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The Pace of Change in Thong Nai Pan Noi
For those people who have been visiting the beautiful beaches of Thong Nai Pan Noi and Thong Nai Pan Yai for several years the pace of change is most notable. The type of accommodation available has changed a lot, the type of people visiting the beaches has changed a lot, and the feel of the beaches has changed. While those with money probably welcome the arrival of Rasananda and Santhiya to Thong Nai Pan Noi, those looking for budget bungalows have mostly moved onto to other beaches such as Than Sadet and Haad Khom.
I first went to Thong Nai Pan in 1997. At that time Sandee Bungalow was called Honey Bungalow. Thong Tapan and Star Huts were there and so too was Panviman. On the beach was a small wooden shack called La Repubblicca. It was a bar run by 2 local lads. The Jungle Bar had just opened and nobody knew how to make cocktails. Our basic fan bungalow without toilet cost 100 Thai Baht a night. The walk from Honeys to the beach was through towering coconut palm trees. Thong Nai Pan was a travelers’ secret – a perfect beach that few people knew about, at the end of a bad road. It was a place where the police hardly ever came.
Within a few years Baan Panburi set up on the beach. They charged what seemed the outrageous sum of 500 THB a night for totally beachfront bungalows with toilets and fan. The consensus was that Baan Panburi was far from ideal development, but still acceptable.
This was confirmed when the ‘Pink Bungalow’ place was built on the middle of the beach in the early 2000s. They were horrendous pink carbuncles on the landscape with awful service at the restaurant. The place was rented out and changed its name more times than the Sellafield Nuclear Power Plant – ‘Raiwin’, ‘Thong Nai Pan Resort’, and ‘Phuwadee’. None of the renters did a good job, but they made lots of money.
Attention was shifted from the ‘Pink Bungalows’ place when Santhiya started construction on the deserted beach to the north of Thong Nai Pan Noi. At the time old TNP hands thought that the hotel was over-ambitious and what hippy would pay $200 a night for a room?
How wrong the hippies were. Within a year of opening in 2005(?) Santhiya was filling all its rooms. Panviman started expanding and putting its prices up to compete with Santhiya for the luxury end of the market. This was when the first package tourists started arriving in Thong Nai Pan Noi bringing wheelie suitcases not backpacks, using speed boats not the bumpy road.
At the same time, Koh Phangan exploded as the party center of the Gulf. Haad Rin exploded – 20,000 party goers descending on the small town for the Full Moon Party. A flurry of spin offs emerged – The Half Moon Party, The Black Moon Party, the Shiva Moon Party, the Backyard Party. Thaksin’s war on drugs did nothing to stop the party fever.
The fever spread to Thong Nai Pan Noi. The Jungle Bar and the Hideaway Bar from 2006 to 2009 held all night parties twice a week. Once a year, the beach was inundated with German techno enthusiasts. They held a party every night for 10 days just to make sure that nobody got any sleep. The beach felt like it was being hijacked by tattooed lads from Nakhon Si Thammarat, all-night revelers, ex-pat estate agents and the boutique Rasananda Resort.
The bomb dropped in 2008 with the Global Financial Crisis. The ambitious Sitara Village was never built. The visa rules changed and most of the ex-pats left. At the same time the older visitors to the beach from such places as Korea, Russia and China had no interest in the all night parties. In 2010 the Hideaway was torn down and with its end the party scene almost dissolved.
As the dust settles it is clear that the luxury resorts have won the race. Anantara Rasananda is getting $1000 a night guests. They have bought Baan Panburi and knocked it down. Star Huts has lost its lease and is soon to be replaced by a Phanganburi Resort.
The only people holding out are the Thong Tapan family who also own the smaller and cheaper bungalow operation next door, Tapan Noi. Sadly, the Pink Bungalows are still there. Businesses in the village are finding it harder than ever to get customers. Those staying in the luxury resorts rarely make it to the back of the village.
What does remain is a stunning beach, probably the best on the island. Although many of the palms have gone so too have the party people and the problems and noise that accompany them. Very few of the locals that I first met in 1997 are still there. I met one of the lads from Republicca a few years back. He had become a construction worker.
In some ways Thong Nai Pan Noi is a microcosm for Thailand. When they discovered that paradise was a sellable commodity things changed very quickly and with a minimum of regulation or due diligence. In the long run this was always going to cause problems. Thankfully while political unrest continues in Thailand, Thong Nai Pan Noi has returned to its sleepy isolation; only now instead of being a hippy enclave, it is a luxury resort enclave.
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