It's the simple beach life which continues to attract visitors each year along with the island's reputation for full moon parties and hedonistic approach to life. The backpackers, budget tourists and aging hippies are beginning to give way to families and more mainstream tourists but the beaches are still beautiful and undeveloped. The Full Moon party scene still runs with a cast of thousands in high season - all on the beach.
Had Rin Beach
Koh Phangan's most popular beach is split over two sides of a narrow isthmus. Had Rin West is pleasant enough viewed from one of the sea view bungalows above it, but up close is shallow and very rocky. It's also where the Big Buddha ferry docks three times a day bringing with it diesel fuel and other pollutants, which can make swimming there an unpleasant experience.
Had Rin East
On the other hand could be one of the best swimming beaches on the island - the sand is perfect and the water's clear and deep - but heavy longtail boat traffic frequently makes swimming hazardous. Had Rin East is, however, the home of the Full Moon Party and the town is Koh Phangan's nightlife central. Nowhere else on the island comes close to Had Rin's esoteric mixture of bars, restaurants, shops, clubs, hippies, performance artists and ravers, which all help to create a debauched, but friendly, atmosphere. A ten-minute walk down the isthmus is Had Leela, a small, considerably quieter, beach that is popular with the island's ex-pat community.
Had Tien is monopolised by the Sanctuary Spa and Wellness Centre, which is famous worldwide for its cleansing and fasting courses. There are also a wide variety of other new age activities on offer, including yoga, meditation and massage. Prices are generally cheaper than Koh Samui and accommodation ranges from 100 Baht a night dorms to grand 2000 Baht a night sea view suites. There's also a good vegetarian restaurant, open to visitors and guests alike. The one downside is that the beach is pebbly and the sea is very shallow a good 20 metres offshore.
Had Yuan is only a ten-minute longtail boat ride away from Had Rin and is therefore a good base for those who want easy access to its bars and restaurants, but also appreciate a good night's sleep. The long sweeping beach has fine white sand and almost no rocks or coral offshore and is excellent for swimming. There are several high quality stilt bungalow operations a few feet from the water, some of which offer large three bed family rooms.
A pristine beach at the top of Koh Phangan's northeast coast, Tong Naipan is split in two by a huge rock formation. It is particularly popular with families - the sea off its long, quiet, beach is only a metre deep a long way offshore. Tong Naipan's reef also offers some of the best snorkelling on the island. Accommodation is relatively high class compared to elsewhere on the island and there are several luxury bungalow options available, as well as the Panviman Resort (077 238 543), Koh Phangan's only quality hotel.
Had Kuat (Bottle Beach), on the north coast, rests in a cup like bay and, thanks to the presence of a large fishing village, is one of the most atmospheric, as well as beautiful, spots on the island - sunset are particularly spectacular. Had Kuat is also one of the cheapest places to stay on the island and has many, very basic, bungalow resorts.