Koh Phangan, Thailand (2020)



My Quest For Zest...

What To Do

Best Beaches

Where To Eat

Where to Stay

Getting There

Getting Around

'Going Green'


 


MY QUEST FOR ZEST...

It was bittersweet leaving Indonesia, the past two months had been paradise... Yet, I had a lot to look forward to. Originally my itinerary was as follows for Thailand: Koh Phangan 10 days to enjoy the beach and relax, Chiang Mai/Pi 5 days for temple visits, hot springs and cooking classes, then a flight into Vietnam. However, as Covid-19 spread exponentially around the world, borders throughout Southeast Asia closed, and I became grounded in Koh Phangan. Despite missing family back home in the USA, being quarantined on an island in the tropics wasn't necessarily a bad thing.


I have spent 5+ months in Koh Phangan and love the place more and more each day. My first impression of the island was tainted with comparisons to Indonesia. The prices were higher, and the beaches appeared similar. The cafes more expensive and the food not as unique or outstanding comparatively... but the local Thai food and the abundance of options right away blew me away. The night markets and food stalls are cheap, delicious and offer a wide selection to vegans/vegetarians. I spent the first two weeks driving every day from Srithanu to Thong Sala just for the cheap, fresh local food.


When markets closed and restaurants resorted to take-away I tended to cook more in my beach bungalow with an occasional pick-up, limiting my food-crawl but having more time and resources to maximize my coast exploration. However, as time passed and no new cases of Corona were present on the island, things slowly began to re-open and my cafe hop was restored.


My heart grew fond of Koh Phangan for the spiritual energy that vibrates around Srithanu, the fresh juices and flavorful food finds, the workshops and events that happen daily, the drum circles and kirtan on the beach, epic sunset views and ocean swims. No doubt this magical island has become a home away from home, a safe space, a place of transformation and self discovery.


Backpacking in Koh Phangan, Thailand. Best vegan restaurants and cafes on Koh Phangan. Best beaches to visit in Koh Phangan. Things to do and see on the island.

 

WHAT TO DO


1. Relax on the beaches! (Check out the Best Beaches below for the top beaches on the island, views and vibes!)


2. Explore the waterfalls! There are several on the island that you won't want to miss including Paradise Waterfall, and Than Sadet Waterfall. Make it a day adventure, pack fruits and spend time relaxing in nature!


3. Ecstatic Dance! Enjoy some sober and freeing fun at an ecstatic dance party. No need to feel shy about your dance moves, feel the energy of the music and let loose, everyone around you will be too! The vibe is amazing with good music and open-minded people. Check facebook pages, event pages, yoga studios and Phangan Daily app for event times and locations. Events often take place at Pyramid yoga and Jaran's.


4. Night life and parties! Koh Phangan is known for it's Full Moon parties, Half Moon parties, Psytrance and Techno parties. Djs are flown in from around the world for the moon events and it's a full festival vibe, people coming by the thousands. When organizing your trip, aim to be here based on the moon. Otherwise there are still parties happening frequently each week.


Seaboard on Haad Yao has a techno party and artisan bazar (free to participate) every Thursday.


Check the schedule at Samsara for parties in Haad Rin.


Every Friday at the Rasta Home near Haad Yao there is a huge reggae party.


5. Drum circle, flow arts, acro yoga and kirtan at sunset, happening daily on Zen or Pirate beach.


6. Sunset at a viewpoint cafe. Get panoramic views and picturesque scenery at one of the many sunset cafes. Enjoy a coconut, cocktail, or dinner out with friends!


Secret Mountain is an beautiful adventure to get to, and when you arrive you won't be disappointed. It feels like arriving to the most amazing tree house in nature with a pool, food, and breathtaking views.


Amsterdam Bar, for panoramic sunset views on the island.


Apichada Bar, great views on the island. Perfect sunset view point!


Heaven Bar (Haad Yao), for a good view and relaxed green atmosphere. Be prepared for a rocky drive and lengthy climb of stairs, but it's worth it!


7. Saturday Night Street Market in Thong Sala. Starting near the pier you will begin to see the streets filled with vendors. The market offers everything from clothes to food. If you're daring enough, you can even find the man that sells insect snacks. Me, no thank you, but I do love shopping durian, local produce, sesame balls, vegan cakes, etc.


