This post has been written in cooperation with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Visiting Koh Phangan, the lovely little sister island to Koh Samui, is a diverse sensory experience. You can see, see, hear, smell, taste, touch and even feel what it’s like once you set your foot on the magical land.
Experience Koh Phangan through the five senses and let it get under your skin. This indeed happened to me when I lived on the island for 6 months. Even though my day-to-day routine was not too exciting (I worked a lot), the sensory encounters made my work-cation extraordinary.
Let me take you on a trip down Tropical Memory Lane.
And a little word of caution – these recommendations on enjoying Koh Phangan are absolutely subjective. I feel like they represent the perfect blend of local features, as well as experiences via expat-run businesses, but I may be biased.
See Koh Phangan
How to really see Koh Phangan? To experience the island truly, you need to get out of the resort and see beyond Koh Phangan’s gorgeous beaches.
If you focus on the following attributes, you’ll be able to see Koh Phangan from all sides.
See: the Lush Greenery
Have you noticed how green the island is? Some sources claim the greenery makes up 70% of it! If you look at Koh Phangan on the map, you’ll notice most of its inland part, especially towards the East, is all green.
I personally love the coconut lanes too and we spent a great deal of time just going for rides on smaller roads with no traffic, and a lot of greenery around.
See: the Most Amazing Views
Some parts of Koh Phangan do get hilly. That’s a good thing since we can enjoy those mesmerizing views. Some come even just as you drive on the big roads.
E.g. going from Sri Thanu to Haad Yao on the Coastal Road leads through a hilltop spot where people often decide to stop for a while and watch in awe.
Even when going on the Middle Road towards Chaloklum, you’ll be able to see the bay below. It’s wonderful, especially if you’re not the one driving, just the one riding along.
Koh Phangan features several hiking trails, which all offer stunning views. I loved both hiking trails to Bottle Beach, as well as a hike to Khao Raa, the highest peak of the island.
See: the Gorgeous Sunsets
You couldn’t say you’ve been to Koh Phangan if your camera roll is not loaded with amazing sunset shots. Koh Phangan is blessed with just the perfect position to enjoy fabulous sunsets from almost anywhere on the Western Coast. Be it from any beach from Hin Kong to Haad Yao, you’re sure to be awestruck.
Koh Phangan has its fair share of rooftop bars, which give you not just the sunset, but also a breathtaking view of the landscapes below. Try e.g. Secret Mountain Bar or Three Sixty Bar. They’re the best I’ve been to.
See: the Underwater World
It’s no secret Koh Phangan features some of the best diving opportunities in the Gulf of Thailand. The famous Sail Rock diving site is located an hour away from Koh Phangan. It explodes with marine life and is well worth seeing if you dive.
The snorkelers among you, fear not – you can see Koh Phangan’s rich underwater life even when snorkeling by the coast. My absolute favorite area for that is Koh Ma / Mae Haad. The longer side of the beach is beaming with various colorful anemones and corals. Visit at low tide for the best accessibility and visibility. And be careful where you step!
See: the Street Art
With Koh Phangan being a cool laid-back island, there’s a good amount of tattoo artists as well as street artists (I believe the two go hand in hand).
The best displays of street art can be found in Thong Sala, the main village on the island located in the middle of the island along the west coast. Just stroll the streets and you’ll always encounter a mural or two. This is yet another side of Koh Phangan that’s easy to miss.
See: the Cheeky Monkeys
Observe the cheeky monkeys in the wild. They are not easy to find, but they often hang out at the end of the road where the Bottle Beach hikes start.
If you stay quiet and don’t move, they’ll eventually emerge and behave like no one’s watching.
Hear Koh Phangan
Hearing can be a powerful sense in Koh Phangan. Tune in to these sounds:
Hear: the Sound of Waves Crushing
Waves bring about such diverse sounds if you listen closely… From the mild splashing experienced in calm bays such as Haad Yao or Haad Sri Thanu to violent lion-like roars at Than Sadet Beach.
In every case, it’s one of the most meditative sounds.
