Good news: a new ferry service is about to start between Hua Hin, a sleepy beach resort town on the west side of the Gulf of Thailand, and Pattaya, Thailand’s hedonism capital. I’m a big fan of Pattaya (and not for the same reasons as you’d think), since it has one of the best selections of restaurants of anywhere in Thailand outside of Bangkok.
The new ferry is a welcome addition, since traveling to Pattaya from Hua Hin currently means taking a bus or taxi all the way to Bangkok, then switching over to another bus or taxi for the two hour journey to Pattaya. Grossly inefficient when you consider Pattaya is a short trip across the Gulf of Thailand from Hua Hin.
The new service will take 1.5 to two hours and start from the New Year. Early rides will be limited to passengers and not allow vehicles, making this better suited to tourists than expats looking to avoid the long drive to Pattaya.
As someone who loves checking into a hotel around Jomtien (good list available here) and enjoying Pattaya’s excellent dining opportunities, this is a great development. One more reason to head back to the mainland every other month.
Life in a tropical country is hot, especially at the beach. Here are five essentials for a great day at or by the beach in hot tropical weather, from sun protection to summer clothing and accessory essentials.
Since it gets so hot during the day, light clothing is vital if you want to feel comfortable and avoid sweating so much. Light cotton t-shirts are great for on top. I like this style of t-shirt, which doesn’t get so moist on hot weather. For women, products like silicone nipple covers offer better comfort than a bra without getting sweaty during the daytime.
The sun here is extremely intense, and sun protection is a must if you’re visiting the beach during the daytime. Stick with an SPF15+ sunscreen, which will keep you protected even in the hottest sun. Make sure you reapply it after you go in the water.
Hat and Sunglasses
If you’re going to spend all day at the beach, pick up a hat and sunglasses to protect your head and eyes from the sun. You’ll prefer it to constantly looking away from the sun or squinting all day, trust me.
Waterproof Cellphone Bag
This waterproof cellphone bag is a life saver for me. You can also pack some money inside, in case you need to buy anything while you’re there. It’s small enough to fit inside your clothes while you’re swimming, making it safer than bringing your wallet to the beach with you.
Hot weather means dehydration and heatstroke are real risks, especially if you plan to spend all day at the beach. I recommend packing some water with you, at least one litre if you want to spend several hours at the beach in direct sunlight.
I’ve lived in Thailand for over three years now, and my family has come to visit me several times. Every time, they have gone home anxious to return again. Thailand is addictive in that it’s a cheap destination that’s easy to access from Europe, making it easy to return again. Lucky for me, my family comes back often (although not so often that I don’t welcome their company).
Although Koh Phangan has a reputation as a party island, it’s my favorite place in Thailand to travel with my parents. My mother and father, who are in their 60s and are teetotalers, both love the island and like spending time on the beach here. The fact that it’s got a reputation for parties doesn’t put them off, and it shouldn’t put you off either.
Recently, my dad got veneers in Bangkok and stayed for the weekend. He then spent the next week relaxing on Koh Phangan before returning to Bangkok to visit the hospital to get everything checked, then returning home to the UK. The whole experience was chilled out and fun – not what you might expect if your view of Koh Phangan is based on the Full Moon Party.
The only place I’ve enjoyed more than Koh Phangan, and the only place I think is better for family trips, is Railay Beach in Krabi. It’s quiet and peaceful, with the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen in my life – even better than Bottle Beach here. Railay also has the added advantage of being really easy to get to compared to Koh Phangan, since there’s a direct flight there from Bangkok and a simple long tail boat ride from Ao Nang.
I’ve taken my parents to Railay once and to Koh Phangan several times. On all of their trips here, they’ve enjoyed the beautiful nature and commented about how peaceful the island is. When we stopped on Koh Samui on the way back from a snorkeling trip last time, both of them commented on how much they preferred Koh Phangan for its quieter atmosphere. I knew I made the right decision by living here, and it’s good to see that my family loves visiting too.
Another month goes by, another month gets added to the projected completion date for Koh Phangan’s new airport. The airport, which was planned for several years ago but, true to construction schedules in Thailand, still hasn’t been completed, will connect Koh Phangan with Bangkok. Some on the island are opposed. I’m all for it. Not only will it save a long bus and ferry connection from Surat Thani (or a very expensive flight to Koh Samui, for those that can afford it), but it will also make it easier for friends and family to visit what I think is Thailand’s best island.
Now, the airport is scheduled to open next year, and will have about 100 seats worth of flights to and from Bangkok daily. It’s being run by Kan Air, which is one of Thailand’s smaller airlines. I’m skeptical that they can compete with Bangkok Airways and its monopoly on travel to the Gulf of Thailand islands, but I welcome the competition and think it will be interesting to see how things turn out.
Being able to fly directly to Koh Phangan would change a lot. It would be very upsetting for the ferry companies, which currently make a lot of money ferrying people between Donsak and Koh Phangan, and across the sea from Koh Samui. It would also be an annoyance for Bangkok Airways, which makes lots of money through its ownership of Samui Airport. Let’s see how things turn out once the airport is ready and open (possibly in 2017, 2018 or 2019…).
