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Koh Phangan Paradise – Happy memories from a distant past ;)

Koh Phangan Paradise 1988/89: A real hippie smoking a chillum at the flea market next to Thommy Resort at Haad Rin beach.
Koh Phangan Paradise 1988/89: A real hippie sharing and smoking a chillum at the flea market next to Thommy Resort at Haad Rin beach.

Lovely Koh Phangan – My name is Eddy and it was the winter of 1988/89.

I was sitting in an old, pretty fucked up guesthouse in Freak Street Kathmandu, when I first heard about “Koh Phangan”.

All my way through India, up to the Pokhara Valley and back, I got haunted by the name “Koh Phangan”. Everywhere I went backpackers were all talking about this little paradise called “Koh Phangan”.

We have been travelling in India & Nepal all winter and back in the days India was deep and firmly in our hearts. Though, we didn’t know yet about a beautiful country called Siam, better known as Thailand.

After two months travelling the Indian mountains our appetite for white sandy beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters grew big and bigger. Our visa application for Bhutan got just denied and the name “Koh Phangan” was still and always present.

Everyone still seemed talking about “Koh Pha-Ngan”! That little island, which doesn’t seem to exist? Perhaps some last kind of Robinson Crusoe Paradise Island on planet earth?

Koh Phangan Paradise Island 1988-89: Perhaps some last kind of Robinson Crusoe Paradise Island on planet earth?
Koh Phangan Paradise Island 1988/89: Perhaps some last kind of Robinson Crusoe Paradise Island on planet earth?

After three days of constant and continuous rain in Manali we decided to fly to Thailand and jumped into a broken bus to New Delhi. After a few days of the usual bureaucratic madness we got our Thai-Visa and took a flight with Biman Bangladesh Airlines to Bangkok.

Today I wouldn’t even send my luggage with that airline, but 25 years ago it was fun 😉

After arriving in Bangkok our first impression was: WOW! What sort of place is this! Being used to Indian standards for quite some time, everything looked so clean and organized.

Khao San Road was a backpackers Mecca back then! I’ve seen similar things at Freak Street in Kathmandu and Colaba in Mumbai, but here everything was definitely different. So many people from so many different parts of the world, it was stunning and we were pretty impressed 😉

At a bar in Khao San road we met Hans on his way back to Germany. He gave us many useful tips and insights and also his Thailand travel guide book. Our journey to Koh Phangan Paradise has just begun!

Koh Samui Island 1988/89 - We were fascinated! That was how beautiful Koh Samui was at that time, 25 years ago.
Koh Samui Island 1988/89 – We were fascinated! That was how beautiful Koh Samui was at that time, 25 years ago.

After a long, long bus journey we arrived at totally flooded Surat Thani on the mainland and had to wait for another long hours to get a boat to Koh Phangan. As the sea was rough with big waves our boat ride took an unexpected stop at neighbouring Koh Samui Island.

We were fascinated! That was how beautiful Koh Samui was at that time, 25 years ago. We already thought we had arrived in paradise. Little did we know 😉

After a few days exploring Koh Samui island we finally had managed our final onward journey to Koh Phangan Paradise.

Back in 1989 only a few boats made the trip to Koh Phangan per day. We took our boat ride from Bophut Pier and I think you couldn’t even call it a boat. It was more like a nutshell. Water found its way into the boat from all sides and two little boys were constantly engaged getting all the water out again.

But it all simply felt so funny 25 years ago 🙂

Koh Phangan Paradise 1988/89 - Happy memories from a distant past ;)
Koh Phangan Paradise 1988/89 – Happy & laid back memories from a distant past 😉

Arriving at Had Rin pier, there were a few local Thais looking for customers for their bungalow resorts. We decided for Dolphin Bungalows just next to the pier for 120 Thai Baht per night, which seemed to be the best one available at that time.

There were only half a dozen bungalow resorts at Had Rin beach during that time. Can you imagine that?