Hear: the Rustling of Palm Leaves
To hear the palms rustling while everything else is quiet is almost an eerie experience. Hear it even louder when away from the ocean.
Be it at long coconut groves or high up on a hill (e.g. at the beginning of the hike to Bottle Beach), let the wind sounds blow by and relax.
Hear: the Sound of a Heavy Tropical Rain
Whoa, those tropical rains and storms – their loudness took me by surprise. It’s one thing to watch in awe the ropes of water falling from the sky and another to hear the loud drumming on the roof all night.
In one way or another, it is an experience that belongs to staying on a tropical island and one we should cherish. It’s Mother Nature drinking and feeding her waterfalls.
Hear: the Monk Chanting a Prayer
What music to the ears, to hear the monk chant a prayer… If you walk by an active temple in the late afternoon, you might come across a group prayer. While it would be disrespectful to enter, you can just hang out at the temple grounds and listen quietly.
The chanting is often put on speakers so you’re sure to hear well. I find the monotonous chanting incredibly calming.
Hear: the Deafening Sounds of a Local Festival
Thais like it loud and it shows at the local festivals. Everybody is cheerful, there is a lot of stuff to buy and the performances they put up on the stage are culturally interesting (traditional dancing!) and very, very loud.
And that’s how it should be. At a proper local festival, you should just gaze at the performance and not even think of chatting with your pals.
Hear: Zen Beach Upon Sunset
Many foreigners live in Koh Phangan, especially in the Sri Thanu area. Many practice yoga, others are digital nomads, many are spiritually oriented… and they get together to watch the sun go down on Zen Beach.
Every day, there’s a circle of people singing, playing various instruments, dancing, juggling, playing with fire.. all you could imagine is there. It’s an absolutely unique side of the multi-faceted Koh Phangan.
Hear: Animal Mating Sounds
The cute little geckos that run everywhere wild and free (and protect your place from insects), can get quite loud. Especially at a time when they’re attracting mates. It’s a sound nobody would intuitively attribute to the little creatures.
This can sound surprising but if you do come in frog mating season (October-November), you have to get out at dusk and listen to those sounds! I never heard frogs (and toads?) croak like that.
One particular type of frog sounds like a strange human. You have to hear it with your own ears. :) Any large flat area is a breeding ground for eager frogs.
Hear: the Full Moon Festival
Many people come to Koh Phangan only to join in the big party that the Full Moon brings to Haad Rin in the Southeast. As you can already see from this long list, it’s not enough. But to each their own.
The Full Moon Festival belongs to Koh Phangan and is a part of the local way of life and can’t be missing from this sensory list.
Smell Koh Phangan
It is said that smell is one of the most important senses that we tend to keep for granted. Try losing it though, and the whole world becomes bland. The following smells and fragrances characterize Koh Phangan for me:
Smell: the Incense
When walking quietly on any temple grounds in Koh Phangan, you’ll smell incense burning to ward off evil spirits and keeping the space pure. I loved the peaceful and quiet premises of the oldest temple in Koh Phangan – Wat Phu Khao Noi.
But since you’re in Koh Phangan, you can smell burning incense at another typical venue – a yoga studio. That’s right, Koh Phangan’s modern spiritual side shows in the high number of yoga centers. If you visit just one, make it Orion Healing Center with an excellent café serving healthy food and drinks.
Smell: the Markets
The delicious smell of Koh Phangan’s food markets will make you drool no matter if you’re hungry or not. Especially meat-eaters will feel like they’re in heaven since roasted meat can be smelled from far away.
Visit the Phantip market in Thong Sala on any evening to see (smell) what I’m talking about.
Smell: Freshly Roasted Coffee
Koh Phangan coffee culture is strong, especially for its size. There are several roasters on the island. BakeSense in Hin Kong belongs to one of a few locally run roasters. It’s also a lovely café.
Expat-run Bubba’s is the biggest roaster on the island and they have two café locations in Koh Phangan – in Baan Tai and Haad Yao.
The smell of fresh coffee permeates the island throughout. Most cafés also provide a great working environment.
