Before booking your trip to this beach-party isle in the Gulf of Thailand, consult the lunar calendar. Just how wild your stay on Koh Pha Ngan will be depends on whether you time your visit to coincide with the infamous Full Moon Party. Then again, with other lunar-ruled bashes like the Half-Moon Festival and Black Moon Party going on the rest of the month, the chance to get loose and let it all hang out under the tropical night sky is never more than a week away.
Traveler-revelers in the know go to Koh Pha Ngan for one reason only: the Full Moon Party at crescent-shaped Haad Rin beach. Each month, these enormous beach extravaganzas draw upwards of 25,000 people from all over the globe for 1 night of pure, unadulterated, check-your-inhibitions-at-the-shore transgression. Multiple stages and sound systems, blaring music spun by the hottest DJs on the international club scene, ensure something to suit everyone’s party style. Somewhere between the techno beats, the sideshow fire-eaters and jugglers, and impromptu displays of pyrotechnics, partygoers go for a dip in the moonlit bay off Haad Rin. The twice-monthly Half-Moon Festival at Baan Tai village is almost as crazy.
While those moon-centric parties are without a doubt the headlining act on Koh Pha Ngan, there is also a wide range of perfectly relaxing activities to pursue here, from bumming it on a quiet beach like Chaloklam Bay to snorkeling off the Mae Haad sandbars and diving at Koh Ma (a deserted island connected to Koh Pha Ngan by a sandbar, with colorful fish and coral). Local guides can take you on jungle treks into the island’s interior, where you’re likely to spot monkeys, wild pigs, and all manner of native birds. Than Sadet is a national historic site with idyllic green pools and a waterfall, once frequented by the kings of Siam. Yoga facilities, meditation centers, and massage treatments also abound on the island.
Koh Pha Ngan figured prominently in Alex Garland’s 2006 novel The Beach, about backpacker hedonism in Thailand. Since then, the island’s tourism infrastructure has matured considerably, and with it, so has the age bracket of the average visitor. Whereas the island was once the sole province of the blotto backpacker set, who crashed in hostels or huts or just somewhere on the beach, Koh Pha Ngan now also caters to couples and families with fully equipped resorts, many quite secluded and exclusive. In many ways, Koh Pha Ngan seems to be following the pattern of neighboring island Koh Samui , but with a more careful eye on conservation. Recent growth aside, don’t expect a lot of glitz and glam here: Koh Pha Ngan is still a place that’s ruled by the laid-back rhythms of beach life, coconut palms swaying in the breeze.