Boat to Bottle Beach, Koh Phangan

An Unexpected Hit: Koh Phangan Thailand

For most people, the Thai island Koh Phangan conjures up images of full moon parties, buckets of alcoholic concoctions and beaches crammed with drunken backpackers occasionally attempting stupid feats such as jumping over ropes of fire while inebriated. However, when we visited this summer we found a quiet, clean and peaceful haven – in fact, Koh Phangan turned out to be my favourite Thai island to date, here’s why.

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Bottle Beach, Koh Phangan

Arriving in Haad Salad

Andrew and I had actually first visited Koh Phangan on our first trip to Thailand in 2009. Eager to avoid the full moon scene in Haad Rin (we’re really not party people) we headed straight to a secluded beach on the eastern side of the island called Mai Pen Rai. The beach was set in a national park and was accessible only by an hour’s songtheaw drive through the forest; I remember those few days as very serene, the perfect end to our month-long Thailand adventure.

Mai Pen Rai beach, Koh Phangan Thailand

Mai Pen Rai

Back to the present day, when my friend Jo suggested visiting the less remote west side of the island I have to admit I was dubious, expecting that it would be touristy and full of late-night party goers. The trip didn’t get off to a good start either; after our songtheaw driver made us wait for an hour at the harbour, he drove us two minutes down the road and instructed us to switch to another songtheaw. Confused, we did so but before we left our original driver requested that we pay him for the journey in advance. Suspicious now, we refused and he immediately backed down – I’m sure that he was trying to con us into paying both him and the other driver.

Jo on Bottle Beach, Koh Phangan Thailand

Jo on Bottle Beach

After stopping at the wrong place, we walked the last ten minutes starving and disgruntled towards Haad Salad; thankfully our mood picked up when we spotted a restaurant, Peppercorn, at the top of a hill. Jo joined us and as I stuffed my face with baked potato smothered in proper cheddar cheese, we looked down over the emerald waters below framing the secluded cove of Haad Salad and my fears about visiting Koh Phangan melted away.

Amy in Haad Salad, Koh Phangan Thailand

Me in Haad Salad

It was dark by the time we traipsed down the steep, windy path to our hut on the beachfront. Early the next morning we ventured into the shallow sea, no matter how far we waded out it never seemed to rise above our thighs; nevertheless, we had fun checking out all the colourful fish. We spent the next day on and off the beach, escaping into the restaurant when the sun’s heat grew too strong. After a beautiful sunset that night a huge storm rolled in and the wind and rain, combined with the siren-like call of a nearby creature spooked me so badly I was convinced a tsunami was heading straight towards us – eventually Andrew had to get out of bed and check all was well for me.

Haad Salad Beach, Koh Phangan

Haad Salad beach

Chaloklum, Koh Phangan Thailand

Bidding a sad farewell to Haad Salad we moved up the coast to Chaloklum, a quiet fisherman’s village with a wide beach, for a couple of nights. We didn’t do much in Chaloklum apart from work, relax and check out the sunsets, which was exactly what we needed after a hectic few weeks zipping up and down the country with our travel companions.

Sunset in Koh Phangan, Thailand


Bottle Beach Thailand

The last place we visited on Koh Phangan turned out to be our favourite. From Chaloklum, we took a short boat trip around the corner of the island to Bottle Beach, which is so secluded it’s most easily accessed by boat. The story goes that some travellers ventured off the beaten path and began trekking through the forest, emerging at a beautiful deserted beach; to mark the route there they lined their path with glass bottles, hence the name. We found lovely cheap bungalows on Bottle Beach and spent a few days reading on the sand, wading out into the sea, drinking peanut butter shakes and eating snickers pancakes.

Boat to Bottle Beach, Koh Phangan

Bottle Beach

After just a few nights we left this peaceful paradise to move on to our next island:  Koh Tao. Little did we know at the time that we were saying goodbye to our favourite Thai island.

Bottle Beach, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Bottle Beach

What’s your favourite Thai island; does Koh Phangan make the list?

  • Beth
    Posted at 18:31h, 06 December Reply

    Hi there, great post!! We are hoping to spend a month in Haad Salad…any tips on finding a beach hut and did you have good Internet most days??? Thanks!!

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:59h, 07 December Reply

      Hi Beth, Haad Salad is a great place to stay for a month, the guys over at did the same thing recently, check out their posts about it. We had pretty good internet while we were there and we stayed at Haad Salad Villas next to the My Way restaurant, which was pretty cheap (about 400B) and comfortable. Have fun!

      • Alyson
        Posted at 12:42h, 07 December Reply

        Hi Beth, yes we were on Haad Salad for 6 weeks, at Haad Salad Villas.( because my husband was in hospital on Ko Samui) THE cheapest place on the beach and pretty nice. Yes, the internet was good. It’s not very Thai though, no village, it’s just a tourist beach, but nice all the same. Food is expensive by Thai standards.

  • Patti
    Posted at 11:03h, 07 December Reply

    I have to ask… what is “proper” cheddar cheese?! 😉

    The beach looks lovely and I have to admit I wouldn’t mind being on a warm beach right about now, but there are no beaches in the desert!

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:24h, 07 December Reply

      For us Patti, real cheddar cheese comes in blocks and is crumbly, strong and mature; the ‘cheddar’ we get in Asia is usually plasticky, processed and comes in bland slices, a big disappointment 🙁 The beach was lovely; in a weird way I envy you having a cold December, it just doesn’t feel right seeing Christmas trees when it’s so warm here in Vietnam!

