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  • Writer's pictureTina McLain

Koh Phangan

Updated: Apr 19

A glimpse into my time, in April 2019, on my favorite island in Thailand, Koh Phangan.

Koh Phangan
View from hotel balcony

Dates: April 24 – May 2, 2019 Number of days: 8 days of exploring Weather: 100 degrees – hot, humid, sunny (we did experience 2 rain storms)

As we disembarked the ferry, we were met by truck and taxi drivers each trying to convince us to come with them. Thankfully we pre-booked a taxi to our hotel when we’d booked our ferry tickets. All we had to do was show them our blue ticket and they went on to try and convince another traveler to come along with them. It was a very hot day. The sweat would occasionally drip down my forehead and I would try to wipe it off quickly before it had the chance to run down into my eye and make it burn.

One of my favorite parts of riding in the “red trucks” (aka Songthaew) is seeing what other travelers I end up riding with. On this particular ride there was a family with a little girl and then a single guy (I’m guessing in his 40’s).

Even though we only spent about a half hour together, we ended up embarking on an adventure together and got to know a bit about each other. No one except my Dad and I were American or native English speakers. They were all European.

I think the single guy was German or Dutch, but I wasn’t sure. I was only able to guess by his accent since he only spoke in English. The family had 3 large suitcases with them and the drive on Koh Phangan wasn’t a flat one. There are a lot of hills and there’s no such thing as a grade limit. Some of the hills I was like “how on earth do you go up without tipping the truck over!”

Koh Phangan

Something I noticed immediately after my first red truck adventure—yes “adventure”, “ride” isn’t even in the same universe—was that when the driver gets in the driver’s seat and takes off, they instantly forget about the people in the back. Sometimes I had to hold on for dear life to not get bounced out of the truck or knocked off my seat.

The single guy was dropped off at the place he was staying first and then we were next. Even though sometimes you might barely speak to the other people in the red truck everyone says good-bye. It’s actually pretty cool. It’s like saying good-bye to someone who for a brief moment was a “friend.” No words had to be exchanged because we were friends by the simple fact that we were all out of our element and for a small moment of time we were together… a space in time where our individual journeys crossed to create a joint one.

Food & Prices

Art Cafe

Favorite Restaurants


  • 2 person falafel plate & 2 drinks – Taboon (380 baht; $12.32)

  • 1 pizza & 1 bread plate – Loccos Pizza Bar (290 baht; $9.42)

  • Lime fruit shake – Street vendor (40 baht; $1.29)

  • Frui shake & 2 cinnamon rolls – Doppio Cafe (195 baht; $6.32)


Koh Phangan was definitely my favorite island out of all the ones we visited in Thailand. I don’t know what it was that captured me, but it drew me in and it didn’t let go. When I catch myself daydreaming about Thailand it is almost always about Koh Phangan. The other parts of Thailand were incredible, but Koh Phangan was where I felt the most me. I felt safe, relaxed and blissfully in love with life even though I would have moments of anxiety. I was able to not let it control the moment. On the days where I didn’t feel like doing anything except laying in the hotel room and only going out for food, I was able to give myself permission to do that without feeling guilty or like somehow I was making the trip less special.

We decided to splurge and get a nice hotel for our last leg of the trip and let me tell you it was totally worth it. We had a room with an incredible view of the ocean. It was a corner room and the balcony wrapped around the side of the building. It was so cool. I loved just sitting on the balcony and looking out into the ocean. The sunsets were epic. I’ve never seen such incredible sunsets in my life. And they were there every single freaking evening. My favorite time (besides sunset) was right as twilight was starting to fall over the ocean. You could see all these dots of light across the ocean between Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. It was all the fisherman and barges. They were fun to watch.

We rented a motorbike for the whole time we were on the island. One of our favorite things to do was just drive around. It was so cool seeing how the different areas of the island differed in appearance. We had a lot of fun exploring.

One thing that both of us really wanted to do on Koh Phangan was walk over the sandbar during the low tide to Koh Ma. We drove to Haad Mae Haad Beach. Halfway there it started raining. By the time we got to the parking area it started to go really hard. We put my backpack in the compartment under the seat of the bike. I only took my Go Pro since it wouldn’t be ruined by the water.

I spun around in the rain a few times just soaking it in. It’s such a weird sensation when the air is hot and the rain falling is warm.

We walked to the beach and once we got there it stopped raining. We walked down the beach and to the point where the stand bar started. The sand was pretty coarse on the beach and the sandbar. It was kind of painful to walk on barefoot.

Once we got to the island it started raining again and down-poured. The rain was running down my face in a constant stream and kept getting in my eyes. My clothes were soaked. We stood under some of the large bushes to see if we could wait the storm out, but it wasn’t letting up.

It was so beautiful watching the raindrops pierce the surface of the ocean. It sort of looked like raindrops were trying to jump on it. This is definitely in my top 3 hardest rainstorms I’ve been in. The rain lightened up a bit so we decided we’d walk back to our motorbike. It started raining pretty hard once we got back to our bike. It wasn’t letting up so we decided to just go. The further we drove the lighter the rain go.

It was a really cool experience – walking to an island and getting stuck in a rainstorm. There were signs on the island that said we couldn’t go past them, so we couldn’t really explore the island. Only the small part where the sandbar meets it.

The one other thing that happened while we were on the island is I woke up one morning with one of my eyes feeling weird. I looked in the mirror and one of my eyes was swollen. It was really weird so I put a cold washcloth on it to see if it would make the swelling go away. It helped it not feel as swollen, but it still looked swollen.

I’d gone almost the whole trip without an incident. My dad had gotten sick with a sore throat on the island we had previously been on, Koh Samui. It only lasted 3 days for him. We called my aunt who is a doctor and told her about the eye. She told us what she thought it might be.

I decided I didn’t want to go to the clinic on the island unless I absolutely had to. So we went to a pharmacy and told the pharmacist about the eye and what my aunt had said about it. He gave me a cream for my eye and a pack of malaria medicine so I could take it two times a day (which would help too). He wrote the “prescription” and gave me the stuff I needed. Thankfully that treatment helped clear up my eye. My primary care doctor from home already had my dad and I on malaria medicine for the duration of our trip so the extra pack the pharmacist gave me was just so I could take it twice a day.

One thing to note about malaria medicine is that it made my skin more sensitive. I burned no matter how much sunscreen I wore. That’s why my shoulders were so dark compared to the rest of my body. I did my best to stay covered up when I could because I burned so freaking easy.

I really enjoyed all the adventures we had on this island—even my swollen eye. The one other funny-ish story was when we decided to go waterfall hunting.

We drove past a few signs for waterfalls in the middle of the island. We found the sign for one called Deang Waterfall and decided we’d go hike to it. We parked in the empty parking area on the side of the road and hiked down a steep hill following the trail. It took us down to a river… so there was no “waterfall” just a pathetic stream with a maybe 5″ drop where the water flowed down between some rocks. It was the dry season so maybe during the wet season there is more of a waterfall. But we were sort of disappointed. There’s also the potential that we didn’t get to the waterfall, but the trail seemed to end once we reached the river.

We had run out of water and were both very thirsty so when we got back to our motorbike we didn’t stop by any more of the waterfalls. We just drove back into town and stopped by a 7/11 for water. We both felt overheated and dehydrated. Let me tell you, that water was the best freaking water I’ve ever had.

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