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Andy’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 11 Oct 2006

Location: Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand

MapPARTIES, POLLUTION AND PURPOSE ON PHA-NGAN
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After my post on Myanmar (and not forgetting the Poo restaurant exposition) this will seem rather less interesting, but Ko Pha-Ngan was fun. Lots of fun.

After Samui we boated it over to Pha-Ngan, the second of the island triplets (the third being Ko Tao); a legendary place in backpacker mythology. Sun, sea, sand and most importantly…parties.
I immediately liked Pha-ngan more than Samui. We arrived in Hat Rin. It was no Perhentian Island undeveloped paradise by any means but it wasn’t overdeveloped…and after half an hour my buttocks were still unmolested by goups of sexually rampant Thai women. Verbal molestation was also unforthcoming. A thirty minute boat journey was all it took to leave behind the seedy streets of Samui.

Hat Rin was rather pricey for our budget though. 100 baht bungalows on the beach are now distant and hazy memories to those guesthouses cashing in on Thailand’s increasingly popular status as a package holiday destination. Chic upmarket bungalows now dominate the beachfront, lacking the atmosphere provided by a dark smelly toilet which require three scoops of water to flush (or more if you are Mark!), the wooden plasterboard or palm-leaf walls that just scream Laurence Llewelyn Bowen, and a floor made from only the finest strips of ill-fitting and flimsy linolium (LLB again).

So we jumped into the back of a pick-up truck to Sunset Beach which consists of a sporadic and spaced out row of small, quiet and unassuming guesthouses providing bungalows on the beach for very reasonable prices. Bird bungalows (our residence for the next few days) was therefore quite remote from the main action of Hat Rin but suited our needs. It was comfortable and relaxing, with a small restaurant/chill-out area right on the beach and open to the sea air. We were often the only three in the place. We were offered a three-bed wooden hut with a dark but en-suite (unimagined luxury!) toilet/shower room, and a small balcony complete with swinging hammock for those lazy hangover recovery sessions and days when all we could handle was some light reading.
The beach was just a few metres away and was often deserted. Sunsert Beach is the grubbier sister to Sunrise Beach behind which lies the main town and action. The sand is rougher and the water murkier. But it was fine for sunset watching or sunbathing.

It was all very satisfactory. But…..and boy was it big butt.

It was run by none other than the Spawn of Satan. I know, i didn’t expect to find her here either. This women did not smile in all the time i was there. This was no insignificant achievement; i stayed at this guesthouse for the equivalent of two Middle Earth ages - i was waiting for the full moon party and failed to plan my itinerary well. Seriously though, every time i approached her to order food she would usually continue watching TV for five minutes while i coughed lightly in the background. Realising this was insufficient i would usually have to resort to violent choking or wretching for her to move that monstrously large, satanic head of hers in my direction. When she finally acknowleged my presence and turned to face me (with a face like a slapped arse i might add) i would ask, in a voice i tried to keep from quivvering or squeeking randomly, that i would like a Massaman curry (a muslim dish from the south of Thailand which is absolutely delicious). She would stare at me, unflinching, with an expression most commonly associated with people whose bag or briefcase you have just grabbed and proceeded to use as a mobile lavatory, perhaps even hooting wildly in the process. Honestly. That was her expression. Immediately and with haste she would……well, sit still and fail to acknowledge you had ever spoken. After five minutes i would like to say she sprung into action, a positive blur from chair to kitchen. Unfortunately she would waddle off huffing and puffing. Now according to trite national stereotypes the British are supposedly renowned complainers, unhindered by shame or justice. I’ve always thought the opposite, we seem to apologise even when other people are in the wrong, “I’m terribly sorry you appear to have just spilt hot soup all over my hair and its now dribbling down my face, burning and scalding as it goes. Could i possibly have another dish. Thankyou….Sorry!” I am unfortunately one of Britain’s worst culprits of such behaviour, however this woman was wedged so far up my large nostrils that one day after she emitted one huff too many i started to wag my finger at her, “Your attitude” i raged, “is atrocious!”…of course she could only understand the most basic of english and thus probaly thought i was saying “pull my finger”.

That would certainly explain why she later held her nose whenever i was around. Alas.
That was the only thing wrong with the place. Other than that it was as perfect as you can get for two pounds a night. But enough of banal anecdotes interesting only to those who have met the woman, and even then perhaps not so much.

Pha-ngan lived up to its reputation as an island to party. Our first taster was the Half Moon Party (always reminds me of those jaffa cake adverts…total eclipse!). Whilst the Full Moon Party is the original and most popular there are now parties for every stage of the moons monthly wax and wane as local entrepeneurs have jumped on the proverbial wagon. (Think of the Full Moon Party as the Trinity College Ball of the island. The Half moon would probably be equivalent to Corpus Christi College or Jesus College).The party was held in the middle of the island in the countryside. The event was basically a big rave in the middle of a forest, though they had built a bar and DJ booth which were overlooked the main dance floor. Dancing and drinking were the obvious highlights of the night and need no more describing than that.

Other than that the first few days on the island were spent zipping around on mopeds. Originally we had planned to hire a longboat to Nam Tok Than Sadet (the main waterfall) which have captivated three Thai kings and hordes of tourists. Instead we hired mopeds. Half the price and double the fun. None of us had ever ridden such a contraption. Mark initially set off in the wrong direction. And on the wrong side of the road. Jon had a minor crash into him. I forgot how to brake. Such teething problems were soon ironed out however and we experienced no other problems, mainly because Jon aka Driving Miss Daisy never approached 20 miles an hour for the next two days.

