Mae Haad Update 2017

New beach bungalows

Mae Haad was once a beach destination in Koh Phangan that few people had heard of. For many their only exposure to the beautiful double beach of Mae Haad and nearby Koh Ma would have been a boat and snorkelling trip of the island. Things have moved on for Mae Haad. It now looks set for an up-market make-over.

From 2012 Mae Haad started gaining popularity with beach lovers as an unspoiled beach destination and as Koh Phangan’s equivalent of Nang Yuan which is also a National Park and blessed with a strip of beach joining the mainland to a small island just off the coast.

As a result several accommodation options started popping up in Mae Haad such as Mae Haad Garden Inn and Mae Haad View Resort offering cheap bungalows near the beach. At the same time beach massage shops and small stalls made their appearance.

Changing Beach

In 2017 the beach massage shops and small stalls selling food and drink have largely disappeared. Moreover, the row of wooden bungalows directly on the beach have been pulled down. These fantastic budget options have been replaced with 2 storey beachfront houses made of wood and concrete.

This is clearly a move to appeal to a different demographic. Resorts are trying to attract higher paying customers looking for beachfront accommodation. Island View Cabana and Mae Haad Bay Resort see the future of Mae Haad tourism as being about air-con, swimming pools, better service and exclusivity. To some degree this transformation can be seen happening all over the island. It is perhaps just more noticeable in Mae Haad.

The beach used to attract long stay guests of a more Bohemian mindset looking for a relaxed and friendly beach with cheap prices. These guests have largely been replaced by short stay tourists looking for more creature comforts.

Mae Haad is in a transitional phase. Whether it can be re-branded as a luxury resort area like Thong Nai Pan Noi is still to be seen. However, for those looking to escape the crowds of other Koh Phangan beaches Mae Haad is still an excellent option. There are also still cheap rooms to be had at:

And what’s more less people to share the stunning beach with is for many a massive bonus.

Accommodation Update for Mae Haad for 2017

Mae Haad Cove Bungalows

The year 2016 was good for Mae Haad accommodation. Two resorts managed to get Agoda scores for the first time. Another first is Mae Haad Cove: they finally caved in and partnered up with booking.com to provide online booking. The other major development is that Wang Sai Resort is looking to expand by splitting into two businesses.

In terms of room prices, there has been little movement. This means with the small drop in the value of the Thai Baht, Mae Haad provides good value for money. The one exception is Island View Cabana that has doubled the price of its cheapest bungalow offering.

The Movers

Mae Haad Cove is perhaps the standout resort in Mae Haad in terms of improvement. It has gone from 94 in the specialist lodging category to 66. Moreover, Mae Haad Cove can now be booked online using booking.com.

While Mae Haad View Resort fell in the B&Bs category from 62 to 70, it registered its first Agoda rating (5.9 out of 10). This is not high but it shows they are taking online booking seriously. And even better, prices fell slightly for beachfront bungalows.

According to Trip Advisor Mae Haad Guest House dropped slightly in excellence – going from 155th to 164th in the lodging category. The good news is that the guest house broke into the Agoda rankings and scores a very respectable 7.3. Room prices remain the same at Mae Haad Guest House.

Wang Sai Resort is a mover for the reason that they seem now to have two listings with Agoda. One is Wang Sai Resort, the other is Wang Sai Garden Resort. It looks like they are starting to use land set well back from the beach. Travellers booking online should be clear about which Wang Sai they are booking.

In terms of ratings, Wang Sai Resort got its first Agoda score – 7.3. However, it fell in Trip Advisor – moving from 140 to 189 in the speciality lodging section. The prices for accommodation also went up.

The Non Mover

Why Not Bungalows continues for 2017 to fly under the internet radar. Agoda and Trip Advisor continue to ignore the backpacker resort primarily because it eschews online booking. You still have to rock up and see if they have a free bungalow.

The good news is that prices remain the same for the bungalows at Why Not and, as before, those prepared to stay for a few days can negotiate a discount.

The Losers

Royal Orchid Resort has seen a slight drop in rankings. Agoda continues to ignore the place while the Trip Advisor ranking fell one place from 83rd to 84th in the hotels category. This category only lists 89 hotels. So Royal Orchid is literally one of the worst hotels in Koh Phangan. The price for a sea view fan bungalow stays at 400 Thai Baht a night.

Although Island View Cabana slightly improved its Agoda rating (going from 6.5 to 6.6) the popular resort fell from 64th to 98th in the B&Bs category. This doesn’t tally well with a jump in price from 400 to 800 Thai Baht for a fan bungalow.

