Think Thailand’s Koh Pha-Ngan is all about neon paint splattered gap year students throwing some shapes under the full moon and spacing out on shroom mountain? Well, hold your horses cowgirls, there’s more to this infamous Thai island than super-strength buckets and passing out on the sand at 6am. I love Koh Pha-Ngan long time. I’ve loved it since way back when I joined the ranks of starry-eyed youngsters mooning over Alex Garland’s backpacker bible and although it’s fair to say the place is no longer an empty Eden, it is still possible to leave the heaving hedonism of Haad Rin behind and get a good old hit of sweet, Mother Nature on this versatile, little island.
Heading away from the busy, port town of Thong Sala, out to the north-east, the dense jungle interior reveals that although the island may have been somewhat domesticated by tourist development, it is by no means fully tame. Out on these coastlines, backpackers can still discover exquisite beaches where time stops – probably due to the pot-holed, unfinished roads which make these areas a bit of a bitch to reach. As any backpacker worth her sea-salt knows, any destination involving a good bit of trekking/boating/bouncing around in a 4×4 on the edge of teetering cliffs gets you extra juicy, bonus points on the ‘real traveller’ props scale.
Which brings me to one of my favourite east coast destinations: Thong Nai Pan. The main draw are the two lovely bays – hot, curvy, little numbers separated by a hump of headland. A sleepy district, Thong Nai Pan offers decent beach-side accommodation and deliciously priced opportunities for eats and cocktails right on the sand perfectly balanced by a gentle, lazy, village vibe. Perfect for a break within a break.
Thong Nai Pan Noi is the bay of your fantasy island dreams – a deep, secluded, crescent-shaped bay of thick, white sand sheltered by imposing forest-clad cliffs and one of the most idyllic beaches I’ve had the pleasure to encounter. We stayed in Baan Panburi Village on the farthest tip of the beach, a lovely collection of huts built from natural materials where stepping outside in the early, morning light delivers a five star, ‘right that’s it, I’m never leaving’ view of the glimmering sea framed by swaying palms. The seafood, beach BBQ and cocktails delivered right to you on the sand are pretty darn ace too. Oh and there’s a teeny, tiny puppy there. It’s practically heaven.
The beach is long and spacious and life here is so chilled out it’s practically horizontal. Great swimming, sunning, boat trips and kayaking in the glassy, bay waters by day followed by drinks on the sand and a brilliant bit of fire dancing at Yai Bar by night – it’s a hard life but someone’s got to do it. For a little change of scenery, tackle one of the waterfall treks or simply take a hike over the headland to Thong Nai Pan Yoi, the little sister beach. Accommodation is more upmarket here but the village itself is delightfully quaint and pretty as a postcard.
Unfortunately, every silver lining has a cloud and life on the east coast means invariably missing out on the sunset… but when dusk falls and the sun dips behind those wild-looking, jungle hills, casting fantastic shadows over the bay while you sea-gaze, sip a beer and watch the beach boys play football – I think you’ll agree the view ain’t too shabby. Life could certainly be a whole lot worse.
Pics by AlexTweet