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Ko Phangan - Shrooms, Moons and Motorbikes

Written on: Wednesday February 20th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Another train took us from Bangkok, south once more overnight to a wake-up call in Surat Thani, where we departed the train, panicked over where Cary had put the bus and boat tickets, before eventually finding them tucked in her bag and boarding the bus to the port of Don Sak on the eastern coast of Thailand, just as the sun was rising with a few hundred fellow travelers, who were also heading for the Full Moon Party.


The boat eventually left at 8am, and we grabbed a seat on the deck for the three hour voyage to the island. By the time we arrived I was well and truly sunburnt. A fabulous start. Waiting for us at Thong Sala, the port on Ko Phangan was Kara, who had already had a one nights stay on Ko Samui and hadn?t particularly enjoyed the experience, so she?d come straight to Phangan to meet with us. Cary had managed to book a  couple of bungalows at a resort just over the hill from Hed Rin, where the Full Moon Party was due to take place on the 22nd, at Leela Bungalows. It was a grinding walk with our bags up and then down hill from the main town, but good to their word this time, they had kept us two bungalows.


It was finally time to relax and things began to come together. Troy and Alan turned up and had themselves a bungalow too. Darren arrived and was already staying at an apartment in Ban Khai, further up the coast, but moved to join us. The illnesses from us all seemed to be receeding, although in Bangkok Cary had been munched upon by an army of bed-bugs leaving nasty bite marks all over her legs and back. But above all else the sun was shining and good, relaxing times beckoned. Not that the previous five months had not been good, far far from it, it had been amazing, but like with Sihanoukville in Cambodia, sometimes it?s good to stay in one place for a decent amount of time to recuperate from all the traveling.


Our bungalows were at the top of yet another hill, and were as basic as they come, i.e. hole in the wall for a toilet, no electricity, covered in mosquitoes and big hairy spiders, but did what they said on the label. After all we weren?t going to be spending much time there. We spent most of the afternoon lying on the beach sunning ourselves, then that evening went to sample the delights of Hed Rin for the first time. It is a heaving, manic town, especially around the full moon because of the number of people it attracts here, containing shop after shop of Western eateries, internet cafes, tour companies and souvenir shops. The shops sit back from the highlight itself, Hat Rin Beach, that from end to end has either bars opening out on to it or hundreds of small stalls all competing with one another for you to buy their buckets of potent alcohol mixtures. We duly obliged.


Ko Phangan and Hed Rin specifically is the ultimate place to people watch. At the beginning of the night, revelers are just getting in to their stride, warming up with a vodka ? redbull bucket, having a go at the flaming jumprope, (which put me on my ass on a number of occasions) and flirting wherever they can. Holiday makers straight off the plane prance around in their designer clothes and trainers, while the back-packers brush the dirt out of their hair with a cut hand, smiling gleefully, in their vest-tops and flip-flops. But everybody is and was in such a good mood. A mood to enjoy themselves, to soak up the atmosphere, to meet and socialise with every other person that is there, regardless of nationality, sex, colour or creed. There?s not the hostility that you immediately feel as eyes bear down on you when you walk in to the Town Hall in Staines on a Saturday night, nothing near it. This of course could be down to the amount of recreational drugs floating around the beach area, or as I like to think and hope, that it?s because of the certain type of person who comes to Ko Phangan.


We decided to hire bikes out on our second day and go in search of what the rest of the island had to offer. Kara rode on the back of my bike, while Cary kept a firm hold on Darren as we rode over the steep hills in to the centre of the island. Troy and Alan decided they would sleep off their hangovers in their hammocks. It was one of the most rewarding things we did on the island and the four of us, through going off exploring around the island on two separate occasions became extremely close as a group. We first stopped off at Pang Waterfall, where we climbed up through the forest to a beautiful view point over the west of the island. Then, after descending down the waterless rockface, we rode out west and sat having dinner watching the sun receding behind the horizon. On the way back along the coastal road we spotted what seemed like a mirage ahead of us. ?The Mason Arms? sign was illuminated and was a pub here in the middle of Ko Phangan straight out of Emmerdale. It would have been rude to turn it down, so we popped in for a sly pint of Guinness and a few games of pool, then visited a Mai Thai boxing ring, where Darren and I went at it for a few rounds.


