Koh Phangan History
Koh Phangan history is a rich, vibrant topic that deserves to be explored if you’re planning a visit to the island in the near future. Koh Phangan history is closely tied to its two sister islands in the vicinity, Koh Samui and the popular scuba diving island of Koh Tao. Koh Phangan history doesn’t just start twenty years ago when it became one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet, as there is still much to learn about the island’s specific history. Koh Phangan history scholars are still working on the questions surrounding the early days of the island at universities across the globe. The island, which sits in the Gulf of Thailand in the south eastern portion, is now made famous for attractions such as the Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Beach, but Koh Phangan history runs much deeper.
According to records, information about Koh Phangan history began around 500BC to 100BC when a Bronze Drum of the Dongson culture was found on Koh Samuiisland in 1977. This was evidence that there were in fact settlements on Koh Phangan and the surrounding islands over 2000 years ago. Although some archaeologists and historians believe that the first group of people to settle on Koh Phangan were actually Muslim Sea Gypsies who travelled by boats from the Malay Peninsular. Records show that between 1350 and 1767 a monk was thought to have built the stupa that is known as Wat Nai just outside of Baan Tai; this is apparently the oldest building/structure on Koh Phangan island today.
Approximately 200 years ago Chinese and Thai families started to migrate to Koh Phangan, making a living from fishing and working the tin mines that were once in Thong Nai Pan and Srithanu. Lam Son Lake in Srithanu was actually a tin mine until just over 40 years ago. The Thai’s also started to grow coconuts and the Chinese would then make coconut oil to ship over to Bangkok. Some Chinese were known to have collected birds nest from around the islands of Angthong National Marine Park which they then sold to make a kind of soup.
Koh Phangan history also delves into the root of the island’s name. The name ‘Ngan; comes from a southern language that translates into ‘sand bar.’ The name fits Koh Phangan because there are a multitude of pearly white beaches that line the gorgeous green waters that the island boasts.
Past kings have favoured visits to Koh Phangan over other islands thanks to its welcoming local Thai community. Over 100 years ago the Great Rama V visited more than a dozen times during his reign, leaving his royal seal engraved on a rock near Thaan Sadet waterfall; with the current King Bhumibol now following in his footsteps.
Koh Phangan was under Chaiya administration until 1897 when it became a sub-district of Koh Samui; being upgraded to a district in 1970. Koh Phangan history states that the name of Koh Phangan comes from the word ‘Ngan’ meaning sand bar in the southern dialect. There are many sand bars offshore around the island, the most famous joining Mae Haad with Koh Ma on the northwest side of the island. The island started to change massively just over 25 years ago once the first bungalows were built for the tourists that started to visit. The population has now grown substantially over the last few decades.
Of course another huge part of Koh Phangan history is of the Full Moon Party. Depending on who you ask, the Full Moon Party was first held in any year from 1983 to 1993. The actual start date doesn’t matter much though. What’s important is to realise how much this wicked celebration has actually grown over time! In the early days, the party was a low-key event held on Haad Rin Beach and attended by a handful of hippies. Back then, Koh Phangan had no electricity and music was played through a sound system connected to a car battery.
As time went on, word spread and more people turned up to Haad Rin for some great tunes, cheap alcohol and a great social occasion. The party became more popular, and the setup became more professional with full sound systems, live DJs, laser shows and smoke machines being gradually added until the event transformed into the epic night we know of today.
Koh Phangan is home to a few historical sites well worth visiting during your stay. The island has over 20 temples and shrines, all offering something different to see. From the oldest temple of Wat Phu Khao Noi to the more modern highly decorated Chinese Temple built in the 1990’s, each temple is very different. Koh Phangan’s temples are very spiritual places and many are used daily by monks and locals. Please make sure you show respect when visiting any of the temples. You will find some hidden deep within jungle surroundings with stunning views across Koh Phangan and others are based close to the main tourist areas. We have featured the best temples on Koh Phangan worth visiting, including location, detailed information and photos of each one.
Another historical site you should not miss is Than Sadet Waterfall. His Majesty King Rama V (1868-1910) had discovered the splendour of Koh Phangan and visited here 14 times. His favourite place on the island was Than Sadet Waterfall. Here he left royal inscriptions in the rocks, which you can still see today.