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Ko Phangan and the Full Moon Party

Once a month during the high tourist season, there is a giant congress of travelers on a small island on the east coast of Thailand called Ko Phagnan. In the summer of 2005, along with my traveling companion Nic, I set my scopes on this congress which is better known as the Full Moon Party. This tale is not only of the full moon night but as well as the amazing island that is kind enough to cater to such a debauchery filled event.

I left Chang Mai with a royal reception from the hostel I was staying at. Their payment for my soccer skills, which had raised their status in the community immensely, was some pastries, some soda, and a Valium pill to prepare me for my 14 hour train ride to Bangkok. Trains in Thailand are the best way to get around and are ludicrously cheap. They have as many as 50 cars and most are setup to be slept in. For next to nothing you can ride these trains with out a bed which is what most of the locals do but for an additional dollar, I might as well get a bed. There are two problems with these trains:

  1. They tend to stop a lot throughout the night and these towns are in the middle of nowhere from what I can tell and the stop length can be as long as 10 minutes. There are many stories running around that at these stops, a hoard of knife wielding children run onto the train and cause havoc and destruction while they sort through your bags and tickle your sleeping feet. This never happened to me.
  2. The beds were about 3 inches too short for me so I never really got comfortable and only with copious amounts of booze could I fall asleep for a long enough period of time to feel rested.

Chang Mai is in the far north of Thailand and the plan was to meet up with Nic in Bangkok before continuing to the far south of Thailand to get to Ko Phagnan. I arrive in town and after some miscomunication and wandering I find Nic in some bar in the most touristy part of town. He looked like he fit right in with his giant backpack. Until this time I was traveling on my own for 3 weeks and it was good to have a companion.

We set off to find travel to the island and eventually we get ourselves on a bus leaving that day. We bought a bottle of whisky and headed off. The whisky was called some sort of dragon whisky and it was really bad, bad enough that we didn’t really drink any. After 8 hours on the bus we get off and are not really sure what to do. There are no signs or people helping us so most of the bus just starts walking and I am pretty sure that everyone was following everyone else. Eventually we found a boat which seemed to be stacking a huge pile of backpacks on it so we all assumed that this was our boat to the island, which it was.

On the boat most people were trying to sleep or recover. There is this sense while you travel that you are perpetually at a loss for sleep or nourishment which is probably true most of the time. The trick is to not let this get to you and just keep at it hard and consistently. A few of us persistent travelers decide to fight the feeling of sleep deprevation and make our way to the roof of the boat. Maybe a group of 8 of us circle up and become friends and talk and reminesce and spliff and philosophize and finish the really bad whisky. Although I am 100% english, my skin is rather dark and I can handle most sunny situations without regard for being burnt by the sun. However, 4 hours on the roof of a boat moving terribly slow through some scenic water scapes while drinking was not a good idea. Afterwards I was burnt but it was negligable. Nic however was massacred by the sun with his fresh and pasty American skin.

We arrive on the island and decide to take a tip on a hostel which is the complete other direction from where everyone else is going. We arrive and find the place that I am looking for whenever I travel. A beachside community of huts with hammocks out front and only white sand in between you and crystal blue water. We make ourselves comfortable, introduce ourselves to the very friendly Dutch girls next door, one of which had maybe the worst sun burn I had ever seen and I wasn’t sure I should point or just suppress my laughter when I was introduced. This hostel had all the amenities and we stayed for almost a week. You could goto the restaurant, lay down on some large couch, get what ever you wanted, charge it to your room, and do this for 5 days and we only spent a little more than $100.

Likely the next best thing to the actual Full Moon party were the motorcycles. For $3 a day you could rent yourself a little motorcycle that could reach speeds up to 40 mph. The trick was that if you broke anything on this bike, you were going to be charged thousands of baht and you would have no idea what for so the insurance was to not do anything dangerous. We gather up a gang of riders, drink some beers, and start zooming around this island. The roads were good for the most part towards the main city but that is not where we went. We take some dirt road and head inland trying to make our way to the other side of the island. The trail is tough and arduous and the guy who had sunburnt girl on the back could not handle her and fell over several times. She opted to ride on my bike afterwards, good call. We make it to the other side of the island to what appeared to be another beachside hostel resort. However we get there and walk around and there was no one there. The place appeared to have had people there not too long ago but then walking into some of the rooms, there were spider webs and what have you. Very eerie indeed. One of the bikes was running out of gas and to add to the mystery of this place we found a barrel of gas. However we couldn’t figure out if it was diesel or not. We convinced ourselves it wasn’t and headed off. About a mile into the jungle the bike dies and we all immediately realize that we had put diesel in it. Out of no where comes two jungle men with a tool box. We try to communicate with them but they dont seem to care. They inspect the bike, put gas on his hand, taste it, and he knows immediately. They spend some 30 minutes or so draining the gas, giving us more gas, sharing our spliff with the dirtiest hands I had ever seen, and then I paid them the equivalent of $5 and we were back in action. Fortunately nothin really bad happened to us in our biking adventures. However there were several people you would run into on the roads that were just covered in road rash and you would ask them what happened and they would recollect some story of them being too drunk and hitting the high side of a curb and never making it back.

