Thailand Diaries: Koh Samui, Koh Tao & Koh Phangan

4th Apr 2014
Photo of Thailand Diaries: Koh Samui, Koh Tao & Koh Phangan 1/7 by Jane Cook
Sunrise at Koh Phangan
Photo of Thailand Diaries: Koh Samui, Koh Tao & Koh Phangan 2/7 by Jane Cook
Sunrise at Koh Phangan
Photo of Thailand Diaries: Koh Samui, Koh Tao & Koh Phangan 3/7 by Jane Cook
Sunrise at Koh Phangan
Photo of Thailand Diaries: Koh Samui, Koh Tao & Koh Phangan 4/7 by Jane Cook
Partying at Koh Phangan
Photo of Thailand Diaries: Koh Samui, Koh Tao & Koh Phangan 5/7 by Jane Cook
Koh Samui
Photo of Thailand Diaries: Koh Samui, Koh Tao & Koh Phangan 6/7 by Jane Cook
Koh Tao
Photo of Thailand Diaries: Koh Samui, Koh Tao & Koh Phangan 7/7 by Jane Cook
Koh Tao

We’re back on the Thai islands! :)

Yesterday afternoon after a particularly rubbish overnight train (we got the crappy top bunks which are right next to the strip lighting) a cold coach ride (overly enthusiastic aircon), and nausea inducing boat ride (choppy seas), we made it to Koh Samui.

Koh Samui is the largest island on the gulf side, and the most developed. It’s become a bit of a resort island, for those who want to stay by the 5-star pool and maybe play a few rounds of golf. A number of friends and people we’ve met travelling have warned us not to spend too much time here, so we made a beeline for a cheap place to stay on the north of the island; making it super easy for us to get an onward ferry to the small but allegedly beautiful island of Koh Tao.

We hit a bit of a hiccup when we arrived at Koh Samui. Our research had indicated that the ferries between Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan should cost around 300baht (£6) each. In actual fact, the prices are double. In this late stage of our trip, every penny really counts, but we have already reserved accommodation on all three islands, so the costs will just have to be absorbed by our remaining budget.

As a result of this realization, we are now trying to live as cheaply as possible whilst still enjoying the last couple of weeks. So what does this consist of? Well, amazingly, we managed to find a resort called the Samui Mermaid which offers rooms with no air conditioning (only a fan) for 490 baht per night. That’s £9.70! Yes the room has seen better days, but it’s clean and does the job, and it has two pools, right in front of the quiet beach.

We’ve also discovered that there’s a type of food that’s even cheaper than street food. It’s called convenience food! Our lunch today was two 15 baht (30 pence) cup noodles from the minimart, eaten on the beach; it still beats any of my expensive lunch breaks in London!

We spent a good few hours soaking up the sun this morning, but inevitably, those monsoon rains came blowing in and we had to beat a hasty retreat to a local Internet cafe to work on our CVs. The end of our trip seems so close now, and inevitably our thoughts are turning to the real life we need to build when we get back home.

Luckily, the rain didn’t last long and we were able to get back to big Buddha beach to enjoy a beautiful moody sunset, as the planes from the nearby Koh Samui airport skimmed our heads. Oh, and seeing as we’d been so frugal all day, there was room in the budget for a little Monday tipple too!

Koh Tao: In a Word, Wow!

We arrived in Koh Tao a few days ago, and I already aknow it’s going to be really, really hard to leave.

Koh Tao is a small island north of Koh Phangan, situated in the gulf of Thailand. Its nickname is “turtle island” – both because its shape resembles the sea creature, and also because of its past significance as a breeding ground. Sadly that’s a trend that seems to have died since the arrival of mass tourism in the 80s and 90s, but there are efforts in place to encourage turtles back the island that they previously inhabited for thousands of years.

On exiting the boat at the pier, our hotel is situated 700m to the left, on Sai Ree beach- the most developed on Koh Tao. Don’t get the wrong idea when I say the most developed, I’m not taking high rises and a-roads; Koh Tao seems to be a strictly two storey island, with our beach lined with swaying palm trees and relaxed wooden restaurants and beach bars.

We’re staying at In Touch Resort, a collection of Flintstones-style curved concrete huts with open, thatched roof bathrooms attached all set within jungle-esque grounds filled with noisy toads. We’ve got a pair of absolutely enormous geckos living in our bathroom ceiling, and Pete did have to deal with a particularly massive spider on the first day, but all in all, it’s really lovely feeling so close to nature.

The night we arrived it was cloudy, so after some food on our restaurant terrace, we headed off to a bar further down the beach to watch a fire show. A few hours (and beers) later, we walked back along the beach in the dark. Most of the bars and resorts were closed by this point, and I got massively over excited and decided that we just had to go skinny dipping. After 5 minutes of swimming in the warm, calm sea, we wriggled back in to our swimwear, picked up our clothes and ran back to our hut!