Tired after a full day, Darren and Kara stayed at the hut watching some DVD?s on Darren?s lap-top while Cary and I went in to town, myself meeting back up with Dave again after a month of us traveling solo. We spotted Dave strolling across the beach and it was great to see him again, tattooed arm and all. Bizarrely, within minutes of us catching up on what each of us had been doing, who walks by but Steve Trainer from Canada, who we first met in Hoi An, Viet Nam, then again in Saigon, followed by Phnom Penh, Don Det and now here once again in Ko Phangan. On all occasions our meetings had been completely unplanned and unexpected, and what makes it weirder was that Dave and I traveling alone hadn?t run in to him, but here we were for just a short amount of time back together again and Steve turns up. Steve?s arrival was shortly followed by the guys from Staines, Keith, Andy and Dan, who we had met in Don Det and who Dave had been traveling with for the past week. With everyone arriving so soon, Dave and I didn?t get much of a chance to chat, and the party on the beach was kicking in. I still, even now, after 2 weeks hadn?t rid the Pai bug out of my system completely and after the busy day on the bikes decided I?d leave Dave to his last night on the island as he was leaving the following day. Our paths would now not come together again until Australia.


There?s a beach up on the north east of the island which is said to be the nicest one of them all. Most people take a boat from Hed Rin, which is in the south of the island, around the headland to reach it, but I was determined we could negotiate the apparently tough, steep, dirt-track road that reached it through the middle of the island. On the way up the police, who were rumoured to be cracking down on drugs around the island were pulling in Westerners left, right and centre and searching them all. Two Spanish guys were sitting on the back of the police car handcuffed to one another, looking pretty sorry for themselves when we were shepherded in. I must have looked like a very respectable gentleman, even with my over-growing beard I now flourished, as they paid me little attention at all and went about having a good check of Darren, Kara and Cary. We continued up the hill and as forewarned the road became dirt, with huge holes in the ground. The hill was actually more like a mountain. I reckon we?d have been fine had it not been for a three guys in the middle of the road already having problems getting up. It was at this point, as I tried to navigate around them to the right that I had my first motorbike accident. I should probably leave it to your own imagination and you might come up with me flipping through the air as my bike explodes in to a ball of flames. Alas, it was nowhere near as dramatic. I was barely doing 2mph when the bike actually fell in to the ditch, which was no doubt my downfall. It fell sideways on to my right leg, but I had time to check behind me to see that Kara could jump off to safety without getting hurt. She got a knock as she disembarked, but because of the gradient I fell and then rolled back down the hill laughing away with the bike on top of me. Would have been a great photo. I had a few scrapes on my back, but nothing that wouldn?t take too long to heal. Then again I thought that about the cut on my foot from Vang Viang and that still hasn?t healed.


After that slight blip on the day out we decided against Ao Thong Nai Pan, and instead headed to the north of the island and the Coral View Resort at Ao Chaloaklam. A white sandy beach, pleasantly peaceful with a volleyball court, that sadly didn?t last too long from me and three Americans playing on it. We were waiting for our food to be served and three guys from California had stepped on to the court and were looking for a forth, so despite my war-wounds I happily joined them. My team mate set the ball for me and I went up to spike it, only for one of the guys on the other team who went up to block me to slip. His face took out my legs, bringing me smashing in to the net, snapping the bamboo cane that was serving as a post. Time for lunch.


Like the previous day we rode out to the west for the sunset, this time to the ridiculously named town of Hat Salad. The food and the setting at the hotel we ate dinner in was amazing and it would have been a beautiful place to have stayed, but sadly was way out of the budget we were living on.


