KO SAMUI (700 kilometers south of Bangkok and 80 kilometers from Thailand’s southern coast) has traditionally been one of the biggest budget traveler hang outs in Southeast Asia. Located on the eastern side of Thailand, it features calm waters, pleasant white-sand beaches and lots of accommodation options. In the past was known mainly for its cheap hotels and backpacker bungalows and party scene which included refreshment stands run by old ladies that sold ganja on the side, and restaurants with waiters that offer heroin and ecstasy to some of their customers.
Until the late 20th century, Samui was home to a small community engaged primarily in fishing and harvesting coconuts. There were not even any roads on the island until the early 1970’s. However, once foreign visitors discovered this island gem, lush with tropical forest, fringed with palm tree lined stretches of golden sand, and surrounded by pellucid, aquamarine water, development quickly followed.
In recent years Ko Samui has tried to re-invent itself as a New Age center by offering luxurious spa baths, morning yoga classes and mouth-watering yet healthy vegetarian and seafood delicacies, massages, aromotherapy, herbal saunas, fating, coffee enemas, manual lymphatic drainage, reflexology, tumeric exfoliation, yogurt rub downs, herbal baths with stewed rose and frangipanu petals, facial massages, seaweed body masques, wild mint foot massage, detoxifying algae wraps. vortex astrology and colic irrigation. The trend was the Spa Resort in the late 1990s. Other hotels soon joined in, An efforts has been made to transport the drug scene over to Ko Pha Ngan, a nearby island famous for its full-moon parties.
Situated in the Gulf of Thailand in an archipelago of more than 80 islands, Koh Samui is the third largest island in Thailand and Thailand’s second most popular island destination after Phuket. Covering 247 square kilometers, it is about 21 kilometers at its widest point and measures 25 kilometers from north to south. The interior is dominated by a thick ridge of bush-covered mountains and coconut palm plantations. In addition to the beaches, there are some worthwhile walking trips to waterfalls, jungles, coconut forests and limestone hills in the interior. The beaches on the island’s east coast are long and have white sand and are backed by hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. Quieter spots are found on the south, west and north shores of the island.
Ko Samui Tourism and Hotels
Tourist Office: 5 Thalad Mai Road ,Baan Don,Amphoe Mueang, Surat Thani 84000, 0 7728 8818-9, 0 7728 2828. Tips and Warnings on Ko Samui: 1) While affordable and convenient, motorbikes are the cause of numerous accidents and fatalities; always wear a helmet, never drive drunk, and drive defensively at all times. 2) Negotiate all taxi and tuk-tuk fares prior to departing for your destination. 3) Be careful walking on the beach or swimming at night, particularly if alone. Make sure your scuba diving instructor is fully certified. 4) Respect Thai values regarding dress: women should not go topless on the beach and men should not walk around shirtless other than at the beach.
Accommodation: With nearly 500 hotels and almost 60,000 rooms, including beach bungalows, condominiums, and private villas, finding a place to stay on Koh Samui is hardly a challenge. The trick is finding the right area of the island to suit your needs. Chaweng Beach offers the most variety of accommodation options as well as the most activities, while Mae Nam Beach is more suitable for those looking for quiet, sedentary relaxation. While Samui was once a haven for backpackers who were content with thatch roof, budget bungalows, these have generally all been replaced by mid-range, air conditioned, concrete bungalows and luxurious spa resorts. Regardless, there are still a few budget options to be found, and with so many choices it would be impossible not to find some accommodation that fits your budget.
Tourist killed Taking a Selfie at Ko Samui Waterfall: In November 2019, a 33-year-old man fell from Ko Samui’s Na Mueang 2 waterfall, the same spot where a Spanish tourist died in a fall in July the same year. AFP reported: “A French tourist has died after falling from a waterfall while trying to take a selfie in Thailand, police said Lieutenant Phuvadol Viriyavarangkul of the island's tourist police told AFP: "It took several hours to retrieve his body because the waterfall is slippery and steep,"adding that the spot is roped off and there is a sign warning tourists of the danger. "His friend said he was trying to take a selfie and then he slipped and fell." [Source: AFP, November 15, 2019]
Getting to Ko Samui
As the second most popular Thai island, Koh Samui is easy to get to via land, boat, or air. There are numerous boats from Surat Thani province on the Thai mainland as well as from neighboring islands Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. The Koh Samui international airport is served primarily by Bangkok airways, which flies to and from Koh Samui and seven domestic and international destinations.
