Over the past 20-30 years, the name Koh Phangan has become synonymous with party island. Don’t get me wrong, the title is well-deserved. But Koh Phangan isn’t ONLY a party island. It’s a hub of Thai culture. It has a great physical landscape, great people, weather, wonderful food and a long list of things to do. And the best part? It won’t break your bank account.
Here’s A Budget Traveler’s Guide To Koh Phangan, Thailand
Getting To And From: Depending on where you’re coming from, getting to Koh Phangan can be a bit of a drag. But you’ll likely have the time of your life on this amazing little island, so it’s worth a bit of trouble. You can get to Koh Phangan by boat, bus, plane, train and/or a combination of the previously listed options. From Bangkok, the cheapest way to Koh Phangan is to take an overnight bus from Khaosan Rd (backpacker centre of the universe, seriously), then take a boat the rest of the way. Check out the Phangan Navigator for all the lovely details you need to get to and from Koh Phangan. The prices and schedules vary based on the departure point, time of day and method of transportation. Expect to pay between 200 THB to 1300 THB (CAD 7.20 to CAD 46.65) once you’re already in central or southern Thailand.
Getting Around: This part of the Koh Phangan travel process is straight forward, and admittedly, pretty damn fun. If you’re covering a short distance, you’re best bet is to walk and enjoy the sun. If you’re going a little further, you’re better off renting a scooter/bike or taking a Songthaew/truck taxi. If you want to save money, the scooter/bike is your best bet. For 150 THB to 200 THB a day you can ride around all day long with the sun beating down on you and the cool island breeze caressing your face. BUT, be forewarned, scooter/bike rentals require your actual passport or a copy of it. Personally, I always feel a little uneasy leaving my key to the world in a complete stranger’s hands. Taxis are the simplest way to get from point A to B but you’ll have to haggle your way to a fair price. Drivers are usually somewhat flexible if you’re traveling in a group (4-6 or more people). Expect to pay anywhere from 80 THB to 200 THB (or more) depending on the destination.
TIP: Find out from a local (hotel/hostel staff) what your journey should cost you before flagging down a taxi. Tell them your destination, and they’ll more than likely charge you more than you should pay. If/when that happens, tell them how much you expect to pay, if they give in, hop in. If they insist on charging you too much, walk away and say you’ll get another taxi, once you’ve made it about 10-15 meters away, they’ll usually call you back with a much lower price than they initially asked. Voila!
TIP #2: Take very detailed notes about the condition the scooter/bike is in before you take it, take pictures and videos if you need to. There’s a pretty popular scam where locals will charge you up to 15000 THB (CAD 538.30) for repairs to scratches on the scooter/bike. They’ll say they have to order parts from another island, pay for labor, and factor in the cost of the scooter/bike not being used while it’s being repaired.
Tip #3: Be extremely careful when riding around the island. The people riding the scooters aren’t necessarily licensed, cautious or even sober (travelers) for that matter. I witnessed 1 or 2 accidents during my stay in Koh Phangan and about 1 out of every 3 people staying in my hostel got into accidents as well.
Food Prices: Thailand is remarkably cheap. Seriously, I felt like I was stealing or forgetting to pay every time I had a meal or a drink, even when they were “overpriced.” If you’re from anywhere in the western world, you can afford to eat like royalty in Koh Phangan. You can get a basic, but delicious local Thai meal for 60 THB or less. Western food, like in the rest of the world, is more expensive and can cost easily over 200 THB (why eat the same food you eat at home). There’s no shortage of restaurants between the 2 previously mentioned price points; the food will likely be just as good but more catered to tourists.
TIP #4: You’ll see signs all over the place with prices for buckets, generally 200 THB and up. I won’t tell you not to buy these, that’d be hypocritical, because I definitely bought my share of liquor filled buckets. But, it’s much more economical to buy 1 bucket, share it with a friend and split the price. You can also buy beers from smaller restaurants for about 40-60 THB . However, the cheapest beers you’ll find will be at grocery stores or convenience stores. They can be as cheap as 25-30 THB.
Hotels/Motels: I’m one of the biggest hostel advocates in the galaxy. But if you’re looking for some alone/private time or generally dislike sharing a room with other people, Koh Phangan is the right place to “splurge.” Beach bungalows and beachside villas range from 500-600 THB/night and more. Keep in mind there is constant fluctuation in pricing depending on when you arrive. If you visit during the Full Moon Party time of the month, expect to pay a little more. It’s reasonable to expect an increase in pricing at other important times on the Thai calendar as well. The best priced hotel rooms in Koh Phangan are 400-500 THB/night.
