Since the 1990s, Koh Phangan has earned its place on the Banana Pancake Trail — if one slightly less travelled than the one that led to its sister island, Koh Samui. But — notable for hosting the original full moon party and Leonardo DiCaprio and Tilda Swinton’s cinematic night of passion in 2000’s The Beach — Koh Phangan still sees 30,000 people crowd its shores every full moon in high season. You might think this tropical paradise in the Gulf of Thailand is just a sandy version of Disneyland. But, along with the backpacker culture, a more unique foreigner culture calls it home.
The 13,000 year-rounders who live here full-time have an eccentric bend — one your typical backpacker, caught up in celebrating half-moons, quarter-moons and no-moons, might miss. If you take a moment to look past the drunken stupor, you can’t help but notice the countless new age landmarks scattered throughout the island. For new, canned-experience-seeking travellers, there are yoga retreats; for old-timers, there’s yoga on the beach. Some are certified healing sanctuaries, while others are notorious for altering the minds of their followers. Regardless, Koh Phangan has become these devotees’ home away from home.
The island has its share of clean sandy beaches to lounge about and soak up the sun on, and snorkel and dive off of, but if you’re more a fighter than a lover, the island has you covered. Riddled with Muay Thai training facilities, martial arts warriors from around the world come to train and prepare for upcoming fights on Koh Samui, as well as in Bangkok at the Rajadamnern Stadium. Some even come just to learn the love of the sport.
The Tides of Change
While the days of THB100 (VND70,000) bungalows have all but come to an end, hope is not lost. Bungalows now range from THB500 (VND350,000) a night into the thousands. Numerous resorts and hostels have come to fill the void on both sides of the budget spectrum. During the slow season, April to October, you can find a pleasant hostel with dorm beds as low as THB150 (VND105,000). On the opposite side of the spectrum, there exists a handful of luxury resorts. While dwarfed by the extravagance of those on Koh Samui, they are a step towards the future development of Koh Phangan.
Though the golden, traveller-friendly days of Koh Phangan might be numbered, there’s plenty here for those who aren’t part werewolf. But what the future holds for this island’s inhabitants, in terms of cultural desecration, has yet to be seen.