By Train: The train station in Surat Thani is serviced by trains from cities to the north and south, including Bangkok and Hat Yai. From Surat Thani minibus or songtaew transfer to the boat pier is required to get a ferry to Koh Samui. By Car: As many of the ferries connecting mainland Surat Thani with Koh Samui are car ferries it is possible to rent a car and drive to Koh Samui. From Bangkok to Surat Thani the trip takes from 8 to 10 hours; from Phuket or Hat Yai the journey is 5 and 6 hours respectively. Once in Surat Thani, the ferry piers are another hour from the town.
By Bus: Numerous buses from throughout Thailand, including Bangkok and Phuket, service Surat Thani town, the capital of the mainland province that includes Koh Samui. From Bangkok it is an 11 hour bus ride. From Surat Thani minibus or songtaew transfer to the boat pier is required to get a ferry to Koh Samui, although some tour operators will provide transfers in a bus-boat package. Buses arriving late at night may miss the last ferry to Koh Samui so it is often preferable to take an overnight bus to Surat Thani and then catch a morning ferry to Koh Samui.
By Air: Bangkok Airways offers direct, non-stop air services between Koh Samui (USM) and Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi, Pattaya (U-Tapao), Phuket, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Flying time between Koh Samui and Bangkok is under an hour; flights between Samui and Phuket or Pattaya are under 45 minutes. Thai Airways offers limited domestic service to and from Koh Samui; Berjaya Air connects Koh Samui and Kuala Lumpur; and Firefly provides service from Penang and Kuala Lumpur to Koh Samui. For individuals from qualifying nations there is Visa-on-Arrival service available at Samui Airport.
From Samui Airport to the various beaches there are numerous ground transportation options. Minibuses offer seats for around 100 baht/person. A private taxi will cost between 150 and 300 baht depending on distance and negotiation, as most taxis on the island are unmetered (despite external appearances advertising Taxi-Meter). It is also possible to fly to Surat Thani, which is serviced by budget air carrier Thai AirAsia. While fares are considerably more inexpensive, the flight, transfer to the pier, boat ride to Koh Samui, and final transfer to your hotel can take upwards of a full day.
Getting Around in Koh Samui
According to ASIRT: Has one of the highest road fatality rates in Thailand. Tourists, unfamiliar with driving regulations in Thailand, and poor driving habits of residents are factors in high road risk. Roads are generally narrow and poorly maintained. Sand on road surface may reduce traction; be especially alert for sandy stretches if cycling. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT)]
Taxis are readily available in Chaweng and Lamai. They are more difficult to find elsewhere. Taxis may be called or flagged along main roads. Taxis are metered and have fixed fares based on distance traveled. If driver does not start the meter, agree on fare before leaving.Songthaews (small, covered pickup trucks with passenger benches) Have fixed fares and are inexpensive. Destinations are fixed. They are posted: are on truck’s sides or front. Routes are not fixed. Tell driver your destination before boarding. Songthaews serve as buses during day and taxis at night. Fares are much higher at night.
Some international car rental companies have agencies on Samui.Local rental agencies’ vehicle maintenance may be inadequate. Local agencies may include an English-speaking driver for a small fee plus cost meals and accommodations for driver. Samui Airport (5 km from Chaweng Beach): Air-conditioned vans provide transport to beaches and resorts.. Hotel vans are most convenient. Fares are often higher than public vans.
By Motorbike: Motor scooters can be rented cheaply, and roads are filled with young travelers riding them. For anywhere from 100 to 1000 baht, depending on the size of the bike, motorbikes can be rented in any beach town on Koh Samui. While the roads on Koh Samui are considerably better than those on other Thai islands (particularly neighboring Koh Phangan) renting a motorbike is a risky venture. In addition to the risk of injury, a common occurrence for foreigners on the island, there are occasionally scams involving rental motorbikes. As you must typically leave your passport as a deposit for a motorbike it is best to look for a reputable motorbike dealer even if the price is slightly higher. Finally, be aware that helmets are required by law and wearing closed toes shoes is common sense.