Hostels: If you’re penny pinching in Koh Phangan, this is probably your best bet. You can easily score a dorm room bed for under 400 THB, you’ll find good options in the 300-400 THB range and you’ll even find a solid amount of hostels offering beds for 155 THB – 300 THB. Financially, this is your best option.
TIP #5: The further you are from the centre of things (party scene/shopping/main tourist attractions), the cheaper accommodations are. Also, booking a few weeks, or at the very least a few days in advance will also save you some money.
TIP #6: Make sure you check if the rooms come with fans (ceiling or other), AC or both. Being stuck in a hot and sweaty room with tons of people in one of the world’s hottest countries probably isn’t your idea of a good time (unless … never mind).
Accommodation Alternatives: The last time I checked, there weren’t a ton of Couch Surfing hosts in Koh Phangan but if you’re really keen on staying for cheap, give it a shot. As usual, many hostels are willing to exchange food and/or accommodation for work. I stayed at Blue Dreams Hostel. They had a few employees who were getting a place to crash in exchange for work. Alternatively, you can try camping out on the beach at night, although, that’s probably not legal. Finally, you can literally party through the night until the morning time and then fall asleep in the sun (or shade) somewhere. But if you can’t afford to rent a bed or room for the night, you shouldn’t be traveling.
BEST EXPERIENCES IN KOH PHANGAN
Natural Beauty: Go for a walk or scooter ride. It’s free or very cheap. The island is brimming with natural beauty in the form of mountains, waterfalls and fantastic weather. Grab a bottle of water, some sunscreen and go exploring.
Be A Beach Bum: Looking for some rest and relaxation? Partied too hard the night before? Going to be partying too hard tonight? Take your pick of Koh Phangan’s amazing beaches and spend the day recharging your batteries. The water is also the perfect temperature and makes you want to float around in it all day. There’s nothing wrong with taking a day or 2 to chill.
Blue Dream Hostel: I’ve never listed a hostel as something incredible to do in any of my previous blog posts. But Blue Dream isn’t just another hostel. It’s a party hostel with a 24/7 pool, restaurant and bar. The staff at Blue Dream are all very cool people who provide excellent service. They also organize nightly events like beer pong tournaments, flip cup, and great music. It also has a small gym and basketball court/soccer field. Need I say more? Fine, I will. They also sell tickets to the Full Moon party, provide glow in the dark body paint for the Full Moon Party and help with transportation to the party as well.
Watch The Sunset: I’m a sucker for a beautiful sunset (which is pretty much all of them). I met a bunch of great friends while in Koh Phangan. Some of my fondest memories of that trip involved a group of us, walking down the beach, sitting under a palm tree and enjoying one of the world’s greatest free gifts. If you love sunsets nearly as much as me, you can also head up to the very well known Amsterdam Bar. It’s at the top of a fairly steep hill, and likely has the best view on the island.
Backpackers arrive Amsterdam bar in swarms to catch the sunset every evening. The one drawback is that the bar itself is really expensive ($100 THB for a small beer type of expensive),
Yes Bar: Across the street and about a 3 minute walk from Blue Dream hostel, you’ll find my favourite place on the entire island of Koh Phangan. It’s called Yes Bar. It’s run by a laid back Dutch guy named Oliver and his Thai wife (who is an amazing chef, try the food). They play some of the best reggae you’ll probably ever hear. They have adorable pups. The drinks are affordable and the vibe is perfect. It’s just an all-around awesome place.
So Much More: My trip to Koh Phangan was unlike my other trips in the sense that it was mostly for vacation purposes. I hadn’t had one of those in a while! I deliberately chose to lay around and chill and keep the amount of activities I did to a minimum. If you’re the type that wants to cram the most into your stay everywhere you go, here’s a list of activities for you to do while in Koh Phangan.
- Hit the Half Moon, Black Moon or Full Moon parties (you will not regret it at all)
- Visit temples
- Learn to windsurf
- Zip lining
- Secure a diving license
- Take a Thai cooking class
- Catch a Muay Thai fight
- Visit the Night Markets
Have you ever been to Koh Phangan? Share your best experience from this amazing Thai island in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you!
Until next time,