Koh Phangan – paradise vs partying?!

This blog is definitely *a little* late – we left this place about a month ago and have been back home in drizzly, grey England for 3 weeks! Anyway, hope you enjoy reading it – I’ve enjoyed being reminded of this little paradise island!

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So, having had a fun few days in beautiful, but touristy Koh Samui, we left our little hostel and travelled to nearby Mae Nam Pier to catch the boat to Koh Phangan, Samui’s neighbouring island, probably best known for its infamous Full Moon parties every month, where 30,000 neon-clad 18-30 somethings (and a fair few 30-plusses too, I believe) cram onto one beach for an all night party with two aims, from what I can gather – to last the night and to see the sunrise (possibly with a third aim of remembering anything that happened whilst doing so!). However, the idea of staying up all night nowadays tends to fill us with dread, let alone the thought of all that sand and, worse, mosquito bites! We still wanted to experience Koh Phangan of course, but on our (slightly) more mature terms, so we carefully planned to arrive and leave prior to the day of the full moon.

The boat trip was easy; once we arrived at the pier we had to ‘check in’ at a little kiosk booth and were then given a million stickers, for both us and our luggage, to indicate where we were going – the boat had about 5 stops including to mainland Thailand. The checking in process was followed by a lot of sitting around and waiting, but finally we boarded the boat and were off, hundreds of suitcases piled on the front of the boat and held down by a tarpaulin and ropes, with a slightly smaller pile of backpacks in the safety of indoors!

The journey only took about 20 minutes, and then we were there, searching through the throng of tourists, taxi drivers and locals for a taxi bus to take us to our beach – Haad Salad. We found a driver easily, although the haggling didn’t work this time, and were soon on our way through much emptier, quiet streets than we had seen on Samui, surrounded by lush tropical forest. Having told us he would be able to take us right to the hotel and not leave us on the main road during the fruitless haggling process, our driver suddenly stopped and came to let us know that he couldn’t, after all, take us to the door, as the road down to the beach was too steep. However, he assured us it was only a very short walk to the hotel, and even gave us some money back!

Staggering down an almost vertical road, we did indeed quickly find our hotel – Salad Hut (I was very sceptical given the name, but the reviews were very good!) – and checked in. The hotel is made up of 12 wooden bungalows in traditional Thai style, literally on the beach, each with a decking area with a day bed and hammock. All the bungalows are centred round a small pool which overlooks the beach. It looked beautiful and we were excited to settle in and explore a beautiful looking beach.

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The rest of that first day was spent wandering up and down the beach, taking in its beauty and going in and out of the sea, so clear and blue with tiny fish right up at the shore line, and as warm as a bath. Not usually being sea-lovers, we found ourselves wanting to do nothing but wade out in the never-ending mid-thigh-deep water and just sit there enjoying life. At the south end of the beach, just in front of our hotel, there was a cluster of traditional Thai longtail boats which were beautiful to look at, some of them coming and going as taxi boats, some being mended, others being used as working fishing boats. Fishermen were standing in the sea with nets, or swimming in the slightly deeper water to check their lobster pots, and the whole scene was so peaceful and old-fashioned. I don’t think I have ever been to somewhere so much like paradise, where I have just been happy to sit and stare for hours on end. The sunset was completely beautiful too, with the boats bobbing around and the sun just melting away in front of us.

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Dinner that night consisted of a short, but very sweaty, climb back up the vertical road, to a tiny restaurant with three tables, all low down and with floor cushions as opposed to chairs, where the traditional Thai food is cooked from scratch per order. There were only two staff – a Thai chef called Da and her English boyfriend Dan; they were both squirelled away in the kitchen most of the evening, and it was very much a help-yourself attitude to drinks. We waited a long time for our food, but we had expected that, and we entertained ourselves with Jenga and a few games of Rummy. When the food came, it was incredible – spicy and rich and the best we had tasted anywhere – panang curry, full of peanuts, and red curry with pineapple and papaya at Da’s suggestion. With mouths on fire we scoffed the lot and soon after finishing, Da and Dan emerged from the kitchen and to our surprise sat down with us and suggested we play a game of Bullshit! This became very entertaining as Da got confused between ‘ace’ and ‘8’ every time (apparently there are no words in the Thai language that end in a ‘s’ sound, so ace is particularly difficult!), and the rest of us repeatedly got confused about what we should be doing. Added to this hilarious mixture was a French couple joining us partway through as they finished their meal, so there were now three native languages and lots of bottles of beer. Eventually, we left and walked the short distance back to our hotel with our new French friends who were staying a little further along the beach. It definitely turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining evening, and as had become normal for us, cost only a few pounds each.

