Tuesday, 19 July 2016

East Vs West

There is a friendly rivalry between the different areas of Koh Phangan. Whether it be east, west, north or south each part of the island has its own distinctive feel and flavour. This has been made somewhat official by the designation in 2015 of different zones in Koh Phangan. As you can see from the graphic below it is believed that Haad Rin and half the east coast is for parties,  the north is for diving, the west is for wellness and health and the south is for 'lifestyle' things (symbolised by a boat).

As with most things emanating from the local government it is ad hoc and purely theoretical. Most of the east coast consists of inaccessible beaches, and other than the weekly Friday night party at Guy's Bar at Haad Yuan there is no party scene on the east coast. Indeed nearly all the parties bar the Full Moon Party and Black Moon Party happen on the south coast, in the supposed lifestyle area. Jungle Experience and the Half Moon Party are clearly not in zone 2 and are clearly allowed to happen.

The map is more accurate for the north and west. As Chaloklum in the north is the favoured pier for dive boats. And the beaches clustered around Srithanu have become the favoured spot for gurus and yogis wanting to spread love, peace and happiness (while collecting handsomely for the service).

There is something of a clear difference between east and west but not as the map demarcates. On Trip Advisor for best beaches in Koh Phangan Thong Nai Pan Noi is number 1, Thong Nai Pan Yai is number 2, Haad Yuan is number 7 and Haad Sadet is number 9. Clearly the best beaches are on the east coast. The rocky terrain with sheltered bays and the lack of coral reefs make the beaches on this side of the island much better for swimming and sunbathing. The isolation and the comparative lack of development on these beaches also draw true beach lovers.

In contrast beaches on the west coast such as Wok Tum, Hin Kong and Srithanu are not great for swimming. The coral reef off-shore makes for big tidal variations. You don't see many people swimming here. Indeed most of the mid-range and luxury resorts have swimming pools as guests are reluctant to walk over lots of slippery rocks to get to the sea.

What the west coast does do better is community. There is a growing sense of a common purpose developing as yoga centres, detox centres and vegan restaurants all espouse a common goal of self-transformation. The fragmented nature of the east coast means that people staying in Thong Nai Pan Noi rarely regard Haad Sadet as a possibility for a day trip. Indeed many staying in Thong Nai Pan Noi never even get to the neighbouring beach of Thong Nai Pan Yai.

It would need better roads to the east coast beaches to really connect the beaches of the east coast. The airport is on hold, and we can only speculate how the airport might affect the east coast anyway. 

The good news is that unlike Rudyard Kipling's famous line 'East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet'. The two sides of Koh Phangan do meet in Thongsala as this is currently the only hub connecting to the two halves of the island.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Haad Thian East

Just a short post to share this brilliant video of Haad Thian East made for The Sanctuary. As well as being an advert for the famous wellness centre on the island, it showcases the stunning beach and the surrounding natural beauty.

The video relies heavily on aerial photography that circles the Sanctuary on the headland as well as hovers over a calm emerald ocean. Such stunning images would have been out of the financial reach of most businesses in Koh Phangan prior to the advent of drone technology. There are now companies in Koh Samui that have drones ready to film and photograph from the sky. It gives a new perspective to a place and helps capture the wider context of a locale. In this case, it demonstrates that Haad Thian East is a small beach nestled in the jungle. It is a tropical and unspoiled paradise.

For those bracing themselves for the cold of a European or North American winter, this video cannot help but engender wistful feelings of wanting to be far away on a remote tropical island.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Haad Yang

Haad Yang along with Haad Nam Tok and Haad Khontee on the east coast of Koh Phangan is deserted. By which we mean there are no shops, hotels, guest houses or other businesses. It is another beautiful ‘Robinson Crusoe’ beach in Koh Phangan.

Haad Yang is located south of Haad Nam Tok and just a short distance north of Haad Yao East. There is only a rough track to the beach from the main Thong Nai Pan to Baan Tai Road. And this is the main reason why nobody has thought to start a tourist business on the island.