The next day, a few meters down the road, we discovered Laidback Bungalows for a very affordable 30 to 80 Thai Baht and finally made that our island home.

What a paradise! We finally had arrived on lovely Koh Phangan Paradise Island!

There were two small jungle paths connecting sunrise and sunset beach. There was not a single motorbike at Had Rin beach and the only engine noise you could hear came from electric generators from some bungalow resorts or fishing boats transporting tourists from or to Thongsala or other beaches.

Koh Phangan 1988/89: nice hippie style flea market at Thommy Resort during the afternoons at sunrise Hadrin beach.
Koh Phangan 1988/89: nice hippie style flea market at Thommy Resort during the afternoons at sunrise Hadrin beach.

Then there was this nice hippie style flea market at Thommy Resort during the afternoons. Next to Thommy Resort, on the grassland to Bayshore Bungalows, hippies from all over the world, on their journey from Goa and Kathmandu, over Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, to Indonesia and Bali, had a laid back gathering, selling their latest hand made jewellery, art or clothes. Perhaps … maybe … sometimes … also smoking a chillum or two 😉

Koh Phangan 1988/89: nice hippie style flea market at Thommy Resort during the afternoons at sunrise Hadrin beach.
Koh Phangan 1988/89: nice hippie style flea market at Thommy Resort during the afternoons at sunrise Hadrin beach.

Even at sunrise beach there were only a few bungalow resorts available in 1989. I do remember Palita Lodge, Mountain Bungalow, Thommy Resort, Bayshore and at the other end of the sunrise beach Paradise Bungalows, where the first Full Moon Parties were held.

Koh Phangan 1988/89: nice hippie style flea market at Thommy Resort during the afternoons at sunrise Hadrin beach.
Koh Phangan 1988/89: nice hippie style flea market at Thommy Resort during the afternoons at sunrise Hadrin beach.

The atmosphere was really more than relaxed. People enjoyed smoking some weed or sharing a chillum, tripping on magic mushrooms and playing music while hanging out at the beach.

Koh Phangan 1988/89 - Happy Memories from a distant past in a laid back atmosphere ;)
Koh Phangan 1988/89 – Happy Memories from a distant past in a laid back atmosphere 😉

At the Chicken Corner you had a few tiny shops selling food and stuff for your daily needs.

Down that jungle path to the pier at the sunset side, next to the Outback Bar, there was a tiny fish restaurant, which is now known as the Lucky Crab Seafood Restaurant.

There were no concrete roads at Had Rin and you could only reach Hadrin beach by long tail boat. Thongsala could only be reached directly by boat or via Ban Khai village and then take a motorbike taxi through the jungle to Thongsala village.

As far as I can still remember … the only phone available on the island was located next to the old post office in Thongsala village. It looked like a missive concrete brick with a 2 meter antenna. Weighted an estimated 10 kg and 3 minutes to Europe cost you 20 $ US.

Things were good back in those days 😉

Koh Phangan 1988/89 – Happy Memories from a distant past in a laid back atmosphere ;)
Koh Phangan 1988/89 – Happy Memories from a distant past in a laid back atmosphere 😉

The first person I met on Koh Phangan Island was this tiny & little Italian guy driving around Had Rin beach with his bicycle selling delicious Italian pizza. “Pizzeria Pino” was written on his bicycle and while enjoying a nice sunset together Pino told me that he arrived during a full moon night by accident on the island.

Pino is still living up to this day at Haad Rin beach Koh Phangan.

Then Pino simply fell in love with the island and its atmosphere and since then he never left. Pino is still living up to this day at Haad Rin beach Koh Phangan.

Other friends left over time, others died on the island. Puddy from Outback Bar, Marc London who worked quite some time at Nira’s Backery. Or that other woman from Munich, whose name I can’t remember and was living at Thommy’s Resort for quite some time.

Isi from Spain also has moved to Ban Tai village not far away from where I live now. Ara, our island guru, also left Koh Phangan a few years ago and is now living somewhere in Europe. Uli from Germany, our mind altering substance senior expert, also left the island many years ago. He was quite sick, as I do re-call?

