Tezza's Thai Islands and Beaches Travel Bits
April 25, 2006
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I revisited Phangan late March. Lack of time changed my original plan of doing a bungalow crawl up the east coast, along the top and then down the west coast as far at Hat Yao. So I had to confine myself to staying at Leela Beach (Hat Rin) and Thong Nai Pan Yai, visiting others either by round-island boat trip or motorcycle.
Bad luck voyeurs, Leela ain't a nudist haunt like the old days. It now has a couple of pretty nice mid-range resorts and an old style budget bungalow place and is a little too built out for overexposure. Nevertheless, it is a very laid back beach, uncrowded even on the nicest days , has nice sand which gets a bit narrow at highest tide, and good swimming except at lowest tide when lots of rocks just below surface make this difficult, although it is still dead easy to find a spot to sit in or splash around.
Leela is on the sunset side, east of the harbour and fairly close to the SE corner of the island. You can reach its western end in about three minutes from the end of the Hat Rin East main street (take the stairs and follow the sign to Coconuts) or the far eastern end in about ten (follow the signs from the top of the stairs up the dirt road to Leela Beach Bungalows). So Leela is a good alternative to Hat Rin East for people wanting to stay on a nice beach.
I stayed a little further past the beach at a place lauded in a Thorntree post, Lighthouse Resort which is accessed by taking a wooden walkway for about 300m over the rocks from the eastern end of Leela. “Lighthouse” gives the impression it’s on top of the headland but this resort starts on the seaside rocks and rises to about half way up the steep hillside. Nevertheless, a great location, almost on the SE corner of the island with nice views across to Samui (sensational views from the higher 800 baht bungalows especially at night when the lights came out).
Those dearer bungalows were pretty big and looked fine. But I have to say my 200baht bungalow (outside bathroom) was a dump - its 15 degree lateral list beat a 10 degree longitudinal dip, it was pokey with a three quarter size bed and barely enough room for two people’s gear, it wasn’t very clean, had advanced wood rot in the roof beams and the veranda beam at the top of the stairs was so low it scalped me first time. The super steep stairways in several places through the grounds had PVC water pipes across the air gaps. On the plus side, the outside bathrooms were reasonable, the restaurant food was good if a little overpriced compared to really good value bungalow restaurants and the service was quick if unsmiling (at least from the female side - the blokes were pleasant enough).
If I were looking for a cheapie in this area I’d try Leela Beach Bunalows which had a lot of 300 baht (with bathroom attached) places up the back row. They looked okay in a pretty pleasant setting, maybe a little close together. One downside may be this outfit’s two dogs, who got over-exited from terrorizing a beach jogger and then decided to harass all passers-by. Maybe not such a good idea when one of those passers-by was a dog-hating Orstrayan with his really big bush stick.
As for Hat Rin itself - I like it. Despite the bullshit from the FMP haters, East Hat Rin Beach is clean, wide, great for swimming, the town has heaps of restaurants, shops and services (people who haven’t ventured down through Western Hat Rin for some years will be astounded by development here). And for one of the best people watching places anywhere, grab a beer from the corner store fridge at the “crossroads” in HR East main street and watch the passing parade.
Thong Nai Pan Yai towards the north end of the east coast is so much better again. A really nice beach surrounded by rain-forested mountains, quite a lot of accommodation from basic to mid-range, some beach bars etc, but with a laid back, uncrowded feeling. There is a separate village with several small supermarkets, some restaurants and an ATM.
I’m a sucker for elevated el-cheapo bungalows with stunning views, so I got myself another 200 baht job at White Wind, built up the steep headland hillside at the north end of the beach. What a contrast to Lighthouse! I’ve got a pretty full report of the bungalows and some other TNP stuff on travelfish HERE.
Thong Nai Pan Noi didn’t look too shabby either and is an easy 15 minute walk by track which starts in White Wind and goes by way of the high end Panviman Resort which straddles the headland between the two beaches. I saw someone bad-mouthing Panviman on TT - “new headland hugging concrete monstrosity mega bungalows“- hey, looked pretty good to me and http://www.panviman.com/ shows an attractive 3 day package even if the daily rate is over the top.
The long road into TNP is a little better than last time I visited, but still super steep and rutted in many places, real easy for the inexperienced to stack a motorcycle. Please take care, particularly if you have your trusting girlfriend on the pillion. There seems to be only two public songthaews (100 baht) from Thong Sala each day, but several bungalows send pick-ups to meet most ferries (100 baht). Water-taxi longtails will bring you up from Hat Rin East for about 250. The good news is the small fast ferry which leaves TNP about 9am, picks up at all the little beaches down the east coast, calls in at Hat Rin West harbour and then goes on to Mae Nam on the north coast of Samui for 250 baht. This comes back in the afternoon.
Other places which caught my eye include girllrig’s favourite non-TNP location, Mae Had, a lovely smaller beach (TT says the beach “isn’t fantastic”. Well technically that’s right, but it’s pretty nice) on the n.w corner of the island, with good swimming, some good coral near a small offshore island, about half a dozen bungalow places, but not too crowded. This seemed to have mainly young Euro couples and families staying. Between the boat trip and the motorcycle I visited three times, including a great sunset last evening while waiting for the night ferry.
Hat Yao (the west coast one) was similar to the present Mea Had when I last visited in ‘97. Now it is fully built up, with a big arrary of bungalows, restaurants/beach bars, dive centers etc. Nevertheless, it is still an attractive place.
The boat put in at Hat Sadet south of TNP on the east coast. This laid back beach had a surprising amount of accommodation, much built up the steep hillsides both sides of the beach, and a nice waterfall waterfall about 1 km up the road with a good pool for swimming and a big rock with a small cave where you can actually enter the pool by swimming underwater a short distance.
Unfortunately, the boat didn’t put in at Bottle Beach (don’t mention THE WAR!), but it sure looks more developed than last time I visited. Nevertheless, land access is apparently still difficult, so no doubt it still is pretty laid back.
On the personalities front, there seemed to be much fewer football-top wearing farangs walking around the place. Perhaps my idea that people wearing this stuff who haven’t played for the team are wannabe losers, is sinking in. However the pirate look seems to be spreading - what we have here those calf length board shorts, a bare chest with the inevitable tattoo, and in many cases a bald head with the colourful knotted ‘kerchief on top. But hell, where’s the stuffed parrot on the shoulder? And shouldn’t those tatts be skull and cross-bones rather than “MOTHER”?
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