Enjoy the panoramas
Ko Pha Ngan is a fair-sized island and is no slouch when it comes to viewpoints, some of which have no facilities at all, others that are fully equipped bars, in one case even with a swimming pool!
With that in mind, here is our pick of the crop, starting at Thong Sala and running around the island in an anti-clockwise direction. In all cases you'll need your own transport (a scooter or a car) and be sure to pack plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat. Late afternoon (for sunset) is the best time on the west coast, while early-birds (or all night partiers) could conceivably catch sunrise on the east coast.
Stone Bar and Amsterdam Bar
Both these viewpoint bars sit back on the rise behind Plaay Laem beach on the southwest corner of Ko Pha Ngan – take their names as guidance for the relaxed vibe at both of them. Stone Bar is the far less commercial, little more than a wooden platform with some low slung tables and axe pillows scattered around. We liked it a lot. The far busier Amsterdam Bar with its horizon pool and boisterous atmosphere attract a lively, younger backpacker crew. Both offer tremendous views and while for Stone Bar you need to walk the whole way up, at Amsterdam you can ride a lot of the way up (perhaps not a good idea if you're in for a big night). Please bear in mind Thailand has extremely strict anti-drug laws.
Sitting on the southern rise by Haad Salad, Sabai Bar is similar to Stone Bar in theme and vibe, but they also sell Thai food, cold drinks and have live music some evenings every week. Think lots of wood with axe cushions, pillows and a few hammocks around and you'll get the picture. The view takes in most of Haad Salad and the hillside behind it. This isn't a comfortable walking distance from the beach.
Tree House Bar
While not atop an actual tree, Tree House Bar is towards the top of a hill with views over the rapidly transforming Mae Haad. As with many Ko Pha Ngan viewpoint bars, there are hammocks and axe cushions well positioned to take in the view and there was a small pool on the way when we visited in mid 2016. Staff are a friendly lot and we preferred it here to the nearby Utopia (see below). One word of warning, the road here is extremely steep and should not even be attempted by novice scooter riders – you will crash your bike.
The access road to Phangan Utopia is right beside the turnoff to Mae Haad – you can't miss it. Part resort, part viewpoint, part bar, the views are the best part of all three here – both from in front of reception where you'll park your scooter and up at the viewpoint bar. The views over to Ko Ma (the small island off of Mae Haad) are excellent. The bar is an enormous, half built affair and was totally deserted when we swung by, save one very very bored bar staffer – but the views more than compensate.
Thong Nai Pan Yai
At the southern end of Thong Nai Pan Yai, just when you expect the road to end, it narrows down and scoots straight up the hill (while not as bad as the one at Tree House, this is also a very steep ride) to deliver you at a good viewpoint which overlooks Thong Nai Pan Yai and, in the distance, past the headland, some of Thong Nai Pan Noi. While there is no bar here, there was something being built a little further along from the pull over that may be worth investigating. There is a second viewpoint, on the headland which separates Thong Nai Pan Noi from Thong Nai Pan Yai, but the view is not nearly as good. Walk to the northern end of Thong Nai Pan Yai, take the stairs and follow the signs.
Hide on High Bar
As far as remote viewpoint bars go, Hide on High takes the cake. The bar is set at the end of a dirt track which runs off from near the end of a concrete spur that itself runs off the sealed road to Than Sadet. It is not really walking distance from anywhere. The views are amazing though, both up and down Ko Pha Ngan's east coast and the setting is extremely laid back and relaxed. What isn't so relaxed is the signage on the way in, impressing on people in an extremely frank manner, that you're expected to buy a drink if you're visiting. We couldn't decided if it was an in-joke or what (we bought a drink), but a lot of effort has gone into getting this message across! Many will find the signage very off-putting, but the people running the bar struck us as a friendly mob. Another great place for a view in this area is Plaa's Than Sadet, set on the northern headland overlooking Than Sadet beach.
On Haad Thian's northern headland, the one which separates Haad Thian from Haad Why Nam, just before you reach the first huts at Why Nam Bungalows, you'll see a trail running off to your right. Follow it, as far as you can and you'll eventually reach some large boulders you can climb onto and enjoy excellent views over Haad Thian. Watch your step though as there are some big drops off some of the boulders.
This viewpoint is midway along the trek from Haad Thian to Haad Rin, and while you can probably hike up to it from Haad Yuan, we're not sure how (having only done it on the through walk). The views are from atop a few huge boulders and you can see much of Haad Yuan and the bays beyond. This is a very peaceful spot – keep an eye out for dusky langurs in the trees to the right (when looking out to sea).
The above are but a selection of the viewpoints on the island – there's also Khao Ra, the tallest point on the island – along with plenty of other spots worth exploring and enjoying the view from.
Admission: Free or a drink
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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