Ko Pha-Ngan’s legendary history of laid-back revelry solidified its reputation as the stomping ground for the gritty backpacker lifestyle, even though many local mainstays have collapsed their bamboo huts in favour of newer, sleeker accommodation.

But backpackers fear not – it will still be a while before the castaway lifestyle vanishes.

Many operations have a minimum three-, four- or five-night stay during the Full Moon, Christmas and New Year periods.

East Coast Beaches

Robinson Crusoe, eat your heart out. The east coast is the ultimate hermit hang-out. For some of these isolated stretches of sand, you’ll have to hire a boat (or trek on foot) to get to these beaches, but water taxis are available in Thong Sala and Hat Rin.

The Thong Nai Pan Express boat runs daily at noon from Hat Mae Nam on Ko Samui, stopping at Hat Rin and the east coast beaches as far as Thong Nai Pan Noi. The boat is a casual, rickety fishing-style vessel and won't run in rough weather.

Than Sadet & Thong Reng

A smooth road runs east from the roundabout at the main road linking Ban Tai and Thong Nai Pan all the way to Than Sadet, so the lovely bay here is entirely accessible and you can follow the rocks south around the headland to secluded Hat Thong Reng. Otherwise catch the Thong Nai Pan Express boat from Ko Samui.

Hat Thian & Hat Yuan

Both Hat Thian and Hat Yuan, near the southeastern tip of the island, have a few bungalow operations, and are quite secluded. You can walk between the two in less than 10 minutes via the rocky outcrop that separates them.

To get here hire a long-tail from Hat Rin (300B to 400B) or organise a boat pick-up from your resort. A dirt road to Hat Yuan has been cleared for 4WDs, but is only passable in the dry season; even then the voyage by sea is much easier.

Hat Rin

The thin peninsula of Hat Rin features three separate beaches: beautiful blonde Hat Rin Nok (Sunrise Beach) is the epicentre of Full Moon tomfoolery; Hat Rin Nai (Sunset Beach) is the much less impressive stretch of sand on the far side of the tiny promontory; and Hat Seekantang (also known as Hat Leela), just south of Hat Rin Nai, is a smaller, lovely white and more private beach. The three beaches are linked by Ban Hat Rin (Hat Rin Town) – an inland collection of restaurants, hotels and bars. It takes only a few minutes to walk from one beach to another.

Hat Rin sees Thailand's greatest accommodation crunch during the Full Moon festivities. At this time, bungalow operations expect you to stay for a minimum number of days (usually five). If you plan to arrive the day of the party (or even the day before), we strongly suggest booking a room in advance, or else you’ll probably have to sleep on the beach (which you might end up doing anyway, either intentionally or not).

Some cattle car–style dorms stack and cram a seemingly impossible number of beds into dark small rooms, and shared toilets are few. These start at around 200B outside of the Full Moon chaos and escalate to 650B and up for party times. Even though these grim options have added a significant number of beds to the town, everything still manages to fill up. Check hostel booking websites for dorm bed availability. Catering to the deluge, new operations constantly set up.

Full Mooners can also stay on Ko Samui or other beaches on Ko Pha-Ngan and take speedboat shuttles to access the festivities – prices will depend on how far away you're staying but the money you'll save on staying anywhere besides Hat Rin itself will probably make it worth it. With gory and often fatal accidents monthly, driving on Ko Pha-Ngan during the festivities is an absolutely terrible idea.

Expect room rates to increase by 20% to 300% during Full Moon.

Northern Beaches

Stretching around 8km from Chalok Lam to Thong Nai Pan, the dramatic northern coast is a wild jungle with several stunning and secluded beaches – it’s the most scenic coast on the island.

Hat Khuat

This isolated dune in the north of the island has garnered a reputation as a low-key getaway, so it's pretty popular. During high season, places can fill up fast so it’s best to try to arrive early. Grab a long-tail taxi boat from Chalok Lam for 100B to 150B (depending on the boat’s occupancy), or tackle the hike (but stay on the path and avoid the midday sun). The trek takes around two hours, follow the bottles on trees marking the way and take water and insect repellent and ensure you don't end up trekking back in darkness (the hike is best tackled early in the morning).

Chalok Lam & Hat Khom

In the north of the island, the small and quiet fishing village at Ban Chalok Lam is a conglomeration of teak shanties and huts, slowly being infiltrated by the occasional European-style bakery, authentic Italian restaurant or Russian-owned cafe.

Sŏrng·tăa·ou (pick-up minibuses) ply the route from here to Thong Sala for around 150B per person. There’s a road leading from Chalok Lam to Hat Khom, and water taxis are available to a number of beaches, though treks continue east to Bottle Beach.

Thong Nai Pan

The pair of rounded bays at Thong Nai Pan, in the northeast of the island, are some of the most remote yet busy beaches on the island; Ao Thong Nai Pan Yai (yai means ‘big’) is the southern half that has some excellent budget and midrange options, and Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi (noi means ‘little’) is Pha-Ngan's most upscale beach that curves just above. Both bays are equally beautiful and great for swimming and hiking. A taxi between the two is around 100B. The road from Thong Sala to Thong Nai Pan is now excellent, so visitor numbers have increased.

Southern Beaches

There are fleeting views of the islands in the Ang Thong Marine National Park; however, the southern beaches don’t have the postcard-worthy turquoise waters you might be longing for and there's little sense of seclusion. This section starts in Ban Kai and follows the coast west towards Thong Sala.

Ban Tai & Ban Khai

The waters at Ban Tai tend to be shallow and opaque, especially during low season, but lodging options are well priced compared to other parts of the island, and you’re close to Thong Sala and not too far from Hat Rin.

As with Ban Tai, Ban Khai's beaches aren’t the most stunning, but the accommodation is cheap and there are beautiful views of Ang Thong Marine National Park in the distance.

These beaches are where many of the moon-but-not-full-moon parties happen so even if your resort seems quiet, there's probably some boozed-up action nearby.

Thong Sala Beach

Thong Sala's beach is really just an extension of Ban Tai but the beaches are a bit wider up this way and have the advantage of being walking distance to Ko Pha-Ngan's main town, its restaurants and services.

West Coast Beaches

Now that there are two smooth roads between Thong Sala and Chalok Lam, the west coast has seen a lot of development. The atmosphere is a pleasant mix between the east coast’s quiet seclusion and Hat Rin’s sociable vibe, although some of the beaches along the western shores (particularly towards the south) aren’t as picturesque as the other parts of the island.

Ao Mae Hat

The relatively undeveloped northwest tip of the island has excellent ocean vistas and plenty of white sand, and little Ko Ma is connected to Pha-Ngan by a stunning sandbar (look out from broken glass at the northern end where the sandbar reaches the small island).

Ao Nai Wok to Si Thanu

Close to Thong Sala, the resorts peppered along this breezy west-coast strip mingle with small beaches between patches of gnarled mangroves. There is a lack of sand, but the prices are cheap and the sunsets can be fantastic.

Hat Chaophao

Like Hat Yao up the coast, this rounded beach on the west coast is lined with a variety of bungalow operations.

Hat Salad

This slim, pretty beach on the northwest coast is fronted by shallow blue water – a clutch of photogenic long-tail boats tend to park at the southern end. It's slightly rustic, with local Thai fishermen coming out to throw their nets out at sunset, yet with plenty of amenities and comfortable accommodation.

Hat Yao & Hat Son

One of the busier beaches along the west coast, Hat Yao sports a swimmable beach, numerous resorts and a few extra services such as ATMs and convenience stores. With a delightful sense of seclusion, Hat Son is a quiet, much smaller beach that feels like a big secret.