Off the beaten track in Ko Tao & Koh Phangan

So you’re in Thailand on your inaugural SE Asia backpacking trip and you decide to head down to the islands for a spot of scuba diving and some hard-core full moon partying. That’s a great idea, but I also urge you to venture out of the main towns and explore other parts of these tropical islands.

The Full Moon Party in full swing!

Ko Tao

Ko Tao has a hidden treasure in the form of an abandoned hotel complex set in a secluded sandy bay. You can wander around these derelict restaurants, rooms and balconies then sunbathe peacefully on your own private beach. Just over the other side of a rocky outcrop it’s possible to do some cliff jumping from 5-10m high ledges – straight into pristine clear water full of coral and fish so don’t forget your snorkel and mask!

Here we are on top of the abandoned hotel

To get there you need to hire scooters – anywhere from the main town will do but preferably 125cc or above as there are some quite steep hills to negotiate. (Top tip: take pictures of any damage so that you don’t get charged when you return them).

Once you have your scooters, drive out towards The Tarna Align Resort in the centre of the island. Keeping the resort on your left, continue on the same track up a steep concrete hill and look out for a single house on the left.

After this the track will begin to go down again; soon enough you’ll reach a sharp left turn in the dirt track with a smaller foot track leading straight on – this is where to park up and continue on foot. It’s then a simple 30min hike down through the jungle (including crossing directly over a dried up riverbed).

If you’re thinking it sounds like too much effort then think again – it’s such a surreal experience and totally worth it; I mean how often do you get to cliff-jump, snorkel and explore abandoned hotels all in one day?!

Checking out the cliff jumping spots

Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan may be famous for its monthly Full Moon Parties – and rightly so – but there’s another side to the island that not everyone knows about. Again by hiring scooters you can really set out and explore Koh Phangan properly – from its beautiful waterfalls in the middle of the jungle to picture perfect beaches on the northern coast.

My pick of the waterfalls is the Phaeng Waterfall in the south east of the island – it’s within easy reach of Thong Sala (main port/town) and has jungle trails leading up to Dome Sila viewpoint. There’s also a short(ish) but challenging hike to reach Khao Ra – the highest point of Koh Phangan at 627m. For the best sunset views head to Three Sixty Bar or the nearby Ko Ma viewpoint.

Ko Ma viewpoint at sunset

In terms of beaches, the more inaccessible they are the better in my opinion. The best of the lot is the famous bottle beach where transport is largely limited to long tail boats and therefore weather dependent (there is a road but it really isn’t great).

However, being so hard to reach means you’ll be rewarded with pristine sands and probably the most peaceful place on all of Phangan! Slightly easier to reach but still secluded and definitely beautiful is Haad Khom beach – check it out on the north coast.

You can’t get lost here…

Finally there’s Haad Yuan bay. With an almost hippie vibe this place is centred on chilling during the day and partying at night – without the crowds. Eden bar is the place to be on a Tuesday or Saturday night – with music regarded as the best in Thailand and a view over the whole bay it really is hard to say no!


So next time you’re in Ko Tao or Koh Phangan, get off the beaten track and discover some hidden Thai gems!

Let’s start a vote – which is your favourite island?? I’m going to kick it off by voting for Koh Tao on the basis that it has a bit of everything!


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