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Fun, Friendly, and Often Festive: Thailand’s Koh Phangan

Located in the Gulf of Thailand, about 10-miles north of Koh Samui, is Koh Phangan. Known for its famous Full Moon parties in Haad Rin, the nightlife capital located in the island’s south, every month’s full moon is celebrated with thousands of revelers from the world over with a disc jockey playing tunes. In case your timing isn’t quite right, fear not, there’s also a Halfmoon festival that takes place a week before and a week after the Full Moon party.

Even if you’re not into a Thai-style Coachella or Burning Man-like experience, Koh Phangan is worth visiting for beautiful beaches, hospitable locals, beachside dining, hiking, and great accommodations. If you’re already on Samui, getting to Phangan is easy and the ferry to Ban Tai Pier near Thong Sala, Phangan’s main town, takes about 30-minutes. 

The Bed

If you are looking for a romantic beachfront locale, with luxurious, private villa accommodations, the Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan Villas is just the place. If you come to Phangan anytime outside of mid-October through mid- December, the boat transfer from Samui will bring you directly to the Rasananda. However, as we arrived mid-November, technically the height of the monsoon season – though we experienced little rain while there – we had a pleasant, 30-minute drive from Thong Sala to Rasananda. 

Set off on a private entrance a five-minute stroll from the small, welcoming village of Thong Nai Pan, Rasananda itself is designed like an expansive Thai Fishing Village under lush green canopies with authentic Thai wooden archway entrances and ponds throughout the property that are home to gigantic koi fish. With only 64 private villas, happily for us, the only time we saw other guests was at the main restaurant, the main pool, or while strolling through Thong Nai Pan. 

Rasananda has 60 one-bedroom villas, and two, two-bedroom villas, all of which have private plunge pools. We were in Villa One, called an “Ocean Garden Pool Suite. This one-bedroom villa contained over 800 square feet, boasted a large, comfortable sitting area, 60-inch flat screen television, working desk, luscious king-sized bed with high-count cotton sheets, bedside reading lamps, and plenty of USB ports and electrical outlets. The walk-in closet was large enough for a big house and had an eye-level safe. The bar area had an espresso maker, hotpot, and stocked refrigerator. 

The large granite bathroom possessed environmentally sound, large-sized amenities, an oversized two-person shower and dual granite vanity. From the bathroom there’s direct access to a large exterior shower. 

Outside the main pavilion, was a covered sitting area and walkway to our private, oceanfront, thatched-roofed sala with a ceiling fan and an incredibly comfortable ocean-facing, king-size daybed in front of our plunge pool. Ten-foot bamboo walls on either side of our villa ensured our privacy. Two more loungers and sun umbrella on the sand beachfront were reserved for us.

Rasananda also has a fitness center, offers complimentary paddle boards and kayaks, a gorgeous yoga platform with forever views and twice weekly classes, and a generous main pool. Upstairs from reception is a library and quiet, ocean view patio.

The onsite spa is one of the most unique I’ve experienced. Set high within jade-colored tree top canopies, this architectural marvel takes advantage of stellar ocean views combined with koi ponds, verdant vistas, and jungle ambiance. There are four massage suites, two for couples, and a gorgeous Thai herbal steam room with an all-natural stone interior. Skilled masseuses will make you feel so good you may sign up for a ‘seven-day wellness package.’ Two things to note. First, the package will cost a fraction of what one would pay at home. Second, you run the risk of becoming a permanent resident of Rasananda.

The Meals

At Yukinoya, Chef Oh and his team dish up a contemporary Japanese menu with a twist. It’s also the only teppanyaki restaurant on Phangan. However, as we’re suckers for sushi, we delighted in Akami tuna and caviar nigiri, fiery salmon with crab meat and salmon roe, and Unakyu maki with sesame and teriyaki-laced eel.

