Thailand’s extensive geography stretches far from the mountainous North to the tropical coasts of the South – coasts which are dotted with hundreds, if not thousands, of near picture-perfect islands. Islands like Phuket, Koh Samui, and Koh Phi Phi are known the world over for their idyllic scenes of crystal-clear water shadowed by coconut-bearing palms. Koh Phangan, arguably just as beautiful, is known for something else entirely.
Full Moon Parties.
For one reason or another, of all the tiny islands that dot Thailand’s coasts Koh Phangan has evolved into the indisputable party capital of the region. During its peak season, tens of thousands of revelers descend upon the white sand beaches of Haadrin to slather themselves in day-glo paint and swallow their weight in whiskey buckets, says Lonely Planet.
This I had to see.
So even before leaving the US, I fired up Skype and started making calls. The result was the one and only reservation I’d actually made by the time I boarded my flight. Here’s the guidebook’s description of Coral Bungalows, our lodging for the upcoming week:
This party-centric paradise has firmly planted its flag in ‘Backpackerland’. By day, sun worshipers straddle beachside chaises or jet skis. Then, by night, Coral transforms into its alter ego; a pool-party machine fueled by gregarious employees and vodka-Red Bull cocktails.
Sounds like more fun is on the horizon 😀
Because Herb and I had slept nearly the entire bus ride there, the seemingly instant change from the urban jungle of Bangkok to the actual jungle of Chumphon – departure point of the boat to Ko Phangan – was nothing short of shocking. Concrete had melted into water and skyscrapers had given way to small makeshift shacks. Too bad it was so overcast and windy, or I would’ve been in photography heaven.
The combination ticket we’d picked up at Hualomphong station brought us to the coast by bus, then on to the island via high-speed catamaran. It was without question the roughest boatride I’d ever experienced.
Despite being a massive, top-class luxury speedboat, that 200-passenger catamaran stood no chance against the massive ocean waves that tossed it about like a Cessna 152 flying through a tornado. Other than the roar of the engines, the only background noise for the two hours we spent onboard was a near-constant orchestra of heaves and hurls. People were vomiting everywhere, one girl even succumbing to panic – she had to be restrained, kicking and screaming. The poor staff were thrown helplessly about as they rushed down the aisles delivering every puke-bag they could gather.
Even Herb, who’d never before been seasick, soon found himself rushing to the bathroom…and returning with a shirt colored curiously similar to that morning’s Tikka Masala.
Koh Phangan itself reminded me almost immediately of Morro de Sao Paolo, Brazil. This island – or at least coastal the town of Haadrin – clearly exists solely for the sake of tourism.
And not just general tourism, but young, foreign, party-oriented backpacker tourism. The vast majority of the people there were Caucasian Westerners in their 20’s; nobody had regular suitcases, there were no families and no children. Taxis wouldn’t use meters – everything was flat-rate, clearly laid out on pamphlets. All in English, and always punctuated by schedules for the week’s upcoming party or rave.
In fact, throughout most of Haadrin you could scarcely open your eyes without seeing a poster, banner, sign, flyer, or window displaying something about an approaching party or event. There was no question about it: this was not the real Thailand, but it was going to be one hell of a time.
When we arrived at the Coral Bungalows, the trend only seemed to continue. Even before reaching our room we’d been greeted by no less than five groups of backpackers, each offering to meet up for drinks. It was a 180-degree shift in vibe from the awesome – but utterly different – central Sukhumvit of Bangkok. Until today, we’d been partying like long-term expats. Now we were a couple of backpackers.
…Or tomorrow we’d be a couple of backpackers. Tonight we needed to sleep. Even despite all the activity around us, we knocked out the second our heads hit our pillows – and stayed that way for a solid 14 hours.
I guess we needed it.