Mae Haad Garden Inn rose from 8.6 to 8.7 in Agoda but dropped considerably in the Trip Advisor listing – going from 126th to 193rd in the lodging category. The one positive is that the pricing structure for accommodation stays about the same.

Mae Haad Bay Resort is the best example of a hotel in Mae Haad. It has had an average to poor year. It’s Agoda score dropped from 8.3 to 8.2 and it went from 22nd best hotel to 31st best hotel. Perhaps connected, is that the fact that room prices went up except for the most basic rooms which fell in price.

Conclusion

Mae Haad continues very much the same as usual. Prices haven’t changed dramatically and the resorts have not attempted to upgrade significantly and convert the land by the beach into a building site.

The fact that some Mae Haad accommodation has got an Agoda score for the first time indicates that Mae Haad is not quite as obscure and underground as it once was. Still it remains a fabulous beach and the best place to go snorkelling in Koh Phangan.

Phangan Utopia and Utopia House Near Mae Haad

Although certain websites claim Phangan Utopia is in Mae Haad, the experience of staying at this resort is one of splendid isolation. The resort is reached via a main road that curves up to the crest of a hill. You turn left and make a sharp dropping turn into the resort. There is nothing else around.

For the benefit of pedants Phangan Utopia Resort is located at Haad Thong Lang. It is a hill between Chaloklum and Mae Haad. To get a sense of the location check out the YouTube video above and also the Google Map below.

The resort is a pleasant 3 star hotel that features, restaurant, communal pool, small shop and a series of cottages that have awesome unimpeded mountain views. It is a place far from the madding crowd.

There is a free transfer on arrival – they will pick you up from Thongsala ferry pier if you email in advance. However, the return journey costs 200 – 250 Thai Baht. For those wanting to escape the resort there are free shuttle buses twice a day to Chaloklum Beach and Mae Haad. The buses leave at 11.00 and 14.00 and return at 16.00 and 18.00. This gives guests the chance to have lunch and dinner outside the resort.

seaview-bungalow

The resort restaurant is only average. They charge more than other resort restaurants in Koh Phangan. They are no doubt taking advantage of the captive guests who haven’t rented out scooters. Phangan Utopia’s menu features Thai and Western standards as well as range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

All the accommodation options at Phangan Utopia come with air-con, hot water bathrooom and mini bar. More expensive rooms also feature Jacuzzi and cable TV and DVD player.

The cheapest rooms are in an accommodation block. Next up are bungalows with garden views. There are also a selection of ‘sea view’ cottages some feature Jacuzzi’s on private verandas. The rooms are nicely designed with hard woods, tiles and neutral tones.

seaview

The resort accommodation is spread out over the hill. As a result those cottages on the fringes tend to have the best sea views (you can see over to Koh Tao) but also the worst wifi connectivity. Such is life.

Facilities

pool

The star of the resort is undoubtedly the massive sea views and jungle views. It is a chance to really admire the pristine environment of Koh Phangan. The resort swimming pool is perched in an excellent location for the views. There is a line of deck chairs by the pool for guests to sit and enjoy.

As mentioned there is also a restaurant and bar. They serve Thai, Western and BBQ food. You can sit inside or out on a sea view terrace.

restaurant terrace

At reception the friendly staff can organise motorbike hire and ticket purchase. They also organise dive courses, snorkelling, island tours and fishing trips. There is also a laundry service (not free).

If you don’t have your own device there are a couple of public computers where you can check your email. If you have a device there is free wifi around the resort, although the outlying cottages have patchy connectivity.

Book Phangan Utopia
bookroom

Reviews

Generally Phangan Utopia gets very good reviews. It scores highly on Trip Advisor. The overwhelming reaction to the resort is to mention the stunning views. While most enjoy the isolated location and the peace and quiet a few find the location too remote and the resort hard to get to. Being a ‘captive guest’ is not to everyone’s taste.

A couple of people mention that some of the rooms are a bit tired and could do with a refurb. One person mentions all the old sinks, furniture and junk piled up under some of the cottages.

Utopia House

Utopia-House

Also for rent is a stand-alone villa called Utopia House. This features a living room, a fairly good kitchen and a double bedroom with en-suite bathroom with toilet and shower. It is not a deluxe bungalow but the living areas are pleasant and the large balcony has an awesome view.

Naturally, guests at Utopia House have full access to the pool, restaurant and other facilities at Phangan Utopia Resort.

Book Utopia House
bookroom

Location

Mae Haad View Resort and Wangsai Garden Resort Available for Online Booking

Koh Phangan business owners have been reluctant to fully embrace the digital age. Up until the early 2000s most resorts only dealt with island-based travel agents. They shunned online booking companies. Koh Phangan had a cash based economy. People wanted paying in cash at the point of delivery.

