Koh Phangan is the first island in Thailand that I visited. It’s an island located south of Thailand, with some of the closest and accessible islands such as Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and Ang Thong. On Koh Phangan – 7 things I learned living on an island.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Koh means island in the Thai language. I found out from a friend that the Thai people don’t usually use the word, Koh. It’s like saying “island island”, therefore they just say the name of the island. There are a few ways to travel to Koh Phangan:
1. Fly to Koh Samui and take a quick 30-45 minute ferry to the island.
2. Fly to Krabi and take a bus or minivan to Surat Thani, then take a 3-4 hour ferry.
3. Take a bus (or overnight train) from Bangkok to Surat Thani, which is what we did however that’s about an 8-hour excruciating drive plus the four-hour ferry.
Obviously, the best way is to fly into Samui, but if you don’t book the tickets early enough, the prices increase. I did all three (ha!). However, if you want more information about Koh Phangan, it’s effortless to find.
Sorted by five sections, I explore the places I’ve stayed, fantastic restaurants, what I did to pass the time, and what I learned about life living on the island.
Life provides us the opportunity many times over to stretch us in ways that we could never imagine; often we resist this opportunity.
My entire experience abroad changed me in unexpected ways. Which led to why I decided to write about Koh Phangan – 7 Things I Learned Living on an Island.
Places I stayed
During my TEFL training, we (the students) lived on a resort called The Beach Village Backpackers. I called this place home for the next three weeks.
I shared a room with two other future colleagues. One roommate was from The United Kingdom, and the other roommate (who came a bit later) was from the midwest, USA.
The accommodations were “okay.” It took some time to adjust. The bathrooms had the shower, the toilet, and the sink all in one place.
Moreover, the helpful and pleasant staff took great care of us. The Beach Village Resort is in a neighborhood called Baan Tai which is close to the Thong Sala pier. Thong Sala pier is where the ferry docks.
A key thing to remember when living abroad, especially in developing countries, is that you can kick the Western comforts out the window.
Yes, there are luxurious spas and resorts that you can create a bubble and drop yourself there.
However, you are still in a different culture with a different set of rules. Therefore, you have to remain flexible and enjoy the culture.
I met an incredible group of young people who like me decided to take some significant risks by deciding to teach abroad.
Many of whom resigned from their careers, day jobs, postponed furthering their education to do this big and scary thing. Very inspirational.
I also spent some time at Shiralea Resort. A step up from The Beach Village Resort.
On an island you will encounter wildlife, while there, we met snakes, praying mantis, large geckos, weird cocoons, and strange unidentifiable noises.
Koh Phangnan isn’t very industrialized. Therefore, there weren’t many streetlights which meant a pitch black walk back to the resort nightly.
I must add, make sure to shine a light because you never know what was waiting for you at the door (ha!).
Located 30 minutes away from Baan Tai the Shiralea Resort rests in a neighborhood called Haad Yao.
The location of The Beach Village Resort is the very best part! I lived on the beach.
Every day I heard sounds of the ocean. I woke up to sunrises and ended my evenings with beautiful sunsets. Living near the water and next to the beach renewed my spirit.
The skies always seemed to open up in Thailand. I noticed this in Indonesia as well.
There weren’t huge buildings that blocked the sky. While living in the D.C. area, it’s difficult to embrace the sun because of the constant construction of new buildings.
I would look up, and I would see this massive illustrious sky. Furthermore, this gave me a tremendous amount of gratitude.
When I returned to Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party, I stayed at Becks Resort. The resort was beautiful and comfortable.
It had an incredible view of the beach. I had my first kayaking experience here. Although nervous to get on the water because I’m not a strong swimmer, I did it!
Still here I stepped into the kayak and kayaked across this massive body of water (at least in mind) while fast speedboats and large ferries shifted the currents.
Do you know what that does to a small canoe when large boats and speedboats pass through? It creates tremendous ripples.
There were moments where I lost my mind. However, I’m glad I conquered that fear.
I’m a Libra. As a result, I’m indecisive (working on this). Moreover, reluctant to attend the Full Moon Party, I wavered in my decision.
The thought of prancing around young people the same age as my son made me feel uncomfortable. However, that’s just limited thinking.
The Full Moon Party was a hell of an experience!
I’m glad I went.
The Full Moon Party attracts young people (and old) from around the world. It’s an epic experience, at first I thought I maybe I’m too old (ha!).
But I had a blast. It’s a big beach party with dance, techno, and trance music. A friend and I caught some ratchet Hip-Hop music when we arrived early. The Full Moon Party is an absolute must!
Since I’m indecisive, many of the resorts were at full capacity, while the other resorts were too far out.