Elena is finally fed up with the new generation of people arriving on Paradise Island and doesn’t show up that often anymore.

Isi from Spain & Becki
Ara, our island guru 😉
Uli, our mind altering substance senior expert
Elena is finally fed up!

But it was such a great time back in those days! Nice people … nice locals … PURE RELAXATION!

Today all is different! Hustle and bustle … hectic pure! The people on Koh Phangan are stressed and the traffic has increased enormously. There are daily accidents and the charm and atmosphere of Magic Koh Phangan Paradise is slowly but surely dissolving ;(

I still do love this special place but it’s getting more and more distant each time I go and visit my little and lovely Koh Phangan Paradise Island.

But I’m so glad and thankful that I could be part of it!

Thanks & Greetings

Koh Phangan 1988/89 I’m so glad and thankful that I could be part of it!
Koh Phangan 1988/89 I’m so glad and thankful that I could be part of it!

p.s. 25 years ago there were no smart phones, no internet! But you had those magic things called message boards, where you could leave a message for friends to pick up. You could find those message boards at the Chicken Corner, Post Office in Thongsala, Baan Nathon on Koh Samui, Bangkok, India, Nepal … nearly everywhere!

So, we once met this French couple in India and planned to meet again in Thailand and therefore left messages on the pin-boards all along our way. Bangkok, Koh Samui, Thongsala, Chicken Corner

And one day, while relaxing in the hammock, I heard a familiar voice asking for me. I was stunned! I couldn’t believe it! In front of me was Kurt, a guy we met in Poona in India a few years ago. He read our messages we left for the French couple on the board in Baan Nathon on Koh Samui and decided to give us a visit on Koh Phangan. Pleasant surprise! Fantastic times!

Koh Phangan 1988/89 - My friend Kurt and me chillin' in Thongsala ;)
Koh Phangan 1988/89 – My friend Kurt and me chillin’ in Thongsala 😉

30 thoughts on “Koh Phangan Paradise – Happy memories from a distant past ;)

  • antonio giudici

    Helena is in Haad Rin now 🙂

    • massimo seripa

      ….Mario Fullpower….Leela Bungalow…..Harmony….so many sweet memories!!

  • The Germans lady from Tommy a is she still alive?

    • She is died for some years ago

  • Gavin Cooper

    This is so weird! I was only telling my wife yesterday about “Uli”. Small world, great article.

  • Jesus Nilsen

    What a great article… total blast from the past!! Thanks so much for sharing, and wonderful to see these old faces!!

  • Chris Rossetto

    Lovely writing of distant memories.
    My own experience of KPG started in 1999. Some would probably say it was too late for the bohemian paradise Eddy talks of but me and my best friend feel lucky that we spent a couple of very chilled months on Bottle Beach. It seems the following years saw a lending explosion from the banks and the island got built into the bigger and busier place it has organically become todAy. It was still raw in 99. No electricity past 9pm. Two resorts BottleBeach 1 and Bottle Beach 2. PeeMee at the helm of BB2. No one really drank alcohol, and if you did it was only beer. A Mancunian called Alan. Friendly as could be. My friend Gary told me about Bottle Beach. He said it was a special place to rest. I found it magical. It was what is described today as living minimalis. A bed, tinny sounding Walkman speakers, the beach, the lovely Thais who have become life long friends.
    Our days started at 6am and revolved around fishing, jungle walking, frisbee (a lot of frisbee), swimming In the ocean and volleyball at 5. Whilst eating as much Thai food as possible. If you were still awake at 9pm, a couple of hours past sun down, it was late! Shared squat toilets, hygienically away from the the Still palm leaf thatched roofs of simple huts comprising of Mosquito net, mattress and pillow. The sound of the waves just metres from your door. The hammock swinging on your balcony waiting for you to lay and look at a view which has burnt an image into the rear of my eyelids. Wow. I feel so lucky to have been there. My names Chris. My best friend I was with Jonny. Maybe we met?

