I first went to Bottle Beach prior to digital photography. Yes, we used camera film back in the 1990s. I have scanned some of my photos and posted in the gallery below. The jungle pictures were taken while doing the trek to the view point. The animal is a langur. It is a trained monkey used for collecting coconuts. The lizard wandered into the back of Cookies Resort. They caught him. The locals were joking about eating the reptile. Probably not a joke!
In August 2014 a French boy died in Bottle Beach. While swimming in the sea the boy was stung by a box jellyfish. He died shortly afterwards. The box jellyfish is has one of the most lethal stings in the animal world. Should you be worried about swimming in the sea at Bottle Beach?
The answer is ‘no’. 2014 was unusual it that there was a very large amount of box jellyfish in the Gulf of Thailand. They are normally rarely seen in either the Gulf of Thailand or in the Andaman Sea. And it is even rarer that they sting. Box jelly fish are normally associated with Koh Lanta; Haad Nopparatthara-Mu; Ko Phi Phi National Marine Park; Nam Bor bay in Phuket province; Cha-am beach; and some beaches on Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.
People can spend 10 years living on a beach in Koh Phangan and not encounter a box jellyfish. I have never seen one while swimming off several beaches in Koh Phangan. The bigger risk from nature in Koh Phangan, as people in forums have pointed out, is from dengue fever contracted by mosquito bites.
Nevertheless, after the tragic death at Bottle Beach the provincial authorities have spent resources to disseminate more information about the dangerous sea creatures. Koh Phanganers are now vigilant for the jelly fish. The above infographic is part of that program.
Box jellyfish are recognised by the box shape of their main body and by the transparent tentacles that trail up to 2 meters behind the body. It is these tentacles that hold the sting. Even if you encounter a box jellyfish it is very rare that it stings. This is not an aggressive fish.
However, be forever mindful when swimming in the sea. It is nature, and holds the dangers of danger – tides, undercurrents, and stinging creatures.
As you can see from the YouTube video below, the viewpoint trek is well worth doing as it provides those who can shake off the famous Bottle Beach lethargy with a stunning view over the northern coast of Koh Phangan.
Don’t be deceived by the video: the final walk out to the viewpoint is not half as precipitous as it looks on the video. The person who filmed it managed to hold on to his or her camera throughout the manoeuvre, and you cannot see in the video that the rock path is much wider underfoot than it might appear.
The head of the trail starts behind Bottle Beach 2. You will see flat land behind Bottle Beach 2. Head back from the beach into this area and you will see a trail leading east up into the hills.
The trail is easy to see. It slowly goes up through fairly thick jungle before eventually exiting into open skies and the final stretch of cliff leading out to the viewpoint. As I mentioned before this final part is not scary. I did it with my wife years ago and neither of us felt any vertigo.
As you look out from the viewpoint you get the best view showing the entirety of Bottle Beach. This is to the left of the rock if you are facing out to sea. On the right is the rocky coastline that forms the north-east corner of Koh Phangan.
As with Bottle Beach generally, plenty of people have done this trek over the years but you are unlikely to meet anyone on the trail. The place never seems crowded.
The trail takes about 30 minutes to complete. Obviously due to the nature of the terrain it is unwise to set off much later than 4pm as it gets dark by 6pm.
This appears to be a ‘homemade’ song rather than a song penned by a professional. The images that accompany the video celebrate the stunning scenery of Bottle Beach. (See update below. I was wrong).
The words of the song are very relevant to the experience of staying on Bottle Beach. The song starts off listing all the troubles in the world: war, forced people displacement etc., but then comes the chorus:
‘If I reach Bottle Beach then everything’s going to be alright for a while’
And this is how it feels to be on Bottle Beach. The isolation and remoteness makes the outside world feel far away. Bottle Beach is a refuge from the cares of the world. It is a place where you can escape the insanity of man’s inhumanity to man.
Bottle Beach is off the electricity grid. Until the early 2000s it was off the road system on the island. If you stayed on Bottle Beach you had to accept that if a storm came up you could be ‘stuck’ on Bottle Beach until the sea calmed down enough to allow boat traffic.
You walk around in your swimsuit or shorts without money. There are no motorbikes, no vendors, no shops, no commercial distractions. It is just you, the beach, the sea and time to chill, swim, play cards, play the guitar, hang out and chat. It is an idyllic existence and an antidote to the brutality of life beyond the beach.
It is a theme that I could wax upon at length. I love being on remote beaches, far from ghastly development. I feel like life is better and less sullied; I feel better ‘for a while’. That is what the Bottle Beach song is about.
UPDATE: Here is a comment below the YouTube posting:
“The Song is called Bottle Beach. It was written by John Nicholas Bocskay and Kenneth May in 2008. It is on the album Beautifully Busted.”
