Koh Phangan in Thailand is famous mainly for the full moon party and by extension Haad Rin, the beach on the southern tip of the island where the party takes place every month. And justifiably so. The party is huge and chaotic and well worth a trip to the island on its own. It’s not all Koh Phangan has to offer though and if you’re looking for some peace and quiet after the craziness of the party, head to the hilly center or the less-visited north, where you can easily find yourself exploring seemingly untouched jungle or discovering a secluded beach. That’s not what we did, but we thought we were doing it. And that’s what counts.
We spent almost a week on the island following the full moon party and had rented a pickup truck to get around. Anyone who’s stepped off a boat onto Koh Phangan knows the reason for that: the rates charged by the island’s fleet of songthaew drivers are extortionist and you’re better off using any other form of transport, including swimming around the outside of the island.
We opted for the much simpler car rental. Between the five of us, it ended up costing considerably less than a motorbike and involving far fewer sharks and undertows than the swimming option. We definitely preferred a truck to motorbikes anyway, given the very curvy, pothole-riddled and often incredibly steep, thin strips of dirt that pass for roads on much of the island.
On this day, we had set out to find an apparently secluded beach on Koh Phangan’s northeastern shore. Our map showed a small, sandy cove with no roads leading in or out. A small picture showed a beautiful white beach and we knew that’s where we wanted to be.
We followed the main paved road around the island until we neared the northeastern corner and began looking for a dirt road that seemed like it led in the right direction. We turned down a few driveways and dead end trails until we found a strip of dirt bearing some resemblance to a road that continued for a few kilometers and seemed to lead toward the sea.
Eventually, the dirt road stopped at a rocky area where a small creek was rushing over, under and through boulders of all sizes in hundreds of little rivulets. I later learned this was the Thang Sadet waterfall, apparently the island’s most impressive. Oh well, no one comes here for the waterfalls.
We figured we couldn’t be too far from the beach, so we decided to walk the rest of the way. That turned out to be a bit more difficult than you might think. While the first part of the walk was quite nice, following the creek and giving us ample opportunity to jump around on the rocks and feel like giants among the miniature waterfalls, the trail we were following soon turned to mud.
It wasn’t your average slippery mud either, but a disgusting, smelly, sticky mud that was basically a form of quicksand, except it had a bottom and was only ever knee-deep. With every step, our feet were sucked into the muck and it took a ridiculous amount of effort to pull them back out and take another step. My flip flops were gone after the first one. It was slow going and generally pretty miserable, but we figured it was worth it to spend a few hours on the beautiful secluded beach we were certain was somewhere just ahead of us.
It didn’t take long before we were covered in splatters of rancid mud and soaked in sweat from the effort. We must have looked ridiculous. Actually, I know we did, because we soon passed a group of locals smoking behind their house and, well, they were unable to take a puff from their cigarettes for a good 5 minutes after seeing us. They tried, but they simply could not stop laughing.
When they finally calmed down a bit, they helped us out of the muck and let us use their hose to clean up. Then they motioned for us to join them in their house. That house turned out to be the typical beach bar/restaurant you see all over southeast Asia.
Once we had walked to the front, we got our first glimpse of our secluded beach. A good fifty or so tourists were lounging around on the small stretch of sand, overlooked on the north by a number of luxury bungalows.
We learned later that our not-quite-so-undiscovered beach is called Haad Sadet and while it was a bit more popular than we had been expecting, it was incredible nonetheless and still one of the more deserted beaches we found on Koh Phangan.
It also turns out there’s a perfectly good road leading to the beach and if we’d only continued on the main road a bit further, we would have hit the turnoff. Ok, so maybe “perfectly good” is an exaggeration…or, more accurately, it’s an outright lie—the road was neither perfectly good, nor was it really a road by any standard definition, but it wasn’t a river of muck either. None of that matters though. In the end, we got to spend a few hours lazing around on a beautiful, uncrowded beach and that’s really all we wanted after the chaos of the full moon party.