Think Koh Phangan and most people think of the full moon party. An armageddon of drunk teenagers: buckets of booze, drugs, fire-throwing, vomiting, hook-ups and UV paint.
If you fancy something a little more serene for your Thai island experience you might think to skip Koh Phangan entirely and head to Koh Lanta or one of the lesser known islands.
But Koh Phangan has a side a lot of people don’t know about. The north-west of the island is a haven for hippies and vegan travellers. If your idea of heaven is more Buddha-bowls, cheap smoothies, swimming and yoga every day, then Srithanu is the place for you.
How to get there
There are no direct flights to Koh Phangan, so the easiest way to get there is to fly to Koh Samui airport, which is only around an hour from Bangkok. When you arrive in the terminal you can easily book a boat on to Koh Phangan or Koh Lanta from a desk in arrivals, including a transfer taxi to the dock at Bangrak pier. Due to frustrating timing I ended up waiting around at the dock for a while before getting a relatively comfortable little ferry over to the island and Thong Sala pier. At the pier there are tonnes of taxis including motorbike taxis calling for your attention. I found the cheapest option was piling into a songathew (one of those busses made up of a couple of benches on the back of a truck) with other travellers heading towards Srithanu.
Where to stay
Srithanu is essentially a small strip of road along the coast that is lined with beach huts, little shops, bars, and eateries. There are lots of options for accommodation depending on your taste and budget. I stayed at the originally named ‘Nice Sea Resort’, which was in fact nice, affordable, and on the sea. A basic bungalow with a double bed , fan, and hammock is about a tenner a night. If you come during the hot season it might be worth forking out more to stay in one of the more modern air conditioned bungalows for about twenty. I liked this place because it was quiet, the owner was extremely friendly and accommodating, it had a little bar and a restaurant, and you could easily while away the hottest part of the day swinging in a hammock with a book and the sea breeze in relative privacy. Even better, there was a shaded wooden deck where you could get the best massage of your life for less than ten pounds, while listening to the sea lapping against the shore.
What to do
For the most part I came to Srithanu to do very little at all and I’d highly recommend it. There are, however, lots of relaxing activities on offer around and about this little town.
Most days I headed to the Orion Healing Centre to take yoga classes on their blissful deck that overlooks the sea. It’s a centre where visitors can stay and partake in a whole programme of yoga and holistic treatments (some of which are a bit far out for me, but whatever floats your boat). It’s right on the beach, and it also has an incredible vegan café that is open all day selling smoothie bowls, salads, and a range of main meals all from the most natural and detoxifying ingredients (albeit they’re quite pricey for the region). You can just pay to drop in to classes, and the teachers are very accommodating of all levels. I particularly enjoyed the sunset flow classes, the perfect way to end a slow-paced day on the island.
There are loads of places to indulge in massages, pedicures, facials, you name it, all for a fraction of western prices. I love massages but never usually treat myself to them; but for 20% of the cost at home, I ended up getting three during my time here! The masseuses at Nice Sea Resort were particularly skilled, friendly, and have a range of different herbal and coconut oils that leave you feeling supple and zen.
There are a plethora of vegan options in this tiny strip of land. My favourite were Pure Vegan Heaven, One Yoga Café, Orion, and Eat.Co. Karma Café is also meant to be amazing but was sadly shut for renovation when I was there. Importantly, though, I’d also emphasise that you should try a lot of the little local food places along the same strip. Veganism is so well understood there that you can easily request a veganised version of anything offered, and I got the best pad thai ever for just 40 baht (about £1) from a woman selling it out of a blue van.
Head up the coast
If you want to explore more of the island you can easily hire a bike or motorbike, but I just chose to walk. It’s worth walking up to check out the ‘Secret Beach’ which is small enough that it’s easy to keep an eye on your belongings while you swim if you’re a solo traveller. Haad Salad and Haad Yao are also super peaceful beaches that are great for swimming to cool off from your hot hike, and with a spread of bars on the beachside you can easily grab a drink or a bite to eat before heading back.
So if you’re heading for a tour round the islands, or want to pick just one to visit while on a shorter trip (as I was) definitely don’t write of Koh Phangan as a crazy party town. It’s definitely still more touristy than other destinations, but the chill vibes, good food, and friendly people make is a great spot to wind down and replenish your health.