There are two things to note in relation to the monsoon in Koh Phangan. Firstly, the start date and finish date of the worst weather is unpredictable until close to the traditional ‘monsoon season’. Secondly, Koh Phangan is virtually empty during the worst of the rains, and this is especially true of Bottle Beach.
Only Bottle Beach 2 officially closes for the rainy season. They set their close dates from 1st November to 30th November. This theoretically means that there are still bungalows and rooms to rent at Bottle Beach 1, Haad Khuad Resort and Haad Khuad. There are always people living on Bottle Beach – locals, hired help (often from Burma) and a few long stay ex-pats. Otherwise the place is empty. The resorts will only be manned by a skeleton staff as many people prefer to head north to avoid the rains.
Work is done every year making sure the resorts are ready for the lashing rains and the winds. Along the beach there is a small wall designed to prevent the sea reaching the flat land just next to the beach where most of the buildings are located. Often extra sand bags will be used to protect the resorts.
Some years the sea levels get very high and the flooding causes damage to the tourist facilities.
For those living on Bottle Beach the monsoon conversations start in October. The storms start in the north of Thailand and move south. By keeping track of the progress of the rains it is possible to accurately predict when the worst storms are coming.
If you are on Bottle Beach in October then you should be keeping a careful eye on the weather. When the monsoon hits Koh Phangan you could get stranded on Bottle Beach – perhaps not a bad thing in some people’s eyes, but for others a disaster. The seas get too rough for longtail boats. The rough road linking Bottle Beach to Thong Nai Pan Noi gets very muddy and slippy and hard to navigate even for the experienced Bottle Beach taxi drivers.
What’s the Monsoon Like?
It is not a constant deluge for 3 weeks. Rather it is a series of heavy storms. Often accompanying the rain are thunder and lightning. The winds also pick up. After the storms people re-emerge to find giant puddles and various bits of storm damage. The sea levels rise and the sea is very choppy. Waves are pounding the shore.
The monsoon some years can be very short, other years it drags on into four weeks. The rains are necessary to keep the forest lush and the ecosystem healthy. Climate change concerns occur when the rains are too short. Local businesses hope for plenty of rain to make sure there is a plentiful supply for guests throughout the year.
Surfers, don’t get excited. The waves dump on the shore at the last moment. Don’t go swimming as the sea is full of strong under currents.
At night the lights sometimes flicker and there is the occasional black out as a generator goes down. It is a good idea to have a candle, matches and a light. Don’t fear, chill out and the storm will pass.
When Does the Monsoon Finish?
The monsoon usually lasts about 3 weeks. During this time expect heavy rain every day. After the worst of the storms it is will still rain a lot but without thunder and lightning. The temperature is still relatively low for Koh Phangan and the sea remains dangerous for swimming. The poor weather continues throughout most of December.
Most people don’t turn up to Koh Phangan for their Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays until around 20th December at the earliest. Up until then it is officially low season. The sea on Christmas Day is sometimes flat as a pancake under a blue clear sky; other Christmas’s it is wavy and cloudy.
I spent a monsoon Massage House sitting ‘down the road’ in Thong Nai Pan. Here is a video clip that captures the rain and sheets of lightning. The path to the massage house disappeared and in the morning I had to shift a load of sand to repair the damage done the previous night.
On every major tourist beach in Koh Phangan you will find advertised boat tours of the island. All these tours have similar itineraries – they all typically take in snorkelling at Koh Ma (Koh Phangan’s only marine park), a visit to one of the Thong Nai Pan beaches and a stop at Bottle Beach.
The reason that nearly all the day tripping boats stop at Bottle Beach is that it is a fantastic, isolated little beach to visit, and of course, it has no coral reef off its coast so there is no danger to the bigger tour boats.
If you are staying at one of Koh Phangan’s other beaches such as Haad Salad, Haad Yao, Chaloklum, Baan Tai or Haad Rin you might want to do a day trip to explore the island. The choice is between hiring a motorbike and doing the island by yourself or joining a tour group. Most of these tour groups use either dive boats or longtail boats. Travel by sea is a great way to take in the breath-taking scenery of Koh Phangan’s coast line.
Another negative reason to join a boat trip tour of the island is that you don’t risk your holiday cash dealing with motorbike rental. It is a well-known fact that tourists must exchange their passport for a bike and if there is any damage to the bike on return the amount required to get the passport back is often shockingly high.
For those who stay on Bottle Beach who aren’t interested in boat trips the boats arriving every day in the high season can be slightly irksome. They come to Bottle Beach for total relaxation and this can be dispelled by groups suddenly arriving. However, it is surely a minor irritation, a bit like mosquitoes at dusk. Nothing really to get worked up about.
