The two beach areas of Haad Rin and Thong Nai Pan are on the tropical island of Koh Phangan in the tsunami free waters of the Gulf of Thailand. It is an island that used to be popular mostly with backpackers looking for tranquil beaches and cheap bungalows, but both Haad Rin and Thong Nai Pan have recently reinvented themselves and both attract very different visitors.
In 1987 Haad Rin began holding full moon parties on its sunrise beach and the idea quickly caught on. Now the whole beach is dedicated to the party and up to 20,000 people make the trip to Koh Phangan to join in the world’s biggest monthly beach party. As a consequence Haad Rin town has expanded quickly to accommodate the massive influx of people. There are now 5,000 rooms available in Haad Rin, many of them in 2 star and 3 star hotels with swimming pools.
At the same time Haad Rin has seen a quick commercialization. Many of the local Thai shops have been replaced with trendy bars and restaurants. Recently, Club 9 has opened, Koh Phangan’s first proper nightclub. It attracts a few big name DJs and has a VIP room. In tandem with Club 9 is House 9 which is a hostel style place to stay. This trend towards providing hostels for young people to stay in is also a new departure for Koh Phangan.
Thong Nai Pan in the north east of Koh Phangan has developed in a very different way. The longer beach of Thong Nai Pan Yai has been set up to provide quality mid-range accommodation. Such places as Central Cottage, Dreamland Resort and Starlight Resort all have a communal pool and air-con rooms. There are still a few basic fan bungalows in Thong Nai Pan Yai but every year they are decreasing in number.
Except for Tapan Noi on the smaller beach of Thong Nai Pan Noi all the cheap beachfront rooms have gone. Nearly the entire beach of Thong Nai Pan Noi is now devoted to the most luxurious and expensive accommodation in Koh Phangan. On the beach are 44 villas with private plunge pools and salas.
At the northern end of Thong Nai Pan Noi is the big hotel of Santhiya with a massive communal pool. It offers teak wood villas set in manicured gardens.
At the southern end of Thong Nai Pan Noi is the Panviman Resort that has hotel rooms and villas as well as a large pool, a spa and 3 restaurants. These three places: Rasananda, Santhiya and Panviman offer better accommodation than anywhere else on Koh Phangan.
Other than the resorts there are just a few bars and restaurants on Thong Nai Pan Noi. Unlike Haad Rin, development in Thong Nai Pan Noi has been limited to accommodation that seeks to provide all the needs of its guests.
If neither Thong Nai Pan nor Haad Rin appeals to you then don’t worry: the other 20 beaches of Koh Phangan remain very much the same as in the original backpacker days.