Sunday, 4 November 2012

Jungle Flight

For many people the place at the start of the long concrete stretch of road that winds down the big hill on the road from Thong Nai Pan to Bantai was thought of as the ‘bird and monkey’ place.

I know the chap living there. Chai is friendly and always spots me when I go past on my motorbike. His is the type of business that I really want to see succeed on the island. He has built it up a business from nothing without a massive cash inflow from an outside investor.

I think he has gone one step closer to making his small tourist business viable. He has rebranded for a start. It is no longer ‘bird and monkey’ rather it is ‘Jungle Flight’.

Tourists, especially those staying at Thong Nai Pan, have plenty of disposable income to spend on activities while on holiday. Chai has aligned himself with this trend by building two long ziplines in the jungle.

In total there are 400 meters of line. He has done a good job. He uses heavy duty steel lines and has built concrete towers to attach the lines. I gave it a go the other day. The ziplines are on the side of the hill. You feel really high off the ground and in the forest canopy. It is quite exciting going down the ziplines. It also provides a great view of the area.

To try the lines costs 400 Thai Baht per person. If you go in a group then discounts are possible. You can also combine a go on the ziplines with a jungle safari. For a 3 hour jungle safari and zipline experience it is 800 Thai Baht. Again group discounts are available.

Koh Phangan is 90% untouched rainforest. This is the great asset of the island that has not been properly exploited for tourism. It is something that people would want to see. It is part of the new eco-movement in tourism. The fact that it is a local lad doing it makes Jungle Flight also a responsible tourism spot.

For more about Jungle Flight visit

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Re-Vamp of Thong Nai Pan Magazine

Thong Nai Pan Magazine is a rare thing on the internet. It is a destination guide that is not set up solely to make money from affiliate links. Nearly all the websites about the various beaches on Koh Phangan are blatantly about selling rooms for Agoda and the like. They contain information primarily about hotels and resorts and nothing else.

Although many of these sites have been punished by Google’s new algo update in March 2012, the new search results are even worse! Much more so. I frequently do a search on some KP related topic and I get 10 pages of search results that are 90% Trip Advisor. TA has its place but it only needs 1 listing. People are getting turned off Google for this reason and starting to explore the net through social media.

Corporate entities are trying to get the lion’s share of traffic about what are seen as key terms, and Google is helping them. The internet was once a place to find information; it is now becoming a place to sell people things.

It is thus a breath of fresh air to see the new look Thong Nai Pan Magazine site. Not only is it still on page one but it also attempts to give all the information a visitor to Thong Nai Pan Noi or Thong Nai Pan Yai could want. Yes, it covers accommodation, but also things to do, kids’ activities, places to visit, diving, Thai massage, events, bars and restaurants. It is the most comprehensive guide to Thong Nai Pan online by a long shot. It is also full of pictures and slides shows.

One look at the site and you can tell a lot of thought has gone into presentation and to making information accessible. There is a search box, a site map and plenty of links on each page as well as on the drop down navigation bar. Moreover, they have included loads of maps. Not naff Google map smears, but ‘hand drawn’ digital maps that help people locate a business if they were staying at Thong Nai Pan.

Thong Nai Pan is undoubtedly a special place and it now has a special website to accompany it! Don’t bother with wikitravel (manipulated by business owners and lacking in information), Trip Advisor (piece meal, out-dated and biased) or any of the rash of cheap sites put up to cash in on TNP’s hotels. Go straight to

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Buri Rasa in Thong Nai Pan Noi: 12th Best Hotel?

Buri Rasa is the latest luxury offering on Thong Nai Pan Noi beach. It is built at the end of the public road that leads to the beach where the Star Huts used to be. For those who remember Star Huts, it will come as no surprise that Buri Rasa is completely dissimilar.

Building on Koh Phangan’s most exclusive beach has been going on frenetically since 2011. The same company has been busy putting up another 20 odd Rasananda units while having to build a whole new resort next door. They have been focusing on the Rasananda villas and this means they are really sweating on the deadlines for Buri Rasa.

It is very much a sign of the times that as far as the internet goes Buri Rasa is ready and open for business. They are already selling rooms. The truth is that only a fraction of the 63 promised rooms are actually up and running. All this is excusable. What is bizarre is that the hotel is already regarded on Trip Advisor as the 12th best hotel on the island. This just shows how flawed Trip Advisor really is. If only idiotic Google would stop displaying 20 pages of their misleading reviews on their searches people might be able to find more information about where they are planning to visit. The internet is the home for a polyphony of voices, not one voice pretending to speak for everyone.