At our hostel there was some audacious dutch guy who had a gnack for always showing up while we were smoking a spliff. We called him Snoop because there was a popular movie out at the time where Snoop dogg is basically this type of person. Karma got this guy bad though… he bragged about buying some 12 E pills for the Full Moon party and was trying to sell them to everybody. That is not my cup of tea and I refused and I think everyone else did too out of sheer fact that this dude was slightly off. Two days after the party he shows up to tell us that they were really some intense tranquilizers and he took too many and passed out on the beach and was robbed and he also spent hundreds of dollars on the pills themselves. Classic story of what not to do while traveling in this sort of place.

The night of the party arrives and we make our way into town on the bikes and plan to get them the next day since we anticipated the festivities lasting all night and morning. We arrive and start walking the beach and it was already filled with excitement. The beach was long, maybe half a mile, filled with bars facing the water. Each bar took over it’s part of the beach and played it’s own type of music. So as you walked down the beach you would be going in and out of reggae, to rap, to techno, to trance, to oldies, and much more. At one end of the beach, up on the rocks rather precariously is the mushroom bar. You can go here to inbibe the local vegetation for $12 which I think everyone was suppose to do here. We go and have our share which didn’t seem like much at all and then walk back into town. The party is raging even more and the people are getting out of control as each minute passes. We walk down a street to find a hookah bar to wait for things to kick in. We settle down and meet these guys who are probably doing the same thing. I ask them to paint a huge neon ying-yang on my back and they oblige while letting me try their hookah which was definately mixed with something. Nic got himself a killer dragon on his back. Just as I thought things were starting to be activated, I had an undeniable urge to take a shit. An urge that could not be ignored regardless of what country you are in.

Tangential note here: The shitters in Thailand are of the squatting variety. Two footholds on either side and have at it. To flush you would scoop water out of a bucket next to it and then just dump it down the hole you just shat in and this was sufficient, maybe with two or three scoops. These buckets of flushing water were always filled with some interesting science contraption which would gather water from the ceiling, funnel it down a spiral bamboo shoot, then fill up a beaker until boiling which would pop a balloon, allowing the water to fall in the bucket. There was rarely toilet paper and may times you just had a water hose you could squirt up your ass sort of like a manual badeh.

I find a shitter, likely the only one with toilet paper miraculously. I spend a good 15 minutes exerting a lot of force and evergy and put it up there with one of the most difficult ones I have ever had. Afterwards however, I was a new man and ready to rock!

After some walking I end up losing Nic and we go our seperate ways to enjoy our own adventure for the night. I find a guy we met on the boat roof who is with two lovely dutch girls. We take a seat on the porch of some house claiming it was ours and have a drink or two. Without any words being spoken, we split into two groups and me and my new companion wander onto the beach. The next few hours were filled with sweaty beach dancing, fire rope jumping, water splashing, rock climbing, sand rolling, and who knows what else. But it was amazing. I truely love dancing when you can just let everything go and do whatever your body feels like doing regardless of music or social stigma and this beach was filled with people thinking they were the inventors of many sorts of new dances. Come morning we took the bike back to the hostel at breakneck speed despite the shrieks I was hearing behind me and went for a morning sobering swim which was mainly memorable in that we were some kilometer off the shore but still only to our waist in water.

This night stands out in my head as one of the best nights I have ever had and I am sure this entry does not give it justice. The entry in my actual travel journal is similar. Nic has the pictures and hopefully he will get me these at some point and I will update this entry to maybe justify some of this rediculousness.

One more note from this island… Nic at some point befriends a local island girl. Maybe they had something in the drunken hours of the night but she came back to the hut we were staying at. And then the next day she never left. She couldn’t speak English and I think she was just waiting for Nic to put a ring on her finger and be her sugar daddy for life. I think he did buy her some food at some point.

Published inLukeTraveling