Bicycles: For Getting around in the beach where your resort is located a bicycle is an excellent option. Many resorts offer complimentary bicycles, although they can otherwise be hired for no more than a hundred baht a day. Make sure to wear a helmet and ride cautiously, there are many potholes and cars don’t give bicycles the right of way.
By Taxi: There are now quite a few taxis on Koh Samui that are identical in appearance to Bangkok’s meter taxis. However, Koh Samui’s taxi drivers are loathe to use them (if they have meters at all.) Don’t expect to pay less than 50 Baht for the shortest ride and make sure to negotiate the fare prior to heading out to your destination.
By Songtaew: Red pickup trucks with benches in the back serve as ‘buses’ around the island, traveling fixed routes and allowing passengers to get on and off at will. It’s easy to flag one down; in fact, they actively solicit passengers. Ask the fare prior to climbing aboard if you want to ensure you won’t get ripped off. It’s even possible to hire one for the day if you don’t mind riding in the back.
Rental Car: There are both cars and jeeps for rent on Koh Samui. As the winding, single lane roads don’t allow for much speeding and traffic is rare, self driving an open air Suzuki Samurai’s is an enjoyable way to sightsee Koh Samui, often for the same price as hiring a car and driver or a taxi for the day. As the island is relatively small, it’s also nearly impossible to get lost!
Ko Samui Resorts
On her stay at Tongsai Bay, an eco-friendly resort,Lynn Sherr wrote in the New York Times, “The colony of cottages and low buildings barely displacing the lush greenery on the hills of the island's northeast corner, this 25-acre haven has tamed the best of nature. In the open-air lobby, shaped like a giant tent, I felt the brush of a warm breeze and inhaled the fragrance of sweet flowers. A chirping chorus of yellow-breasted birds flitted about. The welcome drink was a tangy surprise: a rosy concoction of dried chrysanthemum, roselle (a kind of hibiscus) and pandanus leaves, with lime juice and other exotic ingredients. I felt soothed and energized all at once. And instantly headed for the water. [Source: Lynn Sherr, New York Times, November 7, 2004]
The main pool, the social heart of the resort, is filled with seawater, half a football field long and shaped like a figure eight with a teak bridge bisecting its center and crushed blue rocks lining its floor. The sides of the pool slope down gradually, so entering the water was a slow glide into serenity. Buoyed by the salt and lured by the unusual distance, I churned through the water, immersed in azure. A few hundred yards away, hidden behind a hill and dug into a cliff, is the second pool, a freshwater rectangle with a vanishing edge that makes it seem suspended above the sea. The illusion is enhanced by the way the rim slices objects in the distance: I saw sails but not boats in the gulf; tops but not trunks of palms; heads but not bodies of people walking by.
This pool is smaller (25 meters) and the mood decidedly more serious. Signs request "quietness" and no diving, please. The surface looked like glass and the water felt like liquid silk. And then there was the ocean: a 650-foot crescent beyond a gently curving beach, billed as the only such private hotel coastline on all of Samui. The water was choppy on my first day but perfectly swimmable the rest, especially once I realized that the coarse sand floor drops off quickly and plunges you directly into the brine.
Ko Samui Sights
Popular Destinations in Ko Samui include the Hin Lad and Namunag waterfalls, the phallic rock formations at the southern end of Lamai Bay and the seated Buddha on Fan Isle in Phai Laem Bay. There is also a Butterfly Garden and a mummified monk at Wat Khunaram. Activities around Ko Samui include cooking courses, Muay Thai training, scuba diving, and golf. Elephant treks are offered through the coconut forests.
Boat trips can be taken through spectacular limestone formations, lagoons, beaches and caves of Ang Thong Marine National Park northwest of Ko Samui. Among the most attractive of the 40 islands in the park are Koh Wua Talep (Sleeping Cow Island), Koh Mae Koh (Mother Island and Koh Nai Put (Nr. Put;s island). Kayaking is done in the mangrove forests below limestone cliffs in the Ang Thong Islands. Kayakers often see monkeys, colorful birds, fish and reptiles. The Muslim fishermen who live in the islands sometimes offer rides in their unique boats which have high bows decorated with colorful ribbon designed to keep evil spirits away.
