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Edco Studios 2007

Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan was our destination on the Songserm Express boat from Koh Tao (to see our Koh Tao visit and a map of the Gulf of Thailand with both islands, click here). The boat ride was pleasant and sunny, taking about 2 hours. It seemed puzzling that it took so long, as it was such a clear day and Koh Phangan appeared to be close to us the whole trip. As the boat drew alongside the south side of Koh Phangan, the beautiful larger island of Koh Samui was to our right. The water of the Gulf of Thailand around the islands glowed a beautiful emerald green.

      After docking at the port town of Thong Sala, we jumped aboard a sawngthaew (a pickup truck/taxi) bound for Ao Chalok Ban Kao, a pretty bay on the north side of Phangan with a small, active fishing village and many quiet bungalows.

      The concrete road was fairly good most of the way to the bay, winding over a small hill through beautiful steep mountain scenery and coconut trees. We walked the beach and decided that this would be a lovely place to spend the first day and night on the island.

     We chose Fanta Bungalow, which looked clean and quite picturesque. The bungalows here were the closet to the water, behind a nice row of tall, shady trees. This place seemed to posess the elements for the penultimate quiet tropical beach vacation. There was a table on the bungalow's porch where we could relax and eat, and even a comfortable hammock to while the hours away gazing happily at the bay (left photo). Over the fishing boats we could see turtle-shaped Koh Tao clearly to the north (right photo), with its smaller satellite island Koh Yang Nuan immediately to its left.

     We took a long walk all the way to the end of the bay past the fishing village. Behind us in the photo you can see the steep mountain separating this bay from Hat Khuat (Bottle Beach) to the east. We heard it's a strenuous four-hour trek over a steep trail to Hat Khuat. We decided to stick to the bay, as all we had was sandals, which were not suitable for such a hike. Perhaps next time.

     Just before sunset, around 6 PM, we decided to take an evening swim. It was high tide and the water was quite warm. Here you can see Kung wading into the bay at sunset, as seen from our bungalow's hammock.

     After our swim and a quick shower, we went into the village for some Thai food. Kung had yam woon sain, a spicy transparent bean-noodle salad, and Barry had black pepper and garlic seafood with white rice. The food was superb, and not expensive at around 100 baht for the whole meal (US $2.50). The restaurant was on the beach, and we sat after dark looking at the moon's rays sparkling on the water between the mountains on both sides of the bay.

     In the morning we took a walk through the village. In the photo to the right, you can see some construction workers on a roof, and the mountain-top behind them just catching one of the clouds. We passed by a building with a huge and noisy ice-making machine running, making ice to fill the holds of the fishing boats that would go out that day.

     Our breakfast was rice porridge from a Thai shop that provided food mostly for the locals. Aftwards, we packed up and heading to the south on another sawngthaew to find a new beach and a place to stay.

     We had heard that there was a festival in Song Thala that night, so we decided to stay at Ao Bang Charo, a bay just to the southeast of Thong Sala. Again we walked the beach in search of the nicest-looking bungalow, which we found to be Coco Garden Bungalow. It was nicely landscaped, with its cute cabins placed amongst coconut trees and a variety of tropical plants.

     The view from Coco Garden was a lovely beach panorama of Koh Samui's northern coast less than ten miles away. We didn't get a chance to swim at this beach. Here the water is very shallow, and for most of the day the tide was so low you could walk out a long ways from the shore.

     Kung was insisting that in her native Surat Thani province there was only one high tide a day, while Barry was sure there should be two like most beaches around the world. Our experience on Koh Phangan proved Kung right: the tide only came in once a day, when the nearly full Moon was high at night. Never argue with a woman, they are usually right, even if it seems to violate natural laws. Barry still has no explanation for the Thai tides, but was forced to agree that indeed, Kung was correct.

     In the evening we made our way into town, only to find that the "festival" at Thong Sala was small and pretty much a dud. The most interesting thing there turned out to be something similar to a corn dog: a small sausage ball on a stick wrapped in many layers of fried corn bread. It was good, but quite filling. For dinner we tried out a very inexpensive Indian restaurant, which turned out to be pretty mediocre to our disappointment.

     Luckily, Kung's friend (Kung Dam) called us and invited us to come to Hat Rin, a beach and town on the extreme southeastern tip of the island. Already all the rooms at Hat Rin were booked full by the hordes of backpackers that came to that beach for Koh Phangan's famous Full Moon Party, and the beach was gearing up for the big blast, which was to happen in just a few days time. This sounded exciting to us, so boarded a sawnthaew bound for Hat Rin. The road over the mountains was steep and treacherous, and the roller-coaster-like ride in the back of the truck proved to be one of the most exciting experiences on the island.

     It was easy to find Kung Dam once we arrived at Hat Rin. She operates a small but successful convenience store very close to the beach. Here she has set out a display of Thai whisky in beach sand buckets, which people buy on their way to the beach at night. She's made it all the more attractive by offering "free ice" as part of the deal. In the left photo, Kung Dam is on the far right, and between Kung and Barry is Kung Dam's employee. To the right you can get a glimpse of the night life at Hat Rin.

     After a restful night back at the Coco Garden bungalow, the next day we returned to the beach to spend some more time with Kung Dam, and to see what it all looked like in daylight. The beach was crowded with Australian, New Zealand, and European vacationers sunbathing. Just a few of the women were topless, the few that disregarded the usual cultural modesty that is expected on beaches in Thailand.

     Outback Bar is one of the most famous haunts at Hat Rin. In addition to serving international beers such as Corona and Guinness on draft, you can even buy tickets here for a boat trip around the island. Interestingly, a Mexican fellow that Barry met at Kung Dam's shop insisted that Corona was one of the worst beer brands in Mexico, confirming what Kung had learned in one of her marketing case studies back in Florida. Most Mexicans consider Corona to be a cheap, inferior beer, and can't understand why it has become so popular in the USA and worldwide. Must be brilliant marketing.

     In the evening Kung Dam invited us to supper at the floating restaurant (left), which sits a hundred meters (100 yards) off Hat Rin beach. The only way there is to take the restaurant's longtail boat, or to swim!

     The food here was much pricier than average for Hat Rin and expecially Koh Phangan. A full dinner for four, including a huge plate of the freshest crabs you can get, cost 1,000 baht (US $25). In the photo to the right, you can see the restaurant's proprietor catching the live crabs, which are kept in the ocean under the restaurant in a net, and are pulled up through a hole in the floor after they have been ordered!

     The company and excellent seafood was a pleasant way to end our stay on Koh Phangan, as we returned to Surat Thani on the Songserm express boat the next morning after a second night at the pleasant Coco Garden Bungalow. We left on a good day, even though the Full Moon party was to be in full swing that evening, because it started raining in the morning and rained for two days straight. We have a feeling this may have spoiled the fun at the party.