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Years ago, His Majesty the King of Thailand declared Ko Pha Ngan to be a part of an organic island movement; that is, he asked Thai people to promote eco-friendly, organic activities on the island. The idea is honourable and ambitious, but unfortunately, until recently, besides a few organic farms that have slowly taken shape on the island, not much has been done to move forward with it. Enter the PhanganProject, a not-for-profit project started less than a year ago by Nico van Engelen aiming to make Ko Pha Ngan green once again.
Located at Phangan Chai Hotel, the tallest building on Ko Pha Ngan (just opposite the main pier in Thong Sala), the PhanganProject encompasses many green and traveller-friendly activities. There’s a recycling drop-off point — one of the few such places on the island — a community swap, where you can bring what you no longer need and take what you do, and an organic market on Tuesdays from 10:00 until 16:00.
The hotel’s owners have donated rooms to house five volunteers, many of whom have been around since the project began. They eat their meals together, play music and watch movies together. “It feels like a community,” van Engelen told Travelfish.org. Due to the limited number of rooms, the Project asks that volunteers stay for a minimum of four weeks, and in exchange for 20 hours of work a week, they are provided with accommodation. Rooms are spacious and clean, many with lovely views.
People who are staying elsewhere on the island however can and do often come in just to volunteer for the day, van Engelen says. The most popular project is a permaculture garden in the back. The garden, made entirely from donated and found materials — including a tile path constructed from the broken down wall of a go-go bar — is shaped like a spiral, inspired by a curled up centipede. Real innovation and creativity lives in this place.
Their current programmes are focused on the permaculture garden, classes, a community centre and free school, offering Thai lessons to English speakers, and offering English lessons to Thai and Burmese speakers (currently for children, with an adult programme on the way). They also work with organic farmers and the Thai community through their Thai volunteers, whom Nico says have been invaluable to the programme’s success with getting encouragement to focus on organic living across to the Thai community.
The vision is to turn Phangan Chai Hotel into the centre of the green tourism industry on Ko Pha Ngan; it’s a big vision that comprises a long to-do list that seems to never end, Nico explains, but they’re well on their way to creating a solidified movement, something that they want to have in place before they seek funding from the government.
Nico and the other volunteers are happy with their progress so far, and he believes that the project is going a long way towards bringing eco-tourism and organic activities to street level, integrating with the local and travel community on Ko Pha Ngan. “The days of the hippies in the hills is kinda over,” he says.
The poster for organic vodka to drink at the full moon party in the hotel’s reception is an indication of just that — hedonistic travel on this island is slowly becoming more eco-friendly, thanks greatly to the efforts of the PhanganProject. So, if you’re hanging out on Ko Pha Ngan and want to get your eco on, head on over to the community centre, extend a hand, pick up a shovel, and be part of Pha Ngan’s growing environmental movement.
If you wish to stay at the hotel as a paying guest, check rates & availability at Agoda.com.
By Kaila Krayewski
Last updated on 18th March, 2015.