Koh Pha Ngan Thailand – Everything BUT the Party You Expect this Story to be About
Peaceful, spectacular scenery, opportunities for Yoga Retreats, magnificent food, catering to all types of diets, sacred rivers, and huge areas of national park, which are still natural jungle, oh, and the site of the biggest beach parties in the world….. Not quite the combination you expect, is it?
When planning a trip to somewhere relatively exotic, most people consult the tourist information for what events happen there, and try to plan to see as much as possible. Not me. I like doing my exotic adventures a little differently – I am most likely to be trying to avoid the big, well known events, precisely because “everyone will be there/ wants to see that”. So it was almost by accident that I ended up on Koh Pha Ngan. I saw a resort advertised through a voucher site and it captured my attention.
I was looking for a peaceful, unwind, time out sort of holiday, not a “need a holiday to get over the holiday” sort of holiday! This looked like the perfect place – beautiful island in Thailand, jungle’s edge location, only reachable by boat (or very, very, very adventurous vehicle…), traditional style buildings, gorgeous beach overlooking the peaceful gulf of Thailand, a resort dedicated to providing holistic mind body experiences – with on-site spa (Thai massage anyone…?), yoga classes if you want them, or just sit in the bar and watch the bay, if that’s more your style. Spectacular. So, what else was near there?
Oh, oh no! The closest town is the site of the monthly ‘Full Moon Party’ – the biggest, and most famous, beach party in the world, with all of the bad stuff that comes with that. Deep breath, maybe it can be avoided? So, I researched the timings, and found a time of year when we could get away, which did not coincide with the party, and decided to risk it, and go anyway, because it just looked like such a lovely place.
I am so glad I did! Arriving on Koh Samui the day before (Koh Samui airport is worth a visit all for itself!), we stayed in a small resort in Mae Nam over night, and caught (based on email instructions from the resort) the ‘supply boat’ over to Koh Pha Ngan the next day – by supply boat, they mean the boat that brings bulk supplies to all the little villages and resorts up the East side of the island on its daily round trip – so, add to life experiences – having my luggage stacked with 10 litre bottles of massage oil and large boxes of fruit and veg! The ‘pier’ which is the departure point, is not a pier at all, but a marker point on the beach – they run the boat in close, you take off your shoes and wade out, passing luggage up to the crew, and climb a ladder to the deck.
The arrival into the bay was spectacular after an hour’s trip across the strait between the islands, with the resort buildings climbing up the hillsides through the jungle from an unspoilt white beach. The bar and restaurant (with internationally award winning menu) is built around a huge old tree, which clings to the beach and the rocks, making the building it supports almost invisible at first look. Resort staff came wading out to help us off the boat, and carry our luggage up to reception (which is in the bar…). One day away from home, and I felt completely relaxed and in a different world!
After a welcome drink, the staff assisted us up to our room, which was a separate one bedroom cabin, built in traditional Thai style and materials (but with the wonderful luxury of air conditioning and magnificently comfortable furniture!) part way up the hillside.
Over the 8 days that we stayed, we explored the area (the bay is shared by 4 different resorts, who welcome each other’s guests to their facilities without limitation, and whose buildings are entangled in places where they have grown over 50 years or so into a bigger ‘community’), there are walking trails for the enthusiastic, with stunning views to reward you at every turn, there are pristine beaches around every headland, and there are local boatmen willing to take you sightseeing or adventuring further for minimal cost – worth it just for the experience of travel in the ‘long tail’ boats!
You can go to the local town, and from there get a taxi or bus to the capital of the island (about 20 kilometres away) for a day trip, and from there, if you wish, to the West coast (more spectacular beaches and idyllic resorts), or the centre of the island, where a national park supports attractions like elephant centres. The local towns, and the capital, are full of winding streets, with tiny shops selling all manner of beautiful crafts. A bit of ‘back street searching’ can turn up gorgeous Thai silver pieces for prices a tenth of the ‘tourist street’ price.
The ride to the capital in the taxi is an adventure in itself, around the winding and hilly road along the coast, with stunning views at every turn – we were passed by a truck which had been harvesting coconuts, with the harvester’s ‘team’ (of trained monkeys!) clinging to the wire cage of the truck.
Another day, we hired a boat and boatman to take us up the East coast of the island to another tiny village, which exists for one resort, the national park office, and the fact that the waterfalls of the river that runs down to the sea at that point provide one of the small number of sacred water collection points in all of Thailand, which are required for the traditional rituals when a new King is crowned. Memorials to various Kings abound in Thailand and are greatly revered.
All in all, whilst I did not avail myself of the yoga classes on offer, I did avail myself of massage virtually every day (bliss!), beautiful food, spectacular scenery and immense relaxation. This is a resort that I would recommend to anyone (just not at the times of the Full Moon Party!)
Exchange rate: Averages at about 30 Thai Baht to the AUD. Food, accommodation and entertainment charges are incredibly cheap. (think – huge meals of amazing food for the equivalent of $6 to $8 each!)
The resort I stayed at – The Sanctuary Thailand –
Images by Kim Lambert. All rights reserved.