Koh Phanang: Poorly organized notes from a token tourist destination

Koh Phanang: Poorly organized notes from a token tourist destination

Haad Rin Beach

Going to Full Moon Party? If you’re under 30, that’ll likely be the first query sent your way if you’ve just declared you’ll be taking a trip to Thailand. In a way it’s rather sad that the face value of a countries cultural worth can be reduced to one beach piss-up on a tiny island. But it really is that famous. Or infamous – depending on your leaning. Of course Thailand does have an eternity of cultural riches, history and sights to explore, and much of it is very well known.

I’d made my mind up from the start that I wasn’t going to try and do much this holiday. 8 full days is bugger all time to see an entire country, so rather than rush through SE Asia and zealously attempt to stuff as many locations into that frame as possible, I thought I’d take it easy and be a complete and utter tourist, spending 6 of those days on the island of Koh Phanang – home of the Full Moon Party, then just spend the last 2 chilling out I Bangkok.

By my standards, there was nothing aspirational about this holiday. I love going to places where it’s truly just you and the REAL unknown – the possibilities for unique adventure, experiences and stories are practically limitless. Where-as browse through 2 or 3 non-friends ‘Thailand trip’ or ‘SE Asia’ albums on Facebook and what you’ll see are exactly the same pictures, very likely in exactly the same order. Frankly, this bores and upsets me.

And thus you see my internal conflict on going to Koh Phanang. So what swayed me? Well, like everybody I’d simply heard so much about the place. Almost everyone I know has been there and absolutely raved about it. I guess I just had to see it for myself and figure out what all the fuss was about. Even if it was against my nature. Plus I needed a vacation from work that wasn’t too far from Sydney.

Writing about my experiences in Koh Phanang linearly would ultimately be a dull, unoriginal and repetitive undertaking. It essentially consisted of a daily looping recurrence of the following (Including the Full Moon Party):

  1. Lying around a pool
  2. Meeting random backpackers
  3. Getting Drunk
  4. Hooking up with random girls

Well whoop-dee-fucking-doo.  I could do this shit any day in Sydney – or just about anywhere in the world for that matter. Now that isn’t too say I didn’t have fun – I did – but as a travel writing enthusiast I find myself slightly miffed as to what to say beyond this. It really was that freaking mindless – hence my initial reluctance to come somewhere like this in the first place. Honestly fuck this shit. I’ve been playing around with drafts about how to talk about Koh Phanang for ages but keep going back to drawing board. I will say that it’s unlikely that I’ll come to SE Asia agin. There were just too many vanilla experiences/dropkicks tourists/quietly jaded locals for my oddly maverick temperament.  So I’m just going to do something totally different and cast-offishly present some of my….

Poorly organized notes from Koh Phanang:

∞ Hazards VS A Rigged Health System VS ∞ Idiots:

The number of injuries I saw over here was absolutely absurd. While waiting at the Docks for the return ferry to Koh Samui, the number of people sporting hefty foot bandages made me ponder if I was missing out on some new fad. As I’ve already boorishly stated, Koh Phanang doesn’t exclusively attract the most eloquent, worldly or intelligent of travelers. In fact many are total cretins. Just load these people up on 30 baht beers ($1AUS) and 150 baht spirit buckets, introduce barely operable motorized transport, broken glass and a large volume of fire – and let the chips fall where they may.

First up, let’s talk about rental scooters which can be rented for a paltry 150 baht per day. The brakes are often faulty, the engines – pitifully weak, and the suspension – extremely dodgy. But their cheap, cheap asking price means every beggar and his dog gets one. Even I made the dubious decision to hitch a 20 minute ride on the back on one of these things with a Dutch girl behind the wheel. At least she was sober. Plenty of people simply drive around drunk. I met one fellow kiwi who’d ended up mummified in bandages and iodine after flaying half the skin off his body, having made the majestically foolish decision to saddle up following 5 buckets of Vodka. But on a more frequent note, broken, slashed and twisted ankles were all unspectacularly common.

For Haad Rin beach, the value of footwear cannot be undermined. Broken glass is everywhere in both the sand and water, with periodic fragments of jagged coral making an appearance in the water as well. I opted for reef walkers myself, but many people opt for nothing, and later regret it. Spare a thought for one girl at my accommodation who nearly severed her foot off on a large shard of coral in the water. The recounting tale of her trip to the local piece-of-shit med center made me squirm. The other big thing to watch for on the beach are the fire jump-ropes. Basically, these are enormous kerosene doused ropes, swung wildly by locals – who gleefully encourage foreign drunks to jump in and keep try to keep time. The results are often predictable, though only slightly well known is the fact that the locals intentionally burn many people who take part – so that they receive kickbacks from the local medical centers. But there are no shortage of people partaking, and I saw at least 20 people – stupendously drunk – flopping over with a fiery rope having snared their legs.

Which brings me to the med centres themselves. If you’ve ended up here you’re already screwed and are about to get screwed even further. Before they’ll even see you there’s a 3000 baht admittance fee. From that point onwards you can enjoy the best of 3rd world medical care at first world prices to ail whatever has brought you there. Do yourself a favour – don’t drive drunk – or drive at all, wear footwear on the beach, and try not to be too bigger idiot.

On the other hand one can see how situations like this engineer themselves. The fact is, Thailand is a poor country and Koh Phanang is overrun by what are often the worst kind of tourist. It must be hard not to feel resentment towards a bunch of drunken yobs with bank accounts 1000x larger than your own. So why not take ‘em down a peg or two while adding a few bucks to your own pocket. You know you would…

The pool at Coral Bungalows:

Pool Party

One of the most famous lead up events to the Full Moon Party are the Pool Parties at the backpacker resort of Coral Bungalows, which was the place I happened to be staying at. These things get pretty wild and the name pretty much says it all: A big bunch of mostly kids hanging around and in the pool – drinking and hooking up. The pool isn’t that big or special. They’ve simply made a thing out of it which has wildly caught on.  In the day time you can actually see what’s in the pool and it aint pretty. While the water seems clear, closer inspection during the day reveals that it is oozing with translucent gunk – most probably a result of the heavy laden cocktail of booze, bodily fluids and the junk which it’s exposed to every night. That and the fact that it seems to be powered by a filter barely stronger than the kind used in a children’s aquarium. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this but I wasn’t above

Full Moon Party:

Here’s the setup. Haad Rin beach is slightly over a kilometere long and at its greatest width barely 50 metres. It’s not a lot of space too fit a fuckton of people though it does add to the vibe. And while much may be made of the effect of the ‘Full Moon’ – it still looks like any old Full Moon as seen from anywhere else on earth. The beach itself is lined with about a dozen outdoor clubs playing different music styles and in between are a 1,000 mini stands selling alcohol buckets. Now add 8 to 30,000 people, get them loaded up on fluerescent body paint, alchohol and drugs from 9pm to 11am – and voila: Full Moon Party. Lead up nights, Blackmoon party and Half-moon party are simply minor permutations of the above. It’s a fun party by the way.

Watermelon shakes:

Fucking everywhere. Fucking awesome. I always felt like having one more.

Scandinavian girls:

Fucking everywhere. Fucking awesome. I always felt like having one more.

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