I have my nose trained for the frangipani tree since I had its flowers in my wedding bouquet. You can find the sweet-smelling white or pink blossoms all over the island, growing randomly.
Known also as plumeria, the plant comes originally from the Americas but grows well in all tropical locations.
Smell: Sweet Exotic Fruits
Oh, that sweet smell of perfectly ripe mangoes and papayas.. I couldn’t get enough. While you’re at Koh Phangan, you need to smell (and then taste) all possible local fruits.
Also dragon fruit (pitaya) and mangosteen are amazing. Mangosteen tastes best when it’s in season – from May to August/September.
Taste Koh Phangan
You can experience the lovely island of Koh Phangan also through your taste buds. How? Below you’ll find the typical flavors of Koh Phangan. It includes some non-Thai flavors too because we live in a global world and it shows in Koh Phangan as well.
Taste: Fresh Coconuts
They are everywhere and they’re amazing. Some say young coconut water is extremely nourishing and contains all the right electrolytes for the body. I find refrigerated coconut to be the most refreshing drink on a hot day.
Don’t just drink it and toss it, though! The coconut “meat” is usually easily scoop-able and delicious too.
Taste: Mango Sticky Rice
The classic Thai sweet dish is a staple on Koh Phangan. I love having it at the Pantip Market in Thong Sala. The “Mango Sticky Rice Lady” is always there, always smiling and ready to serve you a portion of the sweet treat.
Taste: Dumplings at 7-11
Ok, this one is not the highest gastronomic experience, but if you like following local ways, just get a skewer with shrimp/crab dumplings at 7-11. They are yummy!
Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo. I never thought about photographing them!
Taste: Catch of the Day
A few local restaurants prepare fish on a daily basis. The best I’ve had on the island was at Pum Pui, a popular Thai restaurant right on the Middle Road. They sell them out almost every day!
Taste: Deep-fried Seafood
Deep frying local seafood is not a very Thai thing to do, but if you combine Thai cooking with a bit of an Italian flare, you get delicious food. I absolutely looooved fried calamari at Vitamin Sea Restaurant in Hin Kong.
A local girl named Emily owns the little place – she learned the tricks of Italian cuisine from her Italian boyfriend, who’s a chef on the island too.
I know, pizza is not a typical Thai food. Still, there are such good pizzerias in Koh Phangan, that it would be a major shame to leave them out. I swear by truffle pizza from Romanza Restaurant in Hin Kong and a simple Margarita from Mandolino in Tong Sala. Yum!
Taste: Vegan Yumminess
Even meat-eaters can enjoy having a vegan meal when it’s prepared to perfection. With Koh Phangan being such a yoga & mindfulness hub, there’s no shortage of outstanding vegan restaurants.
I love Orion, a café and a healing center in one, just on the edge of Sri Thanu.
Seed to Feed is another excellent choice. They grow their organic veggies and serve meat too, the restaurant is more than vegan-friendly.
Taste: Butterfly Pea Tea
You have to not just taste, but also experiment with, this unique Thai tea. Made of dark blue blossoms of a special type of local pea, the tea is initially as blue as ink. But drop a piece of lemon or lime into it and it changes into purple. It’s lovely, fun, and rich.
The Pea Tea is served only at a few cafés and restaurants – I remember having it at Cookie’s and La Vela in Sri Thanu, at Chana Masala in Hin Kong, or at Anutta on the Middle Road.
The pea grows wildly anywhere, and you can buy it on most local markets – be it at the Saturday Walking Street Market in Thong Sala or the Sunday Market in Chaloklaam.
Taste: Local Ice cream
The best and cutest ice cream parlor in Koh Phangan, called Satimi’s Ice Cream, can be found in the little side streets of Thong Sala.
The friendly girl from Satimi will serve you any of the many flavors on display and if you’re not sure, you can always try a few samples first.
If you don’t want your ice cream to melt too fast, don’t walk out the door just yet and enjoy it inside. :)
Touch & Feel Koh Phangan
Everything else that you can experience in Koh Phangan can be lumped under the last sense – touch. I add feel too because some things just can’t be touched.
