Ko Phangan is one of the famous islands in the Gulf of Thailand, that also includes Ko Samui, Ko Tao, and Koh Chang. While Ko Phangan has the loveliest beaches among those 4, there is no comparison with the beautiful western beaches (Andaman sea); the ones on the western side are simply more impressive.
Ko Phangan coastline is much more curved than its neighbor, Ko Samui’s. This created many little bays with intimate beaches and so, this island has a different appearance and atmosphere than Ko Samui.
Importantly, in the Gulf of Thailand, there’s a strange phenomenon that appears in very few other bays in the world – there is only one cycle of high and low tide in 24 hours. These special conditions mean that for 6 months there’s high tide all day long (and low tide throughout the night); in the second half of the year, there’s low tide every day all day long (and high tide throughout the night). So, on shallow beaches, it’ll be impossible to bathe during the low months, and on the narrow beaches, no strip of beach will remain for you to sit on during the high months.
On the western beaches of Ko Phangan (such as Haad Salad), you’ll get to see beautiful sunsets – which you won’t see on the eastern side. Also, keep in mind that traveling in Ko Phangan isn’t simple or cheap (there’s no reason to drive anyway – other than getting to parties). You’ll be mostly by the beach area – as a captive audience, ‘bound’ to stay around the beach which means that prices will be high due to the lack of other options.
This review will cover Ko Pangan beaches while focusing on those suitable for families. I’ll start with the western side of the island then move clockwise towards the southern part (the beach map will be helpful to you).
Salad Beach (Haad Salad)
The small, magical bay is on the western side of the island, north of Haad Yao beach which is larger and wider. This beach is 20 minutes away (by car) from the Thong Sala pier and some 40 minutes from Haad Rin beach (for those seeking Fool Moon parties).
Along the beach (600 meters) you’ll find resorts of all sorts – some simple and humble and others of higher class (such as Green Papaya). You’ll also find here some restaurants, shops and massage centers.
The sand is white and soft, but the beach is rather narrow and its waters rather shallow, so you cannot swim during the low season yet it’s suitable for children. During the high season, you can swim yet some of the beaches will disappear underwater.
Please consider that some 150 meters from the beach there’s a coral reef where you can do some snorkeling. Be careful as you enter the water, so you don’t step on coral reefs as you might get hurt. The bay is beautiful though, has a pleasant atmosphere and wonderful sunsets.
Note: Haad Salad is pictured and seen in the clip which was taken in May, at the beginning of the low tide season (when there’s low during the entire day).
Mae Haad Beach (Haad Salad)
This beautiful calm bay in the northwestern corner of Ko Phangan is located slightly north of Haad Salad. This wide, quiet, and pastoral beach has several humble resorts, bungalows, some restaurants, and massage parlors.
This beach is 800 meters long, and it’s one of the very few beaches in Ko Phangan that hasn’t been harmed yet by increasingly developing tourism. Bathing in the bay is good throughout the year, but it may get a bit stormy in the Monsoon season (September – December).
This beach is one of the quietest ones in Ko Phangan, and unlike Thong Nai Pan Noi beach which is packed full of tourists – things are rather serene and chill here – which is perfect for those seeking relaxation, peace, and quiet away from the crowds of tourists.
Near the beach, there’s a small island called Ko Ma which is connected to the beach by a narrow strip of sand, so you can walk there during the low season. The bay features coral reefs and the small island area is actually a marine park, which is considered the best snorkeling spot in Ko Phangan. Since the beach is on the western side of Ko Phangan – you can still enjoy beautiful sunsets.
This wide, large bay in the northern part of Ko Phangan, is crowned by towering mountains that protect it from the winds, and so it is an ideal base for fishing trips – and indeed you’ll find here a fishermen village and fishing boat pier.
The beach is 2.5 km long and you’ll also find here restaurants that serve fresh local sea food. The fisherman village and pier are in the center, between long wide beaches.
Bottle Beach (Ao Khuat)
This secluded beach in the northern part of Ko Phangan can be accessed mainly in longtail boats as driving there would be hard and dangerous. The boat typically departs from the nearby regions of Thong Nai Pan or Chaloklum but consider that if the sea is too stormy you cannot get there or get out!!
The wide beach stretches across some hundreds of meters, the sand is soft and white, and the water are clear. This beach has few humble resorts with beach restaurants, beach chairs and hammocks – but nothing other than that.
While some argue that this is the most beautiful beach in Ko Phangan, I think this claim is an exaggeration. Though the beach is lovely, it won’t leave you with open jaws and there are far more impressive beaches on the western side of Thailand (Andaman sea).
Thong Nai Pan Bay (Ao Khuat)
This large bay at the east/north of Ko Phangan has two little bays just next to one another Thong Nai Pan Noi and Thong Nai Pan Ya; the latter is larger and located more in the south.
Thong Nai Pan bay is one of the most beautiful bays in Ko Phangan, with lovely, pleasant beaches and a great atmosphere for families.
The beach isn’t surrounded by a coral reef, so it isn’t shallow and has no sandpits (as often occurs in the west and northern side). The wide beaches and deep enough water enable you to bathe and swim here throughout the entire year.
Thong Nai Pan is one of the most beautiful and enjoyable bays in Thailand and hence very popular. Its high demand inspired me to write a separate article that’s more detailed and you can read my detailed review of Thong Nai Pan.
Than Sadet beach at the heart of Ko Phangan’s eastern beach is a small bay with a lovely wide beach next to a river pour, that flows to the sea (on the southern part of the beach). Like the other beaches on the eastern side of Ko Phangan – there is no coral reef here to surround the bay, so the unique high/low tide conditions of the Gulf of Thailand have little influence on the beach.
This quiet and calm beach offers good swimming conditions throughout, and you’ll find here several humble resorts and bungalows as well as some restaurants on the beach. This is a great spot for those who wish to stay away of the crowds, and enjoy a relaxing, peaceful time on the beach.
This beach is historically important to locals as since the 18th century some of the Thai Kings (Rama 9, 7, and 5) visited here (King Rama 5 visited many times) and so the place was recently declared as a nature reserve.
The beach, in the southeastern corner of Ko Phangan, is mostly known for the Full Moon parties that are held here every month, when the moon is full.
We are talking about two beaches here to be exact – the Haad Rin Nai (Sunset beach) and Haad Rin Nok (Sunrise Beach) which is larger and wider and features the famous full moon parties.
Between the two beaches, there’s a small town with narrow, crowded alleys featuring guesthouses, restaurants of all sorts, shops, pubs, bars, live music clubs, tattoo parlors, hair salons, and more. It takes about 10 minutes to walk from one beach to another.
You can read an extended review of Haad Rin and the two beaches here.
Of the 4 famous islands of the gulf – Ko Samui, Ko Tao, Ko Phangan, and Koh Chang – Ko Phangan features the loveliest, most pleasant beaches. This review covered most of the local beaches and I hope to review the rest of them soon.
I’d like to remind you again that the most beautiful parks. impressive waterfalls and enjoyable attractions in nature are on land – in the north, center, and south of Thailand – rather than in the islands, which are more suitable for laid-back vacations of leisure and relaxation (rather than traveling).
To enjoy the best of Ko Phangan and make the most of your time on the island – make sure to pick the right season to visit (better to avoid the Monsoon season from October to December), and choose the beach that’s most suitable for the vacation type you seek. Also, pay attention to the high/low tide issue, considering the special conditions at the Gulf of Thailand, as it can harm your stay at some Ko Phangan beaches. ♦ For a detailed review of the high/low tide => click here
♣ Check out the attached clip I took on site while visiting… enjoy!