Asia | South East Asia | Thailand | South Thailand | Ko Pha Ngan – Beaches and Parties
And then there was Ko Pha Ngan. For the uninitiated, of which I was one until I commenced the planning of this trip, this Island within spitting distance of Ko Samui is the exclusive beach mecca for the army of young backpackers in South East Asia. I am not sure whether this a matter of independent choice or a little of the tail wagging the dog. Every single guidebook I glanced at has the same line when it comes to the southern islands of Thailand. ‘most backpackers head to Kho Pan Gan ‘ this creates a self fulfilling prophecy in many ways. Ko Tao is for diving, Ko Samui is for tourist life and Kho Pha Ngan is for cheap living and of course the Full Moon Party.
This is a Dark Ride.
Either way it was dark when I disembarked the car ferry at Thon Sala. My plan, to get off the starting blocks as quickly as possible and cycle the 5km or so to my already identified bungalow before the other 300 backpackers on the boat had even negotiated an acceptable taxi fare.
The plan would have worked if I had actually seen the MacBay bungalows but being dark, being a mostly unpaved road and seeing that the only way to have my front light pointing forward was to hold in my hand I must have cycled straight passed it. I kept cycling until I hit the steepest hill I have ever tackled (possibly). The sensastion was very similar to being on a ghost train in an amusement park I could not see what was going on ahead, you just felt the gradient, and as I was walking by this stage the on coming headlamps of probaly drunk tourists on recently rented motor scooters added to general feeling of impending death.
Once the climbs were over the descents were worse. I had loosened the rear brake due to my buckled wheel and the only way to hold the brakes hard was to take the headlight out of my hand and hold it in my jaws, not an altogether satisfactory solution but with huge pot holes in between the decaying road it was better than the option of total darkness.
I finally arriving at the bottom of a hill, exhausted yet truly relieved that I had made it to safety without any injuries. I checked out the first hotel I saw, which consisted of my own bungalow 20 paces from the beach, a communal restaurant come bar and a shared shower & bathroom. Simple but for $5 you can’t argue.
That is really the bulk of the excitement on the island. I guess the point of a beach holiday is that it is a holiday and most of the week I was there was spent lazing about on the beach, lazing about in my hammock or lazing about in the lounge area of the restaurant. The biggest communal event of the day seemed to be sunset when everybody came out of the holes they had een hiding in to sit on the beach, drink a beer and compare that nights sunset with the one they saw yesterday.
I did take a boat tour around the island with Brian and Andrea. A very different style to my solo escapade around Phang Nga. It had more of booze cruise concept about it, we visited some beautiful remote beaches, snorkeled around the islands best reefs and watched Brian turn from white to red in the space of only 3 hours. The luck of the Irish!
The bungalows were on a quiet part of the island but we were only about a 10 minute walk from Hat Rin which is the closest Kho Pha Ngan gets to ‘downtown’. It is actually very touristy, it has bars, clubs, a beach to look good on and coming up within the week the ‘legendary’ full moon party.
This party started as a small underground get together some years ago, and now by all accounts is a huge date in the young (and I mean young) backpackers calendar. Around 8,000 people turn up for the event that goes from dusk ’till dawn on the beach in the center of Had Rin.
Every lunar cycle this event takes place and I had initially intended to avoid it but I had my dates slightly wrong and it ended up happening on my last planned night on the island. I did consider fleeing the island a little earlier but I was talked into staying by some enthusiastic neighbors. The key selling points was that as I was already there it would be silly to miss and it was something I could tell my grandchildren!
As some of you may know I don’t need much of an excuse to go to a party. In addtion at the current time the likelihood of me having any 2nd generation offspring to share these stories with while I am anything but senile is pretty slim. I would also hope that I will have a few more important things to tell the little ones before we get to the ‘parties on beaches’ section of my life anyway!
I did stay however and I think a little like New Years Eve it is the build up rather than the actual night that contains some of the the best experiences. The island kept on filling-up. Everyday you saw sun burnt new comers traipsing up and down the beach trying to find a room, every day getting further and further out from Hat Rin.
Our little community consisted of a great bunch of people an Irish/Swiss couple who had to leave for home prior to the big night, much to their disappointment. A Dutch group consolidated their national interests and were very pleased to have fellow countrymen to share their silly language. After a long night discussing all our best films Ruben the youth of the crowd has gone away with a list as long as his arm of films that should be rated above ‘the never ending story’! Later in the week we were joined by a bunch of travelling Australians who were either on there way to or from London. They played cricket with a tennis ball and a plank of would and were pleased to see people as old as me still travelling (great!)
The Big Night
The night of the actual party I went out for a while we were all in a bar for the beginning of the evening but as you will see from the photos on the right all the lively late night / early morning ones were taken by young Ruben from the Hague, Being the age I am I was tucked up in bed with a good book and a cup of cocoa long before the sun rose over the south china sea.
If you look at the Ko Pha Ngan section of worldsurface there are a number of opinions of Hat Rin and the full moon party. I don’t pretended that hanging out here is travelling in any way, shape or form. I don’t think people actually go there to travel. As a beach holiday I think it is far better that Phuket, Ibiza or Key West. The island is un-developed. There are no big hotel complexes and from what I could see the bungalows all seemed to be owned and managed by local people from the Island.
I was talking to a barman one night about what he thought of all these tourists turning up, buying sand buckets of amphetamine enriched whiskey and red bull (the popular choice amongst the travelling sector) that cost half a weeks wages. He just laughed, every night we get to go home is said. Such is the travelling life.
For me travelling solo on a bike I accept that when I get to a tourist hub; and ‘Chicken Corner’ (the Times Square of Ko Pha Ngan) is the epicenter of that hub, I like a lively place, It is nice to be in a quite hotel but to have the option to mix with strangers who speak your language in a multitude of bars is a tonic for my nights in remote towns with only the people who live in the country to talk to.
The following night (my last on the island) we went for a quiet drink back on the full moon beach, everything had been cleaned up, the inflatable light shows all gone away, all the backpackers had either left the island, were recovering or possibly after a few too many mushroom shakes finding ,or making their own after-after party. Either way it was a quiet clean beach and back to how I had seen over one week before.