Koh Phangan has made a name for itself as a party island and is considered by many to be a magical island.
But it’s not just the contemporary kind of hippies with their dreadlocks who love Koh Phangan’s very special atmosphere. The health-conscious vegans, the yogis, and the families from all over the world keep flocking to this famed corner in the Gulf of Thailand too – in normal years, that is.
What is Koh Phangan like in times like these? I wondered.
Keen to find out what had happened with the island, I made a reservation online in a few clicks, and set out on an adventurous trip from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan.
Killing time at the pier
I arrived early at Koh Samui’s Maenam Pier, because I’d set off ahead of schedule. I didn’t know how long it would take me to find a songthaew – a share taxi pick-up truck that is usually the cheapest mode of transport in Thailand – and factored in plenty of time.
Tour operator Lomprayah’s check-in counters seemed closed. I didn’t see any staff behind the protective plastic barriers, but once I saw a chap with curly Jimi Hendrix-hair walking to the check-in counters in his sandals, an employee appeared out of nowhere.
I followed suit and got my ticket first before enjoying some lunch at the nearby café / restaurant that was open. There was also a minimart and a “hungry corner,” a stall that was supposed to sell fruit shakes and, judging by its name, food. While the minimart was open, the hungry corner was not.
Taking a seat in the air-conditioned café, I ordered some spicy grub and an iced cappuccino, and loved the cool stream of air that gave me a break from Thailand’s hot, humid weather.
At 4 pm, half an hour before the scheduled departure time, more and more peeps arrived at the pier. This made me worry about the hammock, the only one I’d spotted. It was strung between two coconut trees, right on the beach, and what a pity it would’ve been if it had already been taken.
I mean, is there anything nicer than lounging in a hammock, enraptured by that cradling sense of softly swaying from side to side? I paid the bill and made a beeline for this hanging bed of netting.
Boarding the speedboat
Swinging in the hammock in time with an exotic bird’s chirping, I let the silent wind caress my skin and watched how a woman snagged the swing that was right on the beach, too.
At 4:30 pm, there was an announcement in both Thai and English that reminded travelers to prepare for boarding and check their belongings. Lomprayah’s staff carried out temperature checks at the gate, and everyone had to wear a facemask.
Getting on the boat was easy; there was a gangplank, and Lomprayah’s employees gave people a hand to board the speedboat that filled quickly. Despite COVID-19, some 30 island-hoppers were traveling, most of whom were not Thai.
I was the last one to get on the boat, and seeing that it was packed inside, I asked the staff, “nang tee nee, dai mai kap?” (Is it okay if I sit here?) and pointed to the bow cockpit. They shook their heads and ordered me inside.
I looked at the two elevated seats on the opposite side of the captain’s seat, but seeing an orange-robed monk sitting cross-legged on it as if meditating, occupying both seats, I didn’t dare to ask if one of them was free.
A handful of people, including me, were wondering where to sit. “Can you check if there are benches?” an American asked her friend, nodding at the back of the boat. I knew there weren’t any, and headed back to the bow cockpit.
“Wait,” said one of the crew members, and indicated that they were stacking up the suitcases first, like a pile of car tires. I was taking notes, and then, the monk behind me offered the seat to me.
Some six or even seven people had to make do with the seats in the bow cockpit and rest their feet on the heap of luggage, waiting for the boat to leave.
The adventurous boat ride
It was 4:37 pm when the captain fired up the engine noisily, stirring the emerald-tinted waters. I loved the sight of the light-colored, casuarina- and palm-fringed beach with coconut trees swaying in the wind, set against a mountainous backdrop of jungle-swathed hills.
The captain circled the speedboat around the jetty, going back and forth and nowhere. I was getting impatient when he steered the boat back to the pier to receive instructions from other staff. Then, the captain ordered the people to sit the way he deemed right to balance the overloaded boat. Panic was written all over his face; sweat streaming down his cheeks. Then, at 4:45 pm, after ten minutes or circling around the pier, we finally left.
Salt sprays prevented me from taking further pictures while the speedboat staggered awkwardly across the one-meter-waves, like a drunk about to keel over. There were enough life jackets, but only about 50% of the passengers were wearing one. Mind you, most people were wearing facemasks.
The guys in the bow cockpit had wet hair from salt sprays, but they took it in stride, smiling and blinking in bright sunshine. Others just kept their eyes closed throughout the journey, taking a nap.
Despite the thrill ride, it didn’t appear to me that we were going very fast. I was quite surprised when the boat slowed down at 5:05 pm, just 20 minutes after we’d left. To put it into perspective, it takes 90 minutes for the Raja ferry to get from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan.
Arriving in Koh Phangan
I looked around to make sure this really was Koh Phangan, and when I saw Koh Tae Nai to my left, I came to the conclusion that yes, we’d just arrived at Thong Sala Pier.
I expected some temperature checks again, and I was right. But this was not some thermo gun trained at my forehead. Nope! A friendly woman motioned for me to go to some high-tech body-scanner cabin that was able to take my temperature at every body part.
I didn’t know that we can have a fever in different body parts. We live and learn, I thought to myself, and walked through the body scanner, safe in the knowledge that more exciting adventures were ahead of me.