Backpacking Thailand: Party Islands

Five years’ ago, along with plane loads of other 21-year-old recent university graduates, I made a six-week week trip to Thailand and got my first taste of backpacking in Asia. It started my love-affair with the content, and as we made such good notes (and blogged it at the time), I thought it only right to share the route tips and tricks on NomefromHome.

Ko Pha Ngnan

Ko Pha Ngnan, home of the (in)famous Full Moon Party sees thousands of tourists celebrate alcohol, hedonism and fluorescent paint year-after-year. The party takes place on Ko Pha Ngnan’s Haad Rin beach on the day before, or after, every full moon. Reportedly starting in 1985, when 20-30 travellers got together to throw a party as a way of saying thank you to their island hosts, it now attracts 1000 times that many, as up to 30,000 tourists pile onto Haad Rin beach once a month for a night of debauchery.

Top tips:

Come with paint – (though if you don’t there are plenty of face painters ready to get creative for a few baht).

Bring cash – Entrance to the party is relatively expensive! (500 baht or £10 in 2011) At least the price of a meal, so if you want to drink too…bring more than you expect. At least the price of a meal, so if you want to drink too…bring more than you expect.

Toilets – Don’t expect much in the way of loos (it’s a beach so…au natural it is…)

Sangsom Buckets – Thai whisky and coke / red bull, will give you a horrendous hangover…(don’t say I didn’t warn you)

Possessions – Do hide valuables…don’t hide them in the sand, like our friend did – absolutely no way he was getting his buried wallet back four hours later! Best left at the hotel, you don’t want those memories gone when your camera disappears…

Safety – the parties are loud and raucous and can attract some unsavoury characters. Have fun but stay safe, don’t wander off alone and stay in a group as much as you can!

Other things to see / do here include;  the main coastal road and into the mountainous interior as listed in Lonely Planet as a ‘Must See’ of Koh Phangnan and Angthong Marine National Park, where The Beach (the novel) is set.


Anthong Marine Park is a must-see


Koh Phi Phi

To the south-west, situated in the Andaman Sea, are the islands of Koh Phi Phi. Made up of one larger, inhabited and one uninhabited island, Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh respectively, these two islands are famed for their spectacular natural beauty.

Phi Phi Leh’s famous Maya Bay was used to film Alex Garland’s acclaimed novel, The Beach, which sees a trio go in search of a secret island (which is actual fact Ko Pha Ngnan) in the Gulf of Thailand.

Phi Phi is geared up towards partying and every evening Ton Sai Bay comes to life, especially around Apache Bar and Tiger Bar. It is a bit of a Magaluf strip scene (think 18-30s cheap booze and sports bars) so if this isn’t your scene, I wouldn’t bother. We stayed one night in the HC Anderson, a small guest house, with questionable cleanliness and an odour coming from our bathroom; an issue with their sewage, but it was the cheapest we could find that was central (600 for a night- £6 each).

However, there are plenty of places to stay away from town with more charm and local bars to enjoy.  We went down to Tonsai Pier and were met by a long boat driver who took us to our next resort: Tokoh Beach, where we stayed in cute but basic beach huts. Sadly this seems to have been pulled down in favour of a luxury resort while the HC Anderson is still alive…there is no justice!


Phi Phi views from our beach hut!



Phi Phi Ley’s Maya Bay…aka the beach!


Koh Samui

A quick hop over to the Gulf, and you’re probably going to arrive on Koh Samui, the Thai Gulf’s largest island and the main gateway to Ko Pha Ngnan.

The party capital of Chaweng is on the sleazy side and more like the clubbing holiday spots of Europe– except there are ladyboys and sex workers selling on every street corner. A regular influx of older Western men keep these workers busy, but they will offer their services to anyone, even if you’re a couple!

Green Bar, Mint Bar and Sounds are three classic trance nightclubs that are symbolic of the music scene surrounding the Full Moon Party.

We stayed on Big Buddha Beach for ease of getting the connecting ferry to Koh Pha Ngnan the next day.


Pubs and bars abound


Koh Tao

The ‘new’ Koh Pha Ngnan. Smaller, less-well-known, (at the time – though well on the tourist trail now) and equally, if not more, beautiful. This island has a much more laid back vibe and is less hedonistic than the other islands, but that’s not to say it’s no fun.

Sairee Beach, the island’s most popular, is home to a surplus of trendy bars which go from strength-to-strength as the evening continues. Starting with bottles of ice-cold Singha whilst being engulfed in an all-to-inviting bean bag, we gradually moved on to the backpacker staple of Sangsom buckets…we never learn!

Also while you’re here, make sure you check out the scuba while on Ko Tao as it’s some of the best in Thailand and if you’re lucky you might see one of the many whale shark’s enjoying the plankton-rich waters. If you stay at Simple Life Resort (which I can recommend!) you’ll be a stone throw away from the sharks and the Sangsom.


Party time…



Railay is a mecca for rock climbers and doesn’t have a reputation as a party island…but it does have a few fun bars so is included in my list. We visited  ‘Skunk Bar’ and ‘The Last Bar’ on Railay East which kept us entertained with live music, flame throwers and cocktails for just £2 a go.

Just don’t over do it…because you really need to try a bit of climbing. Phangan Beach is home to some amazing cliff formations; columns, huge hanging stalactites and alien-like stalagmites, rising from the floor – enough to test any novice’s mettle. Putting our faith..and lives in Tex Climbing, we did the beginners course on the 1-2-3 cliffs. After we both managed the first limestone face (8m) without too much difficulty, our instructor, Sing, took us over to a 25m climb which we just about scaled…nerves shot to pieces.


Cocktails at Last Bar



Not an island but with a reputation for a party scene…it had to be included. We stayed in Kata, a stunning bay just south of Patong after reading reviews about the latter’s sleazy vibe, particularly when the sun goes down. Kata was beautiful and we treated ourselves to a cracking meal down by the beach at Oasis – the seared tuna fish comes highly recommended!


Kata beach at sunset


Thailand has awesome islands and you can do more than just live the party lifestyle. Though that is fun! Party Safe and Party Hard!



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