After yet another busy and tiring day we had all probably resigned ourselves to going out to Hed Rin, having a few drinks and then turning in about 3am in preparation for the Full Moon Party, which had now been put back to the 24th February because of the elections that were taking place on the 22nd and 23rd. As we got to the beach area though it was evident, despite it being the day of the originally planned Full Moon Party that things were quieter than they had been. Music had been banned on the beach and only certain places were selling alcohol. We made our way to the far end of the beach to a place known as Mushroom Mountain, due to the hallucinogenic Mushroom Shakes that are sold here. We got a couple of cocktails and a few shots to get us going and then from then on the night was truly raucous. Cary had brought some bodypaint and it wasn?t long before all four of us were adorning our bodies with it. I?m not quite sure what happened to Kara, but she passed out soon after under the influence of the cocktails and the buckets which we subsequently bought. Alan and Troy arrived and the party continued, with Kara now suddenly revitalised, back on Leela beach, complete with guitar and yet another pair of flip-flops for me after mine went walkabout.


Before we knew it the sun was coming up, so we headed around the bay and lay on some rocks to await its arrival. I think we might have caught glimpses of its first rays, but that was it. Kara, Cary, Darren and I all passed out looking to any passersby like we?d just been washed up on the shore with some weird radioactive waste all over us (that?s the bodypaint you will realise from the photos, nothing more sinister).


When we did eventually arise we spent the day once again laying on the beach, and playing some more volleyball, this time with a crew of Israelis who find Ko Phangan a very popular destination. In fact there are more Israelis and Swedish here than in any other place I?ve visited. The influence is obviously apparent with Stars of David featuring on many bucket stands, and Israeli and Scandinavian dishes on many menus.


Cary, Troy and Alan were all leaving the following day as they had flights from Bangkok the day after that; Cary to Australia, Troy and Alan on to India. So that night they were intent on having another big night. Despite once again the presence of music we had a good night with Cary throwing bucket after bucket down her neck, and almost not getting up in time, while Alan arrived sweating buckets about 3 minutes before his taxi departed for the ferry. Kara, Darren and I decided we?d had enough of the squalor of Leela Bungalows and wandered to the much plusher appartments 100 metres further down the beach..


It had finally arrived the official night of the Full Moon Party and oh my was it memorable. In fact it was one of the most amazing parties I?ve ever been to. Thousands danced the night away on the beach to a mixture of house, reggae, trance and dance music. In the thick of it all the Swedes, Martin and Wilhelm whom Dave and I had met on the Trans-Siberian Railway wandered by. They in turn led us to where Mia and Danny also were. It was great to see all of them again and together with Kara and Darren we danced the night away well in to the morning. At about 4am the heavens opened and the rain tumulted down. Nobody cared, in fact quite the opposite. With dancing for so long the cool refreshing sensation of the rain was exactly what was needed and everybody continued to dance taking in the incredible atmosphere of this indescribable party. We hung around to watch the sun come up and saw some of the funniest sights known to human-kind. People were running in to the sea fully clothed; there were people passed out, lying supine on the sand; there were dogs confusedly walking round wondering what on earth was going on; and one situation in particular with a rotund, cheeky chappy who kept on running by and pushing unsuspecting girls in to the sea was simply hilarious. It was a shame that one poor guy was as drunk and as unconscious as he was, as would he have been sober he would have taken great pleasure in the three rather attractive leggy blonde Swedish girls dancing and posing provocatively over the top of him for their own photo collections.


Ko Phangan is a glorious island, not only for the Full Moon Party, but actually as a beautiful place in its own right. The party of course will always be remembered as will the great times that Kara, Cary, Darren and myself shared together. We had dinner on our last night in Ko Phangan with the my Swedish friends I had been reunited with, then bid our farewells to Darren the following day as our traveling four became just two and Kara and I headed off to Ko Tao.