Koh Phangan: Southern Thailand's Ultimate Vacationland
Koh Phangan island in southern Thailand is known for being home to one of the biggest EDM festivals in the world, but what most don't know is that the island is full of healthy activities that cater to those who are looking for a fulfilling way to spend their vacation. With affordable yoga retreats, health spas, hiking trails, white sand beaches, and fantastic restaurants, Koh Phangan is the perfect spot for any traveler; party monster or not.
Where to Stay: Echo Beach Backpackers Hostel. With its private beach, proximity to the best restaurant on the island (literally next door to Fisherman's), and soothing secret garden-inspired design aesthetic, Echo Beach is the perfect refuge for any traveler. The staff here are out of this world accommodating, and they work hard to make sure each and every one of its guests are having the best time possible. They even have volunteers who are responsible for making sure everyone is comfortable, safe, and meeting new friends. For a solo traveler, that aspect is invaluable. The owners are frequently updating the dorms with new lockers, beds, and AC units, and no matter how rowdy a group of dudes from the UK get on the night of the full moon, the housekeepers make sure that the facilities are always spotless by morning.
What to do: Get a Thai massage at Siam Healing Center. The treatment here is unique in that it includes techniques similar to a deep tissue massage but also features full body stretches that can only be performed when the messeuse uses their own body weight to get to hard to sooth places. This means that the masseuse sometimes acts more like a chiropractor and may have to hug or even straddle your body in order to get the right movement. Instead of laying on an elevated table with a face cutout (like most Western body work), guests lay on four-inch mattresses on the floor, and are often either partially or fully clothed. While this position took some time for me to get used to, I found it to be a much deeper and rehabilitating massage than what I experience back in the States. Here, massages are performed on an open air deck that overlooks a beautiful rice field and catches a light breeze. Post-massage, guests are served a relaxing homemade tea or coffee in the retreat's beautiful garden. At less than $10 for an hour long massage, this may be the most relaxing experience you'll ever have on a budget backpacking trip.
Where to Eat (Breakfast and Coffee): Homesickness on long trips can come in many forms, but for me, the most gripping is the nostalgia of a western breakfast. Breakfast culture in Southeast Asia is mostly made of dishes that are also served at lunch and dinner, like noodle soups, dumplings, and grilled meats on sticks. Bubba's Coffee Bar is the answer to breakfast in Thailand. All of the classics are served, from benedicts and pancakes, to bagels and avocado toast, there is something to satisfy every brekkie craving. They also feature gorgeous Insta-worthy chia seed and smoothie bowls for those seeking a lighter take on the first meal of the day.
Where to Eat (Lunch and Dinner): Fisherman's Restaurant. This is by far my favorite restaurant in all of Southeast Asia, hands down. Ambiance, originality, variety, and service is all spot on, not to mention surprisingly low prices for a high-end dining experience. The restaurant itself shares a secluded shore with Echo Beach hostel, but manages to create a romantic atmosphere that is completely separate from the festivities happening next door. The restaurant's seating is somewhat minimal given the large size of the space, which provides guests an intimate experience far from other diners. For this reason, it is recommended to make a reservation early as they are full most nights. The design features local materials including natural woods and seashells, and even includes the chef's own family fishing boats as ocean front seating. The place is out of this world beautiful, and I can only hope that my future husband reads this and proposes to me here one day. The menu puts a modern spin on classic Thai specialties while highlighting local ingredients like seafood and fresh vegetables. Everything on the menu is incredible, but be sure not to miss the House Special Yellow Curry Crab inspired by the chef's mother, and wash it down with a Tom Yum Siam, a vodka based cocktail infused with chilli, lime leaf and lemongrass with lime juice and rum. For a light lunch get the seafood salad, and for dinner with friends go for the massive seafood platters featuring barbecued whole fish, king prawns, crabs, and squid. I often went for lunch and dinner on the same day, it's really that good.