Vice, always a magazine I either love or hate, has an interesting article on the Full Moon Party, which has made this island famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) over the last few decades. The basic thesis of the article, which I agree with, is that the party, which was once a fun hangout for people to dance and have fun on the beach, has been taken over by drunk, YOLO idiots who want to take drugs and rampage around Haad Rin without any respect for locals.
It’s a pretty accurate description. I was in Haad Rin during the last party, at least for the first few hours, and realized pretty quickly how out of place I felt. I was only 5-10 years older than most of the people there, but seemed like I was from a totally different planet. This is not a dig at all parties on Koh Phangan, many of which are fun. But the Full Moon Party has transformed from something that was once about kicking back with friends on the beach into a bunch of people, all massively drunk, destroying a town that was once very cool.
I won’t even talk about the litter and pollution, which is massive. The next morning, Haad Rin looks like a sewer mixed with a landfill, with beer bottles all over the place and water that’s equal parts sea water and human piss. The whole event has become a disgrace in many ways, which is why I’m not at all upset that the Thai police are thinking of banning it altogether.
Like I said, I’m not a killjoy and I like a party every now and then. There are many other parties and events on Koh Phangan that are a lot of fun. But the Full Moon Party is no longer one of them. It’s a totally annoying event that ruins Koh Phangan for the rest of us, since locals instinctively assume every foreigner on the island is another drunk YOLO fool waiting to do damage or offend people with their total ignorance of the culture and values.
Have you ever traveled by bus in Thailand? Up until now, I had only used buses in Thailand for short trips, like from Bangkok to Hua Hin or Surat Thani Airport to Donsak. Recently, I took the bus from Bangkok all the way down to Surat Thani, where I caught the ferry back to Koh Phangan. I took the bus only because flights were mostly booked out for the period I wanted to travel and the only available tickets, which arrived at Koh Samui Airport, were too expensive.
Let’s just say it won’t be a repeat experience. I have always defended travel providers in Thailand when people say bad things about them. I understand that some are dishonest, but most are just ordinary, nice people doing difficult jobs. Many have to deal with drunk and irritating tourists on a daily basis, and a lot of them are poorly paid. No wonder they’re occasionally surly, right?
Well, my trip from Bangkok to Surat Thani reminded me of why people complain so often about buses in Thailand. Keep in mind I didn’t take one of the tourist “scam” buses from Khao San Road. I took a VIP bus from a government bus station, expecting it to offer better service. The seats were big and the bus was clean, but that’s where the pleasant trip ended.
First, the trip takes hours longer than it’s supposed to. We stopped several times during the trip, always for an hour or more, so that the driver could take a break or go to the bathroom. I understand stopping to keep the driver alert and comfortable, but why so frequently and why for so long? It added hours onto a trip that already takes a long time. I suspect the bus company was paid to stop at certain locations, since we always stopped near a restaurant or petrol station.
Second, the entire journey, which is marketed as quiet and comfortable, was ruined by the constant movies and music that played on the bus. What is the point of a VIP night bus if you play karaoke the whole way? In the end, it was impossible for anyone to sleep and the entire experience, which should have been simple and comfortable, was a pain. I got to Surat Thani without a minute of sleep, knowing that I would feel tired for the next two days after I got home.
Next time I’m in Bangkok, I will return the same way I normally do: on a Nok Air or AirAsia flight from Don Muang Airport. If any aren’t available, I will fly to Koh Samui, even though it’s a horribly expensive airport dominated by Bangkok Airways. Even the high price of a direct flight to Samui is worth it to avoid dealing with bus companies that treat their customers like ATMs and go out of their way to make a long journey even less comfortable than it already is.
When I first moved to Koh Phangan, I spent my first two months living in a hotel. That’s not a big deal here, since hotel rooms can be rented very cheaply on a monthly rate. The only problem is that I never thought to negotiate a monthly rate, and instead paid the full price for the hotel room every night I was there.
All in all, it cost me over £2,500 for two months, which is more than I now spend on rent for six months in my much larger house. If you’re visiting Koh Phangan for a long period (at least a month or two) and don’t want to get ripped off as I was, I suggest negotiating a long-term rate for accommodation in a hotel or guesthouse while you’re here.
Most guesthouses (for those outside Thailand, these are basically small hotels, like an inn, that offer cheap and basic accommodation) will knock about 50% off their nightly rate if you agree to stay for a month. Some of the cheaper guesthouses on the southern coast of the island rent out monthly for 20% (averaged per night) of their usual one-night cost. On the quieter beaches, the discounts aren’t quite as large, but they’re still significant enough to ask for.
Another option is to move into a long term rental. This is what I eventually did, and it’s cut my costs even further, all while giving me a lot more space. The downside of this is that you’ll need to pay for your own electricity usage and water, both of which are often inflated in price by the property owner. Before you move in anywhere, check that you won’t get a silly rate for electricity, which is a very common scam.
PhanganIsland.com has a good list of long term rentals on most of the island’s major beaches. If you want to be close to everything, I suggest renting in Thongsala. If you prefer to be right by the water, you’ll find the best properties by negotiating with hotels like I suggested above. Just be sure you don’t waste your money like I did by paying a nightly rate when you’re entitled to a significantly lower one as a long stay guest.