It was time to head south to the islands – and we had timed it all down to a tee to make sure we got to Koh Phangan for the famous backpacker staple known as the Full Moon Party. I was especially excited because some of our friends from Elephant Nature Park were going to be there – and a party is always better with friends!
But first, we had to get out of Bangkok safely, and we’d only been able to book our bus south with a company rampant with reviews warning of scams and theft. We were absolutely dreading it.
After all our concerns with taking Songserm to the islands, we were left waiting outside the train station in Bangkok for hours – but as it turned out, that was the only bad part of our journey with them.
I was as uncultural as possible by getting KFC as my final meal in Bangkok (in fairness, how can you beat Cabbages & Condoms?), and my dessert was from Dunkin’ Donuts. I feel disgusting just thinking about it. As a reward, I missed the very cultural 6pm singing of the national anthem as everyone in the train station stopped and stood up to join in. (Ash says it was extremely surreal! I am genuinely gutted that I missed it.)
Cut to an hour later and our bus was due – and within minutes, one had pulled up for Koh Tao. The one for Koh Phangan would be here shortly, they said.
Another two hours later, our bus still wasn’t here and people were getting restless. Someone got out a neon flashing diablo, probably thinking it would be the only one at the Full Moon Party. Like moths to a flame, people crowded around him anyway.
We got chatting to a Canadian couple, they went to 7-Eleven and picked us up some snacks; the bus still wasn’t turning up.
Finally, at around 11pm, our bus arrived. Our experience was off to a good start four hours late. Everyone surged forward and somehow despite us being close to the bus, our bags ended up being put in last, which was worrying considering the stories we’d heard about things being stolen and bags being rummaged through – ours were the easiest to access.
It also meant that by the time we finally got on the bus, all the seats were taken apart from the ones at the back which didn’t recline – while the ones in front reclined OVER our seats so we had no space.
As it turns out, we had the back row to ourselves so we could lay down fully with our valuables well covered by the seats in front. Take that, seat recliners! You all thought you were so clever! And amazingly, I slept for most of the journey, which is more than most people on the bus could say.
We arrived in Chumpon around 5am for the first boat – a surprise in itself, because I mistakenly thought we were going to Surat Thani – with all our belongings present and intact. We waited through the beautiful sunrise and were ushered onto the boat, where we got our first glimpse of Koh Tao and watched Now You See Me on the TV screen, which I really enjoyed.
And then watched it again on a loop, because it was a bloody long journey to Koh Phangan.
And then we finally arrived on Koh Phangan and it was time to negotiate the streams of songthaews. We were quoted 200 baht EACH to our bungalow and we haggled her down to 100 – but when we got on and paid, she demanded the extra 200. I got angry, she got angry, I got off, Ash got embarrassed – but I wasn’t having it.
Unfortunately, we ended up on another songthaew which also charged 200 each. I knew the islands would be expensive, but I was not expecting them to charge 12 people £4 each for a 15 minute journey!! Almost £50 for 15 minutes?? That would be outrageous in the UK, let alone Thailand.
Begrudgingly, we set off in the opposite direction to where I thought our bungalow was, and I’m still not quite sure how we’d messed up so badly. We ended up near Haad Yao, on the opposite side of the island to the Full Moon beach at Haad Rin, and I thought I’d booked somewhere along the south coast.
When we arrived, the owner told us their bungalows don’t have hot water at the moment and so asked if we’d like to stay at the resort next door for a little extra, where the bungalows are bigger too. After a quick glance at the pokey little beach and wondering if we’d made a huge mistake, we agreed.
A bumpy bike ride with her husband, our luggage precariously balanced behind us, took us to a beautiful beach lined with bungalows and little apartments, and immediately all my regrets dissipated.
THIS was our paradise, and we could have stayed here for at least a week.
We had a 7 Eleven and several restaurants just around the corner, and the Wipe Out course (which I’m sorry to say we didn’t do!!) was up the road. We spent three glorious days in the sea with fish swimming between our feet, and when we were out of the sea we were lounging on the beach and laying in our hammock.
But we were here for one reason; the same reason as most of this island’s tourists visit. Tomorrow was the Full Moon Party!
If you haven’t heard of the Full Moon Party, it’s an absolute staple in the backpacker world. A monthly beach party on a paradise island? Sign me up! Of course, with such a gathering of carefree youngsters, there are many, many downsides. Put it this way – drunkenly throwing yourself over burning skipping ropes is a terrible idea, swimming in the sea there potentially an even worse idea (even if you’re not drunk, you don’t know what you’ll find err, floating), and you definitely don’t want to see the beach the following morning.
Thankfully we were slightly too old and sensible for those sorts of obnoxious shenanigans, but mistakes were most definitely made.
On our first evening, we were picked up by Megan and Ellie, two of our friends from ENP, and they took us to a pub Megan had found owned by someone from Southampton, her home city. It felt completely British, we had roast dinners, Ash had an actual PINT of beer, and to be honest, it was wonderful. Not cheap by Thai standards at all, but worth it!
The following afternoon, we headed down to the main town of Thongsala to explore the walking market before the shenanigans began. People get marketed out – but we never did, and although this one was a little more expensive than most we had been to, the street food was fantastic, the jewellery beautiful and the atmosphere brilliant. We didn’t see many party revellers at all; just people from all walks of life – but I’d be interested to see what it’s like when it’s not full moon.
6pm was when I made my first mistake. Ash and I for some reason only shared a small meal, and I washed it down with a strong rum and coke. The first of my five pre-drinks.
My second mistake was only eating that small meal.
So when we finally left Megan and Ellie’s hostel for Haad Rin beach at 11pm (a bit later than I wanted to!), all neon-ed up and raring to go, I was probably already ill-prepared for an all-nighter of alcohol.
And I was so concerned for the others and made sure they got water (especially when one of our friends seemed pretty out of it shortly after we got there!!), while forgetting to drink any myself. Which is probably why, at 3am, I was passed out on the floor. The first time I’ve EVER passed out drunk. Still, no better place to do that than at the Full Moon Party, right?
BUCKETS ARE DEADLY, PEOPLE. Ash somehow got me back to our bungalow without letting me fall off our songthaew, AND he managed to get me onto the thing in the first place which, from the stories, sounds like it was a feat in itself. How embarrassing.
I also had the fortunate foresight to leave Ash in charge of my phone, which meant it didn’t get stolen, but also meant that barely any photos were taken. By which I mean none except a slightly out of focus one of me looking like a derp as I drink from my bucket.
One of our friends got this slightly nicer one of us earlier on in the evening!
The good thing is, I do actually remember a lot of the night. We danced on podiums, sang our hearts out to Queen and Bon Jovi, and actually genuinely had a LOT of fun. We saw most of the goings on as we walked along the beach from bar to bar, and we didn’t go in the sea! We saw the notorious fire skipping ropes (no thanks – no amount of drink could convince me to be THAT stupid). And I’m sure if I’d eaten properly, not had 5 rum/vodka drinks beforehand, and drunk water half way through my bucket, I would have been fine.
So there’s my advice to you: DON’T do what I did.
Am I annoyed we didn’t make it to sunrise? I surprised myself by realising that, to be perfectly honest, not really. Discovering what a shitstorm the party revellers had left behind on the beach is probably one of my biggest nightmares, actually.
And at least I got to nurse my hangover in a hammock.
And when the time came to leave Koh Phangan with 20,000 other people, I looked back at the huge queue to get on the boat with a pang of sadness.
The one reason anyone comes here, and most of them miss out on what the island REALLY offers: stunning mountain roads, coral reefs virtually on the shore – and, if you look in the right places, a complete sense of paradise.
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