Touch: the Soft Sand
I could caress the sand forever.
The especially soft and smooth sand can be found at the Haad Yao Beach. It’s fun to roll around in and crabs like it too.
Especially towards the southern end of the beach, you’ll find a mosaic of tiny sand balls that crabs produce when they’re sifting through sand grains to find food. It’s beautiful.
Touch: the Fur of a Local Stray
Stray dogs are everywhere in Koh Phangan. You can often come across them taking a nap right in the middle of the road, or chasing after every scooter that passes by.
They are an everyday reality in Koh Phangan. I don’t suggest you pet every dog on the street, since some do bite.
But do pay a visit to PACS, Phangan Animal Care for Strays. They take in local injured/ill dogs and cats and help them get back on their feet. Often literally.
You’re welcome to visit PACS, take a tour, play with the dogs in care and even take one or two for a walk. If you can donate some cash to contribute towards the running of this non-profit, it will be more than welcome.
Touch: the Giant Pig at the Beach
Yes, you heard that right. You can pet a beach pig. :) There are two pet pigs on the island that I know about. One can be found in Coral Bay Bar at the Beach of the same name (Haad Khom in Thai). It’s her and her name is Dukdik. :) She loves being petted!
Another is often walking around Haad Yao beach, munching on seaweed. You can find it near the diving center.
Be Touched: at a Thai Massage
Thai massage is alive and kicking on Koh Phangan and many people who stay there long-term go regularly. If you can bear the traditional Thai deep tissue massage, which can be quite painful, make an appointment at Revive near the Middle Road.
For a softer massage, you can pay a visit to Cosmic Energy Spa & Massage run by a local lady and her family. It’s in Sri Thanu, just opposite the Coconut Yoghurt shop.
Feel: the Wind in Your Hair
Take a boat ride and enjoy feeling the wind in your hair. Boat taxis can be found at many places around Koh Phangan. One of the most popular rides is from the fishing village of Chaloklaam (Chaloklum) to the hidden Bottle Beach. On a windy day, the 15-minute ride is filled with some extra adrenaline.
On the other hand – you shouldn’t feel the wind in your hair while riding a scooter to get around. Helmet wearing is compulsory and necessary.
Feel: Like a Local During Loi Krathong Festival
The Festival takes place in November and is celebrated throughout Thailand. On the day of the festival, locals make decorated baskets, which they float on water once dusk sets in.
You can buy the baskets on every corner. Just choose one made with bread or banana leaves as the base, in order not to pollute the ocean. You send your basket out onto the ocean while making a wish. It’s a beautiful ceremony.
In Koh Phangan, the main beach at Thong Sala gets busy with people floating their little baskets. We even got invited over for a free meal to share with the locals. It’s a memory I’ll always cherish.
Feel: at Peace During a Yoga Practice
Koh Phangan is one of the top yoga hotspots in Southeast Asia. Whether you practice yoga regularly or just want to give it a go, you’ll have plenty of options.
I personally enjoyed the Orion Healing Center, where they even have my favorite flying yoga, but there are many more centers to peruse.
Feel: Adventurous and Fly in a Boat
I’m not joking – there’s a boat flying in Koh Phangan. It’s called “The Flying Boat” and it’s a boat with a hang-glider, which starts out in the water and then ascends to the sky!
I haven’t done it myself yet, but a friend did and she loved it.
Feel: the Cool Water
Your senses will truly awaken if you get in the cool waters of Koh Phangan. Especially during the rainy season, even the ocean is cool, especially in the morning.
For some extra coolness, visit one of the main waterfalls after heavy rainfall. Many feature a small pool you can hop into. I can recommend Phaeng waterfall for that.
If you take the time to experience Koh Phangan through all your five senses, it’ll get under your skin. In a good way! It happened to me too.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my recipe for experiencing the lovely paradise island and do let me know if you feel I’ve missed anything!
If you too are itching to visit Thailand (again), you can dream about the Land of Smiles with the help of Fanclub Thailand, a UK & Ireland online magazine by Tourism Thailand.
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