  • massimo seripa

    ….Mario fullpower, Leela Bungalow, Armony….so manu sweet memories!!!

  • Yes I was selling at flea market. they were magic days..and one full moon party, one sound system everyone together. No bike accidents as no bikes just the boats or a barefoot stroll on the beach to Ban Yai. I visit sometimes but now looking elsewhere for a new island patadise

  • Marta Mello

    Had the privilege to enjoy that atmosphere in the early 90’s. Indeed some marvelous memories. ❤️

  • Thierry

    Nice memories from that time… Good to see these faces, Isidro, ugly and others… Time has gone and changed …

  • I first set foot on legendary Koh PhaNgan back in ’94 – pre-internet (and pre-7/11) days. Not complaining about the arrival of electricity and internet though – it eventually allowed me to make KPG my home right on the beach for six amazing years.

    Those 90’s magical days and starry nights, on a very special island where so many interesting people’s journeys intersected and shared their amazing experiences under moonlit coconut trees on pristine beaches – just ask Alex Garland from “The Beach”… So many good memories…

    Fast-forward to 2016, and the magic has been replaced by $$$, concrete, asbestos, noise, criminal greed and life-threatening crime. The lovely KPG locals are no more, most beaches, sand banks and coral reefs are now gone or dead with rubbish, and many forests and waterfalls (e.g. Nam Tok) have been decimated by thieving land-grabbers. And yet, today’s Facebook generation are all but clueless about what real “The Beach”-like adventure was really all about.

    Anyway, strong advice from one “old timer” to other fellow past travelers contemplating re-visiting the magic of our island… DON’T! Our beautiful island is no more – save your great memories, don’t replace them with today’s ugliness!

    To my fellow travelers, whether our paths crossed on KPG or elsewhere, I salute you. May our great times live on.

    – Jose

  • Janson Wry

    I fist arrived in 97 and have returned many times between then and now. It was very different back then and obviously more remote so therefore quieter, calmer and there was more of the obvious ‘untouched paradise’ that there is today. But there is still something so special about Koh Phangan. Sure, that something special might be fading fast and not what it was, but it is still there.
    I stay far away from Had Rin. I’ve never agreed with the parties on that side of the island. Typical Debaucherous Western mindlessness that continues to ruin this world has no place on a small island like Phangan, and yet we found a way to insert it, grow it and eventually build it into what is finally destroying Phangan.
    I realise that the copious amounts of resorts and hotels around the island are also a culprit for the slow decay of Phangan and that to find a small stretch of complete remote paradise is not very easy anymore. But, somewhere amidst the fast traffic, the naive youngsters, the rife alcoholics and the brutal crime, is still a small pure sense of paradise.
    Whether it be in the smiles of the wonderful Thais, the humidity around your hammock, the spice in the best food you’ve ever tasted, the bright dancing colours of the shore at your feet, the long calm conversations with strangers from another land or perhaps its just that soft comfortable homely feeling inside you while you mo-ped your way through the jungle, Paradise is still so clearly evident in beautiful Koh Phangan.
    I get that it’s not what it was, but what ever is? Time changes everything.
    It’s up to us to find and hold onto the magic as tightly as we can. And there is still an abundance of magic on Koh Phangan.

  • Not quite sure which year the picture is taken in Tongsala but for sure, 1987/1988 (the year I left after 9 years on the island), Tongsala had only part time electric and no one had a cool display counter like the one in picture. Only Ice boxes.

    The quietness of Tongsala only got disrupted in 1986, when this BKK company build some huts on Koh Ta Nai and installed a generator. The rest of the island was very much without electricity and used kerosene lamps, charcoal and gaz. I know only one family where everyone used to come together on Saturday (just outside tongsala in Ao Nai Wok) and watch Thai boxing on a small B/W, portable TV connected to a battery. Well, mostly we watched snow, as the areal was shacking in the wind on top of a palm tree 😉

    I don’t know much about Hadrin after 1987, used to be fairly long track to walk either over the mountain or at low tide, along the beach, so have not been too often down there. Pre 1987, there was no huts or resorts in Hadrin. A guy with his horse was probably one of the only few people living in the jungle in between Hadrin East and West.

