Ko Pha Ngan (or Koh Phangan, Ko Pha-ngan) is an island in the Gulf of Thailand in South East Thailand, and located in Surat Thani Province. It is part of the Samui Archipelago. It is famous for its full moon party at Haad Rin Beach and as a backpackers destination. Ko Pha Ngan has two sister islands: the larger Ko Samui to the south and the smaller Ko Tao to the north.
- Estimated perimeter: 40 km (estimate—10 hrs average walking time)
- From mainland: about 55 km
- From Ko Samui: about 15 km
- From Ko Tao: about 35 km
- Main town: Thong Sala
- Highest Point: Khao Ra, 630 m
The name of Ko Pha Ngan comes from the word ‘Ngan’, meaning ‘sand bar’ in the southern dialect, for there are many sand bars offshore around the island. Ko Pha Ngan has been a longtime favorite of past kings of Thailand. Specifically Rama V, orChulalongkorn visited Ko Pha Ngan 14 times during his reign. The Bronze Drum of Dongson Culture (500–100BC) that was found onKo Samui in 1977 is evidence that there were settlements of people on Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, and their islets from more than two thousand years ago. Some historians and archaeologists believe that the first group who migrated to Ko Pha Ngan were the Muslimsea Gypsies (Pygmy, Semung, and Proto-Malay) who travelled by boat from the Malay Peninsula. However, nowadays there are few Muslims who live on the island.
Over the last century the Island’s population has steadily expanded; first living off the sea and the land, farming coconuts; then tin mining also became part of the economy. In the 1970s the mining industry faltered and finally petered over the next decade as tourism took hold. Now the island is primarily a tourist destination; however fishing and coconut farming are still big parts of the local economy.
Due to its topography the population remains based around the coastline whilst the mountainous interior is generally inaccessible. More than half the island designated as National Park and Ko Phangan has more than 80 km2 of pristine rain forest with diverse flora and fauna. It is also considered a spiritual place with numerous Buddhist temples around the Island and a thriving spa, retreat and meditation industry.
Koh Phangan currently has only 1 international primary school called ‘Si Panya School located in Baan Tai. Si Panya School is a private primary school which follows the British National curriculum for girls and boys aged 5 to 12 years old.
Si Panya School was established in March 2012. The opening of the first international school on the island was welcomed by many families as a necessary educational amenity although some saw this as the first step towards the overdevelopment of the island.
Ko Pha Ngan together with Ko Tao forms the district (amphoe) Ko Pha Ngan (148 km2, 15500 population 2012). The district is subdivided into three subdistricts (tambon):
Originally the island was administrated from Ko Samui district. The minor district (King Amphoe) Ko Pha Ngan was established on October 1, 1970, then consisting of the two tambonKo Pha Ngan and Ban Tai. It was upgraded to a full district on April 12, 1977.
Parts of the tambon Ko Pha Ngan and Ban Tai form the township (thesaban tambon) Ko Pha Ngan. There are further three Tambon administrative organizations (TAO).
Ko Pha Ngan featured prominently in Alex Garland’s 1996 novel The Beach and is also mentioned in the 2006 song Magick by the new rave band Klaxons’ (but probably more as a reference to the 1996 novel The Beach than the island itself).
The world renowned Full Moon Party is a monthly dance music festival set on Haad Rin Nok Beach scheduled every month at full moon. The event primarily features electronic music and attracts anywhere from 40,000 party-goers on a normal month and up to 1,000,000 in high season (December to March). Recently steps have been taken to make Ko Pha Ngan into a more family-friendly tourist destination, promoting the Island’s wealth of natural attractions and also stepping up the police presence; road blocks with stop and search procedures are commonplace and undercover police also patrol parties.
The song “Vision in Blue” on the album The Golden Ratio by Ace of Base mentions Ko Pha Ngan.
Dj & Producer Ashley Wallbridge titled his 2012 song “Kopanang”, an anglicized version of Ko Pha Ngan.
