Dec 4, 2011

Stuck On Koh Phangan

We don’t know of many travelling families who have been moving as continually as we have in the 10+ months that we’ve been on the road.  We’ve never stayed in any one place for longer than 12 nights or so.  But especially after our travels through India, we are a tad bit tired.  Yet still surprisingly (to us anyway) we ended up staying on Koh Phangan for 26 days, and loved every minute of it! 

So what did we do there?

In a nutshell, not much!  After our Visa Run fiasco, we upgraded to a resort at neighbouring Haad Yao, which offered a much nicer room, a swimming pool overlooking the beach, and a buffet breakfast for all of us (all for a low season rate of 800THB/$26.65 USD per day).  Our day consisted of eating 3 meals, with swimming either in the bay and/or in the pool and making sandcastles on the beach in between. 

Maddy also improved her snorkelling skills, as well as learned to volley a beach ball, and to draw more detailed pictures.  Yasmine meanwhile, chatted the ears off the many staff at the resort, entertaining them with her detailed stories and insights.

Sometimes we would zip around the island for a change of scenery on our motorbike that we ended taking a monthly rental on.  We also liked to eat at the Night Market in Thongsala a few times a week, which was about 20minutes away.  Great inexpensive cart food could be had so we got our share of fruit shakes, pancakes, and crumb chicken skewers for 10-30B each.

And for the first time in a long time during this trip (not including the great people we met in Sanur, Bali as well as the bunch that we met in Vietnam), we were very social here.  Probably in part to us being a family with young kids and not finding ourselves in the usual ‘social spots’, coupled with the hours that we keep (up early, back to our room early), our interactions with other travellers has been somewhat limited and fleeting. Here, we met and interacted with some warm, interesting and like-minded fellow tourists, who spoke English too!  (Usually, we’ve just met French and Germans, particularly in India and in Khao Lak.) We had in-depth conversations over breakfast with a professor from Boston University and his partner as well as with a couple of engineers from Houston (Texas), sharing travel insights as well as thoughts on long term travel with children in tow.

We even made friends with 2 families with kids the same age as ours, although we saw many more families here and there on the island.  Our children haven’t interacted much with other kids since we left Australia as we just haven’t met many families, and if we did, their children either tend to be much older or much younger than ours.  We ended up meeting an interesting family of 4 from Winnipeg, Canada, and the kids played together for a couple of afternoon until they left.  Then we met a family of 6 from Sweden, who had 4 kids aged 6yrs and under!  (And we thought we had it tough—they were backpacking also, while pushing a tandem stroller!) We really enjoyed spending time together with this special family for a few hours of the day and the kids played easily together despite the language barrier.  We also tended to eat our lunch and dinners together as we favoured the same restaurant.

What Makes Koh Phangan So Special?

We’d been asking ourselves this because our time there had been very unique from the other places that we’ve been so far.  We’ve surmised that it’s because there just isn’t much to do on the island, other than to just relax and be.  And the island is quite small and compact, so you can easily get a change of scenery (with a motorbike) and not feel trapped.  Yet the island offers everything you need for a relaxing vacation:  markets, good food, massages galore, motorbikes to hire, internet access, and lots of beautiful beaches.  Koh Phangan just seems to grow on you.

And before you know it, it’s time to leave.  And you suspect that you probably won’t find anything quite like it anywhere else. 


  1. I recognise the 'restless' style of travelling you mention and the strange delight in finding a place to be and not do. Way back we spent 6 months family cycle touring in New Zealand, moving on every day, then found ourselves in Western Samoa for a month with nothing to do except be, eat, swim, sleep. It took a bit of getting used. There is an art to doing nothing and it comes easier in some cultures and places than others. The Samoans found our restlessness quite amusing, chilling just seemed to come so naturally to them. Strange that one should have to learn how to relax!

  2. Denise & GrahamDecember 5, 2011 at 6:43 AM

    We have so enjoyed reading your blogs and keeping up with all your adventures.. It's great to hear & see how much the girls have grown.. We will be back in Sanur Bail for a month in February & will tell the staff about your travels..Travel safe & keep making wonderful memories..Love to you all. xx :)

  3. Great to hear that you've been able to spend time with other families and enjoy a long relaxing stretch. I totally understand what you mean about schedules and nomadic existence making connecting with other families difficult.

