The rugged roads of Ko Pha Ngan beg to be explored, and interior routes connect bays and small towns across unspoiled countryside -- a window into a laid-back island lifestyle that's now slowly disappearing.
For a nice, active excursion, considering visiting the multi-tier Phaeng Waterfall, the grandest of the island’s waterfalls in the center of the island. There is a steep 250-meter pathway to reach the waterfall. To avoid disappointment, remember the falls are mostly dry out of season, but they’re fantastic after rainy season. Spend another 15-minutes on the Phaeng-Domsila Nature Trail to reach the Domsila Viewpoint, with postcard-worthy views. Turn around or continue another 2.5 hours on the trail’s jungle loop that passes by two other waterfalls. Sneakers and plenty of water are required.
The island has nearly two dozen small wats (temples), but none of them are must-sees. However, if you do choose to check out a few, remember to dress modestly and keep shoulders and knees covered. Temples are open during daylight hours.
Wat Khao Tham is a well-known international meditation center and temple compound just north of Ban Tai; see www.kowthamcenter.org for info. Theravada Buddhism-based meditation retreats run in 10 to 20-day courses, and prices start at 5,000B. As with any retreat, rules governing behavior apply, such as “No talking, reading, writing, or body sign language with others”; if this sounds a bit tough, best give it a miss. The temple is also open for day visitors and overlooks one of the most impressive views on the island.
The diving capital of Thailand is Ko Tao, so serious divers should head there—it is nearby. However, Ko Pha Ngan offers plenty of outfitters, and the marine life population is healthy—especially near Sail Rock, where lucky visitors will see whale sharks. Ko Ma is a small island just off the northwestern tip that is connected to Ko Pha Ngan via a sandbar. This tiny island is the top spot for snorkelers to dip their mask.
In recent years, free diving (diving without an oxygen tank) has boomed on the island. If you’d like to try, Apnea Koh Pha Ngan (www.apneakohphangan.com; tel. 092380-1494) are the pros you want to as your teachers. One-day courses are 4,000B, and two-day sessions run 7,000B; stick around long enough and become a master for 30,000B.
The team at Chaloklum Diving (www.chaloklum-diving.com; tel. 07737-4025) are a jack of all trades operator, and this is where to go for PADI dives, ranging from beginning to advanced (from 2,700B for two dives), free-diving, night diving, and snorkeling trips (from 1,000B).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.