Helpful Tips- Koh Pha-Ngan
Things to do
Full moon party - This is a world renowned party that lasts from sundown to sun up on Haad Rin beach. It is part of the well worn backpacker trail in Thailand and worth attending if you are in the area. Survival Guide- Full Moon Party
Jungle Experience - This is a party that takes place somewhere in the jungle and features live entertainment and music. Unfortunately, we were not able to attend this event as Nina and I were not feeling well that day. Although it was on our itinerary, we decided to cancel so that we could save our strength for the full moon party the following evening.
Haad Rin - This is the beach town that is known for hosting the full moon party and is a great place to meet fellow travelers from all over the world. The area is full of shops, laid back restaurants and of course the beach.
Songthaew (pronounced song-tao) - Taking a songthaew is the only form of transportation that we used on this island. In general, a songthaew is just a pick up truck that has been converted into a ride sharing taxi by turning the bed of the truck into an extra cabin with wooden seats and metal bars installed. It's very easy to identify the songthaew because they are the only trucks painted red and you will see them all over the roads.
Songthaews travel in predetermined circuits/routes and you have to flag them down much like hitchhiker would. Once they've pulled over you have to tell them where you are going. If they agree to take you then they will quote you a price. At this point you must negotiate (at least half of what they quote).
Due our time in Koh Pha-Ngan coinciding with the full moon party, we had no bargaining power so the best that we were able to do was 500 baht for 2 people (approximately $17) for a 7 minute ride.
Expect the songthaew to be one of the slower forms of transportation available. This is because the drivers continually stop along the way to pick up and drop off other travelers and if you are on a songthaew full of people going to different places it can really delay things. Just go with it and don't be in a rush.
Scooters/motorcycles - We would highly recommend that you stay away from renting a scooter or motorcycle unless you are an experienced driver back home. Although the locals make it look effortless, we've witnessed several accidents where a naive traveler lost control of the scooter and landed hard on the pavement or had their leg trapped underneath the scooter after a fall. We've watched as injured travelers hop on crutches or have entire arms and/or legs bandaged because of scooter accidents. In then end, they can't even enjoy the beautiful waters of the beach because they are all bandaged up and can't swim.
Remember, even if you know how to drive a scooter you will still have to adapt very quickly to all of the different traffic laws (they drive on the left side of the road), driver behavior, undeveloped roads, difficult terrain (a lot of hills) and lack of street lights at night. Add to that the fact that you can be charged exorbitant penalty fees (the equivalent of several hundred US dollars) for so much as returning the scooter with a tiny scratch and it is really not worth the risk.
Make sure to carry enough cash (Thai Baht) at all times because very few vendors and establishments will accept any other form of payment.
Generally, the further away you stay from major tourist areas such as Haad Rin, the cheaper it will be to stay. During the full moon party week, all hotels on Haad Rin will be at capacity so do not go there without booking you hotel at least a month in advance, otherwise you will have to stay at the nearest town which is 30 minutes away by taxi (Thong Sala).
We found the island to be very safe. The majority of the people in Koh Pha-Ngan that we interacted with were tourists (due to the full moon party) and nobody ever bothered us. The only issue that I would highlight here is that there are no sidewalks so beware when walking anywhere. The roads are narrow, hilly and corners can be very sharp so be extra cautious of other drivers.