There is also a path to the beach from both the surrounding beaches. This is the trail that starts in Haad Rin and goes up the east coast of Koh Phangan. It is perhaps the least travelled and most rewarding trails to take on the island as it takes in these fabulous empty beaches.

For those into hard core trekking and exploring the possibility of taking a tent and supplies and spending days completely alone immersed in the immense tropical beauty of Koh Phangan is fulfilled with this trail. More online resources are needed to make this trek safer for people. I consider this trail to be one of the best kept secrets of the island. Eventually someone will offer adventure tours and the trail will register on the social media and Trip Advisor radar.

You can hire a longtail boat to take you to Haad Yang from one of the resort beaches on the east coast. You will have to organise a pick up time with the boat man or you will be walking off the beach. The chances of flagging down a taxi boat are slim.

The beach is 200 meters long. It has fine white sand and is one of the most picturesque beaches on Koh Phangan. It is also a fairly wide beach at the centre of its’s slight crescent. Behind the beach is thick jungle only broken by a stream that runs down to the beach. The stream is most easily identified after heavy rain.

As with all the beaches on the east coast except for Haad Khontee it is corals free. The water gets deep quickly and is great for swimming. A word of caution, however, if you swim here there is nobody to rescue you. Don’t swim too far out and don’t do anything more than paddle at the water’s edge if the sea is a bit rough.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Koh Phangan Airport and Surat Thani Airport

Surat Thani Airport has two main types of customers – Thais heading to the provincial capital in Southern Thailand for business or to visit relatives, and tourists taking advantage of cheap budget carriers to travel the length of Thailand quickly and cheaply. These tourists normally head off to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand or to Khao Sok National Park.

The flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani Airport costs as little as 1,500 Thai Baht. Considering the bus or train costs at least 1,000 Thai Baht for the same journey and takes an overnight journey the flights seem great value. The main downside of Surat Thani Airport from a tourist point of view is that it is a long distance from other destinations. It is 30 minutes to Surat Thani City or 1 hour and 30 minutes to the port of Donsak where the Raja Car Ferry sets sail for Koh Phangan. Moreover, the added journey adds more expense.

For those determined not to use the over-priced Thai Airways that fly into Koh Samui Airport the recent fly and ferry deals offered by Lomprayah and other travel firms offers quicker journey times than the bus or train and up to 2,000 Thai Baht in savings. Unfortunately, landing in Surat Thani Airport rather than Koh Samui adds at least 3 hours onto travel times.

This is where Koh Phangan Airport comes in. Kan Air claims it will be offering flight prices much lower than Thai Airways. For those wanting to get between Bangkok and Koh Phangan quickly the airport becomes very interesting. While it might be more expensive than taking an Air Asia flight to Surat Thani Airport the time spared means the Kan Air Flights are likely to quickly fill up.

This is especially true during the Full Moon Party when many people just want to go to Koh Phangan for the epic night of the party but have little interest otherwise in staying on the island, or they are short on time.

All this means that if Koh Phangan Airport is ever finished it is likely to impact on the profitability on air routes between Bangkok and Surat Thani Airport. People have pointed out how the proposed airport will rival Koh Samui Airport, less have seen that the greater rivalry is between Koh Phangan Airport and Surat Thani Airport.

However, this is all hypothetical until Koh Phangan Airport is actually operational. They are a long way off completion.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Than Sadet Waterfall

The most famous place on the east coast of Koh Phangan is Than Sadet Waterfall. It is the place on the island with the strongest royal connections. The name ‘Than Sadet’ means in Thai ‘Royal River’. It is in honour of the Thai monarchy that has visited the area on several occasions.

