Our journey to Koh Phangan started with the purchase of a travel voucher at one of the many taxi/tour desks vying for our business at Surat Thani airport. We also used these people to arrange a taxi to our hotel which was near the Surat Thani Night Market. We stayed just 1 night here both to break up the journey and to ensure that our ferry crossing was during daylight hours. The combined bus/ferry ticket rate was reasonable at 500Baht each, and was a 7:30am pickup from our hotel the next day.
Our transport was on time and went smoothly. The sea was very calm for the ferry crossing which departed from Donsak pier about 60km east of Surat Thani. We arrived at Thongsala pier, Koh Phangan early afternoon after a brief port call at Koh Samui.
On arrival at Thongsala we got pounced on by taxi drivers again, but they wanted silly money considering we were only staying about 2 km from the pier. Grab doesn’t operate on the island, so the choice is very limited. In the end we travelled in a Songthaew a shared bus which seems to have a fixed fee of 100Baht per adult whether you’re going 1km or 20km all the way to Haad Rin (Where the full-moon parties are).
We had two twin huts booked at Coco Garden Resort, but with just a fan, no air-con. We did struggle with this a little as it was very hot and there was little breeze around the huts as they were shaded by palms. We eventually found that it was much cooler to sit in the restaurant or bar area rather than on our own porches.
The beach along this strip of coast is very pleasant with fine sand, but broken coral is washed-up along the high-tide line, and entry into the sea can be painful in bare feet. At high-tide, swimming is possible in chest-deep water, but at low-tide it doesn’t get more than knee deep. In short, it’s great for sunbathing, but not so good for swimming.
Mingalaba road trip
We decided to go on an organised road trip around the island – there only seems to be one of these, known as the Mingalaba road trip. The tour by songthaew takes you to a beach on the east side of the island – Thong Nai Pan, stops at Than Sadet waterfall, includes a lunch stop at a restaurant overlooking Haad Yao and a snorkelling opportunity at Mae Haad/Ko Ma before heading up to a bar for an incredible view over Mae Haad.
The stop at Than Sadet waterfall provided a refreshingly cool swimming opportunity with a few different pools to discover – accessed by climbing over boulders – a hit with the kids. The kids also loved the snorkelling – it was their first time and they got on with it really well! There were a lot of sea cucumbers as well as plenty of fish in the very shallow corals. The final stop was the 360° bar which had an incredible view over Mae Head – here we succumbed to Mai Thai cocktails which went down very nicely!
At our accommodation we spent a lot of time relaxing in the hammocks, reading, writing blog posts and journals and the kids doing schoolwork (we actually managed to get into a routine with the latter!). The evenings were characterised by the wind getting up – often the precurser to a thunderstorm. A couple of these were pretty intense, but the cooler air that the storms brought was very welcome!
There were plenty of restaurants close by along the main street, varying from cheap local food to touristy western food. We stuck to the former and they were all very good with friendly staff.
Along the main road here, every few hundred metres it seems, you can find top-loading coin-operated washing machines priced at 30, 40 or 50Baht depending on the size of machine. These are housed outdoors undercover and are therefore available 24hrs. We took advantage of these, as we had also done in Bangkok, to get some much needed laundry done. If you want someone else to do it for you they’ll charge on average 40 Baht per kilo and dry and fold your clothes – though on a 24hr turnaround.
Our next stop was the island of Koh Samui. We bought a voucher for the ferry from our hotel reception the day before our departure (there are agents where you can buy vouchers for the ferries or other trips literally everywhere – including the laundry place above, which was also a tour agency). Our ferry was the Lomprayah catamaran to Koh Samui – this takes only 20 minutes to travel between the islands.