My name is Dilyana and welcome to my article on Koh Phangan. I’m originally from Bulgaria. I currently either live in Israel or travel the world. I grew up in a small town in Bulgaria and my family didn’t have much extra money when I was young. We didn’t have the opportunity to travel.
Once I started working while at university, I began to explore other countries. I was fascinated by different cultures, architecture, nature and people. Thanks to low budget airlines, I had the chance to travel often.
This changed my life. Travel became a lifestyle and photography just came with it. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to capture all the beauty I was seeing around the world. Coming from an artistic family, I have always had an affinity for beauty, nature and aesthetics. Photography came naturally.
Six Months Living in Koh Phangan
I’m in love with tropical countries. The nature in these countries is just so different to what I grew up with. For this reason, I find tropical places appealing. I adore things like warm islands, palm trees and cute lizards.
I began looking for a destination to relocate to and Thailand seemed to have it all – tropical weather, beautiful islands, stunning nature, kind people, epic cuisine, affordable living and a rich culture. I have been in love with Southeast Asia for many years and coming back was a natural choice.
I stayed in Koh Phangan for six months and occasionally visited other places such as Bangkok, Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Khao Sok and Vietnam. Koh Phangan is a special place, like nothing I have ever seen before. It has a vibrant community of digital nomads and a welcoming atmosphere.
There are two main foreign crowds on the island and they inhabit separate parts. One is the digital nomad community. Most often they stay on the island for several months or longer. The other crowd is the short-term tourists. They tend to come for a couple of weeks for the beach parties!
This was actually my second visit to Koh Phangan. A few years back, when I went for the first time, I fell in love with the chill atmosphere. It’s an island full of yoga, meditations, retreats and massages. They also know how to throw a good party! The Full Moon Party is popular for good reason.
If you combine this relaxation and partying with the beaches and sunshine – you have paradise! I’m always surprised when I visit a new destination. I remember on my first visit to Koh Phangan that everything was unfamiliar. I loved exploring the island, getting lost in the night market, eating delicious food, seeing nature and meeting “out of the box” people.
My Favourite Place in Koh Phangan – Zen Beach
Zen Beach is my favourite place in Koh Phangan. It was the place I visited during the day for work and the place I socialised in the evening. Calm and with just a few people during the day, I could bring my laptop and work peacefully. The coffee shop owners are friendly and would always welcome me. Not to mention the view of the ocean which gave me energy to work!
Just before sunset, Zen Beach undergoes a transformation. People from the area come with guitars and bongos, start playing chill music and have fun. Social interactions are easygoing and you can just spark a conversation with anyone. These big gatherings are all about watching the beautiful sunset, enjoying music and meeting open-minded people.
10 Things To Do in Koh Phangan
There are many amazing things to do in Koh Phangan – whether you are visiting for a week or want to enjoy the long-term digital nomad lifestyle. Below are some of my favourite experiences that I believe you will love:
1. Take a Day Trip to Koh Tao and Go Snorkelling
There are daily boat trips that you can take from Koh Phangan to Koh Tao. This island is known as the best place in the world for snorkelling. The waters are shallow but the marine life is rich. You can spot turtles, sharks, beautiful corals and colourful fish. It’s a unique experience for sure.
2. Relax at the Beautiful Beach of Koh Nang Yuan
Another boat trip adventure but this time to Koh Nang Yuan in search of one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (it has even won awards for that title). The views are stunning and the beach is just pure perfection. If you want to enjoy the beauty of nature, Koh Nang Yuan is the place for you.
3. Watch a Beautiful Sunset at Zen Beach
Watching the sunset on Zen Beach is the ultimate activity in Koh Phangan. You will meet so many wonderful people there, trust me! Enjoy some chill music, have a few drinks and soak up the atmosphere of happy people partying together from all over the world. It’s such a fun and vibrant place.
4. Visit Kuan Yin Temple (Chinese Temple)
Kuan Yin Temple – also known as the Chinese Temple – is a temple nestled away in the mountains and jungle. The view from Kuan Yin Temple is breathtaking and the architecture is beautiful. This place is usually empty of tourists. Therefore, you can feel the presence of nature strongly.