The British psychedelic rock band Ozric Tentacles featured a song called Ko Pha Ngan on their 1989 album “The Bits Between The Bits”.
Traditional Thai long-tail boat tours can be tailor made to your specification, depending on what you want to do and how long you want to be out on the tour. The boats are booked by the hour, and have both fishing and snorkelling equipment available. Here are some suggested destinations:
West of Chaloklum Bay
Koh Kong Nui
A small island off the north-west coast of Koh Phangan, good for fishing.
Koh Ma National Marine Park
Joined to Koh Phangan by a sandbar, it is one of the region’s best dive sites with crystal clear waters, magnificent corals, turtles, shoals of red snapper and much more!
Had Thong Lang
A deserted coral bay, great to explore and ideal for a secluded lunch.
Had Lad, Had Yao, Ao Chao Phao
Three neighbouring beaches sharing one of the best stretches of coral reef in the region with great snorkelling, fishing and a good choice of restaurants on all three beaches.
Koh Kong Kliang
A small island off the west coast of Koh Phangan, good for both fishing and snorkelling.
East of Chaloklum Bay
Koh Kong Yai
A small island off the north coast of Koh Phangan, good for both fishing and snorkelling.
Had Khuad (Bottle Beach)
A beautiful long white sand beach, great for swimming with several restaurants.
Had Thong Nai Pan
One picturesque cove with two beautiful beaches, good swimming, a small village, some cool bars and only a small trek to Thaan Prawes Waterfall.
Koh Kong Than Sadet
A small island off the east coast of Koh Phangan, good for fishing.
A small scenic beach, great for swimming and is the gateway to Than Sadet National Park, home to Than Sadet Waterfalls that have been visited by three kings of Thailand and are the biggest on Koh Phangan. The National park also has giant monitor lizards and guided tours through the jungle.
If you want to explore the lush jungles and green peaks of Koh Phangan, The Best Travel Shop has a range of treks to the highest peaks, best waterfalls and most interesting nature on the island. Transport to and from the your chosen trek can be provided and guides can be organised at your discretion, just ask at The Best Travel Shop for details.
KHAO RA VIEWPOINT
Khao Ra is Koh Phangan’s biggest mountain at 627 metres (2,069ft) high and provides the most spectacular viewpoint on the island. There is a long winding foot trail leading up to the scenic vantage point from the village of Ban Madua Wan, where you may be lucky enough to see monkeys, wild pigs, deer and many types of bird. The trail can be steep and dangerous in places, so if you are not an experienced trekker, you should take advantage of the guide service available on request.
If you want to stay in the jungle overnight, Chaloklum Bay Resort can organise camping in a simple wooden structure with traditional Thai meals and magnificent sunrise views.
PHAENG WATERFALL NATIONAL PARK
The main waterfall is a steep 250m walk up a jungle trail, and a further 200m up the path will bring you to a fantastic mountaintop viewpoint. Nearby, there is also a long winding foot trail that leads up the mountain Kao Ra viewpoint, which begins in the village of Ban Madua Wan. The trail is very steep in places and can often be difficult to follow – in some places dangerous. Unless you are an experienced trekker, it is recommended that you take advantage of the guide service at Phaeng Waterfall, which can be arranged by The Best Travel Shop
THAN SADET NATIONAL PARK
Than Sadet literally translated means “river of visited by Royals” and it is the place where King Churalongkorn, The Great Rama V came to many times, walking up the wondrous waterfalls and bathing in its pools. King Vachiravut, the Great Rama VI and King Prajadhipok, the Great Rama VII have also visited as has the current King Bumipol Aduldej, the Great Rama IX. Than Sadet has recently been declared a National Park due to its great historical importance and abundant wildlife.
The waterfall trail starts about three kilometres from the coast near Had Sadet and follows the river down the valley, through the jungle and on to the beach; a great place to cool off in the sea, get a bite to eat and wait for the journey home.