The Ultimate Gay
Koh Phangan Guide
Just 15km north of Koh Samui lies Koh Phangan, famous for not only the monthly Full Moon Party that draws up to 30,000 visitors from all over the globe, but also for offering visitors spectacular nature. From picturesque beaches with stunning views of the Gulf of Thailand and the surrounding islands, to tropical jungle forests that are home to an array of exotic animal and plant life, Koh Phangan is far more than a party destination.
In recent years, along with the monthly party crowd, Koh Phangan has also been drawing a fast-growing number of gay travelers who are more ecologically minded. Declared a part of an organic island movement, Koh Phangan is steadily becoming a green ecological paradise with respect being the driving motto that feeds the balance on the island.
Thong Sala is the main town, with everything from gay owned/friendly restaurants and bars, gay resorts, and even a small gay beach within easy distance. Smaller, respectful, more intimate parties and live music events cater to those who aren’t into the heavy “party party” scene.
Essentials for Gay Koh Phangan
Gay Koh Phangan Nightlife
Famous as the birthplace of Thailand’s original Full Moon Party, the island has developed a unique nightlife scene. Many visitors to Koh Phangan will only experience the full moon and miss the island’s other party possibilities. Across any night of the year, Koh Phangan can be hosting a number of parties which cater to all tastes, from deep house and trance festivals such as the Half Moon Jungle parties to small off the radar hippie style gatherings, known only to the locals.
Lesbian-owned and operated L’Alcove Wine Bar is locally well-known for its beachfront Sunday live music events. 4You, a gay cocktail bar that also offers a menu of delicious foods, is sure to be the perfect start or ending point for a fun evening.
Gay Koh Phangan Beaches
Although you’ll find gay travelers on all the beaches of Koh Phangan, this small beach is a firm favorite among the locals.
Located on the left of Secret Beach (Hadson Beach) on the West side of the island, this secluded little bay attracts a small young gay crowd, especially on weekends. The next little beach alcove is a much loved nudist spot. If you are thirsty, the nearby beach bar on Secret Beach ensures no one runs dry.
Thailand’s Local Gay Apps
Grindr, Blued (the Chinese version of Grindr) and Hornet are the most popular gay dating apps in Koh Phangan.
First time in Koh Phangan?
Gays and the Law
In terms of public tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, Thailand is one of the most welcoming countries across Asia. Koh Phangan has a small but established gay community, so gay couples should not encounter any issues.
As a whole, Thai people value discretion and non-confrontation, so no one should give you any hassle for being seen together. That said, public displays of affection – both straight and gay – are frowned upon.
Male and female same-sex activity is legal in Thailand however gay marriage is not legal yet. Bangkok Post reports that “…while Thailand is viewed as a tourist haven for same-sex couples, the reality for locals is that the law, and often public sentiment, is not so liberal.” LGBT residents of Thailand and Bangkok are not offered the equal legal protections offered to non-LGBT (straight) people.
Getting tested in Koh Phangan
Getting an HIV test in Koh Phangan is not as easy as in bigger urban hubs like Bangkok and Phuket, but is still quite straightforward. The island has several hospitals and clinics, namely Bandon International Clinic and Siam International Clinic in Haad Rin and the confusingly named Bangkok Hospital Samui Clinic in Baan Tai. All are used to dealing with tourists – English-speaking staff are likely, but not guaranteed. You can also go to one of the five hospitals on Koh Samui. The public Samui Hospital in Na Thon holds an STD clinic on Thursdays 13:00 – 16:00.
Thailand has one of the highest prevalences of HIV in the Asia and Pacific region, and almost 50% of all new HIV infections are amongst gay or bisexual men, male sex workers, and transgender people. Approximately 9% of men who have sex with men in Thailand have HIV. Koh Phangan is not particularly known for HIV incidence, but given that most people at the parties are drunk or on drugs, there is a high rate of unprotected sex happening. Take extra care to practice safe sex in all your encounters on the island, and bring condoms with you to the parties just in case.
