Edit. Visit my updated vegan food guide of the Koh Phangan travel journey right here.
“I hate Koh Phangan travel journey. Let’s head back to Koh Tao.” I said semi-seriously as I laid my head on the rock hard pillow (unbeknownst to the fact that I would later on resort to using it as a muffler as the pounding of the bass and cheering of the revellers outside our window got louder and louder) at the “backpacker resort” Tripadvisor reviews had steered us into. I guess Koh Phangan is one those places (not unlike Sihanoukville or Vang Vieng) where you must keep in mind who the main audience is and, from there on, decide to which extent you wish to trust said reviews. Especially as a peace-seeking, non-partying, 30-something vegan backpacker, might I add. As an indicator, you may want to raise an alarm if you read things like: “wicked bangers and mash!” or “if you want to sleep don’t stay here, too much fun to sleep!” or “we could watch Friends all day, it felt exactly like back home!”. But maybe that’s just me. And we clearly hadn’t done our homework in this case: don’t just look at the scores, read the reviews. Lesson learned.
In my mind, Koh Phangan had two clearly delineated zones: to the south, the Full Moon, neon-clad, bucket-drinking, party-goers and to the north, the families, hippies, divers, yogis, honeymooners and spirituality-seeking tantric colon-cleansing tie-dye-clad crystal healing new agers. And against all what I just wrote in the previous sentence, my allegiance lies with team tie dye, not doubt about that. But anyway, we thought we were headed to a peaceful haven by going to the north of the island – yet we had somehow found ourselves in the middle of a teenagers pool party in the heart of Haad Yao, one of the quieter, more peaceful beaches in the north of Koh Phangan – the worst of all possible worlds. The mind boggles.
The following morning, after climbing up and down all over Haad Salad to find a bit of food that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg or that isn’t bangers and mash (I kid, but are there no fruit stalls or something in this neck of the woods?!), we resolved to find a place better suited to our needs and a scooter to conquer the hilly distances separating fruits, beds and beaches. The owner of JB Hut had made a great impression on us the previous evening when we had dinner there, so we decided to check out her bungalows. For 300 baht ($10) per night, we could be the sole inhabitants of a little cluster of rustic bungalows up on a cliff with tremendous views of the sea and, for another 150 baht ($5) per day, be the proud lessees of what appeared to be a 25CC scooter – let us call her Scooty Puff Junior. And just like that, the outlook seemed much brighter.
Truth is, the key to my happiness lied with Scooty Puff: the island is not humongous, but it’s big enough – and cabs are prohibitively expensive – that you may well feel stranded if you don’t have a motorbike at all times. We were a little appalled at the thought that a lot of backpackers seem to stay solely in the south when they come to Koh Phangan, hovering between Haad Rin and Ban Tai. The southern beaches are beautiful, no question, but Phangan is so much more than flashy Haad Rin, it’s claustrophobic little city center and pushy hawkers. There’s a million places to explore and we didn’t get to see nearly half of what there is to see despite our best effort to go somewhere different every day.
I had to come to the conclusion after a couple of days that I did not hate the Koh Phangan travel experience. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact. From Bottle Beach, Sail Rock, Haad Yao, Mae Haad, Chaloklum to Thong Sala, from daily durians, cheap as chips rambutans, mangosteens and heaps of vegan restaurants, from the sand in my bikini, the sea so turquoise it makes no sense, to the little stripy fish coming to say hello to my toes, from the hippy performing some kind of ritual dance with a daft grin over her meal, to Scooty Puff not making it up all of the hills, ten days in Koh Phangan felt more like ten days in paradise.
What’s your favorite Thai island?
Where to eat vegan in Koh Phangan
Edit. Visit my updated vegan food guide of Koh Phangan right here.
Well that one goes without saying, Koh Phangan is a bit of a vegan hippy paradise. Here’s our top picks!
1. Efe Natural Macrobiotic kitchen
This was our favourite restaurant when we were enjoying our Koh Phangan travel experience. Super healthy, clean, mostly organic simple food; red rice, lots of steam veggies, very little seasoning (in a good way) a good selection of beans and legumes, macro bowls, soups and sandwichs (amazing bread!). The first time I saw tempeh in quite a while! They cold press their own sunflower and coconut oils and have a great selection of packaged spices, teas, seeds, homemade snacks and natural health products for sale.
Edit (July 2015) I have been informed that EFE Natural Macrobiotic is now closed 🙁
2. Art Cafe
Vegetarian cafe with a few clearly identified vegan dishes, extensive tea and coffee menu with several dairy and non-dairy milk options, lovely setting hidden amongst the trees. A little peaceful haven by the road side, Art Cafe has a short but lovely menu including delicious spring rolls, vegan BLT (I don’t know how they make their bacon, but it’s quite nice!), soups and burgers. A nice restful little pit stop.
3. Green Leaf Cafe
Decently priced home made kombucha, delicious organic salads, thai and international vegetarian and vegan fares and great juice and smoothie menu. Wednesday night is vegan all you can eat Indian buffet. The green juice with morning glory was especially great – if you like healthy-tasting dark green drinks like I do!
4. Big mountain
The menu doesn’t say what’s vegan and what’s vegetarian, so you’ll have to do a bit of quizzing at this laid back restaurant. The main draw here is the juice menu, with interesting mixes such as tomato, papaya and red pepper or tamarind, passion fruit, aloe vera and lemon. They also brew their own kombucha.
So, have you ever had a Koh Phangan travel experience? If yes, then do let me know how your travel experience was in this place!