8. Food markets of Thong Sala. I personally love the Phantip Market, it's got cheap prices and a variety of tasty food to choose from. Ranging from Thai to Indian to Mediterranean, there's something for everyone. I love the shakes (cheapest on the island, 30bhat, 60bhat no ice), fresh spring rolls, vegan coconut pancakes, vegan samosas, and pad thai. Get lost in the area and you're sure to stumble across a few more markets like the Phangan Food Court and several others with local produce and cheap eats!

Sunday afternoon is a market at the Chaloklum pier that's worth checking out!


9. Labrakodabra event space for workshops and flow arts. Check out their facebook page for upcoming workshops (fire flow jams, hula hoop, stone wrapping, etc.).


10. Workshops and yoga happening around the island. Keep up-to-date by joining the facebook group 'Koh Phangan Conscious Community'. Workshops are happening daily on the island ranging from making bamboo tools, how to grow your own mushrooms, cacao ceremonies, all about coconuts, water flow, tantra, drum making, and so much more!


11. Cafe crawl. There are countless unique and delicious cafes on the island and more opening up each day! There are cheap cafes, local cafes, cafes with stunning views... See below Where to Eat for my top picks!


12. Inner Walk. Transform your inner world in the matter of 4 days. I highly recommend embarking on this 4 day journey, 12pm-6pm if your time allows. Sign up on their website or pop into their magical space for more details. The wisdom offered from group discussion is unbeatable. The time you give to yourself is profound. I would say it's a must do on the island!

 

BEST BEACHES


Swim, snorkel and watch sunset in paradise! Explore the many beautiful beaches of Koh Phangan!

(Not necessarily listed in ranking order!)


1. Zen Beach: Arrive just before sunset and the beach will be buzzing with energy. Acro yoga groups gather, flow artists spin, and musicians set the tone. The view of sunset is epic, you have a clear view of the sun as it goes behind the horizon and the whole sky changes colors. Further to the left is Naked Beach, you won't miss it.


2. Pirate Beach: Another top beach for sunset as it faces west, but also comes with amazing vibes and the freedom to swim naked. Musicians, artisans, flow artists and occasional food vendors gather here every evening. You'll no doubt run into familiar faces here. As you enter the beach through the access road just after the Family Mart, take the small wooden bridge to the left beyond the rocks.


3. Secret Beach: A beautiful beach that offers deeper water to swim (have a drink or snack at the resort to the right for access to amazing snorkel!). Secret beach is also another great sunset location. Walk to the left and you'll find coves between the rocks where people enjoy naked swimming.


4. Haad Yao Beach: A long beach great for walking or exercise. There are lots of cafes and restaurants to sit and enjoy a fresh coconut or dinner with sunset. You'll find people playing frisbee, working out, or relaxing with the view.


5. Bottle Beach: Personally, Bottle Beach is one of my top picks for beach views! You have to journey to arrive there, about an hour and half hike or 20 minute boat ride (150bhat from Chaloklum), but it's 100% worth it. The white sand beaches, deep swimming water, views of the mountains and palms, and privacy makes it for an epic get away. You can make it a vacation from vacation and rent a beach bungalow for 300+bhat a night.


6. Chaloklum Beach: Located in the North of the island, it is more remote and less crowded. The views are beautiful as well as the drive to get there. The boats in the bay make for a beautiful backdrop.


7. Happy Beach: Located just a quick walk to the left from Zen beach or through one of the many access points along the road. Happy beach has a bit deeper water than Zen or Pirate beach. It's family friendly and many people tend to gather around sunset for activities or during the day for yoga. The bungalows on the beach offer a great place to stay with convenient location.












8. Bovy Beach: A small cove beach located between Naked Zen and Pirate beach. It's family oriented based on the residents there. It's not necessarily a nude beach, but based on it's location, it's not out of the norm if you do choose to take a dip without your suit. Few people are there making it an intimate gathering location for sunset, music or yoga.


9. Hin Kong Beach: Try Freeman Bar for sunset for good views and atmosphere. You can walk out far when the tide is low. There are certain spots along the beach where palm trees stretch out horizontally which make for a fun photo spot!


10. Haad Rin Beach: Located in the South, this is the Full Moon Party beach! Due to Covid-19, when I visited it was empty, but all the amenities for tourists are there. The water is deep enough to swim, you can rent jet skis and paddle boards. There are countless bars lining the beach that also provide rooms and bungalows. The shops on the inside streets are conveniently selling beach toys, clothes, and everything you'd need for an effortless stay. The view of nature, palms and massive rocks is breathtaking! There are boats that can take you to further beaches in the area.