Natham, Koh Samui’s main seafornt settlement, is the home to shops, travel agencies and restaurants. Chaweng and Lamai are the most developed beach areas. They feature hotels, guesthouses, resorts, restaurant and bars set around palm-fringed beaches. Bophure and Maenam are other popular beaches. The primary diving and snorkeling spots are at the coral reefs at Laem Sed and Tong Takien. Lynn Sherr wrote in the New York Times, “Samui now draws nearly a million tourists a year, mostly Europeans, to scores of hotels, resorts and restaurants. If nonstop seashore and hot, sunny days are not enough, you can disco till dawn, go snorkeling or kayaking, ride an elephant to a waterfall, get a custom-fit silk dress or climb the steps to a four-story-high statue of Buddha.
Today the beaches of Chaweng and Lamai are bustling beach towns with fabulous beach resorts, internationally acclaimed restaurants, and world-class nightclubs. There are a few quieter beaches that are ideal for relaxation, particularly those that feature some of the finest 5-star resorts in the world, and some that exude old world charm, such as Bo Phut, which features converted, old Chinese shop houses.
Mu Koh Ang Thong National Park (30 kilometers northwest of Ko Samui) embraces almost 50 islands with a combined area of 18 square kilometers plus 84 square kilometers of marine environments. Among the highlights are lagoons hidden behind towering limestone rock formations, white sand beaches and dense jungles and mangroves. Each island has its own features. The most spectacular viewpoint is at the top of Koh Wua Ta Lap, which is reached by a steep 450 meter trail. Koh Mae Ko is another highlight. It also offers good views. Thale Nai (Inner Sea) is a huge emerald lagoon, situated in the middle of the limestone mountains that emerge from the sea. Mu Koh Ang Thong is an easy day trip from Koh Samui. Kayaking is popular around Koh Wua Ta Lap. Best time to travel to Mu Koh Ang Thong is January to April. The park closed from November 1 to December 23 annually. Location and Contact: Mu Koh Ang Thong National Park Tel. +66 7728 6025, +66 7728 0222 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Surat Thani Office or Contact: TAT Surat Thani Office, 5 Thalad Mai Road, Baan Don, Amphoe Mueang, Surat Thani, Tel. +66 7728 8818-9, Tel. +66 7728 2828.. Hours Open: The park is open everyday. Accommodation: Restaurants, camping areas, tents and five houses for rent are available on Koh Wua Ta Lap. Please reserve in advance. Visit www.dnp.go.th for more details. Admission: 400 baht for adults and 200 baht for children Getting There: Website: Official Thailand National Park website, Use Google translate /park.dnp.go.th
KO PHANGAN (half hour boat ride and 15 kilometers north of Koh Samui) was once a quiet place but now it hard to come up with a place—during certain times anyway—that is any noisier. Dominated by backpackers, hippies and ravers from all over the globe, its famous for its ear-piercing and mind-numbing Full Moon parties—all-night-all ecstacy-driven dance events. Among the drugs available here are marijuana, heroin, magic mushrooms, ecstacy, opium, LSD, amphetamines and a variety of designer drugs. Many restaurants specialize in magic mushroom omelettes. If this doesn’t sound very appealing the island is big enough (190 square kilometers) there are plenty of quiet places. Many people come for both—some hard core partying followed or preceded by some relaxation time.
Located in the Gulf of Thailand a short boat ride from Koh Samui, Koh Phangan (pronounced pun-ngun) is a large, mountainous island covered with coconut trees and surrounded by white sand beaches and aquamarine waters. While each month thousands of young people flock to the world famous Full Moon Party in Haad Rin, where local and international DJs play music on the beach, there are dozens of other beaches in varying stages of development that are alternatively occupied by five-star beach resorts, budget beach bungalows, and a number of yoga, meditation, and health retreats.