  • Alyson
    Posted at 12:47h, 07 December Reply

    Yep, Ko Phangan was nice. I’ll be honest, we LOATHED Ko Samui. Ko P was much nicer. I’m not a fan of the Thai beaches generally, there’s not much Thailand left on them and they’re over priced and commercial. Ko P was probably our favourite so far, although Ko Samet is good for us, not so far to travel and quiet at the far end. I thought Peppercorn was a steak restaurant, I’m sure I saw steaks advertised! We didn’t go. They have real cheese toasties at My Way too, next door to Haad Salad Villas. James popped down to Tesco on the island a bought Camembert , result!’

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:03h, 07 December Reply

      We weren’t overly keen on Samui either Alyson, although we had a good time there because we were with Andrew’s parents. Yes, you’re right, Peppercorn isn’t a veggie restaurant, it just has a lot of good veggie dishes, I’ll amend that in the article. Can’t beat proper cheese hey? A rarity in Asia.

  • Carmel
    Posted at 09:42h, 10 December Reply

    Glad you wrote this! I was just looking it up after reading good things from Taking the Big Break. We want a chilled-out non-party scene for when we return to Thailand early next year. Will have to check the weather and for any crazy party times, though. Has it lost that reputation?

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:21h, 10 December Reply

      Hi Carmel, not sure what the weather there will be like at that time of year but Haad Salad and Bottle Beach are definitely great places to relax. I think Haad Rin still has a reputation and is really busy around full moon time but you should be safe from all that if you stay in other parts of the island 🙂

  • Kerri
    Posted at 20:29h, 10 December Reply

    Oh Amy, it sounds lovely and the pictures make it look wonderful. We are hoping to be in Thailand in February. We may need to add this to our list of places to see.

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:49h, 11 December Reply

      Hi Kerri, if you’re heading down to the South of Thailand in Feb anyway I’d definitely recommend Koh Phangan. Overall we prefer northern Thailand but as Thai islands go, we thought this was a pretty nice one.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 07:43h, 11 December Reply

    We didn’t visit Koh Phangan (there are so many islands to explore in Thailand) but it’s good to hear that if you visit outside of the infamous Full Moon period that it’s a lot more mellow (and hopefully less expensive too!). To be honest, I have yet to find my perfect Thai island. We’ve been to three and each on had some pros and some cons, so I’m still on the hunt for the one that is my personal paradise. Maybe this will be it… 😉

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:54h, 11 December Reply

      Hi Steph, you’re right, there are so many Thai islands to explore. We pretty much went where our visiting family and friends wanted to go but we’ve heard good things about both Koh Lanta and Koh Chang so we might just check those out when we’re back in Thailand in April.

  • Heidi Wagoner
    Posted at 10:48h, 11 December Reply

    Oh it is nice to see such peaceful and beautiful images of this. Usually it is all about the parties and we were thinking of skipping this with our kids, Now I am second guessing for our time there next fall. I was in Koh Samui 20 years ago and it wasn’t really much of a tourist place then, so it will be interesting to check all of the islands out again.

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:57h, 11 December Reply

      Hi Heidi, you will find Samui very different if you go back there now; we found it too developed and touristy. Haad Salad and Bottle Beach however were really nice and since we were also there in late summer/early autumn hopefully they will be as quiet for you as they were for us.

  • gabi (the nomadic family)
    Posted at 17:00h, 11 December Reply

    amy, i love your photography and i adore how i could have been in this country, which i was, and had a totally different life there, different scenery, different everything. i especially love the second to the last photo with the man on the boat and how the clouds are ‘shooting out of him’ in the background. love it. gabi

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:52h, 12 December Reply

      Thanks Gabi, the boat driver was at least 60 but he looked so young and strong from years of working on the boats, I love that picture too.

  • Renee - RambleCrunch
    Posted at 17:20h, 11 December Reply

    You’re killing me, I am missing Thailand so much. Like Heidi we spent some lovely time on Ko Samui, maybe 15 years ago. We hit Koh Phangan too, but showed up the day after the rave, which was pretty interesting. Trash on the ground and wasted kids passed out all over the place. Once we got out of Hat Rin though all was well. 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:54h, 12 December Reply

      Hi Renee, sounds like the island hasn’t changed much around Full Moon time then! It’s good that the partying is contained in one area though, we really liked the rest of the island.

  • Robert Keller
    Posted at 10:13h, 20 June Reply

    Bottle Beach is one of my favourite beaches in Koh Phangan. Nice pics!! 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 13:07h, 20 June Reply

      Thanks, we loved Bottle Beach 🙂

  • Niyati Melody
    Posted at 08:10h, 18 June Reply

    I Loved Koh Phangan so much!I wasn’t there for very long at all but I do so want to visit again!As for beaches, I had Haad Yao, Haad Salaad and Bottle beach on the list but because of time constraints, didn’t manage them. By a happy accident though, we spent a lovely time at Secret Beach, on the way to Haad Yao. Its a small isolated cove with just about 4-5 bungalows on it. Beautiful water and fairly secluded. Loved it! And I love your write up 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:17h, 18 June Reply

      I haven’t heard of Secret Beach but it sounds lovely, we’ll have to check it out when we get back to Koh Phangan one day 🙂

      • Niyati Melody
        Posted at 11:02h, 22 June Reply

        Oh I just found out, I think its also known as Haad Son beach

        • Amy
          Posted at 04:58h, 23 June Reply

          Ah, I see 🙂

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