Koh Phangan Comes of Age

June 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Culture, Exotic South East, Feature Highlights, Nature

Lying in the shimmering turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Phangan is a party-goer’s paradise of legendary proportions. With its infamous Full Moon party every month for the last two decades, Koh Phangan has truly established itself as the destination of choice for party-animals, hippies and backpackers alike. Recently however, it has evolved into 5-star boutique resort destination, an astonishing transformation on all accounts.

The Full Moon festivities at Koh Phangan. Photo credit - Sendhil Solai.

The Full Moon festivities at Koh Phangan. Photo credit - Sendhil Solai.

Having escaped the brutal development of its sister island Koh Samui, Koh Phangan remained until recently the quiet, little-known sister of the two; failing to show up on all but the most backpack savvy trails, and flying entirely under the radar of commercial hotels and package-holiday tourism. But change is a-coming to this jungle paradise isle, as the big hotels and developers turn their beady eyes from the already ravaged Koh Samui and realize that today’s luxury guests want something a little different for their dollars.

Broad, white, sandy beaches at Koh Phangan. Photo credit - EyalNow.

Broad, white, sandy beaches at Koh Phangan. Photo credit - EyalNow.

The little-known hippy paradise of Koh Phangan may be able to provide exactly that. With its broad, white sandy beaches, set against unspoiled jungle backdrops and glittering ocean, Koh Phangan exudes a special magical privacy to invigorate even the most jaded international jet-setter.

Added to that, its relatively slow development will hopefully mean it has learned its lesson from neighboring Koh Samui’s mistakes. At the moment it certainly seems that way; as the small number of developers and big hotels moving in are not only developing with an eye to natural aesthetics, but with a common commitment to green ethos and protecting the island’s gorgeous flora and fauna.

Koh Phangan. Photo credit - Dido.

Koh Phangan. Photo credit - Dido.

Attracting the most attention in the five-star resort stakes is the stunning Thong Nai Pan, on the northeast corner of the lush island. Thong Nai Pan has been called ‘the jewel of Koh Phangan’ and for years was the best kept secret in the region, as inaccessible as it was by bumpy pickup over an unpaved jungle track.

Now Thong Nai Pan has been recognized as the truly five-star destination on Koh Phangan and this year new luxury resort, Rasananda, opened its doors for business, right next to the traditional $5-a-night backpacker huts of old Koh Phangan.

That these two polar opposites – backpackers and jet-setters – co-exist so seamlessly on one beach is perhaps testament to the special magic of Thong Nai Pan. And credit must be given where it’s due to Rasananda management; who have managed to create an elegant, beautiful resort that still gives a nod to the rustic Thai charm which entrances visitors to Thailand every year.

Koh Phangan. Photo credit - Fortes.

Koh Phangan. Photo credit - Fortes.

At the moment, luxury 300-thread-count towels lie on sun-loungers next to hippies on their way to the next low-key destination of choice for backpackers. At night the jungle reverberates to the sounds of the traditional Thong Nai Pan parties and bongo drums; but quietly, so as not to disturb the guests in their $300 dollar-a-night rooms. Who knows how long that arrangement is set to last? But currently, and unusually it seems to be entirely harmonious.

And in addition to these high-end tourists, the beach has naturally attracted an interesting community of expats. Thong Nai Pan’s off-the-beaten track location has proved a huge draw to these intrepid folk: the result is an eclectic mix of interests and nationalities represented on the beach; from Alaskan kayak-builders to Israeli cheese-makers. And with more residences being built privately and by small local developers, the community is set to increase in both size and diversity.

Full Moon party. Photo credit - Top Tripster.

Full Moon party. Photo credit - Top Tripster.

So the wild hippy paradise of yesteryear is changing. But uncommonly for Thailand it is being altered with sensitivity, taste and discretion. The result is very different from days-gone-by – more refined definitely, but no less beautiful.

Now when the full moon shines on Koh Phangan it finds not just the drunken revelers of yore, but beautiful residences, resorts and restaurants; complementing the exquisite natural surroundings, and created in harmony with the environment. And as it comes of age the jewel in its crown, Thong Nai Pan, sets a leading example not just for Koh Phangan but for development in Thailand as a whole.

About the Author. Natalie Revie. Natalie Revie is a freelance writer, restaurateur and jungle momma. She lives on Koh Phangan Island in southern Thailand where she indulges her joint passions for food, culture, travel, and writing, daily. She believes in letting spirituality emerge through the common, the everyday: this is what makes for truly beautiful writing.