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!