Buri Rasa has gone for contemporary style hotel style rooms with all the mod-cons and private balcony. The resort starts at the edge of the village and leads down to the beach. They have gone for a European style parade of shops and coffee shops complete with covered areas and wall paintings. It promises to be very chic and expensive when finished.

At present the pricing seems to be a bit wrong for Buri Rasa. It has a swimming pool but lacks spa, fitness room, wine cellar and the other amenities that give a place 5 stars, and yet the room rates are comparable with Panviman and Santhiya.

No doubt lots of rooms will be discounted through travel agents and for special promotions. You have to inflate your prices to seen to be giving a bargain when you discount.

In comparison Star Huts were always slow to put up their prices. They had an archaic system for booking in advance and displayed a healthy contempt for interior design, swimming pools and for fusion cooking.

Oh well the times are changing. Virtual hotels championed by corporate internet sites are now the thing.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Wat Pho Herbal Sauna

Wat Pho in the village of Bantai is easily reached from Haad Rin or Thongsala: just take the turning to Thong Nai Pan next to the 7-11 on the main road and head up the road for a couple of kilometers. On the left you will see the tall tower, pointed roof and enclosure that denote a Buddhist temple complex in Thailand.

The herbal sauna at Wat Pho is famous in Koh Phangan, as it is the only one of its kind on the island. It used to be free, and run using donations. It was shut for several years and then re-opened in 2007. Since starting up again, guests are now charged 50 Thai Baht to use the herbal sauna. The monks are given help with the upkeep of the place thanks to a joint venture program.

During busy times of the year it is a good idea to go down to the temple and book the use of the herbal sauna. At other times of the year you can normally turn up and get into the sauna straight away. The sauna is open from 2pm to 7pm every day of the week.

It is believed that Thai massage was invented by the Buddha’s personal physician. This is more than likely to be apocryphal but it nevertheless clearly highlights the connection in Thailand between medicine and religion. This is certainly the case with herbal saunas. The herbs are chosen to be build strength, detox the body and cleanse the skin. The herbal combination includes lemongrass, turmeric and jasmine

When you arrive at Wat Pho for a sauna you are given a sarong. You strip off, put your clothes and valuables in a locker and then preserve your modesty using the sarong.

You enter a narrow room with ceramic benches on either side. The steam comes from piping venting from the walls. The steam has a strong fragrance. It is a low small room with little space and you soon get very hot and are dripping with sweat. Those who say the sauna is not hot enough are well off the mark: it is more than hot enough to purge yourself of toxins.

The average person can’t take more than an hour in the sauna before they call it a day. When you decide to stop the sauna experience a monk will offer you a cold drink or a hot herbal tea.

A common method is to go into the sauna for 10 minutes and then go outside, ladle some cold water over yourself and cool down for 5 minutes. This process can be repeated for a few times to acclimatize the body before trying to bear the heat for 15 or 20 minutes. Any more than that and you might evaporate into steam. It is not a good idea to play chicken with another sauna guest as the steam places stress on the heart and respiratory system.

Wat Pho herbal sauna is a great experience and a bargain for only 50 Thai Baht. Even if you don’t believe in beauty and spa treatments this experience is one worth having.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Sunrise Villa in Thong Nai Pan Noi

The beach of Thong Nai Pan Noi in Koh Phangan is leading the way in providing luxury accommodation for high end visitors to the island. It is a beach with 3 luxury hotels to stay in - Anantara Rasananda, Panviman and Santhiya. They all have private pool villas and offer 5 star service and accommodation. A night's stay in one of these 3 hotels can cost as much as $1,000 a night, especially if someone does not book through a travel agent.

The success of Rasananda, Santhiya and Panviman is largely based on package holiday deals. They have minimal walk in trade. The people staying at these hotels are not just rich Europeans but also Chinese, Koreans and Russians. Still few Japanese high end tourists come to Koh Phangan.

For the rich the amenities of Santhiya et al. is a welsome thing. However, the beach has largely become taken over by these hotels. There are now only Phuwadee Resort and Spa, Thong Tapan Resort and the sister Tapan Noi Resort left on the beach in the mid-range of accommodation options. Thong Tapan is not cheap - it's 1,000 Thai Baht a night.