  4. Stuart: We definitely don't have a problem relaxing! But only having 1yr for our travels did't usually give us the luxury of doing so without being at the expense of seeing more of the country :( As we'd been in Thailand a few times already, we were satisfied with what we'd seen already, although we are sure that there has been much that we've missed.

    Denise and Graham: Hope you have a great time in Bali!

    Diya: Thanks for dropping by!

  5. Hi

    I was wondering if you remember the name of the place you stayed at on koh Phangan, we are having trouble finding reasonably priced accommodation.


    1. Hi! Koh Phangan has so many bays to choose from, and each has their own characteristics. We spent time in 3 of them, enjoyed them all, and stayed in several places in each! First up, was Si Thanu, where we stayed at Laem Son Resort 2. they had cheap waterfront bungalows, fan only for 350B for a triple, but pretty no-frills. We also stayed at Rainbow Resort next door, which was a bit more expensive, but similar. there are some 'nicer' places on this beach with air con too--check Agoda and specify Si thanu (it's a quiet bay, quite deserted). We also stayed at Haad Salat, which was livelier, but also further north and farther from town. We stayed at My Way Bungalows there, which had air con and hot water and wifi. a triple there cost us 650B (negotiated rate for a longer stay, i think reg rate was 800B). quite a few places on this bay, in a range of budgets. Great bay. We also stayed for a bit at Haad Yao, and stayed at the Haad Yao Bayview Resort--it had a pool and included buffet breakfast. nice bay, somewhat lively. I believe that this place is also on Agoda or similar. We got a special rate at 800B including breakfast for 2 (they let the kids eat free, and the kids slept on the floor.). Hope this helps.

  6. Thanks so much for the information. I am having trouble selecting a beach/bay to stay in so your advice was helpful! I will check out those places you suggested! Suzi

  7. Koh Phangan is world-famous for its Full Moon parties, with up to 30,000 people partying on the beach in Koh Phangan Resort to share sweat with people from all over the world! The party peaks at sunrise and eventually tapers off in the afternoon, leaving a scene of carnage behind on the beach. Full Moon Parties are chaotic but lots of fun, and generally considered a rite of passage in Southeast Asia.

  8. I agree with u. Koh Phangan offers all u need to relax

  9. First off thanks for a very informative blog! It has been incredible helpful to us! We are now down to 2 choices for a 2 month vacation this winter... either Thailand or India. We have a 16 month and 3.5 yr old...we are trying balance our decision between the cheaper flights and cost of living in India...with the more idyllic beaches of Koh Phangan. We have both been to Gokarna and have a good idea of what we would be getting into....Koh Phangan is more of a question. If we go to Koh Phangan we are looking to find a place to stay and relax for almost our whole trip there, about two months. Were you aware of whether there was long term housing to rent on these beaches, and if so do you have any concept of pricing? Again thanks for sharing your adventures with your family in such a thorough manner. Bryan and Sarah

    1. Hi
      Thailand is certainly 'easier' than India, but also more expensive too. Depending on when you went (ie high season, etc), you are usually able to negotiate a long-term rate. I'd advise that if you must book in advance, book something for 1-2 days to see if you like it then negotiate in person. All this providing you are NOT there during high season or during full moon, in which case, you'd be happy to get anything at all!

      Most of the beachfront accommodation is in the form of either bungalows and villas (usually part of a larger complex) or actual hotels. We've negotiated with both types, successfully, albeit always outside of peak times. I believe there are a few smaller bays where you might find private 'rustic' bungalows for short or long term hire, but many of these accommodation aren't actually on the beach (which is cheaper). in fact, dotted inland, there are many signs for private bungalows for hire.

      As for what KPN is actually like--well, it's busier than Gokarna, but in some ways, similarly as secluded especially the farther away from the south coast that you get. It's definitely not as busy nor as big as the beaches of Goa, as most KPN's coast is separated by bays (like Gokarna). We loved it there but 2mo may be a bit long, at least in 1 place. perhaps you could change bays (the vibe in each can be very different)? also, if you are comfortable with the idea of hiring scooters, i'd highly recommend it as it will give you better access to the rest of the island. (we tend to hire them right when we get off the ferry therefore we save the taxi fare both to and from as you drop off right before you leave! also, you get better rates and selection in town.) Otherwise, taxi's are quite expensive on the island.

      tip: we found it helpful to get accommodation that offered a pool as for longer term stays, it does offer diversity for the kids (who can get sick of the beach after a while).

      hope this helps.

    2. and by the way, we really enjoyed Gokarna and Goa too :)