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Ko Phangan – a colorful getaway in the Gulf of Thailand

All around the islands of Phangan, Samui and Tao, there is some great diving and snorkeling and many dive schools give visitors the chance to learn scuba diving. As well as Thailand’s best coral, you can see rays, sharks, sea-snakes and turtles – even the majestic whale-shark puts in an occasional appearance. - Photo credit TOurism Authority of Thailand.
All around the islands of Phangan, Samui and Tao, there is some great diving and snorkeling and many dive schools give visitors the chance to learn scuba diving. As well as Thailand’s best coral, you can see rays, sharks, sea-snakes and turtles – even the majestic whale-shark puts in an occasional appearance. – Photo credit Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Ko Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand isn’t as well-known as its sister island of Samui and has no airport, but this is part of the attraction. Visiting this lush green getaway requires effort, and the reward is an off-the-beaten-track ambience.

Visitors to Ko Phangan can feel that they’ve stumbled into a secret paradise with beautiful empty beaches, jungle-clad hills and a cool, laid-back vibe. But you don’t have to come here simply to chill out and relax. Adventure lovers can trek in the hills, explore the off-shore wonders and go island hopping.

If cultural exploration is your thing, Phangan offers many ways to be creative or to discover the local way of life. You may even want to do a little soul searching with a yoga or meditation retreat. So here’s a quick run-down on this amazing island.

Amazing beaches

Ko Phangan has stunning palm fringed beaches where the clear waters tempt visitors to swim and snorkel. Mae Hat is a must-visit beach and there’s a sandbar which takes you to a nearby island. There are also many fishing villages in the area where locals enjoy a traditional way of life.Ko Phangan has stunning palm fringed beaches where the clear waters tempt visitors to swim and snorkel. Mae Hat is a must-visit beach and there’s a sandbar which takes you to a nearby island. There are also many fishing villages in the area where locals enjoy a traditional way of life.- Photo credit Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Ko Phangan has stunning palm fringed beaches where the clear waters tempt visitors to swim and snorkel. Mae Hat is a must-visit beach and there’s a sandbar which takes you to a nearby island. There are also many fishing villages in the area where locals enjoy a traditional way of life.- Photo credit Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Being less developed than Samui and with over half of its area made up of national park, scenic Phangan feels pristine. It boasts often-empty beaches, the most famous being Hat Rin, where people like to party. But, if you’re willing to explore, you’ll find more tranquil stretches of sand.

One not-to-be-missed beach is Mae Hat where a sandbar stretches to the island of Ko Mae, and it’s a messianic experience to walk between the two bodies of water. Ko Mae itself has great snorkelling and a viewpoint if you fancy a climb. Sunset lovers should visit Phangan’s west coast beaches – Hat Yao, Hat Salad and cute Ko Raham where a quaint local restaurant offers refreshing sundowners and Thai dishes.

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Creative courses

If you’re feeling a bit creative when on Ko Phangan, stop off at one of the many tie-dye workshops where you can learn this age-old method of decorating clothing. There are also amazingly colourful examples of tie-dye and batik to buy, and it’s possible to pick up wall-hangings, dresses and stand-out t-shirts. - Photo credit Tourism Authority of Thailand.
If you’re feeling a bit creative when on Ko Phangan, stop off at one of the many tie-dye workshops where you can learn this age-old method of decorating clothing. There are also amazingly colourful examples of tie-dye and batik to buy, and it’s possible to pick up wall-hangings, dresses and stand-out t-shirts. – Photo credit Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Ko Phangan has always been popular with creative, artistic and spiritual types who visit to get away from the world and recharge their batteries. And now there are lots of courses that cater for people who want to explore their own spiritual side. It’s possible to take hatha and vinyasa yoga teacher training courses, meditation classes in the hills and go on detox and mindfulness retreats.

If you just want a quick and fun outlet to express your creative side, try a little tie-dye. There are several places teaching the basics in making your own souvenir dress, sarong or t-shirt. Garments are folded or twisted, bound with rubber bands and dipped in dye or peroxide to create a huge array of patterns. More vibrant designs involve extra steps and colours, and this lovely work is available to buy if you’re seeking a new island outfit.

A Royal retreat

Not many people know that they’re following in Royal Footsteps when they visit Phangan. King Rama V the Great loved the island and was known to have visited Ko Phangan many times during his reign. The revered King’s influence is still felt on the island and a statue of him has been erected at Thongsala Beach. Here visitors can also tour the huge Thai Royal Navy Ship, Ko Phangan. Since 2015, this huge vessel has sat in the dry dock of Thongsala and deep in the interior there’s a permanent exhibition informing visitors about the island’s Royal connections.

Ko Tao

Ko Tao is located a short boat ride from Ko Phangan. If you’ve had enough of chilling on Mae Hat or Sairee Beach then scuba diving, rock climbing and bouldering are popular options. - Photo credit Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Ko Tao is located a short boat ride from Ko Phangan. If you’ve had enough of chilling on Mae Hat or Sairee Beach then scuba diving, rock climbing and bouldering are popular options. – Photo credit Tourism Authority of Thailand.

People who consider themselves too cool for Samui or Phangan head to tiny Ko Tao, which is easily reached from both islands. Ko Tao has a laid-back vibe and the party scene on Mae Hat and Sairee Beaches attracts international beachcombers and happy-go-lucky travellers. Rock climbing is becoming popular on the island, but above all, Ko Tao is a diving venue. The underwater wonders begin a few metres from the beach and as well as Thailand’s best coral, you can find rays, sharks, sea snakes and turtles – even the majestic whale shark puts in an occasional appearance.

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Ko Nang Yuan

Made up of three islands connected by a sandbar of pristine white sand, Ko Nang Yuan is a little paradise near Ko Tao. This is a perfect place for day trips and snorkeling and there’s a climb to a lookout here which offers one of the best views in Thailand. - Photo credit TOurism Authority of Thailand.
Made up of three islands connected by a sandbar of pristine white sand, Ko Nang Yuan is a little paradise near Ko Tao. This is a perfect place for day trips and snorkeling and there’s a climb to a lookout here which offers one of the best views in Thailand. – Photo credit TOurism Authority of Thailand.

Tourist brochures tend to show Ko Nang Yuan when selling Ko Tao because of its picture-postcard perfection. Made up of three lush little islands connected by a sandbar of pristine white sand, Ko Nang Yuan is a little paradise a couple of hundred metres from the western coast of Ko Tao.

It’s easy to get a long-tail boat for the trip, but do get there early (or later on) as Ko Nang Yuan can get somewhat crowded during the day. Most people come to spend time on the amazing sandbar beach, but thanks to clear, sheltered water, this is a great snorkelling spot with hard and soft corals. There’s also a lookout across Nang Yuan and the climb isn’t too taxing. Once at the top, you’re treated to what’s probably the best island view in all of Thailand.

The Ko Phangan Colourmoon Festival

Something no visitor to Phangan can miss is the hundreds of thousands of coconut palms on the island. These are vital to the island’s economy and the sweet coconut milk and flesh is used in many local dishes. To celebrate this vital crop, the island holds a Colourmoon Festival every April and there’s the chance to see how coconuts are used by the locals, enjoy live music, try tasty food and discover some of the island’s history. So do pop by if you’re on this island during the Festival.–www.tatnews.org

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