Breakfasts at the beachfront Bistro includes a buffet requiring diplomacy-like decision making skills. Fresh fruits, fresh juices, house made breads and pastries, Bircher mueseli, Thai noodle station, Chinese section, and fabulous coffees. There’s also a made-to-order menu because sometimes life requires a banana, chocolate chip pancake. 

At dinner The Bistro, under the direction of Executive chef Patrick Vitti, metamorphoses into a beach chic dining experience with fantastic Thai dishes, think seafood-laden Tom Yum Goong, and enormous, delectable flash fried shrimp. There’s also a Mediterranean menu with Australian tenderloin, risotto, and seared seabass with saffron. Fusion dishes such as the drunken spaghetti with prawns, squid, clams, and mussels reminded me that often fusions are my favorites.

For some casual Thai restaurants, take a five-minute stroll into “town.”  Thong Nai Pan is comprised of one main street with three local mini-marts, in case you run out of sunscreen or have an urgent need for bubblegum. There are several excellent massage storefronts, a handful of bars – because it’s always happy hour there – and several cafés – since Thai iced teas and coffees are second only to chocolate in terms of desirability. Taxis, motorcycle rentals, laundry services, and two, soon to be three, beauty. and nail salons mean you’ll want for nothing. Between the hotel and this quaint village, there’s really no reason to leave. There is good pad Thai at Jip Shop and finger-licking garlic chicken and noodle soup at Krua Thai.

The Finds

If you can tear yourself away from Rasananda, grab some wheels and head over to Than Sadet National Park where King Rama V vacationed several times between 1888 and 1909 and had his initials and the years of the Rattanakosin Era inscribed in Chinese to mark the years he visited. Stop at Yang Na Yai, a 400-year-old, towering resin tree.

Just a few minutes from the entrance at Phaeng Noi Waterfall is the island’s tallest cascade.  There’s a second cascade, about a 45-minute hike up. It’s part jungle trail, part concrete steps, and mid-monsoon season, can be tricky and a bit slick.

A nice rest stop is Secret Mountain, which isn’t so secret but perhaps called secret as it can hard to find. From this vantage there are terrific views of Koh Samui, the crescent-shaped Tae Nai and Tae Nok islands, and on a clear day, Ang ThongMarine Park rising from the Gulf of Siam in the distance.

Within the Haad Son Resort is the Koh Raham Restaurant, a waterfront eatery with an extremely unique décor, several outdoor swings, and shady alcoves. Even if you’re not hungry, stop in for a coffee or cocktail in this mesmerizing atmosphere. 

If you want to try your hand at Thai cooking, there are two locales right in Thong Nai Pan village. One is Country E-Saan where it the charming proprietor has as much fun as the participants. The other is across the way at Moonsoon’s Restaurant.

One of my favorite spots on the island, The Beach Club, is right next door to Rasananda. Toes-in-the-sand tables with cocktails at sunset was heavenly.

The Lesson Learned

At this stage of my life, the chances of attending a Full Moon party are nonexistent. Ever the nerd in my 20s, I probably wouldn’t have gone had I been on Phangan then either. But that’s what’s great about Phangan: there’s something for everyone. In our case, it was the perfect, luxurious, romantic ending to a nearly three-week Thailand sojourn. And at Rasananda, the service was so consistently impeccable, clearly, they follow Chef Vitti’s wise words, “Hospitality isn’t chemistry. It’s the perfect balance of passion, heart, and soul.”  At Rasananda, there is plenty of all three. Happy travels!

Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney, and the author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight.” Her work has appeared in several major publications around the world, including The LA Times, The SF Examiner, The Asia Times, The Jerusalem Post, and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, among many others. She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com

Julie L. Kessler

Written by Julie L. Kessler

Julie L. Kessler is Money Inc's Senior Travel & Luxury Editor and writes for several major media outlets in the U.S. and overseas. She is also an attorney and legal columnist and the author of the award-winning book "Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight." She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com

Read more posts by Julie L. Kessler

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