A hundred years ago, Koh Phangan was not just an island of nowhere. On the contrary, every Siamese at that time knew that Koh phangan was one of the most favourite places of their king. King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910), on his way to visit Europe and the Malay Peninsula, had come to visit Koh phangan at Thansadet or "The Royal Stream", as he named it, fourteen times between 1888 and 1909. He spent more than 7 nights on the island with his royal entourages of about 30, swimming, relaxing and exploring the stream up to the top of the hill.
However, the history of Koh phangan did not start from those days. The Bronze Drum of Dongson Culture (500 BC-100 BC) that was found in Koh Samui in 1977 is an evidence that there were settlements of people on Koh Samui, Koh phangan and their islets from more than two thousand years ago. Some historians and archeologists believe that the first group who migrated to Koh phangan were the Muslim sea gypsies (Pigmy, Semung, and Proto-Malay) who travelled by boat from the Malay Peninsula. But, strange, nowadays there are few Muslims who live on the island.
The name of Koh phangan came from the word "Ngan", the southern dialect meaning "sand bar" for there are sand bars offshore around the island. These sand bars are able to be seen low-tide. They protect the island from the strong monsoon.
The oldest structure found on Koh phangan is Wat Nai, the old stupa at Ban Nua Village (near Ban Tai). The stupa was assumed to be built in Srivichaiya Architecture by a famous monk about 400 years ago in Ayuthaya Period (1350-1767). At that time, Koh phangan was under the administration of Chaiya (now a district in Surathani Province and assumed to be the center of Srivichaiya Kingdom from the 8th to the 13th century).
The next migration was the Chinese from Hainan about 200 hundreds years ago. The first group earned their living by fishing and later started the tin mines. In the reign of King Chulalongkorn, an royal officer reported that 300 families lived on Koh phangan and most of them were Thai and Chinese. They lived together with happiness and peace. There were no crime on the island. The Thai grew coconuts while the Chinese made coconut oil and shipped it out to Bangkok. Some Chinese collected bird nests on an island of Ang-Thong (now a marine national park) which still have bird nest to collect til today. And some did the mining at Thong Nai Pan and Sri Thanu Beach. Lam Son Lake is one of the old mines that continued mining until 40 years ago.
Koh phangan was under Chaiya administration until 1897. And then it became a sub-district of Koh Samui for 63 years before being upgraded to a district in 1970 with 3 sub-districts of Koh phangan, Ban Tai and Koh Tao.
The big change on Koh phangan started after the first bungalow was built to welcome the tourist about 20 years ago. The islanders changed their way of life to join the tourism business. However, we can still see beautiful smiles and generousity in them. Life in the middle of the Gulf of Siam hasn't changed much during the past 20 years.