When we arrived on Koh Phangan I didn’t think I liked it as much as Koh Tao. The problem was that the weather was warm but grey and overcast. The island is bigger than Koh Tao but seems to have the same amount if stuff and people just more spread out.
This might sound like a good thing but what it means in reality is more empty plots of scrub land and less atmosphere.
The village of Baan Tai which we’re near is pretty “one horse” – a 7/11, a pharmacy, a rival supermarket called Cheap & Cheap, bike rentals, bars, that sort of thing. It’s connected with Koh Phangan’s main village Thong Sala by a couple of kilometres of wide concrete road, peppered with shops full of plastic tat, Thai souvenirs, “garden centres” and a few restaurants and bars.
There is an absolute gem to be found along here. The Fishermans Restaurant serves the best seafood I have ever tasted. It’s magnificent. We tried to go on the first night but we hadn’t booked so instead we ended up at the Pier (very nice Thai food, I’d recommend that too but it’s much more basic).
When we eventually did eat at Fishermans we were blown away. Thea slept in the buggy beside us and one of the owners, a delightful Irish girl, found us a table overlooking the beach -all lit up with coloured lanterns. Her Thai husband is the incredibly talented chef. It was lovely, simply lovely.
Anyway aside from gorgeous gastronomy we’ve actually warmed to Koh Phangan as it’s warmed up for us.
Our second day was sunnier so we drove over to the other side of the island, via the almost impassable jungle/mountain dirt track, to Thong Nai Pan Noi.
It was great for babies (the beach not the perilous journey!) The sea is shallow, clear and warm. The beach is stunning, virtually empty and fringed with palms and a couple of high end resorts & tasteful restaurants. If anything it’s a bit too chic. At the Beach Club you have to don a shirt or a dress and clean off the sand before dining.
We weren’t overly impressed by the Beach Club, despite it’s no.1 Trip Advisor status. Service was slow and a little uppity and the food was generous but very ordinary, bordering on disappointing. Plus I took against the misogonistic artwork on the walls. Unnecessary in my opinion.
Still the beach was magnificent and worth the trip though I’d recommended getting a cab. Peeling my scorched bum off the hot black leather moped seat after almost 30mins in the saddle wasn’t much fun! And neither was clinging to Chuck and desperately holding Thea in her sling on her daddy’s chest while we bumped over pot holes up near vertical sandy tracks. There’s 6km of this to navigate so get a cab, don’t be brave like us, better still get a taxi boat and take in the island.
Today we got back in the saddle and headed to Haad Salad bay. Another beautiful palm fringed beach. It was more built up but not too much so that it’s spoilt. We popped up our little beach tent (initially bought for Thea but she hates it so we use it to store stuff on the beach instead) and settled under the shade of a palm and a beach massage hut on stilts with hammocks strung underneath.
The beach at Salad has a couple of lovely big sand bars (as in areas of raised sand in the sea that create mini islands, rather than serve mojitos) that are perfect for babies! Go early as they’re better in the morning and disappear during the afternoon. Still the rest of the water in the middle of the bay is shallow, clear and full of little fish and there’s coral at the shoreline if you fancy snorkelling (though they are visible with the naked eye).
At the extremities it all gets a bit cloudy and sludgy but the centre is perfect. You can kayak, snorkel and dive around here. The best snorkelling is had just outside of the bay: swim out the small shipping passage to the far left of the beach and check out the rocks to the left.
We ate at the My Way beach hut which was grubby and basic, probably better for teenagers and people who describe themselves based on their choice of luggage, but they served a decent curry and even had a high chair which was a bonus – though we had to tie Thea into it with our travel chair strap as she immediately stood up on it and tried a little dance! Terrifying!!
Salad bay has a little village behind the My Way bungalows where you can get the basics. On either side are superb 5-star resorts and in the middle is a spate of fun bars, diving companies and massage huts.
Koh Phangan has definitely grown on us. Apparently it’s busy but we’ve thought it was us weirdly quiet so maybe it’s just that most people who come to Koh Phangan are sleeping during the day and having it large at clubs and parties when the sun goes down?
I, on the other hand, am sipping a cold bottle of Chang beer in front of Thai TV while my daughter sleeps in the corner and it’s 9.30pm. Rock on.