Travel Story Thailand's Thong Nai Pan: 'A pristine island paradise'

Photo of Rick Ardon

The north-east coast of Koh Phangan is a secluded gem that makes for a memorable holiday destination.

I’ve finally found that elusive Asian paradise with white beaches and blue water, not yet overrun by tourists. White sand, crystal clear sea, swaying palm trees and just enough beachfront hotels and restaurants. 

Thong Nai Pan is on the north-east coast of Thailand’s Koh Phangan island, a clean tropical paradise that is a memorable holiday for the experienced traveller. Some locals are so protective of it, they’ve stopped a nearby airport going ahead.

Well away from the full moon parties on the south coast, Thong Nai Pan is easy to get to via a short taxi trip from Koh Samui airport to Maenam Pier, where you’re picked up by boat for the half-hour ride to Koh Phangan. Some of the resorts will take you from Koh Samui directly to their beautiful beach.

If you’re adventurous, take a traditional long-tail boat from Koh Samui and enjoy some glorious Robinson Crusoe coastline, as you hop from beach stop to beach stop on Koh Phangan until you get to the village of Thong Nai Pan. The brightly coloured timbers of the boat juxtaposed with the white sandy beach you step onto is a memorable sight. 

On arrival, you have a delicious dilemma — whether to stay at Thong Nai Pan Noi (small) or Thong Nai Pan Yai (big). For luxury, Thong Nai Pan Noi is the place to be, featuring three five-star hotels spread along the pretty beach. One of them is a superb small hotel called Santhiya Resort, where you’ll pay half the price of similar properties around the world.

When you arrive by boat on the white sand of Thong Nai Pan Noi, you’ll see the beach end of the cute Noi village. The newly cobbled street has good Thai and Western restaurants between small shops. 

Here, you’ll find the humorous Handsome Sandwiches, which also provides Handsome Taxi, Handsome T-Shirts, Handsome Gasoline and even Handsome Laundry with “clean good smell for 10 years”. Mr Handsome is a real character who tells you how happy locals are that the new airport nearby has been stopped because of environmental concerns.

Across the road from Handsome Sandwiches is a relaxing place called Tanaporn Massage House, charging just $15 for a one-hour massage. Or for $10, the happy Thai ladies at any of the beach huts will give you a traditional beach massage overlooking the aquamarine sea. The highest-rated restaurant on Koh Phangan is called Luna Lounge, with fine food and hospitality from the white linen-clad French owner. 

Here on Noi beach, you can learn to dive or hire a jet ski inexpensively, from another friendly French castaway with Le Tricolor flag on the white sand. Nearby Yai beach is lined with 20 hotels, cafes and shops including a pharmacy. The village behind Yai beach is bigger than Noi village, and includes two ATMs.

You can also take a quick long-tail boat trip around the cliff to the left to the beautiful, untouched Bottle beach. It’s easy to get a taxi between Noi and Yai beaches at any time — just ask any local with a car, and they become a taxi driver for a small fee, usually about $3.

You can also arrive by ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan’s capital Thong Sala, a small city in the south. The road from the capital up to Thong Nai Pan is sealed, and takes about 40 minutes by hire car or taxi, which is only $20.

There are three pretty waterfalls that flow into the ocean; one above Noi beach, one above Yai beach and one above Santhiya Resort. 

Santhiya is an eco-friendly resort with remarkable architecture and rainforest that runs onto a sheltered beach. Rooms feature hand-carved timber walls, while ceilings have timber mosaic light troughs that make you think you’re in a luxury tree house. The breathtaking view from this prime, elevated position looks down across the seductive curve of Noi bay, punctuated by a few colourful long-tail boats. 

This place has memorable features I’ve never seen in many years of travelling. For example, there are cute, handmade timber buses to get you up and down the gentle slope between the beach and rooms. And floating like islands in the rooms’ infinity pools, you’ll find extraordinary sunbeds, carved Thai canoes with built-in sun lounge, looking across paradise. 

The main resort swimming pool has its own waterfall on the edge of a beach. This is a dreamy place where you can lounge on your sun bed or eat in your bathers at the alfresco By the Sea restaurant, shaded by lush foliage on the beach.

The local staff here at Santhiya add to this feeling of nirvana; such wonderful, attentive Thai islanders interested in your happiness. 

The north east of Koh Phangan is truly beautiful. It’s inexpensive, and the people here are friendlier than anywhere else we’ve encountered in Asia. 

Get there while it’s still a pristine island paradise.

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