Photo: A cool little bar near Haad Son.

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.

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The west coast of Ko Pha Ngan has some of the island's quietest bays and beaches along with some quite popular options. What this means is if you're looking for a relatively secluded place but would like a range of eateries within a short motorbike ride or walk, then this is a good option.

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Ao Mae Haad
Located on the northwest corner of Ko Pha Ngan, this is a very pretty beach with a spit running out to Ko Ma, a small jungle islet that lies just offshore. Though crossing conditions are best at low tide, the crossing can be made through shallow water when the tide comes back in. The sandbar separates the beach into two distinct area, the eastern end is shorter and largely unused by tourists. It gets muddy at low tide and local fishermen claim this area with their crab pots and longtail boats. The beach to the west of the spit is much longer and more beautiful, and this is where everyone flocks to find the best sunbathing spot.

The snorkelling and swimming to the west of the islet are also outstanding. Mae Haad's beach consists mostly of soft white sand that extends out into the sea. The water is quite shallow and there is a good deal of coral just off the beach, so water activities are best done during high tide, but beyond the reef, a drop off makes for some excellent swimming no matter what the tidal conditions. There is a clear channel however, that grants relatively coral-free access to greater depths toward the centre of the beach marked by a signpost. This is a very popular area attracting a loyal repeat crowd, particularly Europeans.

Occasional loud techno parties pump till dawn here, so head to another beach for the evening if this isn't your cup of tea or invest in earplugs if you want a good night's sleep. That said, most of the time, Mae Haad remains a fairly quiet and peaceful stretch of beach. The accommodation options are a mixture of mid-range and basic, although it seems the inexpensive places are dying out.

If you're after a break from the beach, the Wang Sai waterfall is a short walk away, and has a lovely little pool for swimming, though the water can be cloudy with silt in the rainier seasons, so don't dive right in if you can't see the rocky bottom.

Ko Ma
This small island just off Ao Mae Haad has a couple of good but small stretches of beach along with the sandbar that connects it to the mainland at low tide, but overall the beaches are better on Ko Pha Ngan — especially as the island is not as pristine as it once was. Scattered trash and piles of used bottles tend to greet visitors in the coconut grove that grants access from Mae Haad as well as along the path above the beach.

There is just one resort on the island, which as of mid 2010 didn't appear to be running, so there are typically not many people around besides those coming from Mae Haad to check things out. There is good snorkelling around the island, particularly to the west, and a kayak trip around the island grants access the many otherwise unreachable coves and inlets that are fun to explore and teeming with rock crabs and small fish.

Haad Salad
Known to Thais as an oldtime pirate hangout where booty was loaded onto ships before setting sail for trading ports, Haad Salad in the northwest of Ko Pha Ngan, was a sleepy and relatively undeveloped beach until the past decade or so when resorts and bungalow operations have sprung up across the full length of its white sands and up the surrounding hills. Several budget spots still offer simple rooms to backpackers with mosquito nets, hammock-strung balconies and little else while a couple of fancier resorts with all the bells and whistles help visitors unload more booty. One advantage of this development is that several markets, internet cafes and travel agencies have sprung up as well.

Nonetheless, this remains a peaceful and mostly quiet spot with an abundant selection of restaurants and accommodations to choose from for travellers of all stripes. Old-timers could be disappointed, but nearby and much smaller beaches provide a little more peace and quiet.

The soft white sand rimmed with palms for shade is great for laying out or sunset strolls, and a lovely reef with a plethora of colourful tropical fish and hard and soft corals lies about 150 metres offshore providing some of the island's best snorkelling. Swimming is best from November to April when the tides are higher, but the sea provides some nice splashing opportunities year round.

Haad Khruad
This small, hidden away bay is mostly rocky with a tiny stretch of beach in the centre. The sand is a mix of course pebbles and coral deposits, but sunbathing on a good thick towel is a popular activity here. A few well-placed palms offer some shade too. The water is really too shallow and the sea floor too rocky to swim unless you head out past the reef. A boardwalk along the southern headland makes deep water access easy and less painful on the tootsies. A single bungalow setup operates on this tranquil and laid-back beach, but more lodgings can be found in the surrounding hills as well.