Thong Sala is the main town. The center of the drug scene is Sunset Beach. The drug-infused Full Moon parties are nearby near the village of Hat Rin. "Ko Phangan's appeal lies in its combination of sun and near-total permissiveness," wrote Jeff Wise in the New York Times magazine. "Probably nowhere on earth have so many drugs been consumed so openly by so many for so long. Large in backpacker lore, Sunrise beach is no more than 300 yards long. The southern half fronts a rocky shore...Riddled with cigarette butts, soiled by dogs and rimmed with tideborn debris it maintains a ravaged dignity.
“A crowd of topless sunbathers clusters along the northern half, where the sand is soft and bleached white and slopes gently into the turquoise waters...A scruffy trio of Israelis follow the narrow dirt lane past rows of open-air shops down the water's edge, where a crowds is gathering. A German woman with brightly painted breasts pushes through to greet a group of white Rastas who are clambering down from a motor launch and wading ashore. A faint musk of marijuana graces the air...In a place like Ko Phangan, where the old Woodstock virtues of openness, generosity, and lack of purpose still hold sway, chronic vagrancy is badge of honor...Every year the scene there looks less and less like a "happening" and more and more like a psychedelic frat party."
Tourist Office and Website: 5 Thalad Mai Road ,Baan Don,Amphoe Mueang, Surat Thani 84000, 0 7728 8818-9, 0 7728 2828. Accommodation: There are more than 250 resorts on Koh Phangan ranging from five-star luxury resorts to budget beach bungalows and nearly everything in between. Immediately upon arrival, visitors are typically greeted by dozens of touts offering rooms, though if you book ahead you can simply find the one promoting your resort and get a free ride from the pier to your hotel. While Haad Rin is the most popular beach on the island, there are dozens of beaches to choose from, each with their own distinctive characteristic. Generally speaking, the farther you go from Haad Rin, the quieter the beach. Around the time of the full moon party, the hotels and guest houses around Haad Rin are filled with young partiers awaiting the big event. If you are planning to visit Koh Phangan around the full moon, you should book ahead, and if you are looking for peace and quiet, avoid Haad Rin altogether.
Koh Phangan Full Moon Parties
All-night ecstacy-driven “full-moon” parties are held on Haad Rin beach on Koh Phangan near Koh Samui held each month on the night before or after every full moon. The events attract partiers from all over the world. Some draw tens of thousands of people to the island.
The first Full Moon Party was improvised at a wooden disco not far from the beach in 1985, and was attended by 20 to 30 travelers. The parties gained fame through word of mouth and became a must-attend event among backpackers traveling around South East Asia. The event now attracts a crowd of between 20,000 and 30,000 every full moon and continues past dawn the following day. Bars and DJs on the sunrise beach play psychedelic trance, drums and bass, house, dance and reggae music. Among the attractions are fire skipping ropes, alcohol 'buckets', and a drug culture. [Source: Wikipedia]
The Full Moon Party is more a bunch of small parties than one-large concert-like event. Oliver Benjamin and Phoowadon Duangmee wrote in The Nation: “The sheer variety of moon-theme parties on Phangan is amazing, each one touted on loud psychedelic flyers and posters all over the island — the Half Moon, the Black Moon, the Shiva Moon — and each one a bacchanal of all-night techno music, half-naked foreigners and unabashed drug and alcohol indulgence. Generated by huge loudspeakers, the dance music can shake the ground for a kilometre in all directions, and for years it seemed to have deafened everyone in authority to whom complaints were directed. [Source: Oliver Benjamin and Phoowadon Duangmee, The Nation, March 22, 2008]
Although the Full Moon Party generates a lot of money for locals not everyone on Koh Phangan likes the event. While it may be wild, once-in-a-lifetime happening for party-goers, for farmers and residents involved in everyday commerce—people who like to get to bed early—it can mean yet another sleepless night.
The Full Moon Party was featured in the films “The Beach”, “Last Stop for Paul” and the Thai film “Hormones”. It was also the subject of the first episode of the Comedy Central TV show “Gerhard Reinke's Wanderlust”. In 2011, the island's parties featured on “Tourism and the Truth: Stacey Dooley Investigates”, a documentary investigating the negative impacts of tourism on local people and the economy.