Even today most resorts in Mae Haad and Koh Phangan won’t accept credit cards. You won’t find an uber taxi and you will struggle to find a restaurant that has a credit card machine.

However, the times are changing. In 2016 two resorts in Mae Haad joined up to Agoda and so are now available for online booking.

Mae Haad View Resort

Mae-Haad-View-Resort
Mae Haad View Resort is located at the southern end of the beach, next to a small lagoon. It has a selection of wooden bungalows on stilts. The bungalows have a fan, bed, mosquito net, cold water shower and small private balcony. The bungalows are spread over a hill and on the beach. Prices for bungalows start at 500 Thai Baht a night.

The resort also features a beachfront restaurant with a menu of Thai and Western food items as well as a range of drinks. Next door is an attached bar made up of drift wood. It is a funky spot to have a few cheap drinks.

Mae Haad (Beach) View Resort is a friendly backpacker spot that harks back to the olden days of Koh Phangan tourism with the important difference that now you can book online. Although they still don’t offer free wifi!

book Mae Haad View Resort

Read our review

Wangsai Garden Resort

Wangsai-Garden-Bungalow
Just up from Mae Haad View Resort is Wangsai Garden Resort, named after the nearby waterfall. It is a mid-range resort that features well-maintained fan and air-con bungalows. The fan bungalows have cold water showers. The air-con bungalows have hot water showers as well as fridge.

The fan bungalows start at 850 Thai Baht a night and the air-con bungalows start at 1,300 Thai Baht a night. There are a few bungalows available for rent on the beach.

The resort covers quite a wide area. The restaurant is accessed via a small ridge over a river. It serves a selection of tasty Thai and Western dishes. The resort offers free wifi in public areas.

book Wangsai Garden Resort

Read our review

That only leaves a small handful of accommodation providers who have not signed up to a major booking engine. They are Why Not Bungalows and Mae Haad Cove Bungalows.

Koh Ma Picture

Koh-Ma

A friend recently did a few dives with H20 Scuba School in Thong Nai Pan Noi. One of the dives was at Koh Ma.

The picture above is one that he took while diving at Koh Ma. The picture above unfortunately doesn’t show any fish but does show the beauty of the corals at Koh Ma. The pinks and the greens are beautiful, as is the clear blue sea.

Koh Ma although the best dive spot around the coastal waters of Koh Phangan is often overlooked by dive shops who prefer to take customers to Sail Rock where there is a better chance of seeing marine life including the world’s largest fish, the whale shark. More often than not people snorkel Koh Ma rather than dive the site.

Anyway, enjoy the picture.

Beach Video

Here is a video I took a couple of years ago. I was staying at one of the bungalows at Island View Cabana. I walked out of my bungalow and filmed as I walked down the path to the main beach. Please excuse the slight bumpy nature to the movie.

The movie gives you a good idea about just how close Island View Cabana is to both beaches at Mae Haad. The first beach you see is the land bank that connects Mae Haad to Koh Ma. There is a bank of rocks by the exit to the beach. It is best to take the path to the right which leads to the main ‘south’ beach. From there you can double back to get onto to the sand bank.

As you can see from the video the south beach is preferred by visitors because it is less affected by the tidal variations. It is also a wide beach with plenty of room for everyone to get a bit of privacy. Not that this ever becomes a problem as Mae Haad is an idyllic place that never really fills up. The tour groups come for an hour to do some snorkelling round Koh Ma and then head off somewhere else for lunch such as Bottle Beach. However, they don’t really disturb the tranquillity of the beach.

Bungalows at Island View Cabana start at $13 a night. It is a bargain for Koh Phangan. To be this close to one of the best beaches on the island, and to not have to be a King’s ransom. Just perfect!

Live Music near Mae Haad

While Mae Haad itself is fairly quiet at night in terms of nightlife, there are, of course, plenty of party options farther afield in Koh Phangan – the island unofficially dubbed the party island of Thailand. However, not everyone is a fan of techno, trance and minimal. For those who like live music with musicians rather than DJs there are a few choices in the nearby vicinity.

The Jam – Hin Kong

The Jam is a beachfront bar south of Mae Haad in Hin Kong. It is the beach just after Srithanu. It takes about 20 minutes on a bike to get there. Since 2008 they have been running a live music night. Every Friday at 9pm they have a band that kicks off proceedings and then people from the audience that can handle a guitar or hold a tune are invited to join in. It is a lively event and usually well attended.

They have plenty of YouTube videos you can check out. During high seasons they often run a Wednesday jam session as well as the Friday one.