Pha-Ngan is unfortunately relatively undeveloped outside the main residential areas and the roads are unruly. We ignored the (firm) advice of the locals to stick to the paved roads due to recent torrential rain and the fact we were driving mopeds and not dirt bikes and ploughed on to the nearest waterfall, down gravelly steep hills, up slippery and rock strewn mudways, and over deep gulleys etched into the ‘road’ by the recent monsoons. We soon learnt mopeds are not quad bikes and after 2km, which took us a good hour and a half we turned back. We proceeed to another waterfall nearby but it had dried up. The mission was thus not successful but we still we had a great time speeding through the terrain, though not such a good time when we returned the bikes complete with scratches.

Mark and Jon had to leave soon after the Half Moon shenannigans. They were travelling buddies since Taman Negara in Malaysia and I was sad to see them go. Finding backpackers you get on with is so rewarding. Friendships develop quickly due to the 24/7 nature of travelling and a month can seem like an eternity (i have no doubt Jon is frantically nodding his head right now - i can’t help it if my jokes become repetitive!), then just as suddenly as you met, you split. But that is the way of the traveller. Companions, (as well as places to call home and lay your head, daily rituals, and favourite bars/restaurants) are always transient. But so are periods of solitude. The cycle moves on.

…and then the next day Hannah arrived. Sweaty and bedraggled, but in one piece. The cycle had moved round alot quicker this time, for better or worse (just kidding Hannah - better!).
Me and Hannah (Hannah and myself?!) get on famously. So famously we are in Heat magazine. I swear…there is a double page spread of us drinking a can of coke. It’s edge of the seat, pant-wetting stuff. Truly gripping). We share the same sense of repetitive humour which for a whole two weeks revolved around Dumb and Dumber quotes. Poor Zoe nearly went insane.
The three of us spent our days on Sunrise Beach, sunbathing or in the sea during the daytime and at night perusing the bars which lay out mats, low tables and firelights on the sand and tempt your custom with amazing examples of fire twirling. I have never seen anything like it. (Why is fire so fascinating?) Their speed and dexterity was incredible and the demonstrations mesmorising. That is until they throw a lit baton into the air and it nearly hits you in the head. I attract these things, truly i do.

Brechia (from the Perhentian islands) told me that the nights preceeding the full moon were actually better than the main event. I totally agree. Some of my best nights this year were during the run up to the 9th. Again, dancing and drinking played their part and are largely uninteresting to those not there. Notable however was Zoe who attempted fire twirling - not the best idea after a few buckets and no experience. (Don’t tell Zoe but between you and me those singed eyebrows are never going to grow back!) Hannah meanwhile plunged into the sea with all her clothes on and her camera drifted out of her pocket and away into the deep blue. Well done Hannah. As for yours truly, I was, as always, the epitome of good conduct.

Then came the main event. The Full Moon Party. It’s legendary, part of backpacker folklore. A rite of passage for all those travelling the Thai islands. Ko Pha-Ngan is relatively quiet for most of the month but as the moon waxes so do the crowds. An exodus of biblical proportions, from every city, town and village in Thailand makes its way to Hat Rin for one hedonistic rave on the beach under the glare of the full moon.

The party was awesome. The whole beach was packed! Nearly 10,000 people pack the strip, all covered in fluorescent paint, drinking buckets and dancing the night away to the different tunes pumping out from every bar. Partying on a warm night, with the sand under your feet and the full moon reflecting on the sea just metres away is so much better than any club.
Randomly found Lucy and Becky who i last saw in Byron Bay, Australia. Was great to see them again, we had such fun travelling together.

Eventually got home around ten in the morning, minus my t-shirt (no idea where that went), covered in paint and rather sunburnt after a long walk home scaring the locals. Crashed out with Hannah and Zoe on the restaurant terrace for the rest of the day nursing a large hangover listening to music and the crash of the waves.

The beach the next day resembled a rubbish dump. Bottles, paint, straws, flip flops. It was disgusting. Alex Garland’s Daffy and his vilifying rant against cancerous tourism sprang to mind. Culturally insensitive travel, destructive to the local population, their way of life and the environment they inhabit has to be curbed. Yet the party was originally started by Paradise Bungalows a decade ago and the local population undoubtedly profits from the influx of tourists. As do businesses in, for example cities in the fromer Soviet bloc now overrun by drunken and belligerent stag and hen do’s. What then is the answer? A suppression of local tourist entrepeneurism? Or more simply a change in attitude from travellers to other countries and cultures. Perhaps those questions are too big for this humble blog.

However, with this in mind, (and the free t-shirt we received) me, Hannah and Zoe decided to join the beach clean-up brigade. It’s called ‘Party with a Purpose’. We donned our free green t-shirts, picked up our rubbish bags and set off down the beach picking up litter and feeling marginally better about our partying. We kept trying to pick up those weird plastic shoes that come in a host of lurid colours but unfortunately the owners kept thinking we were joking. If they had only let go i would have shown them otherwise.

Our last day on the island was meant to be boring and quiet, but Amy and Anna pulled up in a jeep so we hopped in the open-topped back and set off to explore the island, wind in our hair, sun on our face and some rocking tunes emanating from the front. Headed to the quieter beaches up north and had a very lazy day.

Lastly Hannah, Zoe and myself took a trip to ‘Mushroom Mountain’ in what was an interesting Bridget Jones experience.
I’ll say no more.

And so we left the island and began a mammoth 19 hour journey to Bangkok which began with a overloaded boat (shocking i know), but the sun was out, the sea was blue, and we sat on deck dozing.