Our first full day in Koh Tao was spent in a bit of a stupor. The clouds had all but disappeared and we were confronted with the most beautiful ocean which lapped the shore below our feet as we ate breakfast on the decking. We didn’t move for the rest of the day.

As it gets dark so early here, and we have no Wi-Fi or TV in our room, we found a bar that was showing Skyfall (James Bond) on a projector screen, and settled in for the evening with two cups of tea. Bliss!

Today we’ve been ever so slightly more active. We have been staring at the ocean for two days and only just realized that the change in color that can be seen about 50 m out must be a reef. So, we bought a snorkel mask and swam out in front of our little bit of the beach, and soon we could see so many fish! We saw sea cucumbers, leopard bush fish, some zebra striped beauties, lots of flat black ones, and a couple of beautiful electric blue and orange striped ones (they looked like larger, duller, clownfish). Pete’s been diving in Egypt before and whilst what we saw was nothing compared to that, it was still awesome for a crappy swimmer like me – and just a short swim from the shore. I wish I had an underwater camera to have taken some pictures!

For the rest of our time on Koh Tao, we are planning on exploring further up the beach again and perhaps renting a kayak to get further out to sea and down the coast, or heading off to snorkel on a shipwreck at the main pier. For now, I’ll leave you with this picture of tonight’s sunset

Koh Phangan: An Unexpected Oasis

After 5 days spent relaxing on the beautiful and chilled out Koh Tao, we were a little bit gutted to be

leaving and heading over to the party island of Koh Phangan – world renowned for its Full Moon parties which one travel guide describes as “like Apocolypse Now, without the war”. Great.

On the boat over from Koh Tao to Phangan, the weather suddenly turned grey and overcast, and taking this as some sort of omen, we felt more and more like we’d made the wrong decision to end our trip on this island. On arrival at the pier, we quickly jumped on to two taxi bikes and with a fair amount of apprehension; we were whisked off to find our accommodation.

Then we turned down a long, leafy wide road which felt unexpectedly rural; swathes of jungle growth either side and lots of coconut palms. Then we arrived at My Phangan Resort, situated on Baan Tai beach. We realised almost immediately how wrong we’d been to write Koh Phangan off as nothing more than an18 year olds playground.

As soon as we had checked in with the reception desk at the main hut, one of the friendly staff walked us over to our beach hut. It was absolutely perfect! Small and simple, with a clean bathroom, air conditioning and a good Wi-Fi signal; but most importantly a lovely raised porch complete with table, chairs, hammock – and the best view of the private beach:

The huts at this resort are all arranged in a wide semi circle behind the beach, with their reception and restaurant at the back, at the furthest point from the sand. Ours is the closest hut to the beach on the left hand side of the semi circle, and it’s costing us only 700baht a night (£14).

The small circular hut you can see in the photo from my hammock is a lovely little beach bar, where you can sit on high stools and watch the ocean, enjoying a coke for 40p or a large beer (650ml) for £1.20. The food from the restaurant is also well priced – £1.20 for a traditional red chicken curry with rice, topped with a fried egg!

Lying on the small, private, sandy beach are two kayaks which are free for us to use any time (Pete was very happy about this)! Also, there are some huge sandbanks in the water right opposite, so we can walk really far out into the ocean and look back at the land. You can probably walk about 250m in shallow water no deeper than your ankles, and when you reach the sandbank, the surface is covered with little crab holes and the balls of sand that they’ve cleaned when going about their day:

In fairness, the booming music from the bars further down the island did manage to reach us last night, but it’s not loud enough to keep Pete awake (is anything!?) and I have earplugs so it’s not a problem. Today we’re reading and chilling on the beach, enjoying our little slice of paradise. Over the next few days we plan to explore a little more of what Koh Phangan has to offer, safe in the knowledge that although it might be renowned for its all-night raves, there is certainly so much more to this island!

Koh Phangan: Our Verdict on the Parties

Koh Phangan has a reputation which is recognised all over the world, a reputation for one thing only: partying. Whilst most people associate the island with the Full Moon Party on Haad Rin beach, which attracts between 10,000 and 20,000 revelers every month; there are also various other parties taking place on the island all-month long. At any given time, Koh Phangan actually offers a whole host of entertainment for night owls -from pool parties to jungle raves, black moon celebrations and midnight waterfall gatherings.

Now Pete and I are not exactly drawing our pensions yet, but we’re also not 18 anymore, so we weren’t really feeling too excited about the prospect of the Full Moon Party. To warm us up for the big one, we decided to sample the ‘Jungle Experience’ in Baan Tai, a huge rave in the middle of the forest which takes place 4 and 1 day before the full moon every month.