Click for The Jam’s Facebook Page

Rasta Home – Haad Yao

This is a slice of the old Koh Phangan. As the name suggests this place is unashamedly ‘rasta’. It is a small wooden bar built with love on the northern road going out of Haad Yao. Check out the video:

They don’t have any regular music nights but do get bands in occasionally. Koh Phangan’s biggest band – Job to Do – play here always to a lively crowd up for dancing.

Omega Bar – Chaloklum

Omega Bar has been holding live music events for a few years now. They feature whoever is around. And that can often be a few talented individuals. They have a drum kit, amplifier and other instruments as well as stage. Again you can find plenty of footage on YouTube. There is a strong hippy vibe. They sometimes combine live music with a kids’ event earlier in the day.

Things often happen on a Wednesday at Omega Bar. It is located in the centre of Chaloklum. You can take the northern road from Mae Haad and be there in 15 minutes.

Click here for Omega Bar’s Facebook Page

Best Party on West Coast

During a typical two week holiday on Mae Haad Beach it is normal to sample Koh Phangan’s famous (and infamous) nightlife at least once. Mae Haad is excellent for snorkelling and relaxing but it is a poor spot if you are looking for crowds, a hedonistic atmosphere and loud music.

For those wanting a big party vibe the only choice is the Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Sunrise Beach. The next best option are the Baan Tai parties. However, for those who don’t want a long journey in the back of a pick-up taxi, and for those who prefer smaller gatherings the best choice is the Moon Set Party at Haad Chao Phao on the West Coast of Koh Phangan.

Getting to Haad Chao Phao

Haad Chao Phao is a small beach to the south of Mae Haad on the west coast. It is not as busy or developed as Haad Yao. However, it does have fine white sand and beautiful rockery scenery. It is connected to the main western coastal road and takes about 10 minutes to reach from Mae Haad by either shared taxi or motorbike. The roads on this part of the island are mostly flat and mostly covered in concrete. This makes it a relatively safe journey to make at night.

In a shared taxi it should cost about 100 Thai Baht per person. If you hire a private taxi for you and your friends the total cost should be about 1,000 Baht. Scooter hire for 24 hours is about 250 Baht.

Pirates Bar

The Moon Set Party is held at the Pirates Bar. It is a funky little bar at the end of Chao Phao Beach. It is in a small cove that is empty except for the bar. This makes an ideal location for a party as it is away from accommodation. The bar is reached via a wooden walk way that goes around the headland at the southern end of the beach.

The bar itself is located in a wooden shaped bar. It is a ramshackle affair made partly from salvaged drift wood. It is set back against rocks. There is seating on the roof as well as at the bar. There is also a platform next to the sea with low tables and cushions great for chilling out.

Next to the bar is a stack of loudspeakers and a wooden stage. The wider area is decorated by white flags. During party nights numerous psychedelic decorations can be seen sporting the usual fluorescent colours and patterns. There is also a basic lightshow that adds to the party atmosphere. On big party nights like in December there is also a burning sign that reads ‘Moon Set Party’.

Moon Set Party

The Moon Set Parties occur mostly during the high seasons of January, July and August and the peak season at Christmas and New Year. The party dates are a little imprecise. They should be 2 days before the Full Moon Party and Half Moon Party. There is little to no effort made to use social media or a website to announce party nights. The net reveals the last party promoted through Facebook events was in December 2013.

However, not to worry: if you are staying anywhere along the west coast of Koh Phangan you will soon find out about the next party.

The party itself attracts about hundred people. It is a small cove and fills up with people. There is the usual Koh Phangan collection of trance and techno devotes who sway for hours on the dance floor while drinking buckets. There are also people just staying locally who have come to check out the party.

The atmosphere is relaxed. The music is loud (too loud if you don’t like trance and techno) but the event is not overwhelming like the Full Moon Party. You aren’t bothered by sex workers, police or those lost on magic mushrooms. In short the Moon Set Party at Haad Chao Phao is the best party on the West Coast – it is more than just a bar playing music and less than a large outdoor rave.

Ang Thong Marine Park


Ang Thong National Marine Park along with Sail Rock are the two most famous dive spots that are accessible from Mae Haad. What is less well known is that Ang Thong is a fascinating collection of islands to the West of Koh Phangan that is great for not only diving but also snorkelling and kayaking. If you are looking for an interesting day trip, a break from the relaxing sands of Mae Haad then Ang Thong Marine Park might be the ideal destination for you.