Efforts to Shut Down the Koh Phangan Full-Moon Parties Early
Oliver Benjamin and Phoowadon Duangmee wrote in The Nation, “The fat-moon parties used to be lawless enough that huge signs advertising "special mushroom omelettes" and "amphetamine tea" were tolerated, but the local cops began cracking down on drugs and other craziness in the mid-1990s.” But the efforts didn’t produce lasting results. Later there were other attempts to limit collateral damage. “The administrators of Baan Tai School complained about the Black Moon party, and the event was moved into the dense woods of Baan Khai jungle - but attendance dropped, so it was promptly shifted back to its original location. There was considerable publicity when an irritated nun at Wat Khao Tham managed to shut down the Shiva Moon party, but then she mysteriously withdrew her objections and the techno-thunder resumed as usual. [Source: Oliver Benjamin and Phoowadon Duangmee, The Nation, March 22, 2008]
In 2008, “suddenly Koh Phangan's rave parties were shut down early. Residents of the village of Baan Tai wrote to the governor of Surat Thani complaining that the parties were depriving more than 100 households of sleep. "What's worse is the drug dealers who hang around the guesthouses pushing marijuana to the tourists on party nights," they said, adding that theft was becoming common and more sober-minded tourists were shunning the island.
“The police showed up at the Half Moon Party in Baan Tai and ordered the organisers to shut it down because it was "after hours". The next night they did the same at the Baan Sabai Day party. The exact cause for the policy change wasn't immediately known but, given the massive amounts of money involved, local residents are skeptical that the mandate will hold. "The governor of Surat Thani is concerned about the complaints," says Colonel Wuthichai Hanhaboon, head of the Koh Phangan Police Station, "so the police stopped several parties and ensured that the revellers would cause no trouble."
"We try to bring some order to the parties, but the organisers don't listen - they're making a fortune," says Threerayuth Plaisuwan, head of the civic administration in Baan Tai, home of the original full-moon parties. "They get Bt300 per ticket, and the corrupt authorities get a Bt100 cut to turn a blind eye to the problem." Thus, a handful of people on Phangan bank a bundle of cash from "techno-tourism" while the vast majority suffer the headaches and sleepless nights with nothing to show for it. "The communities earn hardly anything from the parties since we can't tax the organisers," Threerayuth says. "And then we have to pay for the beach clean-up afterwards too!"
A "party zone" has been suggested. Instead of staging the events in or near the central villages of Baan Tai, Baan Nok and Baan Nuea, organisers could get together and carve out a specific area in the dense jungle environs some distance away. Choosing a spot behind natural hillside would muffle the sound. Critics of the monthly noise assaults find it ironic that the raves are festooned with messages of multiculturalism, tolerance and "getting along". It's a message the locals wish the revellers would take to heart - so they can get a decent night's sleep.
Full-Moon Party Safety Issues
Although drugs are consumed by many partygoers, drug laws are strict and police enforcement is stepped up during the parties. There are undercover police on patrol and even the drug dealers themselves may report drug users to police. [Source: Wikipedia]
In January 2005, seven people were killed, including four foreign tourists (including an American and an Israeli) and 23 were injured, and 17 were missing after an overloaded speedboat capsized off Koh Samui. The boat was returning to Samui from an all-night party on Koh Phangan. Forty people were on the boat when it capsized a few kilometers from Koh Samui. The boat was not allowed to carry more than 30 people.
In July 2010, forty-two people were injured after two boats carrying Thai and foreign tourists collided near Pha-ngam island. The boats were ferrying tourist too and from the island’s “full moon” parties. The boats collided around midnight in rough seas during a rain storm.
A number of crimes in which foreigners have been the victims have occurred at the all-night Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. In recent years, there has been an increasing number of assaults, robberies, muggings and sexual attacks on tourists in the in bars and the area surrounding Haad Rin on the island. Break-ins at hotel bungalows while partygoers are away from their rooms sometimes occur as well. Many Thais from Bangkok do not visit the Samui archipelago because of its reputation.
The British Embassy in Thailand has warned that western tourists have been victims of vicious unprovoked attacks by gangs in Koh Phangan. "These attacks are particularly common around the time of the Full Moon parties and generally occur late at night near bars in Haad Rin. Exercise caution when walking in this area at any time, especially after dark."