I booked a dorm room at Hacienda Backpackers. I thought to myself, give it a try, it’s only for one night since I’ll be coming from the Full Moon Party super late; well, big mistake.
While in college, I didn’t live in a dorm. The dorm life is a foreign experience to me. A few things I learned about this dormitory:
1. Not all dormitories are created equal. There were some nice ones that I missed.
2. The doors don’t come with locks (gasp).
3. The bathrooms were sketchy.
4. It’s a great way to meet other travelers.
5. Not everyone is as neat (or considerate) with their space.
Although a friendly staff, it seemed as if they just crammed many beds in every corner, nook, and cranny possible. Nonetheless, that’s my first and last dormitory experience.
I never had a terrible meal in Thailand, whether I ate at a street food stall or a restaurant every single meal was incredible.
There were so many food options on the island (in Thailand in general) that there’s just no way to try them all in such a short time.
However, there were a few places that I came back to at least twice. You can also read about my favorite cafes which were, Bubba’s Coffee Bar and Pura Vida.
I had a little of everything on the island. House People is a blend of Indonesian/French/Thai food.
When I needed a break from Thai food (which happens), I went to Bubba’s Coffee Bar and Pura Vida.
I must add that I Sapori is one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve eaten at in a long time. The pizza and pasta were amazing. Check out photos here.
An adorable young couple owned Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar. The husband’s father was a fisherman, and many of the seating on the beach are boats.
How cool is that? Fisherman’s is the place to eat for delicious seafood. They had mouth-watering food, and the drinks were delicious (but not too strong).
Next, is Beachlounge owned by a Frenchman. It had an incredible setting and directly located on the beach with delicious Thai food.
Last on the list of must-try restaurants L’Alcove. L’Alcove is a French restaurant owned by a French woman. The quaint setting and dark artistic undertones provided an intimate, quiet evening.
Many gorgeous paintings decorated the walls of the restaurant. I stepped out of Thailand for a brief moment. Again, incredible food!
Very friendly service. Don’t be surprised when given the menu in Thailand that the servers will wait for you to order.
On several occasions, we had to let them know that we were still looking at the menu and that they didn’t have to wait. If you don’t, the servers will stand there, waiting, and waiting.
Also, don’t be surprised if none of your meals come together, it’s not considered rude to start eating before anyone else gets their meals.
On many occasions with groups of people, we finished our meals while others were just getting theirs.
Furthermore, don’t be surprised when the servers give you the check and they stand and wait, and wait.
In regards to tipping. You don’t need to tip at the restaurants or food stalls, especially if you see a VAT/Service charge.
We tipped a lot of the time anyway because of the incredible food and service. But here’s something interesting.
As time went on, we noticed something. Tip jars were appearing everywhere, even at 7-11! Once the Thai people caught on about tipping, everyone had a tip jar (hahaha). I love Thailand!
Fruit shakes are very popular in Thailand, especially on the islands. I tried various fruit shakes in different places.
Hands down the best fruit shakes are at See Through Resort and Restaurant. The food there is also pretty decent.
The pad Thai is excellent. Try as many flavors of the fruit shakes as possible.
I usually had two to three per day. Mango and banana were my two favorites.
How I spent my time
The island of Koh Phangan isn’t huge. If you’re on a motorbike, you can drive around the entire island in about one hour to one hour and a half.
Therefore you can imagine, there’s only so much to do on an island, especially when the WiFi is spotty.
How did I spend my time? I did a lot of reading and a lot of writing. I also did a lot of eating :-).
Moreover, on the island is where I began focusing more on my meditation practice. Although very challenging on the beach because of the ants and the bugs. I had trouble letting go and relaxing.
I also worked out by running on the beach, jumping rope, and I did a tremendous amount of walking.
Hiking became a new favorite activity of mine while living on the island.
I visited my favorite place called the Rasta Home. The Rasta Home is a bar that I frequented. Hippy Thai guys own the bar, many of them had dreadlocks. The bar looks like a tree house with many hammocks and seat cushions.
Rasta Home is where I saw my first Thai reggae band. They have incredible live music.
The bar does not sell food. It’s a perfect place to unwind or visit before you head to another location.
Amsterdam Bar is a must stop on the island.
You will find everyone and their momma (pun intended) there. It’s the best way to catch the best sunset in Thailand.
The clouds interrupted the sunset the first time that we went. When I went back for the third time, I caught the sunset picture above.
Let me forewarn you; there are quite a few steps to the top. But it’s very much worth it. The food is “okay”.
My TEFL training kept me busy––we had homework! We had to lesson plan and teach lessons. A lot of work and play intertwined.