Haad Thian West
The retaining wall dominates Haad Thian, but there is a small stretch of sand mixed with coral off to the side. The reef is not far offshore, so snorkelling with the abundant sea life is quite convenient. Those who prefer not to swim in shallow water over rocks and hard coral should head out past the reef to the dropoff as well. With just one resort here it's a very tranquil place to unwind though a bit spendier than other secluded spots.

Haad Yao
Also known as Long Beach, Haad Yao boasts over a kilometre of white sand. This very popular beach has some excellent snorkelling and swimming, particularly to the north, which is best enjoyed at high tide, as the sea is relatively shallow and only gradually gets deeper further out. With a relaxed feel, fine white sand and plentiful shade, many have been known to call it "the perfect beach".

There are plenty of resorts and guesthouses to choose from, stretching all along the beach and up the rocky headlands at either end, and it feels a little crowded when these places start to fill in the peak season. While Haad Yao has something to offer for all budgets, a variety of slightly more upscale operations have pushed up the average prices here a bit higher than comparable spots elsewhere on the island and some really ugly concrete hotel buildings ruin the pristine vibe a little.

In the evenings many of the resorts light beach bonfires and serve drinks and food around them. A couple of local bars throw occasional parties but otherwise the nightlife is rather sedate and comprised of people huddling in beach bars playing reggae. Haad Yao remains a very social place with some of the best dining around. It's certainly the most developed and popular place on Ko Pha Ngan's west coast.

Haad Son Beach
This secluded, sleepy little beach is home to a single resort and boasts swimming and some good snorkelling to be had for those who wade out past the reef. This palm-lined, rather wide strip of mostly soft white sand and small coral pieces is lovely and quite tranquil. It's very easily accessed and is not too far from either Ao Chaophao to the south or Haad Yao to the north. Accommodation here is just the single upscale resort, so backpackers and other budget travelers are best advised to find cheaper accommodations nearby and make this a day trip destination. It's certainly worth checking out.

Ao Chaophao
The beach along this gently curving bay isn't quite as pretty as some further north with a relatively narrow strip of sand, but it's still a very good choice for swimming and sunbathing and is generally a very relaxed place. The water gets deep faster here than at most nearby beaches, so the swimming is better regardless of the tide. The laid-back and mostly inexpensive lodging here attracts a good mix of people and a lot of repeat customers.

Old style family-run bungalow setups are popular among backpackers, but some fancier and better-equipped options have recently developed here as well. The food is a particular draw card, with a couple of great bungalow restaurants, including wonderful fresh seafood, plenty of vegetarian options, and delicious authentic Thai food at good prices. The deeper water and coral reef about 100 metres offshore beyond which lie a lovely variety of corals and sea life make this a popular spot for divers and snorkellers as well.

Ao Seethanu
The village of Baan Seethanu, once a quiet little town, is now home to many expats and tourists and manages to still maintain a Thai feel as well as offering a good selection of shops and restaurants and more services than many lower key spots.

Half of the beach here has been developed into a small anchorage for the local fishing fleet, which has had a detrimental effect on the beach and the water quality toward the middle and southern end of the beach. The northern end still has reasonable swimming and sunbathing, and a nearby coral reef is a convenient spot to do some snorkelling. Much of this wide sandy beach is unshaded, so pack plenty of sunblock and a hat.

The northern end of the bay is more popular, with a good mix of budget places to stay, some of which are divided by an at-times nasty river as you get further toward the middle of the beach. At the southern end of the bay there is a small cluster of places, some on the bay shore but mostly up on the headland. This southern area is quieter and more low key, and while the views are quite nice, the beach is not.