Moreover, in my opinion boat tours coming and going are infinitely preferable to jet skis zooming off shore menacing swimmers and polluting the air.
I don’t know much about the names of all the different birds that I’ve seen around Bottle Beach and around Koh Phangan island. While some birds are far from shy (I’ve been attacked by birds in Koh Phangan), many others avoid the tourist spots and are harder to see.
I was staying in Thong Tapan Resort in Thong Nai Pan Noi and every time I made the walk from the beach up the hill to the bungalow a common myna would swoop low over my head. You only see a blur, but strangely enough you are very aware of being dived at, like you had an extra sense. I think it had younglings in the nest and was bring protective.
Just back from the beach at Bottle Beach there is a mountain covered in jungle. The conditions are ideal to create thermals for raptors to circle gracefully looking for prey.
Here is a great list compiled by thaibirding.com (http://www.thaibirding.com/news/kophanganlbirdlist.htm). The list was compiled at Chaloklum, literally just a few miles over the headland.
1. Chinese Pond Heron – Ardeola bacchus
2. Little Egret – Egretta garzetta
3. Pacific Reef Egret dark morph – Egretta sacra
4. Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
5. Great Egret – Casmerodius albus
6. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker – Dicaeum cruentatum
7. Common Myna – Acridotheres tristis
8. White throated Kingfisher – Halcyon smyrnensis
9. Common Kingfisher – Alcedo atthis
10. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo – Dicrurus paradiseus
11. Brahminy Kite – Haliastur indus
12. White-bellied Sea Eagle – Haliaeetus leucogaster
13. Chinese Sparrowhawk – Accipiter soloenis
14. Grey-faced Buzzard – Butastur indicus
15. Blue-throated Bee-eater – Merops viridis
16. Black-naped Oriole – Oriolus chinenis
17. Stripe-throated Bulbul – Pycnonotus finlaysoni
18. Red-whiskered Bulbul – Pycnonotus jocosus
19. Large-billed crow – Corvus macrorhynhos
20. Greater Coucal – Centropus sinensis
21. Pacific Swallow – Hirundo tabitica
22. House Swift – Apus affinis
23. Copper-throated Sunbird – Nectarinia calcostetha
24. Black-browed Reed Warbler – Acrocephalus bigistriceps
25. Grey Wagtail – Motachilla cinerea
26. Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
Not on the list but I think one bird I have seen near Bottle Beach is a shikra, a small raptor. I am sure Koh Phangan also has black eagles and sea eagles.
As yet, there are no twitching facilities in Bottle Beach or Koh Phangan. The closest thing is probably the jungle tour offered by Jungle Flight at Baan Tai. I would love for some dedicated bird watchers to stay in Bottle Beach and properly document their sightings. This might encourage conservation as well as better appreciation of the stunning natural beauty of the area.
The video above is of a myna bird who in captivity in Koh Phangan has learnt to make noises like its captors. Fascinating birds.
There are numerous activities that you can enjoy at Bottle Beach. They include:
- Lying in a hammock
- Eating and drinking
Only joking, there are other more strenuous things to do in Bottle Beach. You can join a game of beach volleyball; you can chuck a Frisbee back and forth; you can hire a kayak from Haad Khuad Resort and paddle farther out to sea; you can take a walk to the view point; and, you can walk to Haad Khom. You can rent a snorkel and look for fish among the rocks.
Those with an imaginative bent could no doubt create new activities. I and a friend have come up with some Frisbee games that bring in an element of competition and muscle strain.
Other activities that you could organise from Bottle Beach include island boat tours, fishing trips and possibly Thai cooking lessons. Best to ask at your resort and they will quickly point in you in the right direction.
For those determined to pursue more activities. There are a few options available nearby.
For those prepared to risk getting a taxi on the Thong Nai Pan Road there are a number of things the bigger neighbouring bay can offer. On the beaches of Thong Nai Pan Noi and Thong Nai Pan Yai there are jet skis for hire. We don’t recommend doing this as jet ski operators have a poor reputation throughout Thailand.
There are also a couple of dive schools in Thong Nai Pan. H20 Scuba School has their own speed boat and can pick people up from Bottle Beach to go diving. They offer PADI learner courses as well as fun dives to all the major dive sites such as Sail Rock, Chumphon Pinnacles and Ang Thong National Park. All equipment is provided in the price and also a lunch on the boat. You can contact H2O via their webpage. They have rebranded as H2O Original, not that I’m aware of any imitators. They don’t have a website.
There are a number of spas such as Tanaporn Massage at Thong Nai Pan Noi. There is also a small gym on Thong Nai Pan Yai called Living Well Gym (see more http://www.thongnaipan-magazine.com/).