Then we found out that we were going to lead an English camp for elementary students. Of course, many of us were nervous.
While some of the TEFL students had a Bachelor’s of Education background, however, many of us didn’t.
Although, scary at first we had an incredible time. The students were quite excited to have us there. We came prepared with a bunch of games and lessons. By the time the camp finished, I had lost my voice!
Koh Phangan – 7 Things I Learned Living on an Island
Less is more. I arrived in Thailand with so many items. I had too many books, way too much clothing, and too many shoes and I realized I didn’t need any of it.
You can purchase anything that you need on the island.
In the States were used to obtaining more stuff, more this, and more that. I lived in excess. It’s the complete opposite in Thailand, specifically on the island.
Furthermore, while living in the States, I recalled spending hours at Costco stocking up, for what?
Even though some things are worth to buy in bulk like toothpaste or soap, however, hear me when I say, you can do more with less.
I could buy one small meat on a stick, a small bowl of rice or soup when I felt hungry. No need to stock up.
If I needed to do laundry, the staff did laundry easily (and better than me) and quickly (for a ridiculously affordable price).
There’s no reason to allow my clothes to pile up, buy more clothes, then to pile it up even more, while spending hours doing laundry.
Bottom line is––I recovered so much time that I had lost.
Slow down: There’s no concept of time on the island. I kid you not.
It took some time for me to adjust. From exiting the real estate world, and the social work world, it’s like taking your feet off the pedals, and you’re still moving.
Furthermore, I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner in my car. While living on the island, I had no choice but to stop and pause.
Also, the Thai people moved at a much slower pace.
There were no immediate worries. Often I heard, “Mai pen rai.” It means no worries.
The power would go out quite a bit, which is not uncommon with island life. The weak WiFi made it difficult to connect. The instant gratification for “things” or “comfort” quietly began to decline.
I no longer reached for my phone as much. I reconnected with my creative spirit through writing.
If you like things fast and quick, if you move or talk fast and quick, well guess what? The island is going to throw a wrench in that. I had to talk myself into relaxing.
Nature renews. I had never been the outdoorsy type. Ask me to go camping, and I would say no way.
However, while living on the island, I spent much of my time exploring the outdoors and what I found most were forests, woods, mountains, etc.
When I felt anxious or depressed, I would take a walk. The stillness of the air and greenness of the earth renewed my spirit.
At first I didn’t make this connection, however after I did a little research, I learned nature does in fact heal.
Spending more time outdoors has led to improved moods, stronger concentration for an overactive mind, i.e., anxiety.
While visiting other countries or areas of Thailand, I made it a point to find hiking trails.
I did a hike in Chaing Mai that discussed the correlation between mental toughness and hiking.
Spend more time with people who are different from you. I’ve always thought myself as someone who is relatively open to others.
In any event, I allowed ageist ideas get the best of me. I felt old around my TEFL friends’, many of whom were in their early to mid-20’s. Sometimes our judgments and egos obstruct our happiness.
This life altering move to Thailand allowed me to reflect on many things in my life.
At 35, my settled friends are with their wives or husbands, homes, children, and pets. I’ve worked and have had a seasoned career.
Was this a mid-life crisis? As a result of my insecurities, I didn’t get to know many of my TEFL friends as deeply as I wanted.
However, when I realized this, the program was nearing its end.
Next, we began transitioning into our placements (many of us with other TEFL people in the program). That gave me a second chance to create deeper connections with my TEFL friends.
Immediate gratification doesn’t exist. Oh, you want your favorite food item, there’s no more. You want a particular fruit, guess what?
It’s out of season. Did you want ice with your drink? The ice man didn’t come this morning.
Since the water is undrinkable in Thailand, the iceman transports filtered ice to every restaurant and bar. If the iceman didn’t come that day, guess what? No ice.
Hungry late at night? Everything closes early. Did you want food delivered to you?
Not an option, although, we did find one place that delivered. However, we didn’t try it. Ultimately, I learned to curtail my needs over my wants.
In America, we pay thousands, millions for a convenient lifestyle. Not so much on the island and many other developing countries.
Immediate gratification didn’t exist. It’s all a waiting game. I learned an insurmountable amount of patience.
Change of scenery. After riding my motorbike throughout the entire island in about 1.5 hours, there was nowhere else to go after that.
There’s only so much that you can do on an island. This might be a good thing or a not so good thing depending on your personality.
Acceptance. The island soothed me. Although there were plenty of discomforts and it would’ve been easy to hop on an airplane and leave. However, I chose to accept my circumstances and adjust my perspective.
It’s an opportunity for growth. I took the challenge when I sold everything that I owned and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand.
What have you learned about life while living abroad?