11. Koh Ma Beach: Located in the north, this beautiful beach is more quiet and secluded than others. The greenery around is peaceful and nurturing. The water is deep enough to swim. When the tide is low you can walk the sand path to the small island.


 

WHERE TO EAT


The island is loaded with cute vegan cafes and restaurants, even local Thai stalls offer a variety of plant-based options. Make sure to check out as many of them as you can, trust me, it's worth it!

(The list provided is not necessarily in raking order)


1. Phantip Food Market in Thong Sala. Close to the pier there is an open air walking market with many vendors and food stands. There are some stalls open around mid-day but the majority of vendors come around 3-4pm and into the evening. You are sure to find a variety of food, there is something for everyone, from local Thai cuisine, classic pad Thai, to vegan pancakes, donuts, fried sandwiches, fish, Indian, falafel and hummus and so much more. It is cheap and delicious. Remember to bring your own smoothie cup, fork, knife and spoon, and Tupperware to avoid the excessive use of plastic.

Fresh juice, 30bhat. Love all the combinations and flavors. Can do fruit and vegetable combo. This is the cheapest and best juice you'll find on the island.

Vegan pancakes. So yummy! Sweet and gooey in the middle. Simple ingredients. Will even impress the Europeans who claim fame to pancakes.

The best veg. Pad Thai! Make sure to say no fish sauce and egg. Ask for tofu. 40bhat. Filling and great flavor, experiencing the essence of Thailand!

The best papaya salad in all of Koh Phangan. The owners of the stall will make it super fresh for you right on the spot. I don't know what she does different than everyone else, but it's the best! Only 60bhat. Make sure to specify vegan.

Amazing fresh spring rolls! Vegetable and seaweed (20bhat), and an avocado roll (30bhat). I love them both, or one of each! Eat them whole or they will cut them for you. Add dipping sauce and peanuts if you wish. Sometimes I liked to take them togo and eat them at home with tahini. They also sell sushi by the piece and have several veg options!

Empanada stand. It's a lot of fried. However, if you're looking for this type of snack or 'treat' the vegetable one is flavored nicely and it's cheap (20bhat).

Indian stall on the inside right covered area has nice samosas for cheap. Again, a nice snack or cheap eat, but it's a lot of fried. I enjoyed as a nice one time snack, to try of course!


The falafel and hummus was average. The hummus I paid extra for and was a bit watery. The falafel were really dry. In total for the falafel salad plate and hummus was 130bhat. There was a Mediterranean restaurant in the covered part of the market that seemed a bit more pricy but better quality.













2. Saturday Night Market Thong Sala. Similar to Phantip market, but with a lot more vendors, clothes, art, jewelry, and food variety. It starts in the late afternoon/evening (5pm) going into the night. It's worth a visit to get a feel for the cultural cuisine, and there are plenty of vegetarian/vegan options. Walk the whole street, and see what you find! Don't arrive too late or there won't be as much food available! I love the vegan coconut pancakes, stalls of durian, sesame balls, vegan cakes and brownies, fresh fruits and vegetables to stock up on for the week, spring rolls, sticky rice, smashed bananas....


3. Phangan Food Market. It's a big covered market in Thong Sala with many food stalls, there is surely something for everyone! Food, produce and clothes are sold.

The vegan/vegetarian stall along the back wall towards the right corner. They have a vegan/vegetarian sign. Most curries are 60bhat and big portion. Rice is only an additional 20bhat.

The pineapple curry is one of the best curries on the island! It's a super big portion with the bowl exploding with veggies, it's fresh, and soooo good! If you care for rice, ask if her brown rice is available.

The pad Thai was also delicious. Honestly, this mama is a true chef serving with her heart.

Great massuman curry.

Cashew and vegetable curry, yum! Indulged on more than one occasion.

She makes a great mango sticky rice.

The fried morning glory, although smothered in a questionable sauce, is no doubt tasty.


To the right of the vegan/vegetarian stall, in the very right corner, there is a Salad Stall. Create your own salad bowl with 7-10 ingredients starting at 100bhat. The salads are huge, delicious, fresh and you have the power to choose everything down to the dressing! They also sometimes have vegan bread loaves, cinnamon rolls, and sweet treats. The falafel are sold for 5bhat a piece, yes!


The Brownie Stall, right in front of salad and vegan stall, you won't miss the display case, also sells some vegan sweets. They occasionally have a vegan brownie (big and chocolatey, but average taste), 40bhat.

