Sunday, 14 July 2013


Local markets are fascinating places in Thailand. These are groups of small stalls that are intended for Thai consumers with little money to spend. The items are often parceled into small servings to reduce cost. For many of these items the price is fixed or the price is at least commonly known. Stall owners are not used to dealing with foreigners and probably couldn’t explain in English what a lot of their wares are.

The market running along the top road of Thongsala that starts at the large bar on the corner of the main road is very much a local market.

I have been down the stalls many times over the years and I have purchased the odd vegetable or bag of bean sprouts. The other day I was with a Thai friend. We were strolling down the line of stalls, killing time. I spotted something strange in a plastic bag. It looked like, no it couldn’t be, yes it was…

A rat.

My Thai friend asked the stall holder, and yes it was a rat. In fact a whole stack of grilled rats. They are very common on the island and for those old skool Koh Phanganers living in the jungle and using a handmade rifle grilled rat makes a good meal with a bit of rice and no doubt a liberal amount of chilli.

Getting over the initial shock, it makes sense to me to eat ‘bushmeat’ in Koh Phangan. The animals are straight from the jungle and not carriers of disease; also, one hopes, not rubbish scavengers. There is apparently a rodent bigger than a rat found not only in Koh Phangan but all over Thailand that is something of a delicacy.

The picture above is of turtles in the market place in Thongsala. Turtles are meant to be protected animals as their numbers have declined sharply. Many people fear certain species could soon go extinct. I was surprised to see turtles in the market. Maybe I shouldn’t be since turtle soup is a Chinese favourite.

I have never seen deer meat. I presume the injunction to not kill the royal animal generally prevents open sale of the meat.

I have seen locals chowing down on giant lizard and I’m sure snake is also sometimes on the menu.

It might all sound a bit grim but until fairly recently Koh Phangan was a remote part of the Kingdom that did a bit of trade in coconut and squid but whose inhabitants were mostly self-sufficient. They lived off the land and the sea. That is real island life.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Bantai Revisited

Bantai is now the second most popular beach in Koh Phangan after Haad Rin. And just like Haad Rin just down the road, its popularity is largely based on the party business.

Over the past few years Bantai parties have dramatically increased in number. The Jungle Experience and the Half Moon Party has been joined by Rhythm and Sands. There are also the after parties at Baan Sabai. Last year saw the opening of Loi Lay Floating Bar that holds regular DJ events. Most recently the Ku Club opened its doors offering supposedly Ibiza style events on the beach.

The party goers are flocking to Bantai. The long beach has some good hotels and resorts. It also has plenty of budget backpacker places.

Another draw for Bantai is that it is located on the main road to Thongsala. There are plenty of bars and restaurants along this road including the small but infamous red-light district in Koh Phangan. The less seedy bars have live sports and some have live music.

However, putting all this aside, what is Bantai beach like? Well it is a beautiful long stretch of white sand. The sand is fine and is mostly kept clean. The biggest problem is the tide. There is a seasonal tidal shift that affects the waters around Koh Phangan. The high tidal months are October to April. At other times the water recedes a long way at low tide.

The photographs above were taken from the Lime N Soda Resort in June. The tide gets really low on Bantai beach during June and July. Indeed sometimes it’s awkward for big boats to get into the main ferry pier just down the coast in Thong Sala during this time.

At the time the pictures were taken you had to walk 1 kilometer out from the beach before it became deep enough to swim. There are also lots of rocks just below the surface that can cause injury.

Considering July and August are the high season for the island, I would suggest that many people who don’t choose the beach exclusively for dancing to techno and trance will end up disappointed with Bantai.

The best all-year-round swimming beaches in Koh Phangan are found on the East Coast of the island where the tidal changes have minimal impact. The most famous of these beaches are Thong Nai Pan Noi and Yai and Than Sadet.