It’s an overcast, rainy day on the island just 30 minutes from Koh Samui. Rain droplets are hanging from bougainvillea blooms and fascia Frangipani clusters and the heavy clouds threaten to explode again soon.
It’s the day after Songkran and now that all the water guns and buckets have been put away for next year, everyone seems to be staying dry indoors. The island lays dormant as the next Full Moon Party will not happen on Haad Rin for another 15 days. Even though this beach party promising buckets of alcohol, copious amounts of drugs and pumping beats is what draws 20 000-30 000 people to the island every month, there is a lot more to Koh Phangan once the music stops.
Riding along the winding roads of Koh Phangan it’s easy to recognize the other face of this island as the chai-drinking, yoga-practicing, hippy island once the big party is over. Yoga signs crop up beside every second palm tree and health retreats far enough from Haad Rin offer healing, detox, counseling and meditation. The cracking road takes you up steep hills only to drop you and send you free-wheeling down into a valley. Our rented scooter chugs along up the hill at snail’s pace and I’m almost certain we may start sliding backwards in reverse.
I’ve heard numerous times that Koh Phangan is what Samui used to be ten years ago. Living on Samui, I know that it’s hard to find a piece of land undisturbed by the construction of a new resort, restaurant or house. And you really have to go searching for fields of nothing but coconut trees. But here, coconut trees are the prime residents. They fly past with a few bungalows sprinkled in between. You can still ride for miles encountering only lush, green vegetation, trees and hills. Wooden bungalows appear to almost blend in with the forest and not disturb at all. Thousands of coconuts lay in high piles whilst the unused husks are burnt at the road side. I wonder just how long this undisturbed natural haven will last as I also spot more small building sites around the island.
The neon clothing, empty restaurants and bars of Haad Rin and Thong Sala are soon forgotten a few roads down. I see more hand-made gasoline and laundry signs that I can count. Chickens squawk in their coops as their chicks play around in the dirt outside. Blue, red and white fishing trawlers and long tail boats are moored in the tiny harbours and rivers during the Thai New Year. Families gather on their porches away from the rain. Elephants sway under their covers in the middle of the day and eat whilst their masters swing on hammocks beneath makeshift huts.
I walk on a bridge over a green, swampy river to reach Koh Ma beach. Besides for one Thai family two bored massage ladies the beach is empty and quiet. Big boats park just off the coast hoping for a big catch and little boys run in and out of the water under the watchful eye of their parents.
The rain begins to pelt down just as we reach Coconut beach. Two couples are wading in the warm, shallow ocean beneath our coffee shop on stilts. Others have come here to find shelter and there is no one on the beach other than a few roaming dogs. A lone fisherman casts his net out from the rocks at the edge of the bay.
Turns out that our first night here was the only time we’d catch a sunset on the island. Our resort claims a beach all to itself and coconut trees lined the beach and hung low over the boulders and shell-filled sand. The sun fought to share its brilliance with the clouds and set behind a massive boulder with a single tree growing from it. What an island of contrast this was and after an intense day of Songkran celebrations and the rest spent in total relaxation, I hoped to return again before Koh Phangan turned into Koh Samui.
Sun setting on the beach in front of our villa.
Bikers trying to chase the rain clouds.
One of the many walls filled with colourful graffiti.
Flags decorating Haad Rin town for Songkran.
The famous neon island wear sold in Haad Rin’s party central ( and pretty much every Thai island).
Miles of tropical green vegetation and palms.
A Frangipani cluster in the rain.
A lone fisherman on Coconut Beach.
Coconut beach just before the rain.
Forest of coconut palms.
Deserted Koh Ma Beach.
Moored longtail boats.
Calm after the chaos of Songkran’s water fights.
A tiny harbour at dusk.
All the fishing boats are taking a break as fishermen leave the island to visit their families.
Island style eating dining.
The private beach of our resort: Kupa Kupa Resort.
All photographs are my own and subject to copyright.