Just down the road from Thong Nai Pan, on the way to Baan Tai is Jungle Flight. It is a local chap with a farm that has built up an impressive zip line course. He is using the best safety kit and is on Trip Advisor. He also runs walking safaris into the jungle to spot flora and fauna. Recently he has added ATV tours off-road in the jungle to his list of activities. Jungle Flight are not digitally savvy, and unlikely to even pick up the phone. You have to turn up and hope for the best.
Those curious about the other neighbouring beach, Haad Khom – it is another isolated, off-the-grid beach with a hippy vibe. One of the selling points of Haad Khom is that it has corals off-shore that provides decent snorkelling opportunities. It is possible to arrange a return boat trip from Bottle Beach to Haad Khom or you could attempt walking one way. The trek is about 2 km and takes about 2.5 hours to complete. See here for more information.
Finally, there is a 30 minute trek into the jungle that finishes at a huge rock with a great view of the Gulf of Thailand. Ask at your guesthouse for where the trail starts. Bring water and sunscreen, and wear long trousers and decent footwear.
Despite the popular perception that Bottle Beach is boring for those not inclined to stare beatifically at their navel, there is in fact a host of fun things you can do while staying on Bottle Beach.
Bottle Beach, like the other beaches on Koh Phangan, doesn’t really have any written history. Prior to the internet, information about Koh Phangan was severely limited. Even today the older generations on the island are reluctant to commit their memories to digital posterity. Even something as fundamental as when and where the first Full Moon Party was held in Haad Rin is very much open to debate.
Up to the late 1970s the infrastructure on Koh Phangan was basic. The power grid was old and patchy as were the roads. Locals had a long and gruelling walk to get over the hills and into Thong Nai Pan from Baan Tai. Chaloklum was easier to reach thanks a flat road and the importance of the squid industry to the local economy.
The addition of extra piers that could handle bigger boats in the 1980s was a major boost to the island. It increased ferry traffic and helped to promote tourism.
The only mention of the history of Bottle Beach is that it was settled 200 years ago by Chinese fishermen. This is plausible since there is a Chinese community scattered over the island, notably In Thongsala, Baan Tai and Chaloklum. The Chinese influence can be seen in the wooden fisherman’s houses still standing in Thongsala and Chaloklum.
In the 1980s Koh Samui became a popular backpacker destination. This opened up the islands for large scale tourism. Koh Phangan being just 30 minutes away by boat benefited from Koh Samui’s growing prominence as a tourist destination.
A trickle of hippies disillusioned with the growing commercialisation of Koh Samui made the move over to Koh Phangan as island of preference. While most gravitated towards Haad Rin, a few looked for more secluded, beautiful and cheaper beaches to stay.
Word got out that Bottle Beach, only accessible by boat or jungle trek, was the perfect hippy hideaway. In the 1980s Bottle Beach witnessed their first ‘farang’ tourists. The locals built a few simple bungalows to meet the new demand for accommodation on Bottle Beach.
It is written that in the early days of Bottle Beach tourism there was no electricity, no shops, no road and no phone coverage. Ice the only luxury was bought in by foot every night in order to sell cold drinks to the hand full of tourists that were staying at any one time on Bottle Beach.
As with Thong Nai Pan, Bottle Beach was the reserve of the ‘in’ crowd of hardened Asia travellers spreading the lore of great and ‘unspoilt’ locations. This lasted until the late 1990s.
As the internet grew along with the fame of the Full Moon Party, Bottle Beach lost something of its hippy character. It became more mainstream; no longer was it the reserve of the hirsute few. It was part of the clichéd backpacker route of South East Asia. Bottle Beach devotees started sharing their beach with families and those on short stay trips.
Places move with the times. The crucial date was 2004 when a road was established between Bottle Beach and Thong Nai Pan Noi. For many it was a symbolic gesture that shattered the perfection of Bottle Beach. At that point Bottle Beach no longer felt ‘free’. The police could turn up, hotels could appear and prices would go up with better access.
These predictions have mostly come true. Prices have gone over. Bottle Beach 1 has been joined by 3 other resorts. A swimming pool has been built (pure sacrilege). The police probably make it to Bottle Beach no more than once a year, but victimless crimes are committed with far greater discretion.
The descendants of the Chinese fishermen that colonised Bottle Beach 200 years ago still own Bottle Beach. Their new-found comparative wealth has not blinded them to their responsibility to maintain the beauty of Bottle Beach – they modernise and improve. There are no plans for more resorts. So far outside developers seeking to re-brand Bottle Beach as a luxury enclave (like Thong Nai Pan Noi) have been resisted.
The good thing is that ice is much easier to come by in Bottle Beach.