Perhaps to its detriment, the island of Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand has become infamous for the Full Moon parties that rage monthly through the town of Haadrin. International media coverage and even local perception in neighboring provinces is often unfavorable. I often find, that, when Koh Phangan comes up in conversation, Thais and tourists alike raise their eyebrows slightly, give a knowing smirk, and make a dismissive remark about the island as if crazed partying were all that Koh Phangan had to offer.
The reality could not be farther from the truth. While the entire island does see an influx of tourists during the full moon, only the the strip between Thongsala and Haadrin truly comes close to living up to the island’s party reputation, and that is only true for a few days on either side of the Full Moon Party. Haadrin is located on Koh Phangan’s Southern tip, overlooking the highly developed neighboring island of Koh Samui. It is separated from the rest of the island by a steep mountain range that can only be traversed by a narrow two lane road to the main town of Thongsala. Peace is not as difficult to find as you might think.
If you really are put off by the notion of the Full Moon Party but still wish to experience Koh Phangan, there is a solution. Located on the Northern side of the island, as far away as you can possibly get from Haadrin by road (or by boat for that matter), is Chaloklum Fishing Village, or Baan Chaloklum, as it is known locally. Chaloklum and Haadrin could not be more different, despite the fact that they both occupy the same 168 square kilometer slab of rock in the Gulf of Thailand. Where Haadrin seems overrun with sun-kissed and alcohol crazed, gap-year backpackers on a tear, Chaloklum is a laid-back fishing community which has managed to keep its Thai charm while providing a high level of services, activities and amenities for tourists, travelers and long-stay residents.
Chaloklum Village is composed of a 1.5 kilometre strip of low-level traditional Thai shop houses, small restaurants, bars, cafes and shops that line Chaloklum Bay. Just as the village has retained its traditional architecture, the traditional way of life has continued in this active fishing community. Squid boats ply the harbour, fish dry in the sun on racks along the beach, children attend the local school, and the temple is still the center of village life.
It is a haven for family businesses and a sanctuary from the madness that seems to be slowly overtaking the rest of the island. Absent are the beer bars that line the road between Thongsala and Haadrin on the South coast. Instead, one business in Chaloklum hosts a weekly children’s day and musical jam session, providing arts and craft and activities for visiting and local kids, while the adults listen to spontaneous live music into the evening.
Ironically, Chaloklum is becoming increasingly popular with the people who helped make Haadrin what it is today. Travelers who first partied at Full Moon on Haadrin beach fifteen years ago return to Koh Phangan again and again, they just have different priorities, and, more often than not as families with children. Chaloklum has evolved meet those needs.
Many of these returning travelers have become long term residents of Koh Phangan and have settled into the increasing number of private houses that surround Chaloklum. With the availability of broadband internet and an ever improving communications infrastructure, Chaloklum has become home to a growing community of writers, artists and others who work from home using the internet to keep in touch. A mixture of budget and luxury accommodation have also helped to put Chaloklum on the Koh Phangan map. From the affordable Fanta Bungalows and Rose Villa to the luxury Dee Dee Villa Retreat and Baan Hin Ngam Villas and everything in between, Chaloklum Fishing Village is a great place to spend your holiday.
The village also hosts a growing dive community. Because of its location on the Northern side of Koh Phangan, and its large government pier, Chaloklum is the ideal departure point for dive trips to some of the best sites in the Gulf of Thailand. The abundance of decently priced accommodation, five-star dive instruction and a raft of excellent restaurants, pubs and services make Chaloklum an excellent place to complete an extended dive certification or just enjoy fun dives in Thailand’s warm waters. If diving is not your thing, the snorkeling at Koh Ma off Mae Haad is hard to beat.
For the sports junkie Chaloklum provides plenty of options. Depending on the season both kite surfing and wakeboarding are available. The mountains that surround the village also make it a great place to go mountain biking. For those who prefer to be on foot, an endless amount of mountain and jungle trails will satisfy even the most avid hiker or adventurous jogger.
If it is relaxation you are after, swimming, sunbathing or just chilling at a beach bar with a beer or fruit shake in your hand, Chaloklum is a stone’s throw away from some of the best beaches on the island. Haad Salad, Haad Khom, and Mae Haad are all minutes away by motorbike car or taxi. Haad Yao and Haad Chao Prao are just a little further along the coast. For the ambitious explorer, long tail boats leave regularly from Chaloklum for the otherwise inaccessible Bottle Beach and even go as far as Thong Nai Pan.
As a holiday destination Chaloklum is ideal for families or couples alike. But, to be fair, be it Haadrin or Chaloklum or all points in between, Koh Phangan offers something for everyone, whether you intend to stay for a week or for a year. The island offers a variety of experiences for all ages and for all budgets. Don’t be mislead by what you might have heard. Come see for yourself.