Thankfully a new accommodation option is now available in Thong Nai Pan Noi. It is Sunrise Villa. It is a 2 storey luxury villa located on a hill behind Thong Tapan Resort. The villa has 3 double bedrooms. They are air-conditioned and have en-suite bathrooms with hot water showers. One of the bedrooms is on the second floor and has floor to ceiling windows. From here and also from the large wrap around balcony the amazing view of the bay can be enjoyed.

Sunrise Villa has a fully fitted kitchen, dining area and a comfortable lounge. There is also furniture on the balcony.

The villa is set in 1,000 square meters of landscaped garden, which makes it possibly the largest private garden on Koh Phangan. At the bottom of the garden is a parking area.

Sunrise Villa is in a quiet residential area. Staying at the villa you can hear the sound of the ocean, but not the noise of the bars at night. There are a number of different species of eagles and other birds to spot from the balcony. The area is rich in nature. You can find cashew trees, pineapples, banana plants and coconut plants in the garden.

Sunrise Villa in Thong Nai Pan Noi can accommodate 6 people. The cost to rent Sunrise Villa for 1 night is 5,000 Thai Baht. Divided by 6 people that makes $28 a night. That is cheaper than renting a small bungalow at Thong Tapan Resort. And yet the villa offers privacy and excellent amenities, as well as being only 800 meters from the beach. That is great value for money.

Sunrise Villa

Master bedroom



To find out more about Sunrise Villa visit

Friday, 27 January 2012

Koh Phangan Film Festival

One of the few cultural events to occur on Koh Phangan Island, other than the regular moon parties (if they can be described as cultural), is the Koh Phangan Film Festival. This will be the fourth Phangan Film Festival and it promises to be as good if not better than last year’s.

The film festival will be held over a long weekend from 24th to 26th February. The films will be shown on a large outdoor screen on Ban Tai beach. The host for the event is the Holiday Beach Resort. You can book a room at Holiday Beach Resort directly by following this link.

Each year the independent film festival has had a different theme. This year the theme of the festival is Nature and Spirituality. Independent films will be shown from all over the world exploring these and concomitant ideas.

The organizer for the event is filmmaker and traveler Julian L Balmer who directed the 2007 film, Through the Easter Gate. It is a story of 3 young people on a spiritual quest.

Other notable films to be screened in the past at the festival include: Bag It – Is Your Life Too Plastic?, Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love, and Agrarian Utopia by Thai director Uruphong Raksasad.

There have been world premieres at the Koh Phangan Film Festival. Although some of the movies have not benefitted from a large budget they all seek to be thought provoking.

The 2012 Phangan Film Festival kicks off with an opening party at Ando Loco Mexican Restaurant located on the road between Ban Tai and Thongsala. The party is on 23rd February.

If you are in Koh Phangan at the end of February you should and make the effort to get to the festival to not only show your support to this worth-while event but also to be entertained. What better than watching a movie on the beach?

Here’s the trailer that was made for the 2009 Phangan Film Festival.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hualamphong Dining

The video says it all really. It's not a bad restaurant if you have time to kill before getting on your train down to Suratthani. The food was rice and chicken or pork. It cost about 40 Thai Baht a plate. The beers were reasonably priced, too. Next door is a handy convenience store to stock up on snacks, cigarettes etc. for the journey.

Remember that the train doesn't actually go to Suratthani. It goes to Punpin Station that is about an hour from a ferry port to take you to Koh Phangan. When you get off the train you get rushed by steerers trying to sell you tickets for the Seatran. This is one of the irritating things about traveling in Thailand: they tend to try and herd you around.

There is a man outside the row of cafes who sells tickets for all the transport companies. I prefer waiting at Punpin for an hour or so and getting a bus/boat ticket for the Raja Car ferry that leaves from Donsak. This is the biggest boat and rocks around the least when the sea is rough.

The worst boat to take when the sea is rough is the Lomprayah. It's a high speed catamaran and bounces over the waves. Last time I took it was January 9th 2012, just after the Full Moon Party. I have never seen so many people sick. I was heaving too. Those who had spent all the previous night drinking buckets must have rued their decision to take the Lomprayah the next morning.

The good thing about the train from Hualamphong to Punpin is that you get a better night's sleep than the bus. Also the prices go up less often than for the bus/boat deals. 

There is a dining carriage on the train where you can get food and beer. You can also smoke there. The beer and food is expensive, though. There are also vendors (legal and illegal) that sell meals that go up and down the carriages.

