It was always our plan to spend some time relaxing on Koh Phangan, but it was never our plan to end up spending weeks in Chaloklum, a little fishing village on the north coast of the island that I had only heard mentioned fleetingly in guidebooks as the place to go to if you wanted to catch a boat to the more famously beautiful Bottle Beach.
It is very hard to pick a beach on Koh Phangan, and unless you need to be in Haad Rin for the full moon party, you have so many to choose from you might as well just throw a dart than make a logical decision. We headed straight for Haad Yao, I don’t even remember why, but it turned out to be as good a choice as any. It is a really pretty beach, palm fringed, very photogenic and in May, extremely quiet. I am not exaggerating when I say that, on occasion, we had the whole beach to ourselves. In fact on several occasions we were the only people eating in our chosen restaurant, and for a few days we were the only people staying at our bungalows.
At first, I thought this was great. The sort of thing you dream of, deserted white sands that seem to go on forever, the silence only broken by the lapping of the sea outside your door. I have to be honest and say that after a few days I actually started to find it more than a wee bit boring. And more than that, I started to find it a wee tiny bit oppressive. I felt a bit like everyone knew my business, not that I was up to much, but then they would know that I wasn’t up to much anyway as they all sat about bored, watching us come and go.
One night however, as we were sitting on the beachfront having a meal, we fell into conversation with the Australian couple beside us whose little boy had started playing with our two (it was a busy night). They very kindly invited us up to where they were living in Chaloklum, so the kids could play together again and we gladly took them up on their offer. This gave me the kick up the arse to move, as I thought we could go up to Chaloklum, visit our new friends for the day and then catch the boat over to stay on Bottle Beach for a change of scenery.
I wasn’t expecting anything of Chaloklum but when we got there we loved it. It is a great, laid-back little place with a beautiful underrated beach, plenty of places to eat and some great budget choices when it comes to accommodation. We ended up in a really old-school wooden bungalow, the type that are getting hard to find these days. Despite the gaps in the wall, and the ceiling that was held up with packing tape, I felt totally at home.
We ended up in Chaloklum for 15 nights, swinging in the hammock and swimming morning and evening. Every night we said we would leave the next day but when the morning came we changed our minds. Eventually the local people started to recognise us and say hello in the street and we knew it was time to move on, we didn’t even make it to Bottle Beach in the end.
Reluctantly, we plucked up the energy to head back to Haad Rin, long enough after the full moon for everyone to have cleared out. We walked the deserted streets and treated the kids to two nights in a proper hotel with a swimming pool for hardly any money, before catching the ferry back to the mainland. The joys of the low season continue! Next stop Ban Krut for a beach experience – Thai-style.
My really useful travel tips for Koh Phangan
- Don’t be afraid to bring your kids. Despite its party reputation there are loads of kids on Koh Phangan, and lots of family friendly accommodation. There is even daycare available on Haad Yao should you wish to really concentrate on your tan without distraction.
- There were some seriously evil-looking urchins in the shallow water at Haad Yao so check before letting little ones in without shoes on. Equally there was still a good amount of glass in the sand at Haad Rin after the FMP cleanup, so beware.
- This is old advice, but don’t choose Koh Phangan as the place to learn how to ride a moped. I had to put a German girl back together again after she came off hers right outside our bungalow and when we were in the hospital getting our jabs there was another girl there in a mess after a similar spill. The roads are a total nightmare, especially around Haad Rin. Some insurance companies (ours included) will no longer cover moped accidents.
- If you are scared of heights or don’t trust a piece of wood the thickness of a matchstick to take your weight then don’t bother taking the boardwalk at the end of Sunrise Beach out past Paradise Bungalows. If you do walk out there prepare to be amazed at the amount of plastic rubbish that people think is OK to leave behind their lazy, inconsiderate arses.
- In Chaloklum the best part of the beach is directly opposite Rose Villa to the right of the where you catch the longtails. There is also a lovely spot outside Malibu Beach Bungalows on the other side of the pier. Remember your bug spray though as there are sand flies about.