Thailand's funkiest & wildest beach front & reggae bars

'Thai hippies' drop out to the beach and set up funky bars

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Bob Marley and his reggae music are the unifying factors

They wear dreadlocks, funky old clothing, smoke ganga and play Bob Marley in their wild-looking beach bars decorated with the ocean flotsam that washes up at their doorsteps. Can we call them Thai beach hippies?
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The beach boys of Thailand who worship Bob Marley and some version of his anti-establishment philosophy seem to have discovered their ideal career – running weird and wonderful beach bars in backpacker beach resorts.  They form a very, very thin layer of Thai society, which generally looks upon them with miscomprehension and mild distain.  It's no wonder they drop out and land on the beach – the very place mainstream Thais don't want to venture.  And they hang out with backpackers, another group that 'normal' Thais find somewhat incomprehensible.  The young western backpackers who hang out in the beach bars find the Thai drop-outs like-minded and interesting.  And sometimes good sources to score hard-to-find substances from.
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For most 'normal' tourists who visit Thai beaches the funky monuments to Bob Marley, along with their wild-looking Thai out creators, are both interesting and fun, adding a little spice to the overall beach experience.
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Here we gather images of some of the country's more interesting and funkiest beach bars, and invite beach lovers to tell us about any deserving establishments that we have missed.
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Koh Chang – Independent Bo's, that super-colourful place

Independent Bo's on Sai Khao Beach North is definitely one of the funkiest in all the country, and definitely the most colourful. It is impossible to pass the beach here without being overwhelmed by this creation. This, along with the small group of bungalows on either side, is the last holdout of Koh Chang's old backpacker scene on Sai Khao Beach , and one of the very few left on the island. This whole little scene is quite different to the rest of the beach, and gives it an interesting diversion that many visitors staying in the bigger resorts like to drop in on.
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Koh Phayam – Hippy Bar, a great place to rock along

Koh Phayam is still enjoying its backpacker phase, with virtually all of the accommodations on the island still simple, budget places for those who don't mind roughing it a little in order to feel at one with nature. Some bungalows still lack electricity, while most have it for only limited hours each day. So it is not surprising to find another of Thailand's really way-out beach bars located on one of the near-pristine beaches here. In appearance and off-beat construction materials, Hippy Bar definitely lives up to its name. This is found on the northern-most stretch of the island's northern beach, Ao Khao Kwai (Buffalo Horn Beach). It is quite easy to access, being a short way up the sand from the point where the main motorcycle track meets the beach. There are no cars on this island – none. See more about Koh Phayam in general here.
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Koh Lanta – Feeling Bar at Where Else! Bungalows on Khlong Khong Beach

Where else! Bungalows and beach bar lie at the heart of Koh Lanta's small, remnant backpacker scene on Klong Khong Beach , midway down the island's west coast. Most other Lanta beaches have undergone redevelopment in recent years, with the resorts moving up-market to become family and mid-range accommodations for the new wave of more 'regular' tourists. But Where Else! keeps the old beach party days alive for the young travellers who still come to this island to hang out.
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Spirit Wood Bar, Chalok Baan Kao Beach, Koh Tao

This little bar, Spirit Wood, on the south shore of Chalok Baan Kao Bay , is not quite as wild-looking as some of its hippy cousins, but is definitely interesting in its own way. The name comes from the large log featured in front of the bar, in which a spirit is said to reside. People tie colourful ribbons around the old tree in to show respect to and supplicate the spirit – and perhaps to make the bar look good and attract customers. Though it does not face the sunset, this little bar has a good atmosphere in the evenings, and is popular with guests from the resorts along both shores of the bay.
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Banana Bar, Sai Nuan Beach, Koh Tao

With such interesting geography, and many unusual resorts, restaurants and bars fitted in among the rocks and headlands, Koh Tao can easily outdo most other beach destinations in Thailand in the off-beat stakes. Banana Bar is indeed a winner among the country's most weird beach bars. Unless you are staying in one of the few resorts near Sai Yuan Beach, this can be a little difficult to get to. You can either take the long, and very scenic, walk down the coastal track from Mae Haad Beach, or a motorcycle ride in through the back track.
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Kata Beach, Phuket – Ska Bar under it huge banyan tree

Phuket is no longer a backpacker paradise, and there are few cheap bungalows left on the island, so it is no longer the kind of place that attracts Thai 'beach hippies'. We know that many Thai drop-outs who began here in the 1980s have since moved to more remote islands. However, Kata Beach has one remnant party place left over from the old days largely unchanged. Ska Bar at the far south end of Kata is well known, for this has hosted countless thousands of party revellers over the years. At times during the high season when there are large numbers of young people gathered here a dance party breaks out on the sand. During the annual King's Cup Regatta, which is hosted nearby in Kata Beach Resort , Ska Bar can rock through the night till sunrise when the sailors have to think about returning to their boats for another day's racing.
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Ao Cho Beach, Koh Samet – Freedom Bar

The name might not be so original, for there is a Freedom Bar on a number of the Thai islands that attract the younger set. We almost included the Freedom Bar at the far south end of Koh Jum in Krabi. It looks quite funky, but when this writer visited it was monsoon season and the place was completely closed. But Koh Samet's Freedom Bar powers on all through the year, and on through the years. It carries many of the major symbols of the social upheavals of the 1960s that Bob Marley's iconic music was so much a part of; peace, dope, equality in sexuality and a big poster of Marley himself puffing on his trademark ganga joint. Here one can groove to the best of Marley right on a relatively quiet and laid-back beach with sand between your toes.
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Reggae Pub on Sai Kaew Beach, Koh Samet is now history

Koh Samet is a little poorer for the loss of long-time Reggae Bar ... it had been Bob's home for over 30 years. It was alive and well when I found and photographed Bob in 2014, but gone when I returned in 2017. But to preserve a little of the island's history, we'll leave this here as a memorial:

Bob is alive and well in this island's Bob Marley bar – even if he is looking his years. Not surprising, for Bob opened his Marley bar almost 30 years ago near the top end of the island, on the first hill as you leave Sai Kaew beach, going south. A Thai who adopted the name of the musical hero who has clearly shaped his whole life, Bob is still found in the pub nightly, grooving along with his guests, both Thai and foreign. Many of those customers were not yet born when the real Bob Marley took too much bad dope and moved on to the next world, and just babies when Thai Bob opened this commemorative pub on Samet.

If you like reggae music, this is the place in Koh Samet.
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by John Everingham

Expert advice on beachfront hotels and Thai beaches is available free from True Beachfront’s founder, the guy who’s also inspected and photographed over 1,100 Thai beach hotels and hundreds more in other Southeast Asia countries. E-mail john@beachf.com