Breakfast the following morning was good – included with the room was a choice of American breakfast, various types of pancake, or healthier fruit/muesli/cornflakes options. It was the first time we had had good coffee since arriving in Thailand and we very much enjoyed drinking it, along with a fresh pineapple shake. We both had the coconut pancake – more like a crepe, covered in shavings of fresh coconut and really delicious.

We decided to spend the day chilling out and relaxing by the pool, and in the afternoon went to a neighbouring hotel to hire a kayak. Turns out, the sea wasn’t as calm as it appeared, especially after getting past the little breakwater, and it’s safe to say I didn’t enjoy the experience much, convinced we were going to capsize and/or get stranded on the rocks. Of course, this didn’t happen and after much useless shrieking on my part, we eventually managed to get round the headland and into the next bay before having to turn around and start the ordeal all over again. I was very pleased to get back onto dry land, and even more pleased to learn it was Happy Hour, where I devoured a pina colada served in a fresh coconut, whilst watching that oh-so-calm (i.e. terrifying) sea!

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That night’s sunset will, I think, stay with me forever; sitting for around 45 minutes in the super-warm, shallow sea, just watching the sun turning the sky from blue to pink to orange as it disappeared behind the boats and the horizon. It was magical and beautiful, especially as it was not complicated or distracted by cameras or phones – just a quiet, calm, sea, the only sounds coming from the tiny waves and the other people bobbing around in the sea, just appreciating what happens every single day on this beautiful, secluded beach paradise.

Dinner was, unfortunately, not quite so magical, and the first time during this trip that we haven’t understood what our beloved Trip Advisor has been talking about – a little Thai restaurant called Ying-Yings. It was empty and shabby with tables that didn’t feel strong enough to hold even a plate up, and the food was bland and bordering on ming-ming if I’m honest! We beat a hasty retreat as soon as possible, then were followed all the way back to the hotel by the restaurant’s dog, who was much friendlier than the staff there! Oh well, you win some, you lose some; at least it was cheap!

More pool-lounging the next morning, which happened to be a certain person’s birthday; the nicest thing about being somewhere so secluded was that there was nothing else to do really except relax; nowhere to go and nothing to worry about except how much battery was left in the kindle! We did slope off and leave the pool to go and get a beach massage – done by old men! Not a patch on our favourite spa on Koh Samui but still enjoyable and relaxing, with just the right amount of sand getting into the coconut massage oil to provide a bit of a scrub at the same time!

Seeing as it was Becca’s birthday (albeit not a card, present or candle in sight!) we got ourselves dressed up and onto the taxi bus to go to L’Alcove, a French restaurant, for the evening – on the west coast of Koh Phangan and about 15 minutes bumpy bus ride from Haad Salad. This had been recommended to us by the lady who runs the Thai Experience on Koh Samui. First impressions definitely didn’t disappoint as we were seated at a low table right at the water’s edge and presented with a wine list (something of a rarity so far at the places we had been in Thailand). Our wine came and one of the two restaurant owners came to take our order, running off to get a pot of glitter after we had admired her sparkling arms and making us equally glittery on her return. The evening was perfect – fantastic food and attentive staff, even stilt walkers on the beach, a singer and a fire show in the sea. We ate a deli platter, with French cheeses, meats and bread, a seafood platter of mussels, prawns and squid, and the most delicious tomato and mozzarella salad I’ve ever seen, with hundreds of sweet tomatoes, a whole ball of mozzarella and a pot of delicious pesto. It made a welcome change from all the curry we had been eating – and the white wine from all the Chang! The evening was finished off with a shot or two of some homemade rum – possibly something to do with banana and brown sugar, definitely very tasty, slightly muddled in my memory, and a hundred percent causative of the following morning’s headache!

Our time on Koh Phangan was finished – slightly shorter than originally planned but we were eager to move on to Koh Tao, the smallest of the three islands… I might get a post written about it eventually!