Ko Pha Ngan is so big, we've split it up into areas, select one of the below for detailed accommodation and food listings in that area. Sights and general overviews for Ko Pha Ngan as a whole can be found via the icons above. Don't know where to start? Read an overview of Ko Pha Ngan's different areas.
Ko Pha Ngan is home to some of the most picturesque beaches in the world, with turquoise waves lapping on powder-white sand. With 32 beaches in total, some without proper roads to reach them, it's possible to find your own little piece of paradise not overrun with other travellers – you just need to know what you're looking for. We took a stab at this back in 2005, but the island has grown up quite a bit and here are our 2013 picks for Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches, starting from the northeast corner of the island, and continuing counter-clockwise.
Ideally, you'd have a chance to spend a few days on every one of this island's amazing beaches, but unless you are a well-to-do traveller with no other places to go, we're guessing that your time on Ko Pha Ngan will be limited. This guide should give you a decent selection of a handful of beaches that will suit you best but there are many more to discover...
Thong Nai Pan Noi: A romantic couple's escape
This posh beach is where you'll find many of Ko Pha Ngan's fanciest resorts. This is despite the fact that the road leading to the beach is akin to a 45-minute bumpy rollercoaster ride, being unpaved and covered in plentiful potholes. Still, once you see Thong Nai Pan Noi, you'll understand that it's worth it. The large beachfront has soft sand and clear water perfect for swimming. There's no coral here, so snorkelling is a pointless endeavour, but funky, upscale bars and restaurants, as well as their adjoining resorts, tend to be filled with young, well-to-do couples sipping mai tais and enjoying the romantic setting.
Bottle Beach: Isolated sunning
The main allure of Bottle Beach is its inaccessibility. It's necessary to take a boat here, which typically costs about 800 baht in each direction; a single road here is so rough that even locals don't use it. There's a hiking trail from Haad Khom, but it takes about an hour and a half, and in the glaring tropical sun, that kind of exercise is not ideal. The lovely isolation from the rest of the island, however, makes the trouble of getting here worthwhile. Try it outside of high season, when fewer people are likely to have the same idea as you have.
Ao Chaloklum: Authentic Ko Pha Ngan
Still referred to as the island's fishing village, Chakloklum, located in Ko Pha Ngan's north, retains much of the island's original rustic charm. Colourful fishing boats rock back and forth in the turquoise waters close to shore. The water is excellent for swimming, since it gets deep fast. Plenty of restaurants back onto the beachfront, having bought their day's seafood fresh from fishermen returning with their daily bounty -- you must try the excellent seafood here. Adjacent Coconut Beach, or Haad Khom, is also beautiful, but tends to be far more populated, which we think detracts from its appeal.
Haad Salad: Fun for families
This family-oriented beach was once reputedly home to pirates who collected themselves in the bay of Haad Salad before they went searching for their next bounty. You're unlikely to discover buried treasure, but you will find some of the best sand on the island, as well as a great selection of restaurants and a few bars and massage stands. During the day, the beach is often fairly busy with children building sandcastles, couples tanning themselves, and people frolicking in the sea. Find out when the tide goes out, because when it's in, there's virtually no beach to walk on.
Ao Baan Tai: Party central
Though Haad Rin is probably Ko Pha Ngan's best-known party destination, Baan Tai has been gaining in popularity as a favoured place to stay for party animals of late. This is partly due to its fantastic location, conveniently located between the ferry pier in Thong Sala and Haad Rin. Events held here or within a few kilometres include Half Moon, Black Moon, Jungle Experience, Sramanora Waterfall party, and the newer Rhythm & Sands festival. Add to that the fact that it's packed with dirt-cheap hostels and low-cost beach bungalows and has a long strip of beachfront that's not often busy and provides a clear view of Ko Samui, and you've got yourself an ideal spot for college-aged fun-seekers.
Haad Leela: Pleasant pre-party relaxing
Haad Leela (also known as Haad Saikantang) is great for those who want to stay close to the party action on Haad Rin, but don't wish to subject themselves to Haad Rin's overpopulated beaches, which become less impressive with every full moon party. Leela beach, just a 10-minute walk away from Haad Rin's main beach, is truly a special spot. The bungalows won't be up to the standards of those with expensive taste – they're more backpacker-style than flashpacker – but if you can handle a simple, wooden bungalow, Leela beach could be perfect for you. Take a walk along the boardwalk on the left-hand side of the beach, if you're facing the ocean. There's a pretty veranda with a wooden table on it that would be the ideal picnic spot.
Haad Thian: Local party place
Just a short boatride away from Haad Rin, Haad Thian is home to a few of Ko Pha Ngan's favourite watering holes. Local expats flock to Guy's Bar, Eden, and The Sanctuary on the weekend to indulge in colourful buckets until the sun rises. These bars tend to attract an eccentric hippie-type crowd, but even if you're an upscale city traveller, you'll discover this beach to have a certain charm to it.
By Kaila Krayewski
Last updated on 27th May, 2015.