Exploring Koh Pha Ngan: East Coast Beaches, a Waterfall & a Herbal Steam

Following on from my first post about things to do on Koh Pha Ngan, here are some suggestions if you want to explore the east coast.

Once again, I’d recommend a motorbike, so pick yourself up some wheels if you don’t already have some.  I’ll use Thong Sala as the starting point, but it’s merely a suggestion – feel free to jump into the route at any point. Following this route, Head out of Thong Sala on the road towards Baan Tai, following the southern coast of the island. You will pass through a small one-way system in Baan Tai village, and then after a while you will pass under a decorative archway, like so:

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If you look at the picture above, a white lorry is exiting a road on the left a little ways beyond the arch.  This is the junction with a 7/eleven on the corner where you want to turn left.  It’s easy to miss, as foliage hides it from view a bit on approach.  Turn left then take this road northwards. You’ll pass Wat Pho on your right hand side but don’t stop – we’re going to save that for later. Just past Wat Pho you’ll notice an impressive tree bythe roadside in front of you.  This old Yang Na tree, its base encircled with colourful ribbons and garlands of flowers, is said to be the tallest tree on the island and is considered by the locals to be good luck.

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Carrying on past the tree, suck up the beautiful, lush views as you wind upwards; being very appreciative that this stretch of road is now paved. With the sharp curves and steep inclines and descents, I can fully understand why these beaches were only accessible overland with a 4Wheel Drive vehicle, if at all, when the roads were little more than rutted, muddy dirt tracks.

Eventually you will come upon a roundabout boasting a monument that seems more in keeping with Soviet-era Russia than a tropical buddhist island.  Hang a right here towards Than Sadet and after a few minutes you’ll see a sign telling you to pull off to the right for Than Sadet Waterfall. If you are visiting during the dry season, you may want to give this side-trip a miss and head straight on to the beach because the falls may be lacklustre with just a trickle of water to be seen.

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The Roundabout

You can park your bikes for free, and there is a kind blind gentleman from whom you can buy fruit or cold drinks.  Please think about buying something from him to help support his upkeep of the area. There’s a short path through the jungle which brings you out to the falls.

Than Sadet waterfall is one of the best known on the island, having been visited by King Rama V in 1888, when he left his inscription on a rock which is still visible today.  It has since been visited by other Thai royalty, including the late King Buhimbol. The water from these falls is considered sacred, and is used in certain Royal ceremonies to this day. If you are expecting a torrent of water falling majestically for hundreds of feet, spraying cool mist into the surrounding jungle, you might be disappointed. You won’t find that here. Adjust your expectations and you can still find a visit enjoyable. Than Sadet comprises a series of streams and pools over a tumble of granite boulders, making up three separate short falls over a length of 3km. If you have decent footwear it is possible to travel the whole length of the falls on foot – just be careful of slippery rocks and be prepared to get wet! It gets hot along the falls, being out of the shade and away from much breeze in the jungle, so make sure you have plenty of water with you. You can always swim in the pools if you want to cool off. If you decide to do some lounging on the rocks to dry off, give the area a quick check first – I came across some red ants and their bite definitely nips!

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Cooling off in one of the pools

Back on the road, continue onwards to reach Than Sadet beach at the end of the line. This is a beautiful stretch of sand where the swimming is good year-round, and if you have snorkelling equipment you may see some colourful fish around the rocks at either end of the beach. The vibe here is relaxed and there isn’t a lot going on, perfect for chilling out. There’s only one restaurant, called Mai Pen Rai, where you can get food and drinks. If it’s lunchtime by now then this is your place to eat. If you want some more culinary options, then you can get back on your bike and retrace your route to the roundabout, hanging a right, and heading onwards to Thong Nai Pan.

Thong Nai Pan actually consists of two beaches separated by a headland.  Thong Nai Pan Yai to the south, and Thong Nai Pan Noi to the north. Both beaches are well developed and cater to the flashpacker and luxury crowds. The setting is idyllic, the atmosphere relaxed. Thong Nai Pan Yai has some options if you’re feeling active – kayaking, jet-skiing & diving. If you’re looking for a romantic setting then Thong Nai Pan Noi is your better bet. If you visit during the low season then some bars/restaurants may be closed, but you should still find a fair amount open.  Full disclosure – I never actually made it up to Thong Nai Pan so I have no pretty pictures to show you – sorry!

Once you’ve soaked up enough sun, backtrack south down the road you drove up on. Remember that Wat you passed on your way up the road? Now’s the time to pay a visit. Towards the end of the road, before you reach the junction with the 7/eleven on it in Baan Tai, you’ll see the entrance to Wat Pho on your left. Pull in and have a wander through its peaceful grounds before crossing the road and visiting the herbal sauna, open from 1-7pm daily with 100B/person admission. Here you can relax in a small chamber – one for men and one for women – while herb-infused steam fills the air. You’ll sweat. A lot. You’ll feel like you are doing something healthy. It’s fun and relaxing and definitely worth a visit (or two, or three…) while on the island. Do remember that it’s respectful to dress modestly when visiting Buddhist temples, so be sure to have your shoulders and knees covered when inside the temple grounds. You’ll find it useful to bring a sarong with you if you plan on using the herbal sauna, to cover yourself, rather than walking around in a swimsuit. Lockers are available, as well as massage services and a small shop.

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If you aren’t exhausted by all the relaxation of the day, drive back down to the main road, turning right towards Baan Tai. After passing through the small one-way system in the village, there is a turn-off on your right towards Wat Khao Tam. This is poorly marked coming from this direction, though quite clear from the other. Here is a street view with the turn off to the right. If you come to a 7/eleven, or see a sign for Milky Bay Resort on your left, you’ve gone too far. Drive up the road to its end, parking in a small lot at the end. Wander quietly through the temple grounds, coming to a viewpoint on the hill overlooking the sea.  This is a beautiful spot to watch the sunset if you happen to get here at the right time, but the view is lovely regardless.

Head on home, put your feet up, hang in a hammock and have a drink.

 

All content including images © Leigh Eros. Do not reproduce without permission.

 

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