When the first backpackers arrived in Chaweng in the 1970s they discovered a tropical paradise made up of little more than a short stretch of wooden huts on a golden beach shaded by palm trees. Nowadays that idyllic destination is no more as tourist developments have seen the former beach community transformed into a major holiday resort filled with bars, restaurants and accommodation which caters for every budget. The hippie vibe created by those early visitors has been replaced by a rowdy nightlife scene which attracts vast numbers of party-goers. Many of these young tourists plan their visit to Koh Samui to coincide with the Full Moon Party which takes place on the nearby island of Ko Pha Ngan on the night of every full moon.
Chaweng Travel Basics
Arriving by Boat: Backpackers travelling to Koh Samui from the Thai mainland will arrive on the island’s west coast from the Donsak Raja Ferry Port in Surat Thani. Buses and taxis are available from Nathon Pier to Chaweng.
Arriving by Air: Those arriving by air from Bangkok will land at Koh Samui Airport which lies just 3km north of downtown Chaweng. Shuttle buses run from the airport into Chaweng as well to Lamai and other resorts around the island. Alternatively, passengers can book minivans and taxis at the airport’s busy transport desk or pre-book an airport transfers from Koh Samui Airport to Chaweng and beyond and have a driver waiting for them on arrival.
Where to Stay: The scattering of beachfront bungalows which accommodated the first visitors to Chaweng have been replaced by a large selection of more modern places to stay. These range from budget hostels such as Cheeky Monkey’s to luxurious accommodation like the SALA Samui Chaweng Beach Resort. In between these extremes are a whole host of mid-range hotels with prices to suit every pocket.
Nightlife: Chaweng Beach has gained a certain notoriety as a nightlife hotspot on the backpacker’s tour of Southeast Asia. Gone are the quaint wooden huts serving cold beers and cocktails at sunset as the resort has been taken over by a plethora of beer bars, disco pubs and cheap eats. Little remains of traditional Thailand here but it’s a popular holiday resort and a great place for some serious partying on the way to the legendary Full Moon Party in Ko Pha Ngan.
Alternatives to Chaweng: If you’re looking to enjoy some nightlife whilst in Koh Samui but find Chaweng a little over the top for your liking then you should consider staying in Lamai Beach which lies just 12km further south. This is another lively resort but is far more relaxed than its neighbour. Those seeking even more tranquility might be best suited to a few nights at Mae Nam Beach on the north coast which has enough in the way of beach bars and restaurants but without the excesses of Chaweng or Lamai.
Ko Pha Ngan – Full Moon Party
Ko Pha Ngan is an island which lies approximately 15km north of Koh Samui. It is best known for its monthly Full Moon Party which takes place on Haad Rin Beach on the south-east coast. The origin of this party can be traced back to the 1980s when a handful of backpackers celebrated the full moon at the now infamous Paradise Bungalows. Word of the occasion spread like wildfire such that as many as 30,000 revellers are sometimes in attendance at the Full Moon Party which begins the night before a full moon and continues until sunrise the next morning. Such has been the popularity of the event that ‘Half Moon’ and ‘Black Moon’ parties are organised to attract tourists throughout the year. The resulting disruption to locals caused by the seemingly never ending party season has led to attempts to ban all but the Full Moon Party and to encourage a better class of tourism to the island.
Getting There: There are many ferries operating between Koh Samui and Ko Pha Ngan which are run by different companies. The most convenient and fastest services depart from either the Big Buddha Pier (Bangrak) or Paralan Pier (Mae Nam) on the north coast of Koh Samui and land at Thong Sala Pier on the west coast of Koh Phangan. These ferries are completely packed in the lead up to a Full Moon Party and should be booked in advance. Transport is easily available for the 10km journey from Thong Sala Pier to Ban Had Rin Beach. A cheaper and slower service which is popular with backpackers departs from Sunset Pier (Bangrak) and arrives directly in Haad Rin.
Where to Stay: Haad Rin is a popular backpacker’s resort all year round but is packed to the seams around the time of the Full Moon Party. Accommodation should be booked in advance with a view to staying a few days before the festivities otherwise nothing will be available. An alternative to staying on the island is to travel over to Koh Phangan on the day of the party then take a pre-booked ferry back to Koh Samui the next morning.
All the bars and clubs along Haad Rin Beach hold all night parties which can get out of control. Visitors need to be careful when attending these festivities as there has been a growing crime wave in recent times as the number of party-goers has rocketed.
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