For a description of the First Class Air-Con Carriage and the journey between Hualamphong, Bangkok to Suratthani click on the link.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Ban Tai in 2012

Above is a short video I took from the taxi going from Thongsala to Thong Nai Pan. This stretch covers part of Ban Tai up until the Thong Nai Pan turning.

Things to Note

1) Niras Bakery is still going. Good news for all bread lovers.
2) The bar on the corner has re-opened. I think this is now called 'The Sound' and has live music on Fridays and Sundays. There are also a couple of rooms to rent above the bar.
3) For better or for worse the girly bars are still in Ban Tai
4) Chai Motorbike has expanded. The best place to get your motorbike repaired for a reasonable price. Recommended if you rent a bike and scratch or damage it in any way. If you take it back unrepaired to where you rented it from they will ask for lots of money before they return your passport.
5) There's now a big pharmacy in Ban Tai opposite the 7-11 called 'Nopporn Pharmacy 7'. A recommended place to buy medicines.

Many of the old traditional wooden houses remain. The speed boat pier is still running but gets very little custom. Things change slowly in Koh Phangan but often for the better.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Chatuchak Weekend Market

The chances are that you are going to have to visit Bangkok before you make it down to Koh Phangan island. One of the experiences you shouldn't miss in Bangkok is Chatuchak Weekend Market.

Chatuchak Weekend Market is quite far out from the center of Bangkok. You have to sit on an overhead train for about 30 minutes to get there from Sukhimvit. Once at Mo Chit Station (BTS) you just follow the crowds heading to the market. The heaving masses of people don’t start to thin out before you get into the heart of the market.

Chatuchak Weekend Market covers 27 acres of land and has more than 15,000 booths. It is a square with a walk way around the market. It can be very disorientating at first. Around the walk way there are shops, bars, food stands as well as musicians, buskers and the sad sight of children begging. Around the outer fringe are many shops but the majority are in the center.

The shops are set out in a grid system that confusingly goes off at acute angles. There are meant to be areas in the market to help people find what they want, but of course these are only rough guidelines. There are sections for electronic devices, flowers, antiques, clothes and pets. The latter is attractive and repulsive. Lots of cute dogs and kittens are cramped into small boxes and cages. The further up the evolutionary chain you get as an animal the more you no doubt hate your captivity, not to mention the heat and the constant parade of prying fingers through the bars.

When you first enter the center part of Chatuchak Weekend Market the numbers of people are overwhelming. It is very difficult to move; if you have a backpack or kid in a pram even more so.

Following the crowd or just going wherever grabs you can be fun. You are sure to come across a shop selling something that interests you. It is a great place to find souvenirs, clothes, spices, art work, decorations, small furnishings, silk and hundreds of other things. There isn’t much hi-tech stuff. This isn’t the place to go for iPods or pirated software or movies.

If have something particular in mind that you want to buy it can be infuriating. You just seem to find shop after shop selling the same things that aren’t quite right. If you do find what you want the chances are that the price will be wrong. Since becoming a favorite tourist destination many of the shop owners have got wise to the fact that they can charge more and haggle less. As a general rule the further in you go, the cheaper the prices seem to get. You can pay in one shop 750 THB for an item that costs 100 THB at another. If you hold off buying thinking that you could get a cheaper price only to discover that the first place was better value you might have a headache retracing your steps. It all starts to look the same after 40 minutes in the market.

However, for the experienced shopper and professional shopper there are still some real bargains to be had in the market. It is much cheaper for many items then the big shopping malls such as MBK. Many make good relations with shop owners and go several times a year to stock up on goods that they sell on for a tidy profit. As is often the case in Thailand establishing friendly relations and bulk buying makes the chances of getting a big discount far more likely.

The smells of the market are interesting. There is incense and the smell of deep fried food in the air. You can smell plenty of cologne, perfume and body smells. There are the smells of animals and the occasional unpleasant whiff of vomit. Like a bazaar, masses of people are perched in small boxes with their wares facing the narrow walk way. Many of the shop workers are chatting or playing with their smart phones.

Americanification has set in at Chatuchak Market as with most of Bangkok. There are no smoking signs everywhere. Even outside the market huddle there’s no lighting up. The park outside upholds the same dictate. Naturally, it is not hard to find a few Thais surreptitiously defying these edicts. As in many of the late night spots there are ashtrays at every table.

Other than the smoking issue, Chatuchak Market remains one of the most interesting places to visit in Bangkok. It is like Camden Market in that the market has character and provides a barrage of sights, sounds and smells; moreover, you might find some great bargains.
Chatuchak Weekend Market