Posted by: James Shannon | April 6, 2012

Let’s Go Motorbiking On Koh Phangan … Waterfalls! Beaches! Farang Who Can’t #$#$ing Drive! Yayyyy!

 A scenic viewpoint 10 minutes west of Haad Rin.  Uncharacteristic for the weather during my stay on Koh Phangan, rain threatened.  But it turned out for the best, as it made the day a refreshingly cool, and memorable one.

Koh Phangan, relatively speaking, is a fairly large island.  When you spend most of your days walking to and from the beach, restaurants, nightclubs, etc, the thought of travelling to the other towns and coasts makes it feel like you would have to traverse a time zone to get there and back.  Yet, to look at a map of the island, filled with settlements, attractions, other beaches along the island’s curved coastline and across its interior, you can’t help (especially as a serial traveler) but get a serious case of wanderlust.

Thus, renting a motorbike for a day on Koh Phangan was inevitable.  Not that it didn’t come without its anxieties, however.  Fears of getting in an accident, getting ripped off by a dishonest dealer, and outright theft of my bike figured in my decision.

Knowing that my bungalow resort owner was one of the sweetest and friendiest Thai ladies I had ever known, made it easier to bite the bullet, plunk down my passport as collateral, and head out to hit the open (and wild) roads of Koh Phangan…!

 Arriving at Than Sadet-Ko Pha-Ngan National Park, the climb to the first of two waterfalls began.  A light rainshower began at this point, steadily intensifying at I sweated up the side of one of the many mountains that rise up in the interior of the island…

Gotta love the resourcefulness of the Thais … trash cans don’t get much more “eco” than this!

Of all the photos I took of the two waterfalls on this trail, only this turned out well enough to show to the internet public.  Too many clarity and washout issues (excessive light and lack of contrast from the foreground) to show the others, unfortunately.  Adding to it was the fact that it was well into the dry season that this point, robbing the cataracts of much of the water that would otherwise make them spectacular … oh well…

At some point after the waterfalls, the rain let loose into a full-scale, tropical-style torrential downpour.  I just let go, became at one with my wetness, and shed my shirt as I stood atop of one of the high point of Koh Phangan.  Not the tallest peak to be sure, but after the humid, wet, sweaty hike I soldiered through to get there, it certainly felt like it!

<Arrival at Chaloklum Beach on the north coast of Koh Phangan.  The drive to get here was pretty, and the weather improved momentarily, but this beach seems more like a working harbour than a place to spread your towel.  It probably looks better on a bright, sunny day, but nearby Bottle Beach, and the west coast has more to offer (or so I hear from third party sources, as I did not make it to these places on this go-around, regrettably)

 A parrot bids me farewell from Chaloklum, me matey! Avast! 😛

After a semi-eventful ride back, where I ducked out of the rain not once but twice (I shared a beer at an off-the-beaten track convenience store with a Thai shopkeeper intensely involved on the ongoing Muay Thai fight on the TV behind the counter), I encountered the greatest threat to motorbikers on Koh Phangan, Thai or Foreigner.  It is careless and clueless driving by tourists who either think they have a cloak of invincibility protecting them while they drive, or those that can barely pilot the rig they are on, but rent it anyway to protect their ego.

On the way back to Haad Rin, I was climbing a steep hill behind a farang couple when they suddenly braked … I had enough time or space to avoid them, or so I thought.  The guy proceeds to swerve into my path, forcing me to slam on the handbrakes hard enough to make a mark on the pavement.  The poor guy came within inches of having my tires break his toes!

The second incident occured in the town of Haad Rin, where there are a myriad of narrow streets and alleyways, from which cars and bikes can pop out of quickly, which can result in an accident if both parties are not paying enough attention to the task at hand (you know, DRIVING).  There I was, coasting along, scanning my surrounds for any potential threats.  I thought an alleyway was clear, when at the last possible second, a big dirtbike blasts out of the alley like a bat out of Hell and cuts a hard left turn less than a foot from my bike.  Did I mention it was a blind turn, from where he was coming from?  GEEEEZZZZZ! (The actual words spoken were a bit more flavourful, but c’mon.  Families read this blog,  so we’re keeping it classy here!)

And people wonder why so many young travelers have arms in casts, and their knees, elbows, and sides bandaged up like they’ve just gotten back from a war zone…!

Moral of the story here … go ahead.  Rent a motorbike on Koh Phangan.  But drive very defensively, and for God’s sake, wear a helmet.  They save lives folks!



  1. Excellent blog James. Continue to be careful please! As I know you made it through this experience, or else you wouldn’t be in the Phillipines, but in a hospital! See you soon!

    Love Mom ❤

    • That’s why defensive driving pays off everytime! See you in June (or is it May?)

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