    After 1988, as it was easier to get from Samui to Hadrin then from Tongsala, Hadrin took off on it’s own pace, more influenced by Koh Samui (and I didn’t like Koh Samui back then nor today) whilst the rest of Koh Phangan still enjoyed Paradise for a few more years before it is …. well, like we know it today.

  • KL Legreek

    Some questions assault my mind after reading all these lovely comments regarding a KPG that is so different now, please enlighten me:

    1. suppose you go back in a time machine, and are elected island major back in 1980. What would you do to make KPG better? Now that you are wiser, what would you ask the FB generation to be care of when visiting places that are like KPG now, and 80s KPG?

    2. If you had the opportunity to start a new life in a remote beautiful place tha has no electricity, no internet, etc… would you go there? Why?

    3. From 1 to 10, being 1 the best, how would you rate Koh Phangan Island as a placer to live right now?

    4. You are wiser and have the experience to be there.. get your crystal ball in the table and tell me what you see as the future of the island, good or bad.

    Thanks a lot!

  • Yes, we were part of it! I first arrived in December 1992, nowadays still keep coming back once in awhile. Thanks to Eddy for sharing these memories!

  • We enjoyed the island in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. There was a Swiss bakery called Jardin Secret that was a fun place to have breakfast. We came back for a short visit later to see how drastically things had changed. We went to the bakery, and it was abandoned. We wonder what happened to Natalie the owner…

  • Thomas from Japan at that time

    Thanks for the wonderful memories, it was paradise indeed, and to me who first went there around 89/90 it was the utmost luxury of simplicity with the beauty of nature.
    But it didn’t last very long that way, well from another point of view a second at that time seemed like ethernity 😉
    Let me know if you hear of good place to be today 🙂

  • harry

    lovely memories from people thank you.

    i started visiting in 98 and spent few months every winter for 4 years, at top of article it is slightly confusing.. paddy from outback bar is mentioned just after some names of people who died there, i do hope he is still around and i have misunderstood. he helped me out a lot when i was there, as did his girlfriend, i think she was australian called misty but maybe getting mixed up.
    i spent a lot of time in big boom bar where i made a great friendship with a thai lady called doy who ran the place, two great thai barmen johnny and tony, a party animal ladyboy called bella who was such a richie, kenny who played the music lots, londoner called bob, south african paul and his dog lucy, such funny times.two fun swedish girls moa and anna, in fact lots of crazy swedes! backyard bar with the low ceilings before the massive refit was incredible carnage the morning after fmp! pino and his pizza skills were unforgettable, bit of a demon on the volleyball as well. my name is harry , thanks for all the happy times. when i get back to thailand, its been nearly 20 years i will have to visit kpg , but i reckon it will be a short trip.

  • Damien

    Wow, I was there, it was beautiful. Thanks Eddy

  • Fenge

    Spent a few amazing lazy months as guests of Nok and her family at Booms Cafe in Ban Khai ’89/’90 and used to walk along the shore or get a boat to Had Rin once in a while for a ‘night out’ on the town, mixing it up with the seething mass of up to 400 revellers! Memories of strolling along the track in the cooler hours of the early morning from Booms, without passing a soul, to a small open hut in the jungle to get a cut throat shave for a couple of baht. Volleyball every evening, great traveller atmosphere and the simplicity of beach bungalows without fans or electricity and just the sea breeze to cool the air. The utter joy of seeing someone you met trekking in Nepal a month ago, and last saw in Kathmandu, just walk in to Booms unannounced and say ‘how’s it going’ and the next few days filled with tales from afar. Post-Restante, developing camera film, reverse-charge calls back home, message boards, word-of-mouth recommendations, visitor books, writing post cards, travellers cheques, the smell of Tiger Balm and scooping water from a tank to wash. All happy memories of Koh Phangan, and travelling in general, that still make me smile.