Area’s of Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan is smaller than Samui, but is still large enough that its areas are relatively self-contained. Many tourists just come for the Full Moon Party and leave right away, but those who extend their stay are rewarded with a beautiful, laid-back island life that is almost as fun as the beach parties.
Haad Rin – Haad Rin actually has three beaches, the largest of which is the location for the monthly Full Moon Party, as well as several other smaller parties throughout the month. When the parties aren’t on, there is still a good selection of bars and clubs to keep things entertaining. There are some good accommodation options across all budgets in the area, but hotel rooms go very fast (and for very inflated prices) around the full moon.
Thong Sala – Thong Sala is the main town in Koh Phangan. It has a quirky and bustling commerce, with a good range of bars, restaurants, and shops, and a few gay nightlife options. It has a pleasant, laid-back beach town vibe, but it’s not the best place for actually going to the beach.
Hat Yao and Hat Son – Hat Yao is a relatively busy beach on the north coast, with just enough development to make it convenient while still feeling quiet and laid-back. It is great for swimming, snorkelling, and lounging in the shade of a few swaying palm trees. Hat Son, a little further south is smaller and even quieter, although families with children are common.
Bottle Beach – “Haad Khuat” in Thai, Bottle Beach is only accessible by boat from Chalok Lam or by an intense hike from Haad Khom. There is a road, but it is terrible and a songthaew there is far pricier than the boat. It is a beautiful, isolated beach with almost no development and some wonderful bargain accommodation options.
Haad Chao Phao – A small and relatively quiet developed beach in the northwestern coast, a little south from Hat Yao and Hat Son. It is just busy enough to have some exciting nightlife, while remaining isolated enough that you are not constantly surrounded by the party crowd.
Ban Tai – The longest stretch of beach on the island, although much of it belongs to resorts, bungalows and hotels. Plenty of accommodation options to suit all budgets, a handy 7-11, and a good selection of bars. Many travelers choose to stay here as it is only a five minute drive from the ferry port and a twenty minute drive to Haad Rin and the Full Moon Party.
Getting around Koh Phangan
Ferry – The island is only accessible by ferry, and most visitors arrive either from Koh Samui or the mainland pier at Don Sak. You have a few options to reach Phangan from other major hubs in Thailand: either fly to Koh Samui (expensive), fly to Surat Thani (cheaper), or take a bus or train to Surat Thani (cheapest). There are bus lines to Don Sak both from Surat Thani airport and the town. Combination train and bus tickets that include your ferry fare are a convenient option.
Songthaew – The island’s whole transport infrastructure is its extensive fleet of songthaews. Songthaews, or sorng-taa-ou, are a familiar sight throughout Thailand’s islands. Somewhere between a bus and a tuk-tuk, they are beloved by tourists and a good place to strike up a conversation with fellow travelers. You can hail a songthaew from any road on the island (you won’t have to wait long) and most trips cost 100 – 200B. There are also plenty of them at the Thong Sala pier, and a steady queue at the larger beach parties. Drivers will be familiar with most bars and hotels around the island, and will drop you off where you need to go.
Motorcycle Taxi – Motorcycle taxis operate throughout the island and are a cheaper alternative to the songthaew. They are, however, operating illegally – avoid these to stay on the safe side.
Motorbike Rental – Renting a motorbike is a rite of passage of sorts for tourists in Thailand. It is reasonably cheap – about 150 -250B a day in Koh Phangan – and allows for far greater flexibility and independence. However, it is worth noting that Thailand has some infamously dangerous roads and infamously reckless drivers. Accidents are common and rental does not tend to include insurance. Make sure to wear a helmet, for basic safety but also because you may be fined if you don’t. Also, this should go without saying, but do not rent a motorbike if you have never driven one before. Yes, people do it all the time, and yes some rental companies will turn a blind eye, but it is illegal and not a particularly smart move.