Thursday, 15 August 2013

East Coast vs West Coast

The east and west coasts of Koh Phangan vary considerably in terms of geography and culture. It is instructive to compare these two areas of Koh Phangan.
East Coast: no corals, good swimming and boat access

The east coast of Koh Phangan is the most mountainous region of the island and contains the most remote and inaccessible beaches. Than Sadet is reached by a rough track (that is being improved); Haad Nam Tok is down a very rough path and has only camping; Haad Yuan East is only reached by jungle foot path or boat; and the same is the case for Haad Yao and Haad Thian.

And yet these beaches are gorgeous. They have perfect white sands and are ideal for swimming as the seabed is sandy and they get deep fairly quickly. There aren’t any coral reefs on the east coast and there isn’t a large tidal difference. For these reasons the east coast beaches are often considered better than the west coast ones. And, of course, the two beaches of Thong Nai Pan are often cited as the best on the island.

The potential to develop the east coast as a major up-market tourist destination has been realized in Thong Nai Pan Noi; behind the scenes negotiations are on-going to develop other east coast beaches. This is all underlined by the placement of Koh Phangan airport at Than Prapad on the east coast.
West Coast: good roads, coral reefs, poor swimming in the sea

The west coast in contrast does not receive the same spot light in terms of tourism. Many of the beaches on the west coast have large tidal variations. From May to October those wanting a paddle in the sea need to walk out a long way. The beaches are very long on the west coast. The bay containing Hin Kong and Wok Tum is the biggest on the island. Much of it turns into mud flats that form a habitat for birds and other animals. Haad Yao on the west coast translates as long beach because it is 1 km long.

There is about 15 kilometers of coral reef running parallel to the west coast from Haad Chao Phao to Mae Haad. It is a big draw for the area as it attracts snorkelers. However, for many it is just an annoyance as the sand gets rough as it is mixed with dead coral. It also creates a rocky sea bed in parts that makes getting in and out of the water uncomfortable. Reviews of popular beaches on the west coast such as Haad Yao and Haad Salad make frequent reference to the dead coral in the sand and the problem with swimming in the sea.

Despite the success of Yao and Salad the beaches of the west attract fewer tourists than Thong Nai Pan, Than Sadet and the party beaches in the south (Haad Rin and Ban Tai). The west coast is flatter, less scenic but more convenient. On this side of the island are lots of bungalows and houses for long term let. This has been the traditional ex-pat area, away from the holiday makers. Places like Nai Wok, Sri Thanu, Wok Tum and Hin Kong are just a few minutes away from all the facilities and amenities of Thongsala. If you are living and working on the island it makes sense to live on the west coast. They also experience less power cuts, water shortages and have the lowest rainfall.

The west coast of Koh Phangan has more markets, temples and places of interest to visit including the island’s largest lake, Laem Son. It is an area easier to get around, to beach hop. You feel more connected with the rest of the island when you stay on a west coast beach. Staying on east coast beaches give you a feeling of being cut-off, isolated. There are few things nearby that are easy to visit and people tend to stay put and just enjoy the beach.

The prices for cheap bungalows are about the same on both coasts. Camping on Haad Nam Tok is the cheapest option but virtually nobody gets to this beach in the east. Haadlad Prestige (Salad beach) Mae Haad Bay Resort (Mae Haad), See Through Boutique Resort (Haad Yao) and Kupu Kupu Phangan Beach Villa (Plai Laem) offer luxury but they cannot compare in either price or style with Santhiya, Rasananda or Panviman in Thong Nai Pan Noi.

It is worth trying to spend time on both sides of the island just so you can enjoy two different experiences and perspectives of Koh Phangan. Probably the side you like best says something about your personality.