  • thank you for your article. I am returning to Koh Phangan after 21 years when I spent a month there. One unforgettable evening was the night I had the privilege to meet Ara. A wise and kind man indeed! I saw music coming out of the speakers.. he was not surprised..

    I know what I will find now will not bring back 1996. Everything changes, and I guess I am not the same either. But I hope I will love it just as much

  • Thanks Eddy for rekindling my shot to pieces memory.
    I was there from 86/92 on/off in between Goa,kathmandu and Daramsala and can honestly say that it was paradise. Pre full moon parties,pre electricity,no motor vehicles and amazing people,,living at the bakery on Hadrin and then up at Mr Angs in the hills above the beach,with a community of people that have been my friends for the past 30 years.Having our own little parties at the Backyard with Dave and other party nuts.
    Good days, and now my 21 year old son is enjoying the experience and I.m living my life vacariously through him in the knowledge that he is living the life that I did but only younger. I went back a few years ago and was a little dissapointed at the vehicle and road accessibility, but some call that progress. Apparently Koh Tao is the place to be now.???

  • Simon

    hi Eddy,
    WOW- you exploded a lovely time bomb in my brain!
    I was living in Chaweng in early 1990- at Arabian Bungalows. Where the first ever beach party would happen in the 80s each Saturday with Pee Lek djing.
    That summer we came over to Haadrin on Leks speedboat with 6 Thai beach boys and me on the banana boat and Pablo on the parasail – quiet the entrance to the bathers on the beach
    We brought with us a huge sound system to Leks friends bungalow- think Paradise and after the market that night played TIL the next morning.
    The next week we came back and brought the folks, hippies, travellers and whoever else wanted to come, back to Chaweng to set up the market at Arabian and to party in Leks club The Fiesta (next to the original Reggae Pub) with him, me and some of the Tommy crew djing
    Great memories you brought back from this article and the other/
    Leks family also had bungalows helped out in for a while from 92 onwards in Tong Nai Pan Yai – used to take two hours to get there through the jungle!
    Hope you are doing good Eddy xxx

  • aron phelan

    I stayed on the island many times from 1991 to 1996 I’m 48 now – I want to tell you all I’ve been having repeated frustrating deep dreams of returning to the island and trying to find my travelling and Thai friends and i just get lost all the time. My two best Thai friends were Tree and Pan both great guys and they looked after me. we all lived, worked and stayed at Thommys. Pan ran the Sand restaurant as well. I helped build the bar extension at the front of thommys . Jason my friend from Barnet England was working in the Sunrise bungalows as he was in a relationship with the Thai girl whose family ran them. It was such an amazing time and these dreams are affecting me. Should I go back and try and find my friends or should I just leave it as the island has changed so much ? will any of my friends form that time still be there?

  • i was there for a month at Xmas & New yEar 94 , 95 , 96 , 97
    Backyard after the beach
    Backyard Dave killing it
    Lee Burridge killing it – all the crew – Lee , Diana , Christian Tricky et al
    TikTak , Vera and all the boys all so young then
    Jip , her sister and all that crew –
    Magical unrepeatable Mad times

    Wouldn’t entertain it these days

  • Wessels

    sweet memories!
    I did met Ara and Uli.
    Ara is now living in Armenia I’ve heard.
    I remember visiting him in his (own build) house not far from Haad Rin.
    Made a portrait-drawing of him and had a few smokes 😉
    Ow how I miss those good days!

  • Gary K

    Those where the good old days ill say! The memories of Djing at Backyard with MArc London, A, and so many from around the world was unbelievably good.

  • deb howell

    Hi I was Koh Samui and Koh Phan gan Nov 1987 for couple weeks. Did anyone stay on horse camp and chewang beach during this time?


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