At just 627 metres in altitude, the highest point on Ko Pha Ngan isn't really all that high – you're certainly not going to risk altitude sickness – but the views are great and climbing to the summit of Khao Ra makes for a fun half-day off-beach work-out.
Set roughly at the centre of Ko Pha Ngan, Khao Ra's peak affords one of the best viewpoints on the island, with spectacular views on offer especially out to the north, and while you can't really enjoy a 360 degree view because of scrub and trees, there are a few different outlooks at the summit for you to enjoy.
The trail is reasonably clear and straightforward to follow with the occasional sign pointing you in the right direction just when you think you've gotten lost. As long as you've a degree of fitness you'll be able to do it – we managed it! We'd allow two to three hours for the entire trek to the summit and back – longer if you plan on relaxing at the top for a spell or like to walk slow.
Most importantly, bring sufficient water as there is none available after Khao Ra Bungalows (the small bungalow set-up at the trailhead) and we didn't notice any springs where you could refill. We took two large 1.5 litre bottles and drank all of it. Also a hat and sunscreen are sensible. We wore trekking boots, but you could do it in sandals if you really wanted to – just keep an eye out for snakes and spiders. We would recommend footwear sturdier than flip flops.
Also, we do not recommend doing the trek alone, as while the climb is not difficult, there is no check-in or security process, so if you do fall and injure yourself, you'll be laying around till the next trekker appears – which might not be for a couple of days.
The trail is just wide enough for one person to walk at a time, and in some parts, you’ll need to clamber up and over rocks. You'll pass both older and younger patches of forest, but don't just look up, as roots snake along the ground and are very easy to trip over. Also, when grabbing trees to help steady your stance, be sure to watch for jungle critters like spiders and snakes — there are very few that are poisonous on Ko Pha Ngan, but best to be careful.
The jungle seems to have grown twice as quickly near the top as the bottom, so the trail becomes more difficult to navigate as you continue, but don’t give up! The views really do make it worthwhile.
At the summit, the main viewpoint looks north with a graffiti-strewn signboard beside it. You can see just about all of Chaloklam village from here and, in the distance, Ko Tao. In the other direction, Samui is obvious, though Ko Pha Ngan's east coast beaches, including Haad Rin, are hidden from sight.
To reach the trailhead from Thong Sala, head north towards Phaeng Waterfall on the Chaloklum highway (head to the lights, turn left, drive straight for seven or eight minutes). Turn left and follow the signs to Khao Ra Bungalows. Follow the road until it turns to dirt (approximately three minutes), and just keep following the signs for Khao Ra Bungalows. You can stash your bike near the bungalows and just follow the path beside the sign which reads "Viewpoint".
By Stuart McDonald.
Last updated on 26th October, 2016.