Ao Plaaylaem
Ao Plaaylaem is a short stretch of beach toward the southwest corner of Ko Pha Ngan. It has a very old school feel that's popular among backpackers who want a peaceful no-frills place to chill out. The classic island style bungalows provide some of the cheapest and most basic lodging on the island, a throwback to days gone by. Most setups here are family run and very relaxed with less than elegant but charming fan bungalows, with some newer air-con units springing up in recent years. These setups also offer simple restaurants where the food is cheap and delicious and the sunset views are always sure to please.

Recommended for backpackers and those seeking a simple and rustic island experience the way it used to be. It's proximity to Thong Sala make Plaaylaem a handy spot to escape the crowds while having easy access to the services and transportation options provided there along with far more dining options. The beach here is better than some others in the south with good swimming in clear water except in the lower tidal season (May to July), and the soft sand is always good for sunbathing. The snorkelling isn't great here but gets a little better towards the northern end. The quiet and peaceful vibes here lend themselves nicely to hanging out with a book or good friend and soaking up the island atmosphere.

Ao Wok Tum
Although Ao Wok Tum is a wide sweeping bay, most of the budget places to stay are clustered behind a breakwater at the southern end of the bay -- a positioning choice which may do wonders for access to calm water, but isn't overly scenic. Ao Wok Tum is one of the quieter and least-developed areas of Ko Pha Ngan feeling largely untouched by tourism compared to most of the island. There are a variety of long-term houses for rent as the area is popular with expats. The coral reef 300 metres offshore is really too far out to make it a popular snorkelling destination, and the beach, though long and sandy, is good for little more than sunbathing and long, secluded strolls. Not a bad choice for these activities, but swimming in this shallow bay is mediocre at best.

Ao Hinkhong
The northern end of Wok Tum blends into Ao Hinkhong. The north and south end of this beach are named differently because they are sometimes divided by a small canal emptying into the sea. This stretch of coast, on the beach and across the road, is primarily occupied by locals and long-term renters, but a handful of cheap bungalow setups are widely spaced along the beach providing a good deal of solitude. A yoga studio has brought more people to the area in recent years. The swimming here, like Wok Tum, is not great, but the views and isolation are quite relaxing.

Though a fairly small town, Mae Haad has three small shops with internet access and a couple of travel agencies. A laundry service is also provided at these shops as well as at most bungalow operations. Money exchange is available at Royal Orchid resort, but there's no ATMs at Mae Haad — the closest are at Chaloklum to the east and Haad Salad to the south.

Haad Salad has a couple of ATMs, along with money exchange (at Salad Beach Resort and Green Papaya). Laundry service is provided by most bungalow setups and resorts and a couple of mom and pop operations in Haad Salad. A good selection of internet shops and travel agencies line the streets, and many resorts offer these services as well.

Haad Yao has just about everything a traveller could want. Two good-sized supermarkets at the northern end sell souvenirs, snacks, books and snorkels. Several other smaller shops line the road and can be found at resorts along the beach. ATMs are available along the road and at Ibiza Bungalows toward the centre of the beach. Laundry service is available most places for 40-50B/kilo, and practically every setup now offers internet access. Everyone and their dog also rents motorbikes.

Ao Chaophao has a number of small shops along the road behind the beach which can provide basic groceries and supplies. Several internet shops and travel agencies can be found as well. Motorbikes can be rented just about anywhere for exploring the many beaches on this coast. There is no ATM here, rather you'll need to head north to Haad Yao.

In spite of the sleepy and laid-back atmosphere, most services one could need can be found in Baan Seethanu. Money exchange is available at the Beach Resort toward the centre of the beach, and ATMs are posted outside a couple of shops in the village. Travel services and motorbike rentals are available at most resorts here as well as some independent agencies in town. These plenty of internet access as well.

Wok Tum has limited services available — laundry service is provided by most setups, and internet access can be found Golden Hill and Wok Tum Resorts, but there are no ATMs nor money exchange, so you'll need to head south to Thong Sala or north to Seethanu.

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