The island of Koh Phangan might owe its fame to its monthly Full Moon Parties and transitory population of gap-year backpackers, but a different brand of holidaymaker is now heading to this idyllic spot in the Gulf of Thailand.
Like neighbouring Koh Samui, Phangan has undergone something of a makeover since our last visit more than 10 years ago, and an impressive range of newly opened boutique resorts, such as the gorgeous Rasananda on Thong Nai Pan Noi beach, are now luring those with more than 24-hour raves and budget accommodation on their agendas.
Any doubts about the island's traditional, laid back charm being replaced by brash, all-inclusive enclaves were happily dispelled. Rasananda is an environment that manages to blend tranquillity with an understated luxury that's sympathetic in the context of an unspoiled crescent of white sand and shimmering blue waters. The 44 individual villas and suites have been designed so that the resort is barely visible above the top of the line of palms that fringe the beach.
Opened just four months ago, Rasananda has also acquired the services of British chef Nick Hall (below), who previously ran Menu, acknowledged as the best restaurant on the island, and trained under Mark Gough, once of the renowned Hart’s in Nottingham. We tried a tasting menu of dishes that Hall described as ‘Modern European with touches of Asia’, and we were pleasantly surprised to find a creamy leek and potato soup, lemon-marinated, tea-smoked duck breast on potato cakes and Granny Smith sorbet. The desserts, in particular, were superb, as was the wine, sourced from a glass-fronted champagne and wine lounge. And if you ask nicely, the staff will even set you up a private table on the beach.
Thailand has suffered its share of setbacks in recent times, ranging from the tsunami that struck in 2004 to the recent political demonstrations in Bangkok that led to Foreign Office warnings about non-essential travel. But ten years on, and even with the weakness of sterling, the islands that dot the Gulf of Thailand – and in particular, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao– still represent good value, not to mention superb food, breathtaking beaches and now, smart, boutique-style offerings at the luxury end of the market.
Three nights on a B&B basis at Rasananda on Phangan Island with Bridge & Wickers (Tel 020 7483 6555 www.bridgeandwickers.co.uk) cost from £1,017 pp based on two sharing, including flights with Thai Airlines and private return transfers from Koh Samui. To be booked by 15th June.