Ban Tai Beach
Most visitors head east to nearby Ban Tai Beach, close to the pier at Thong Sala -- here they find a quiet stretch of sand away from the hubbub of Had Rin but close enough to visit the party zone and readily accessible by communal taxi (songtaew). The water, unfortunately, is not really deep enough for swimming, but the fine-sand beach is wide, and most resorts now have pools set on the beachfront. There's a good number of accommodations on hand, from a few original fan bungalows to newly built complexes offering every amenity.
Had Rin (aka Haad Rin) is a narrow peninsula on the island's southeastern tip filled with bungalows, busy shopping streets, funky clothes shops, and an array of restaurants between east-facing Had Rin Nok (Sunrise Beach) and Had Rin Nai (Sunset Beach) on the west side. Check out the popular Rin Bay View Bungalow (tel. 07737-5188) or the aptly named Mellow Mountain Bungalows (tel. 07737-5347) for low-end choices, from 500B to 1,000B.
If you wish to transcend it all, tucked away on the soft white-sand beach of Leela (or Had Seekantang) Beach, just 5 minutes over the hilltop, is Cocohut Village (tel. 07737-5368; www.cocohut.com). Spacious bungalows of all sizes start at 2,600B. Next door, Sarikantang (tel. 07737-5055-7; www.sarikantang.com) has rooms that go from basic fan and cold-shower bungalows right up to a seaview villa; rates range from 900B to 5,400B. Both have beachside restaurants and pools, and are just far enough from town for a bit of peace and quiet, but are close enough to walk down and join the festivities. The original Leela Bungalows (no phone) at the end of the beach still offers rustic bungalows, although they could do with a bit of freshening up. Lighthouse (no phone) has secluded bungalows set around the rocky cape hillside, accessible by the wooden bridge. Rates for both Leela and the Lighthouse start at around 250B.
Sea Breeze Bungalow (94/11 Moo 6, Had Rin; tel. 07737-5162) also offers a quiet, lofty perch high enough above town, yet it is close enough to walk down and join the fun. Fan rooms are 500B and air-conditioned rooms are 800B to 8,000B except at Full Moon. Choose the fan rooms on the cliff, for the best views; plus, the breeze makes air-conditioning unnecessary. There's a hilltop pool with a bar, a wooden boardwalk, and a rickety stairway that provides access to Seekantang Beach.
Drop Inn Club Resort and Spa (154/1-10 Had Rin; tel. 07737-5444; www.dropinclub.com) is a resort made up of elegant Thai-style houses clustered around a pool. Prices range from 1,490B for a standard economy room to 5,990B for an executive suite.
Centara Pariya Resort (Had Yuan; tel. 08647-04251; www.centarahotelsresorts.com) claims to be the island's first boutique resort. There's no denying it's an exclusive little hideaway, with a clutch of smart rooms and villas that cater to the better-heeled traveler. The resort lies on the increasingly popular and totally gorgeous Had Yuan (Yuan Beach) in the east. Being accessible only by boat has guarded it against the crowds, but it won't be long before it becomes a well-known spot. The style is modern-rustic and comes with the kind of modern amenities that would have been unheard of in this neck of the woods 10 years ago. Prices range from 6,000B to 7,000B.
West & North Coast
The west and north coasts have white-sand beaches and are far from the monthly hippy hoedown at Had Rin, which might be a relief for many. Resorts here are quiet and affordable, and growing in number and quality of amenities. The beautifully tranquil Laem Son freshwater lake lies close to Ao Chao Phao, but reports warn that it may be contaminated -- don't take any risks. The resorts below follow a clockwise route starting at Had Chaophao on the west.
Had Chaophao -- Just 10 minutes west of Thong Sala is Phangan Cabana Resort (tel. 07734-9184), a 34-room joint, popular thanks to high standards of both accommodation and service. It has a swimming pool, and although prices have risen, they are not yet overblown. All rooms have air-conditioning and rates are between $49 and $55.
Had Son -- Haad Son Resort (tel. 02674-5555 in Bangkok; www.haadson.com) is a great find, on its own secluded sandy beach over from Had Yao, with good hilltop views of the sea. There are about 40 rooms, some of which are in two-story villas and the others of which are thatched, lakeside villas; all rooms are comfortably equipped and well-spaced, and rates are 4,000B to 5,000B per night. It's a family friendly place with a big pool and a children's pool; kayaks and mountain bikes can be rented.
Had Yao -- Had Yao, or Long Beach, is considered by many to be a perfect beach, a quiet but huge stretch of white sand, good for swimming, with the same beautiful sunset views and a laid-back vibe that drew the first travelers here. Supermarkets and Internet cafes up on the main road provide the bulk of services you'll need; good eats can also be found along the beach -- it's big enough to play football on.
There are several bungalow resorts ranging from very basic choices, such as the rough-and-ready Ibiza (tel. 07734-9121; www.ibizabungalow.com), starting at 250B for fan rooms with a shared bathroom, or the original Had Yao Bungalows (no phone) and Sandy Bay Bungalows (no phone; www.sandybaybungalows.com), both offering budget rooms from 300B.
Had Salad -- This beautiful and secluded sandy beach used to be a pirates' hideout and is good for swimming (Nov-Apr), with a reef about 150m (492 ft.) offshore that is a well-known dive site.
Ao Chalok Lam -- This bay is set around a rapidly growing fishing village that is popular with Thai trawlers, but less so among foreign visitors. The beach is not great for swimming, due to its shallow waters, but trips to other northern beaches are possible in rented boats. There are clusters of rustic bungalows on the beaches, such as Chaloklum Bay Resort (68 Moo 7, Ao Chalok Lam; tel. 07737-4147-8; www.chaloklumbay.com), which has lots of amenities, including a minisupermarket, and rates of 2,000B to 4,000B per night.
Northeast/Ao Thong Nai Pan
Two adjoining crescent-shaped beaches, 17km (11 miles) north of Had Rin, are differentiated by the suffix yai (big) and noi (small). This secluded paradise is easily reached by rented boat, or less easily by bumpy dirt track. Thong Nai Pan Yai is quieter, while Thong Nai Pan Noi has a more bohemian vibe and a small village with some cool bars and restaurants.
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.