Nov 15, 2011

November Full Moon on Koh Phangan

Full-Moon, 10.11.11
There are 3 islands in the southern Gulf of Thailand:  Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.  Of these, Koh Samui is probably the more popular one, is the largest of the 3 and even has its own domestic airport.  Koh Tao is a scuba diver’s haven and is a popular place in SEA to get certified –in fact, we completed our Advanced Diver there 10yrs ago.  As for Koh Phangan, well, it has a certain reputation which would not make it an obvious choice for most families visiting Thailand.  But of course, we are not most families.

Most people come here for 1 reason:  FULL MOON PARTY.  Since the first small party started on Haad Rin Beach sometime in the mid-80’s, now 10,000-30,000 people flock here every month from around the world in time for the full moon.   

WHY?  To party all night long on the beach in the light of the moon.  Some say that the beautiful crescent beach with its white sand makes it the best place to view the moon.  As such, the entire island’s population surges 1-2 days each month prior to the eve of the full moon.  Tourists, most of whom are under 30 travelling alone (backpacker), in pairs, or in small groups, carefully plan their itinerary to Thailand around it.  

But for us, it was by sheer coincidence that we found ourselves here for the November full-moon.  In fact the only reason we were here was to meet a good friend of mine from Denmark who was vacationing with her family.  We have not seen each other for over 11yrs and the 'window of opportunity’ to spend 9 days together was too good to pass up.  We had a special time catching up and meeting each other’s family. Everyone got along, and the kids had a great time with each other in spite of the language barrier.  

Koh Phangan has numerous small bays, each with their own ‘personalities’.  Haad Rin, where the full moon party takes place, is located in the southeast corner of the island and we kept well clear of there.  

Instead we first started out at Sri Thanu, which is actually a small fishing village mid-way on the west coast of the island.  We spent a tranquil 4 days there, staying in a bungalow right on its wide white sand beach (fan only, king size bed, cold water only for 350B/nt).  Sri Thanu is wonderfully quiet, with only 7 or so establishments, all on the beach.  

While our 2 families didn’t actually stay at the same place, we were in neighbouring places and the kids loved being able to just ‘pop over’ to our ‘neighbours’, then to either run and play on the beach or swim for hours in the calm sea.  As it isn’t quite high season yet, most of the rooms were vacant and the beach was usually near empty. It was bliss.

Aow Sri Thanu Beach--we stayed in the blue-roofed bungalows on the right.
But we decided to sample other parts of the island, so we moved northward to Haad Salad beach.  Surprisingly the water there was even more stunning—it was really crystal clear.  Haad Salad had more ‘life’ to it, with many restaurants fronting the beach, with reggae, and pop music beats wafting from their speakers. 

Accommodation here was also plentiful and surprisingly a better deal.  We got a triple room (1 king size bed, 1 single bed) with hot water, air conditioning and WiFi for 650B/$21.35USD per night (based on a multi night stay). 

On either end of the beach were 4 star resorts, one of which our friends stayed in and we got to visit and use their pool.  (The downside of Haad Salad for us was that it was more populated and sometimes a bit noisy at night with the sound of music playing and people socialising.)

Haad Salad Beach

Our Bungalow

Haad Salad Beach

Once again we rented a motorcycle/scooter for our time here, riding ‘Asian style’ with all 4 of us on board.  In southern Thailand,  having your own transportation is almost a ‘must’; without it, you’d either have to spend a lot of money on taxis or else you’d never get to see any place else other than where you were staying.  Neither of those options appealed to us!

But you do need to take extra care when riding around on Koh Phangan as the roads can be very winding and hilly and filled with hidden dangers such as potholes and sand on the road, which can have an effect like black ice.  You can see many tourists sporting the tell-tale bandages attesting to their misfortune at the wheel of their motorcycle.

Yes, they actually rode like this!
We also got lucky with our timing as the November full-moon is also when Loi Krathong as well as Yi Peng is celebrated in Thailand.  At night, people float (loi) their hand-made krathong down a river, waterway, etc, signifying their willingness to part with grievances, grudges and ill-feelings, and paying thanks to the Water Goddess, hopefully in return for good fortune. 

Yi Peng is originally a Lanna festival celebrated by northern Thais and Burmese with the lighting of rice paper lanterns which are then set adrift into the night sky along with their ill feelings.  Nowadays, Thais and tourists perform both acts on the night of the November full moon, mostly to have fun.  

In Baan Tai, a village in the south of Koh Phangan, a large festival was held to coincide with this; it was a lot of fun to be amongst in all.  The kids really enjoyed picking their own krathong then setting it off at the edge of the water as well as jointly lighting a lantern into the sky.

A table of krathongs

Lighting our lantern
Waiting for lantern to fill with the heat from the light before it can float off.

For a small island, Koh Phangan has a lot to offer for everyone, including families with small children.  There are numerous quiet beaches to be found with Aow Sri Thanu, Haad Yao, Haad Salad, and Haad Mae Haad (all on the westcoast of the island), being among our favourite.  All offer various styles of accommodation in a wide range of prices.  ‘Family bungalows’ with 2 beds also seem to be widely available, and sometimes swimming pools were on offer too.  The beaches and the water are pristine, especially towards the northern end.  We are quite content here—we think we just might stay awhile!


  1. Hi guys,

    Thanks so much for the helpful emails you have sent us regarding our upcoming trip. We leave on 29th November and have started a blog:
    Any hints or tips on blogging would be greatly appreciated. Cheers, Frank and Angela

  2. Hi travelhounds1

    I just read an enlightening article on blogging tips wish i'd read it earlier!!

    have a great trip!

  3. Planning what beaches to go to. I loved Had Rin without the kids back in the day. I only have 2 weeks of beach with an 11 yr old and 5 year old. Want to spend some 5 days at Chaweng, and then the rest On phang gan. I am leaning towards the total isolation of Bottle beach, or the isolation plus more restaurants of Noi Pan, or somewhere like Had Salad where we can take advantage of snorkling as well. We are from Bolivia and have no beaches so I want to blow my family away with the most beautiful beach possible. Do you think that any of these beaches have that cove like tropical beauty of Had Rin?

    1. Personally, while Haad Rin is beautiful, i don't like how touristy it is nor its demographics (now that we aren't in that age group anymore lol). Most of the beaches on KPN are 'tropical coves'--it's just that some coves are bigger than others, have more services like restaurants, etc. We just came from spending 2 wks at Haad Yao (see our recent post: 'How You Too Can Afford To Take Your Family On Holiday'). While we prefer to stay on that beach as it's quite a large cove/beach so it seems a bit quieter in terms of people as everyone has more room to spread out, we do think that Haad Salad is much prettier. However, Haad salad is a much smaller beach and at the same time seems to have much higher occupation levels in the hotels so there seems to be more people around (but lots of european families with young children we noticed this last visit). There's also less of the actual beach when the tide comes up. But the restaurants are right on the beach and the vibe is nice.

      Before kids we had stayed up on the northern beaches too. At the time, we really enjoyed the isolation, but now, we find it too much and prefer a bit more lively and less isolated. but that's just us.

      We think KPN is beautiful--good luck choosing a beach!