In 1888 King Rama V acquired a steamship and proceeded to visit the far flung parts of his Kingdom. He fell in love with Than Sadet - he visited a total of 10 times to the area. On one of his visits he carved his initials into a rock near the waterfall. In doing this he set a precedent that was followed by Rama VII and the present King, Rama IX. The stone with three royal signatures is now an important tourist attraction, particularly for Thai people.

The waterfall is near the beach (Haad Than Sadet). It covers a 3 kilometre course. There are a few bigger drops but generally it is a fairly ‘flat’ waterfall with water tumbling through a course of rocks. There a few large pools along the waterfall’s path that are suitable for sitting in. The best time to visit Than Sadet waterfall is between May and October when there is more rain. Although the waterfall never runs dry, it does look more dramatic with a greater volume of water flowing.

As you can see from the short video clip the water is brown. That is the same for all the waterfalls on Koh Phangan. The heavy soil gets caught in the water and turns the water brown. It is however ‘fresh water’ and is used by locals for washing. You can see the blue pipe in the video. Other waterfalls on the east coast such as Than Prawes in Thong Nai Pan Noi serve as an important source of fresh water.

For the foreigner Than Sadet Waterfall might seem a slight disappointment if you have travelled far to get there. However, if you are staying on the east coast anyway it is a great half day trip to take a longtail boat to Haad Than Sadet check out the waterfall, have a swim in the sea and perhaps have a spot of lunch before heading back.

For more about Than Sadet see our earlier blog post - http://kohphanganeastcoast.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/than-sadet.html

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Drone Over Koh Phangan Airport

It was announced this week that the Thai authorities plan to ban drones. No doubt countries around the world will have to review their privacy laws in line with new developments in technology which allows people to photograph places that were previously hidden from view.

For a couple of years the site for Koh Phangan Airport at Than Praphad on the east coast of Koh Phangan was open for people to visit. That is not to say that people were officially allowed on the building site, but rather there was nothing to stop people from driving a bike down the rough lane and taking a look around when the workers were not around. This year a gate went up on the site. It seems Kan Air have started taking security a bit more seriously.

This did not stop Florenz Kittel, who has a company based in Koh Samui called Eagle Eyes, from flying one of his drones over the airport site.

There has been a lot of genuine interest about the project especially from tourists hoping to use the planned service to cut down on travel time often looking to go to the Full Moon Party or the other parties in Bantai. Despite little official response from Kan Air, Bangkok Post regularly runs stories about the company to keep the project in the media spotlight. As you can see from the YouTube clip there is a lot of work remaining to be done. There has been mention of Kan Air looking for financial partners for the new airport.

Putting all this speculation to one side, the clip does show the beauty of the east coast of Koh Phangan – the sheer cliffs, the virgin forest and the hilly terrain.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Than Sadet

Than Sadet is the most historically important beach on the island on account of it being visited by 3 different kings of Thailand, including the present King Bhumibol and the much revered King Rama V. The latter visited the forest and beach of Than Sadet over 10 times. It is in his honour that the small village was named 'Than Sadet' meaning 'royal river'.

The forest at Than Sadet is protected by national park status. For the time being no big hotels have been built at Than Sadet. It is uncertain that the park status will prevent development in the area. It is hoped that if the local families consent to large-scale development that the national park land is preserved as it makes a gorgeous backdrop to the stunning beach often called Haad Sadet.

The beach is divided into two sections. Just south of the main beach is a smaller beach called Haad Thong Reng. It is also sandy with large rocks strewn around the bay. There is one basic backpacker place to stay. Than Sadet used to be a traveller secret - an awesome beach hidden away from the world with just basic bungalows for rent. It attracted long stay visitors on a budget who wanted a remote beach idyll. It still retains the same feel only now there are air-copn bungalows for rent. Families now stay at Than Sadet. Plaa's, Mai Pen Rai and J.S Hut all welcome families.

The power is still from generators and there is no mobile phone coverage. The road is still a dirt road that gets treacherous after heavy rains. For many this is as it should be. Anyway here is a short movie top give you an idea about what Than Sadet is like.