Dangers & Annoyances
Some of your fondest holiday memories can hatch on Ko Pha-Ngan; just be mindful of the following situations where things can go pear-shaped.
- Drugs There have been instances of locals approaching tourists and attempting to sell them drugs at a low, seemingly enticing, price. Upon refusing the offer, the vendor may drop the price even more. Once purchased, the seller informs the police, which lands said tourist in the local prison to pay a wallet-busting fine. If you’re solicited to buy drugs, stand your ground and maintain refusal. This may happen frequently on Ko Pha-Ngan, so be aware and avoid the scenario if you suspect it happening.
- Another important thing to remember: your travel insurance does not cover drug-related injuries or treatment. Drug-related freak-outs do happen – we’ve heard firsthand accounts of party-goers slipping into extended periods of delirium. Suan Saranrom (Garden of Joys) Psychiatric Hospital in Surat Thani has to take on extra staff during Full Moon and other party periods to handle the number of fa·ràng (Westerners) who freak out on magic mushrooms, acid or other abundantly available hallucinogens.
- Women Travellers Female travellers should be particularly careful when partying on the island. We’ve received numerous reports about drug- and alcohol-related rape (and these situations are not limited to Full Moon parties). Women should also take care when accepting rides with local motorcycle taxi drivers. Several complaints have been filed about drivers groping female passengers; there are even reports of severe sexual assaults.
- Motorcycles & Scooters Ko Pha-Ngan has more motorcycle accidents than injuries incurred from Full Moon tomfoolery, although bad motorcycle driving coincides with the Full Moon revelries. Nowadays there’s a decent system of paved roads (extended to Than Sadet), but some tracks remain rutted dirt-and-mud paths and the island is also hilly, with some steep inclines.The island has a special ambulance that trawls the island helping injured bikers. If you don't have an international driving licence, you will also be driving illegally and your insurance may not cover you in the event of an accident, so costs could pile up fast.
- Drowning Rip currents and alcohol don't mix well. Drownings are frequent; if swimming, it's advisable to be clear-headed rather than plunging into the sea on a Full Moon bender.
- Fake Alcohol This is a common scam during the Full Moon mania at the bucket stalls on the beach and along the road. Buckets may be filled with low-grade moonshine rice whisky, or old bottles filled with home-made alcohol. Apart from obvious health risks, dodgy alcohol is also a prime mover in many of the accidents at the time of the Full Moon, from motorcycle accidents to drownings, fights and burns from jumping fire ropes.
- Glass on the Beach Beware nasty cuts from broken glass in the sand at Full Moon Party time – don good footwear. Also watch out for broken glass on other beaches at all times – the last time we visited, the southern reaches of the beach at Thong Sala (and other beaches) was full of broken bottles, just left there.
Main Police Station Located about 2km north of Thong Sala. Come here to file a report. You might be charged between 110B and 200B to file the report, which is for insurance, and refusing to pay may lead to complications. If you are arrested you have the right to an embassy phone call; you don't have to accept the ‘interpreter’ you are offered. If you have been accused of committing serious offence, do not sign anything written only in Thai, or write on the document that you do not understand the language and are signing under duress.
Thong Sala, Ko Pha-Ngan’s financial ‘capital’, has plenty of banks, currency converters and several Western Union offices. Hat Rin also has numerous ATMs and a couple of banks at the pier. There are also ATMs in Hat Yao, Chalok Lum and Thong Nai Pan.
There are no government-run Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) offices on Ko Pha-Ngan; instead tourists get their information from local travel agencies and brochures. Most agencies are clustered around Hat Rin and Thong Sala. Agents take a small commission on each sale, but their presence helps to keep prices relatively stable and standardised. Choose an agent you trust if you are spending a lot of money – faulty bookings do happen on Ko Pha-Ngan, especially since the island does not have tourist police.
Several mini-magazines also offer comprehensive information about the island’s accommodation, restaurants, activities and Full Moon parties. Our favourite option is the pocket-sized quarterly Phangan Info (www.phangan.info), also available as a handy app.
Phanganist (www.phanganist.com) is an online resource that's full of insider tips for all things Ko Pha-Ngan.
At the time of writing, the enterprising Backpackers Information Centre (www.backpackersthailand.com) had shut, but may have reopened by the time you read this.