5. Have a Drink and Eat some Food at Sky Bar
Sky Bar is located on a hill overseeing Mae Haad Beach. It’s considered to be a viewpoint and is a great place to enjoy a couple of drinks, eat some delicious Thai food and take in the beautiful views of the beach.
6. Do The Challenge Phangan – Obstacle Course
Have you ever dreamed of being on Ninja Warrior? Well apart from the TV show, this might be your best chance! The Challenge Phangan is a complex of pools with obstacles to overcome. This is so much fun to do with friends.
7. Try some Authentic Food at the Markets
The markets of Koh Phangan are where you can find authentic cuisine. Searching for these places is worth it! The markets are safe and have many options. My favourite dishes are Papaya Salad, Tom Yum Soup and handmade ice cream with fruit. Thai people know how to make good food.
8. Attend a Friday Night Dinner with Digital Nomads
There is a Koh Phangan Facebook group that organises a dinner every Friday for digital nomads living on the island. It’s usually held at a different place every time and anyone is welcome. You will hear some interesting life stories and connect with people in a special way at these dinners.
9. Party the Night Away at Rasta Home
Rasta Home has to be the ultimate place to go for Friday night drinks and a bit of partying. There is normally live music and many different people come here – from drunk 18 year olds to hippie families in their 50s!
10. Get a Relaxing Thai Massage in Koh Phangan
My favourite spot on the island to get a massage is a place called Papaya Massage. They know what they are doing and the staff are well educated to give healthy massages. I always came back for more here as it was so good.
Where to Stay in Koh Phangan
During my six months in Koh Phangan, I moved three times. My favourite place was the western side along Hin Kong Road. It has beautiful beach views, stunning sunsets, and many restaurants. The west is typically where people stay for longer periods of time and become immersed more in the local culture of Koh Phangan, alongside the Thai people.
For your stay on the island, I recommend renting a place from local Thai people. They have small houses built especially for tourists and the prices are better than what you find online. Haad Salad Beach and Srithanu Beach are great places. If you want a traditional tourist experience, you can go south near Haad Rin Beach where the parties are happening.
Expat Culture of Koh Phangan
Most of Koh Phangan is inhabited by foreigners from all around the world. Also, many of the workers are from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The actual Thai locals can be found mainly in the western and northern regions of the island. The south is where the short-term tourists tend to stay.
It’s quite rare to have contact with the local Thai people. But I definitely did my best to meet the locals and adopt the local way of life such as working independently, having my own digital business and eating local cuisine.
Amazing Food of Koh Phangan
As everyone knows, Thai food is incredible. The island offers two types of food – Western and Thai. I recommend eating Thai. My favourite dishes are Tom Yum Soup, Papaya Salad, Pad Thai and Tom Kha Gai (coconut soup).
You can find authentic food at the markets in Thong Sala: Phantip Night Food Market and the Food Court. There are some great restaurants too. I loved going to Restaurant Sunshine and the Food Court where I would eat from a place with a huge sign for Pad Thai. That guy cooked the best food!
Need to Know Before you Go
- Rent a scooter – it’s the best way to get around and explore the island.
- Keep in mind that you need to take boat rides – the island doesn’t have an airport and being on a boat is the only way of arriving/departing.
- Get to know the island well – Koh Phangan is very diverse and knowing what each part of the island offers is essential for having a good stay.
- You can either spend lots of money or very little – the island has its touristy side and you can find luxurious hotels and restaurants but there are also authentic and cheaper places which are awesome too!
- Stick to eating the local Thai food – even though there are multiple places that offer Western food, the cuisine is not great. Locals aren’t that familiar with foreign cuisine and don’t really know how to prepare it well. Even when these places are run by Westerners, the lack of access to proper ingredients makes their dishes taste a bit off.
- Beware the sea urchins – these spiky creatures can be found all over the seabed in certain areas and they can hurt you! Avoid stepping on them while in the water or just use goggles underwater to avoid them.
- Always rent a place with air conditioning – many places are equipped with a fan but that doesn’t cut it for people who aren’t used to the heat.
Looking back on my time in Koh Phangan, I must say that my entire trip was incredible. What I loved most was waking up every day to beautiful nature and weather. It just made me so happy! Meeting new people was a great experience too and mixing with the locals made it feel like home.