South East Asia, Thailand

Thailand: The Southern Islands – Ko Phangan, Ko Samui, Ko Tao

We flew to the South of Thailand for the next part of our trip, we had planned to visit Ko Phangan to attend the Half Moon Festival. However, the rest of our time on the islands was completely unplanned, we weren’t sure where we were going , how, or when. We were working on a ‘we’ll figure it out as we go along’ plan, which is completely unlike me! I’m a self confessed control freak and would timetable my holidays down to toilet breaks if Shaun would let me! However, maybe it was the island vibes but I actually managed to roll with it.

Ko Phangan

Famous for the Full Moon and Half Moon Party, Shaun and I thought it would be rude to miss out on this back packing tradition so we headed to the island to get in on the action. We decided to go to the Half Moon Festival as this fell into place with the dates we were on the islands. Ko Phangan was our first taste of dorms, and much to my surprise it was actually fine, I had been really worried about them but I needn’t be and it was a great  way to meet other people.

Our first night was eventful, after checking in we were invited to play some drinking games in the lobby, where we got our first buckets. Well, I think I figured out why they serve it in a bucket, so you have something to capture your vomit afterwards, they are SO strong!! I learned this the hard way and poor Shaun had to play babysitter when we attended a party on Haadrin Beach later in the evening and I had convinced myself I could take on the skipping rope ON FIRE. (check out the video at the bottom for the incriminating evidence).

The Halfmoon Festival itself was a really fun event, unlike the Full Moon Party it’s not just a beach party, it’s a full blown organised festival in a jungle which meant that just the set up itself was pretty epic with the huge stages and strobing decorations, Shaun and I obviously got involved with the neon body paint too.

However, Ko Phangan has more to offer than buckets and boozy nights out, there’s beautiful beaches and waterfalls to explore too. We decided to rent a moped to give us a bit more freedom to get around the island, after Shaun had a 15 minute driving lesson from the guy who rented us the bike we headed off, I was petrified and naturally spent the entire duration screaming and holding on for dear life. In spite of my fears, Ko Phangan was actually a really great place to learn to ride the bike because the roads were wide, well built and were quiet when we went in low season, you can easily drive around the whole island in one day. We spent a couple of days beach hopping and were in agreement that  Ao Thong Nai Pan Yai beach on the east of the island was our favourite, lined with café’s and bars and overlooked by beach bungalows in the trees, it’s a beautiful place to spend a few hours. We also managed to fit in a visit to Thong Nang and Deang waterfall, unfortunately for us we were visiting at the end of the dry season so the waterfalls were more of a trickle than a surge of water, but I’m sure they’re pretty impressive if you go during high season.

Ko Samui

The next stop on our islands trip was Ko Samui, we were actually really shocked when we first arrived and were driving to our hostel, Ko Samui didn’t look anything like the island we had pictured in our mind, it was a built up busy town with lots of traffic, the complete opposite to what we had experienced in Ko Phangan.

Whilst it’s definitely not as scenic as Ko Phangan, one of the upsides to the island being busy is there’s lots to do;

We visited some of the most popular temples on the island, Big Buddah and Wat Plai Laem which are located right next to each other so were really easy to visit, they’re incredible to see  because the architecture is so different to any buildings at home and they’re all in pristine condition. However, the only downside is there’s no information to explain anything about the temples, which was disappointing for us because we like to understand the back ground of the places we visit.

Ko Samui also had an abundance of markets, We visited Chaweng Night Market and Central Festival Night Market which both come to life at night and contain an array of food stalls, bars and even entertainment. Visiting the markets was one of our favourite things to do in Ko Samui and a great place to try out Thai food. I was really apprehensive about trying the local cuisine when we started the trip because I really didn’t want to get sick, so this was a really good way to dip my toes in Thai cuisine and stay within our backpacker budget.

Another popular thing to do Ko Samui is visit the Na Mueang Waterfalls 1 and 2, Na Mueng waterfall 1 was pretty epic, the water cascades down the face of a rock into a deep plunge pool, which is deep enough to jump in from the surrounding rocks, so being the big kids we are, we spent a few hours dive bombing into the water. Afterwards, we visited Na Mueng Waterfall 2, this waterfall is only accessible by foot through the jungle or by paying for an elephant or 4×4 to drive you, both of those options were out of the question for us, for ethical and financial reasons. The walk was challenging to say the least, and I’m going to go out on a whim and say flip flops and a bikini was not the appropriate trekking gear! Thankfully, a pool awaited us at the top where we could go for a swim – given that we were literally in the middle of the jungle we we’re also awarded with some amazing views.

Ko Tao

Shaun and I had not planned on visiting Ko Tao, however we had heard so many amazing things about the island whilst in Thailand that we thought it would be worth squeezing it in last minute.

Whilst we only had one full day on the Island, we are so glad we visited, Ko Tao was our favourite island of the three.

When we arrived on our first day, we stepped of the ferry and were greeted by blue skies, and the most scenic strip of beach, a contrast to the monsoon rain we’d experienced when we boarded the ferry in Samui. So we decided to have a day at the beach, that was until half way through our lunch we saw grey clouds rolling in, followed by the heaviest rain I’ve ever experienced. After trying to wait it out, we decided the most logical course of action would be to run back to our hostel, in our swimwear because, why get our clothes wet too?

Fortunately, the weather brightened up for our second and final day on the island. We had a snorkelling tour booked, which had 5 stops on our trip and were able to see some amazing fish and coral as well as some beautiful views, definitely a highlight of our trip (some new found friends from Essex even saw a Whale Shark!)

In all, our time on the islands was really enjoyable, all of them had something different to offer and we met a bunch of really nice people along the way. In hindsight, the only thing we would have done differently is spend less time in Ko Samui so we could have had the time to do a diving course in Ko Tao. Maybe next time?

Carly x

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