From the north of Koh Phangan it takes just over 2 hours to reach the northern tip of the Ang Thong island chain. The main island and where you find the park headquarters is Koh Wua Talap. Here you will find a restaurant, some bungalows and two beaches at either end of the island. You can trek between the two beaches via a 30-minute jungle trek. There aren’t any roads on the Ang Thong islands and this trek is through thick jungle. To make things easier for visitors there is a rope to guide you.

‘Ang Thong’ means ‘golden bowl’. It refers to the large inland lake in the archipelago. The lake is located on Koh Mae Ko. The saltwater lake is called Thale Noi. The turquoise water and rich bio-diversity make it a great place to snorkel or dive.

The islands are the peaks from a flooded limestone mountain range. Each of the islands have unusual shapes made by karst rocks. The names of the islands in translation reflect the shapes such as ‘Sleeping Cow Island’ and ‘Three Pillars Island’.

On Koh Paluay is a semi-permanent settlement of Sea Gypsies or Moken. They follow an animistic religion and migrated to the Gulf from farther south in Malaysia. Other than the park rangers and the Thais working at the restaurant and bungalows these are the only people on the islands.

Because the islands are mostly uninhabited they are full of fascinating flora and fauna. These include Leopard cats, long tail macaques, sea otters and the dusky langur.

Activities on Ang Thong Marine Park include trekking, exploring hidden coves in sea kayaks, snorkelling, and of course, diving. The depth ranges from shallow to 25 meters. The best dive spots in Ang Thong Marine Park are Hin Yippon, Koh Yippon and Koh Luuk Lek. There are plenty of coral gardens as well as swim-throughs. You can spot the famous whale shark as well as common fish such as trigger fish and parrot fish. For those looking to spot rarer species there is the also the chance to see sea snakes and turtles.

From a diving point of view the other great thing about the Ang Thong Marine Park is that it is seldom visited by the large Koh Tao diver groups as it is too far away. Too many dive boats tend to scare off the wildlife and make the water crowded. This is not the case at Ang Thong.

All the dive shops in Mae Haad, Haad Salad, Haad Yao and Chaloklum have regular day trips to the islands. Snorkelers are welcome to join too. Trips usually include transfers and free lunch on the boat. It is also possible to find boat tours to the islands. You can asked to be left on the islands and be picked up the following day. For those looking for the ultimate remote and Robinson Crusoe experience it is hard to beat. Indeed this is where the film ‘The Beach’ is supposed to be set.

Private Villa Rental

lord-jim-retreat

For those looking for privacy as well as luxury the solution is a private villa rental. For family groups as well as groups of two or more couples a villa can often represent excellent value for money, as one villa rental fee can be less than 3 or more double rooms in a hotel.

Balanced against the advantages of villa rental are a few disadvantages. Private villas are never on the beach either in Mae Haad or elsewhere in Koh Phangan. It is an unreasonable expectation to imagine you can rent a luxury private villa in Koh Phangan and be a stone throw away from your own beach. Many such as Lord Jim’s Retreat are up a steep hill.

The other main disadvantage of villa rental from the visitors’ viewpoint is that they don’t include the same facilities and amenities as a hotel. In particular they don’t have a restaurant next door, and don’t offer room service. Mums on their luxury holiday are often very keen to not cook. Self-catering is perhaps more attractive for those on a budget. And perhaps these type of people don’t rent private villas.

In Mae Haad area the most impressive villa for rent is Lord Jim’s Retreat. It is perched on the hill overlooking the sea. You have a great view of Koh. It is a fantastic spot to see the sunset.

Lord Jim’s Retreat consists of 3 connected villas lined up around two edges of a rectangular swimming pool. There are 4 bedrooms and capacity to accommodate 9 people.

The roadside entrance to the villa takes you into a spacious living and dining area. There is a kitchen, large TV and large outdoor terrace.

The master villa and the Conrad Suite have large rooms with their own living areas.

Extra facilities include Wi-Fi, CD player and free pick up. There are staff for gardening and pool maintenance but not for on-site cooking.

Low season costs 18,000 to 23,000 THB per night; high season is 25,000 THB per night and peak season is 30,000 THB per night. Check the minimum stay requirements as it is more than usual – between 5 and 10 nights. No doubt that is because of the large running costs of such a big villa.

Although the view is of Koh Ma, the nearest beach is Haad Thong Lang. It is a very quiet beach with only one resort and no adjoining village.

If you look at the pictures you can see you get a lot seclusion and luxury when you stay in a villa like Lord Jim’s Retreat. However, you will need a hire car and you will also need to do a bit of your own cooking. There are logistics involved.

Click here to view Lord Jim Retreat  website (Haad Thong Lang)

Click here to view Sunrise Villa website (Thong Nai Pan)