The vegan banana bread is really moist and tasty. Take a couple slices togo and keep them in your fridge for a nice, cheap and relatively healthy snack, 20bhat.


4. Orien Cafe. Clean and healthy plant-based food. Part of a yoga studio and retreat center. They offer fasting programs so they have a detox menu with lighter options and a regular menu with innovative vegan cuisine. Did I mention delicious!....

"Meaty Mushroom Curry" is so flavorful and delicious! Definitely worth a taste!

The beetroot burger is filling and tasty. I opted to get it with the air fryer French fries, because it'd been a while since I had French fries, and I thoroughly enjoyed the indulgence without feeling guilty. They have gluten free buns too!

The Green Salad is simple but all the fresh herbs and greens make it something so good! The dressing is a great addition to flavor too!

The Snickers bar looked a bit better than it tasted. But chocolate...honestly...

The Orien Sea Salt Chocolate Bar is 100%! Get one and savor it over several days or share it with friends!

The Tofu Scramble breakfast is so yummy! I'll admit that I definitely craved this often after having once!

The Breakfast Burrito is super filling and soooo mouthwateringly amazing. It comes with the tofu scramble, so my craving is met, but is also topped with homemade ketchup, vegan cheese, cashew pesto, rice, and lettuce all on a whole wheat chapati. I don't want to tell you what to do, but you MUST try it!


5. Taboon. An Israeli restaurant in the heart of Srithanu. Nice atmosphere and ambiance. Sit at a table or cushions on the ground. You can buy tahini in there shop for 500g/400bhat. Tahini is great to use on salads, with dates, fresh vegetables, or on toast, apples, bananas, etc. Check out this amazing Tahini recipe!

The best falafel, well, maybe ever! The falafel plate or pita are therefore great options and highly recommended.


Really nice baba ganoush (roasted egg-plant dip), hummus, and tahini.


For a lighter fare, the steamed vegetable plate was nice...but I'd go for the falafel.











6. Eat.Co Srithanu. A chain, they also have a location in Thong Sala, but I really enjoyed the staff and the food! Plant-based and innovative cuisine. A nice atmosphere to grab a bite with friends or get some work done on the wifi. They also sell holistic health items like sage, oils, incense, reusable bottles, palo Santo, crystals, clothes, and jewelry.

The Jamu Chia Pod was a nice breakfast or lighter snack. Granola, soaked chia seeds and a turmeric smoothie blend served with orange slices. Yum!

The freak shakes are ah-mazing! The chocolate one is like a dessert, ice cold, thick and creamy by a blend of bananas and cacao. I can't forget about the brownie bites in it too! They have several different flavors to check out!

The sushi bowl is filling and a favorite of mine. It comes with brown rice, nori sheets, marinated carrot, tempeh, sprouts and more!

The toasts are a bit pricey but they are filling and fresh. The carrot salmon toast was super yum and something different than I was used to. They offer homemade bread or gluten-free alternatives. The avocado toast, well you can't go wrong there, it was enjoyed! The vegetable toast I also managed to try during my stay, and it was healthy and hearty.


The Mighty Mushroom bowl was heavy, so come hungry. Served over vegan mashed potatoes with beans, mushrooms, and more! It sure was good though!

The rainbow salad was earthy, fresh, filling, yet light! A nice eat for lighter fare.

The desserts are super temping and very good. The Twix wasn't my favorite, but the lemon pie was OMG and the peanut butter balls are a classic.

Yummy Ramen bowl that's color is beautiful and taste is mmm mm good.

Falafel burger....hello yum!


7. Karma Kafe. Similar to Eat.co, but again, good food and nice atmosphere.

The morning bowls are beautiful and filling.

The fresh pressed juices are really nice.

The salads are fresh and filling! I even like to add some pumpkin to a salad for a little bit of grounding and extra deliciousness as it's cooked with warm spices!


8. Thai Place. From the main road in Srithanu headed towards Green Gallery on the side street, it's the second stall on the right. They sell fruit and have tables outside for a local restaurant. There is a sign out front that says vegan/vegetarian.

The papaya salad is one of my favorites in Srithanu. Monitor your spice level. Make sure to say vegan or they may add fish sauce.

Good pad Thai with great flavor!

Cheap coconut, 30-35bhat! And when you finish drinking the liquid sunshine, they will open it for you so you can eat the 'meat'.

Really nice red curry and yellow curry. Order rice additionally if you want it with your meal.

Good and cheap mango sticky rice.

Purchase a mango, pineapple, or fruit and they can cut it for you t