So much sand, so little time.
With a rapidly developing range of accommodation from ultra-basic thatch bungalows for 200 baht a night through to totally decadent luxury suites for 15,000 baht a night, Ko Pha Ngan truly offers something for everyone.
If the choice doesn't leave you floundering to make a decision, you'll also have to choose the atmosphere you like best for a holiday: there's well over a dozen beaches with characters spanning hedonist-haven to party-animal to secluded strips of sand that no guidebook has ever mentioned. Here's a cheat sheet to some of Ko Pha Ngan's better beachside options – we'll leave the accommodation choices for another time.
Where's the party?
Ko Pha Ngan has a long-running reputation for its full moon parties, which centre around what was once the loveliest beach on the island, Haad Rin. If you want to be out and about every night, all night, then Haad Rin is a good choice. Much of the eastern end of the beach is lined with large bars and come evening, many places arrange tables and axe pillows out on the sand.
Bear in mind that neither Haad Rin nor the full moon parties are secluded, invite-only events. You're just as likely to be sharing your patch of sand with the coolest super hip chic funky whatevers as you are with a vomiting bunch of 16-year-olds on their first trip overseas on Mummy and Daddy's credit cards.
Aside from Haad Rin, a number of other beaches run regular parties, so keep an eye out for the never-ending series of flyers you'll have thrust at you while trying to relax on the sand. Thong Nai Pan has a low-key yet entertaining scene, as does Haad Thian. Further afield you'll get a range of decent parties along Ban Kai and Ban Tai beaches – where the Half Moon Party (among others) takes place.
No party, have baby
Over the years Ko Pha Ngan has also turned into a bit of a fave for those with young children. Haad Salad, Haad Yao (on the western side of Ko Pha Ngan – there are two) and Thong Nai Pan Noi and Yai all have long flat beaches and reasonably shallow water with resorts that can provide hot water without costing the earth.
Chaloklam on the north side of Ko Pha Ngan is also popular with families, partly due to the availability of long-term rentals, but the beach is not as good as those just mentioned. If you don't mind having rugrats on a beach that can only be reached by boat, then Bottle Beach is another fine choice.
No party, no baby, no drama, no worries
Amazingly, Ko Pha Ngan is big enough to cater to ravers, parents and those who would rather do nothing whatsoever. If your idea of too much effort is getting out of the hammock more than once a day, you'll also be perfectly content on the island as it's home to no shortage of good, very sleepy options.
Than Sadet and Haad Why Nam, both on the east coast, are both excellent and cheap. Past Haad Rin, heading towards the lighthouse, are a handful of isolated places with spectacular views, but it's a bit of a scramble down to the water. On the south coast from Haad Saikantang through to Thong Sala, you'll always have the risk of a half-dark-quarter-and-a-bit-moon-party popping up next door which can be a bummer if you actually planned on sleeping that night.
Just around Ko Pha Ngan's southwestern corner, consider Ao Plaaylaem, which is stuck in a bit of a time warp with lots of old-style bungalows with ample hammock-swinging space – and it is very cheap. Running up the west coast, Ao Chaophao also has some fine quiet spots.
Postcard pretty please
Haad Rin was the most beautiful beach on the island until over-development took its toll. If you want a picture-perfect strip of sand, then Haad Saikantang is very difficult to beat – white sand, crystal clear water and so far fairly limited development. Other lovely strips include Thong Nai Pan Noi, Bottle Beach, if it's not too busy, and Haad Khom (at high tide) on the north coast. The west coast beaches, notably Haad Yao and Haad Salad are terrific for sunset.
Ko Pha Ngan is a very big small island
One of the best points about Ko Pha Ngan is that with one or two exceptions, you're never more than a motorbike or songtheaw ride from another beach. You can stay anywhere on the island and visit other beaches at your leisure. You could spend two weeks on Ko Pha Ngan and lie on a different beach every day – not a bad way to fritter away a fortnight!
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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