bike – the road gets too steep and if you ride down you won’t get back up again. The best place to leave your bike is by the sign that says ‘Walkway to Beach’. Beyond that it is walking only.

Once you have left your bike it’s only about a 20 minute walk down to the beach, but more strenuous back up. You need to bring water and wear a hat as you will get very hot. The views on the way are spectacular and the path crosses over the waterfall that gives the beach its name (‘Nam Tok’ means waterfall in Thai). It gets steep near the beach but there are ropes fixed to the rock to stop you slipping on the path.

There is very little at the beach. A bar, which may or not be open. Sometimes some tents for rent and a toilet/shower block. Very often no one else is there. One local lives on the cliff above but bothers no one. Foreigners sometimes set up here for months on end doing the whole Alex Garland thing. Early 2013 there have been lots of beach parties here at night. If one is on when you go to Koh Phangan I would advise thinking about a visit. Very Old Skool and a small like-minded crowd. Just remember to bring water, beer, food and anything else you are going to need for a night out.