This wasn’t the only murder on Koh Phanga. In 2004, three Thais were gunned down in a fight on Haad Rin beach. In April 2007 Israeli tourist David Kakitelashvic, 31, died after being stabbed eight times with a knife at the beach’s Drop Inn Bar. A gang of teenagers, including the son of a local politician, were the chief suspects. In March 2008 an Indian tourist was stabbed to death trying to break up a fight during the full-moon party.
The British Embassy in Thailand has warned that western tourists have been victims of vicious unprovoked attacks by gangs in Koh Phangan. "These attacks are particularly common around the time of the Full Moon parties and generally occur late at night near bars in Haad Rin. Exercise caution when walking in this area at any time, especially after dark."
Koh Phangan Full-Moon Party Murder
On New Years Eve 2012, 22-year-old British tourist Stephen Ashton was killed by a stray bullet. Victoria Ward wrote in the Telegraph, “Ashton was killed as he danced with friends at a beach bar on the popular island of Koh Phangan. He is believed to have been caught in the crossfire when an argument between two groups of youths suddenly escalated. [Source: Victoria Ward, the Telegraph, January 2, 2013]
Mr Ashton, a junior City trader, had quit his job in November and had planned to travel from Thailand to Australia. Local police spokesman Lt Col Somsak Noorod said: "He was shot in the side while he was dancing on the beach." He was rushed to Bandon International Hospital on the neighbouring island of Koh Samui, but was later pronounced dead.
The suspect, named locally as Ekkapan Kaewkla, 26, was subsequently arrested and was found in possession of a homemade gun. On his arrest, Ekkapan admitted he had fought with another group of men at Zoom Bar but denied firing the fatal shot, according to local reports. A few days after the murder Ekkapan Kaewkla appeared in court. Police Colonel Kittakarn Kramothong, said: “Stephen was not involved in the fight.”
Around 300 revellers attended the Countdown party at the Zoom Bar on Haad Rin beach on Monday night. Witnesses said that two groups of Thai youths got into an argument which escalated into a fist-fight at around 4am. As one of the groups ran from the bar, one man turned and fired a shot back inside. Ashton was shot in the torso.Sophie Harwin, a graphics editor from Surrey, had spent the evening nearby but left the area before the shooting occurred. “I just met someone who said loads of people were trying to save him,” she said. “Very sad."
Mr Ashton had been staying with a group of friends at Pink's Bungalows, a series of basic wooden beachside properties in the fishing village of Ban Tai, not far from Haad Rin. He had posted a photograph of himself and two friends drinking beers in a Thai bar on Facebook on December 13.
Getting to Ko Phangan
Because of its popularity and proximity to Koh Samui, there are multiple options for getting to Koh Phangan. Visitors can fly to Koh Samui or Surat Thani and take a ferry-boat, speedboat, or high-speed catamaran to Koh Phangan. Visitors can also arrive in Surat Thani by bus or train and then arrange boat travel to Koh Phangan. It is also possible to take a boat from Chumphon to Koh Phangan via Koh Tao. Once on the island, there are many ways to get around Koh Phangan: renting a motorbike or 4x4 vehicle, hiring a boat or car with driver for the day, and taking a share taxi/pickup truck or long-tail taxi boat.
By Bus: From Bangkok there are government buses that go directly to the Nadan ferry pier in Surat Thani province. There are also buses to Surat Thani town that require transfers to the pier. Buses and minibuses from Khao San Road are convenient ways to ensure that you don’t get lost finding your way from Bangkok to Koh Phangan but have a notorious reputation for having valuables “get lost” from luggage stowed beneath the bus. While convenient, these buses should be only for those who do not leave valuables in their checked luggage.
By Air: While there is no airport on Koh Phangan there are two options for saving a great deal of time by flying to the area. The closest airport to Koh Phangan is Koh Samui (USM), which is serviced by both Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways from Bangkok, Phuket, and various other locations, including Singapore, Chiang Mai, and Kuala Lumpur. From Koh Samui there are many options for getting boat service to Koh Phangan. Another option is to fly to Surat Thani on the Thai mainland. Thai AirAsia offers low fare service from Bangkok to Surat Thani. From Surat Thani the transfer to the boat pier and then the journey aboard a ferry takes considerably longer than from Koh Samui, though boats are scheduled to coincide with flight arrivals and connections from the airport to the pier are easy to arrange.
