Thankfully, the ferry journey to Koh Pha Ngan was similar to boating on a park lake; nothing like the horrendous speedboat journey back from the remote islands of the Marine Park to Koh Samui. The uneventful journey could probably have been undertaken on a Thai longtail boat.
We shouldn't have worried about how to get from the port, Thong Sala, to our resort, Haad Yao, in the north west of the island. Once we'd fought to reclaim our bags that'd been tossed on the dockside and made our way through the independent agents selling accommodation, we stumbled upon a car park full of songthaews - sports utility vehicles welded into taxis.
View of the beach (and our accommodation) at Haad Yao View of the beach at Haad Yao
Haad Yao was really nice; couldn't believe there were so few people on such a big beach. The sand was good, with space to wallow in the turquoise water before the snorkelling territory of corals and sea life just a stones throw from the beach. The accommodation at Sandy Bay Bungalows was our first experience of the Thai beach huts; basic, and a bargain at 700 Baht (about £15) per night.
We grabbed a Songthaew from Haad Yao to Haad Rin on the day of the Full Moon Party, arriving early so we could check out Haad Rin as a potential base for a few days. No chance. Even before the party got started in broad daylight, the place (including both beaches and the town) looked like a shit-hole; reminiscent of teenage holidays in Tenerife. Why the Lonely Planet felt it had to commend the beaches is beyond me...either the text is out of date or telling white lies like some of the Thai promotional material that says every beach is 'one of the best'.
Check out these victims on the skipping rope of fire! This was quite early-on in the evening...
There was nothing spiritual about the full moon party...I never saw anyone look up once. Like most Asian cities, the tired and shabby looking beach front lit up into colour that satisfied the numbed senses of the crowd on the beach. By 11pm the place was really crowded, and I was on my 2nd bucket of vodka+red bull+coke...the first time I've drunk out of a bucket (like the ones you used to make sandcastles with as a kid) and mixed both red bull and coke into my vodka! We had a good time, and sobered up sometime the next day.
We quickly looked for an alternative to Haad Rin to continue our stay on Koh Pha Ngan, and decided on Haad Salad, a smaller cove slightly further north of Haad Yao. Although smaller, it was more densely populated with a wider variety of clientele and quite a few kids. The bay was OK, which doubled as a makeshift harbour of sorts (apparently used by pirates in days of old), but not great for swimming - unless you had your snorkel on to check out the sea life in the shallow water. We enjoyed the evening atmosphere after the amazing sunsets, and the Burmese staff were much livelier than the live-in Thai family at Haad Yao, but after a few days we were glad to be heading to Koh Tao...