We were told you could walk to the Jungle Experience quite easily from this road. This is a huge fib, it’s miles! We were also told that the 300baht entry fee included a beer. This is also a fib – I don’t know if we got there too late or what, but there were no free drinks for us. Nevertheless, we had been successfully liquored up at our beach bar, so no big loss.

The party itself was pretty cool. Huge nets of fairy lights hang from the trees, fluorescent decorations, raised dancing platforms and podiums are spread around an area which is blasting with heavy trance music and thronging with body painted 20-somethings who are running around like nutcases. There are bars dotted throughout, along with body painting stations, food stalls, and carnival style dancers dressed up to the nines. Though trance music is definitely not my scene, the novelty of the experience meant that we both had a pretty good time just jumping about like idiots (as you can see below):

Now, on to the big one: The Full Moon Party.

On arrival in Haad Rin by taxi, the first thing I noticed was the level of security. There are road blocks and guards everywhere, stopping the traffic and making the area totally pedestrian for the night. The second thing we noticed was the buckets! Everywhere you look, locals have set up trestle tables and offer little plastic buckets filled with a bottle of spirits, a bottle of red bull and a can of coke – to be paid for, poured in together and mixed with ice and drunk through a straw. One of these will set you back anywhere from £3 – £10, and the beach is packed with partygoers sloshing them about all over the place.

We walked down to the beach where it all takes place; it was like Party Island Koh Phi Phi – on steroids. The beach is PACKED with bodies, the music is booming, and every bar spills out some form of entertainment on to the beach. One place had a rope ladder running up the front, and a slide from its roof which shot down on to a crash mat on the sand. We watched a steady stream of drunks chucked themselves down it with abandon before moving on to watch a game of fire skipping.

Two men stood on platforms about 1.5m off the beach, swinging a rope soaked in kerosene and set alight. Drunken revelers would take turns to hop in and out of the rhythm of the rope, with many catching their legs and sustaining minor burns. Then, just as Pete and I had taken a seat on a picnic bench to watch, a guy mis-stepped so dramatically that he set his whole torso on fire. He hit the floor and rolled straight into our feet, and without a moment’s hesitation, Pete emptied the rest of the contents of our bucket on to him, and began scooping sand on to the remaining flames. He was put out in a couple of seconds, but his skin was red and beginning to blister already. It was off to the first aid tent for him!

The rest of the night we spent waking up and down the beach; people watching, sitting on ‘Mellow Mountain’ at the top of the beach, dancing when a decent song came on, watching people launch themselves through rings of fire, and laughing at the scores of men peeing in the sea in front of everyone. We also spent a lot of time stepping over people who were fully passed out on the sand; marked out by a member of security who had drawn a circle around them for everyone to walk around.

At the end of our night (about 3am), we flagged a group taxi and headed back to our hotel, picking up a couple of 21-year-old Americans on the way who then had to wait at the pier until 6am to get a boat back to their hotel on Koh Tao. I am definitely too old for that!

The verdict: I enjoyed the Full Moon Party in the same way I would enjoy anything that is a complete and baffling novelty. Sometimes, I just couldn’t believe my eyes – you don’t even see that much carnage on a match day in Cardiff! I enjoyed myself mostly as a voyeur, watching the madness unfold before me and pointing open mouthed so that Pete could see it too! Having him there in the same frame of mind made the night for me, but I think we both preferred the slightly more controlled and orderly nature of the Jungle Experience – not to mention the slightly more mature crowd.

So would I do a Full Moon Party again? I don’t think so.

It annoys me to think how many blind drunk idiots must end up hurting themselves or others here, but it wasn’t until I started thinking about the environmental impact of all that debauchery that I began to feel really uncomfortable. If the tens of thousands of people who came to the Full Moon actually cared about looking after Koh Phangan, I might feel differently, but it’s clear from watching it all last night that there was a destructive, devil-may-care atmosphere in the air – a level of young reckless escapism that would not be exhibited at home where there would be consequences for actions. Trash was thrown anywhere, boys were peeing anywhere, and people were just running wild off the leash. If Koh Phangan had the facilities and infrastructure to deal with the mess caused by all of this, it may be a different story, but it doesn’t. That’s hard to reconcile with such a beautiful place, and one that seems to be on its way to becoming so needlessly ruined. I feel bad for adding my presence to the strain that Koh Phangan is already under, and for that reason, this Full Moon Party (though fascinating!) will be my first and last.

Koh Phangan: Sunrise on Ao Baan Tai

I just wanted to share a couple of photos from this morning. Both Pete and I woke up just before dawn and were unable to get back to sleep as it was so hot, so we decided to get up to watch the sun rise from the beach.

There was no one else around, except for the fishermen who had waded out to the edge of the reef before even the first signs of light

As we stood on the sand bank, we could hear the local cockerels announcing the dawn, and more excitingly, the whooping call of the wild gibbons coming from the forests. Magical!

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