Getting Around in Koh Phangan
By Rental Motorbike: While the roads are dangerous, rental shops have been known to scam visitors, and motorbike accidents are frequent, motorbikes are still one of the most popular ways to get around Koh Phangan. For around 200 baht/day, 100-125cc motorbikes can be hired, while larger bikes cost upwards of 1000 baht/day. Foreigners are typically required to leave their passports as a deposit and these may be held ransom if any scratches or dents are found that were not noted prior to rental. As driving on Koh Phangan’s hilly, bumpy, and slippery roads is the cause of numerous injuries and deaths, it is strongly advised that full protective gear, including helmets, long pants, and closed toed shoes are worn at all times.
By Rental Car: It is possible to rent small Suzuki Samurai jeeps, which are considerably safer to drive than motorbikes, though not without difficulty as some of the roads on the island are still a challenge to navigate. By Songtaew: Songtaews are covered pick-up trucks with benches in the back that serve as taxis around the island for around 100 baht a ride (150 baht for farther flung destinations). Prices are considerably higher if there is no one to share the songtaew with. If you are alone expect to wait for the driver to find other passengers before moving on to the next location, particularly if that destination is far away.
By Boat: Long-tail boats operate as taxis between beaches, charging passengers more if there are no other passengers headed to where they wish to go. If you don’t want to pay so much, you will need to wait for other passengers. Alternatively, you may privately hire a long-tail boat for a half-day or full day to take you beach hopping around the island.
KOH TAO (45 kilometers north of Koh Phangan) is a top destination for scuba divers though even non divers are easily drawn in by the island’s beauty and its inhabitants charm. Koh Tao ("Turtle Island") is one of the top scuba diving destinations in Thailand, if not the world. In fact, only Cairns, Australia issues more PADI certifications than Koh Tao. While some globetrotting SCUBA snobs may express disappointment, the shallow, crystal clear waters of Koh Tao feature abundant marine life and considerable coral that are certain to please both beginners and experienced divers, particularly as the island itself is so spectacular and the atmosphere on Koh Tao is so relaxing. What’s more, the island, which is the site of important breeding grounds for Hawksbill and Green turtles, is now a center for environmentally friendly diving practices, including the reintroduction of hundreds of juvenile turtles to the island's ecosystem and efforts to preserve and grow coral reefs.Non-divers can appreciate the beauty of Koh Tao, which seems relatively devoid of inhabitants while the majority of visitors are spending their days underwater, by taking a boat trip around the island to visit Koh Tao’s many gorgeous beaches and bays, hiking to the summit of the island, studying yoga, or simply relaxing in a hammock and enjoying the view of nearby Koh Nang Yuan, a spectacular attraction in its own right.
Over the past decade Koh Tao has transformed from a sleepy, yet popular place to get a scuba certification to the second most popular place in the world to do so. Once a destination almost exclusively for scuba divers and those looking to get away from it all, Koh Tao is now also a destination for wild 20-somethings to warm up before or unwind after neighboring Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party. Fortunately, despite its quite small size, most of the beaches around Koh Tao have retained a charming, laid back atmosphere and bungalows ranging from ultra-basic thatch roof to chic and boutique are available for those on any budget to enjoy the beauty of one of Thailand’s most spectacular islands.
Koh Tao Tips and Warning: 1) While there are numerous clinics on Koh Tao at Sairee Beach and Mae Haad, the closest hospitals are on Koh Samui and mainland Chumphon. 2) Electricity, supplied by generators, is very expensive: switch off the lights, fans, and air conditioning when leaving your room. 3) Don't throw paper or other things into the toilets: the pipes are easily clogged and very difficult to clear. 4) Exercise extreme caution when driving motorbikes on Koh Tao. 5) Avoid drinking the night before scuba diving. 6) Wear mosquito repellant with DEET, particularly around dawn and dusk. 7) Water is scarce: don't leave it running, especially during showers. 8) While diving or snorkeling, look, don't touch; this includes turtles, coral, and any other marine life!
Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.
Last updated August 2020