From Koh Samui, the boat plodded to the north in the evening, leaving the lights of the larger island behind while heading to the infamous island of hedonism, Koh Phangan. Chatting to some Canadian girls on the ferry, I began to worry about my own choice of accommodation on the island. While they sensibly plumped for a place on a quiet beach, I was in the lion’s den as I thought it would be easier to get to (and more importantly, from) the largest party in the region. The Full Moon Party.
My fears were confirmed when I signed in to my hostel, and upon looking at the ledger I was the eldest by four years minimum. The numbers of DOBs that end in the 1990s was disturbing. Moreover, I was there the night before the party itself and most people there had long since bonded and formed their own cliques. Noisy, rude Brits, drunken Aussies, obnoxious Canadians. All were present and correct and many of them had travelled from distant places specifically to party beneath the full moon. Fortunately for me I already had friends on the island, so I immediately sought them out. Just as quickly, I shook hands with two people I’d never met before, swigged a Red Bull and we were off to the Jungle Party.
Fire dancing, a Chinese Dragon, neon body paint and a live set of international DJs did their thing until the wee hours of the morning, but sadly I wasn’t able to keep up, so had to bail at around 3am. Could have been worse, but I had the big part the night after to think of. Walking around the next day, many people had decided to kick it all off as soon as possible – a terrible idea by the way – and Beer Changs were being downed before midday. Many of these would find themselves sitting on the beach later, head in hand, not quite able to formulate a thought or a sentence at 7pm.
First of all, appropriate gear had to be found. Neon at all times. I opted for a head band of neon flowers, neon arm bands and a brace of neon bracelets. Others decided on neon face and body paint, and many people were sporting the traditional neon vests and shorts. I just decided to go shirtless, and make silent apology for those poor souls who had to suffer my torso.
Then beer. Lots of beer, and a wander along the beach, seething with swaying humanity. Our first stop was to one of the bars that overlooks the beach. From here you can get a great view of the party and begin to appreciate the sheer numbers of people here. 30,000 people attended the first party of the year which is generally the second busiest. Some people reported 50,000 at the New Year’s party. There’s a lot of alcohol and a lot of drugs to be had if you want it, but be wary if you want to dabble – some dealers will either go to the cops to get a reward for grassing you up and others still will just be undercover cops themselves. If you ask around about a bar/beach called “Eden”, you may get what you seek… although I never made it there. No worries.
The majority of the music of the party is awful. There are several sound systems lined up along the beach, with most of them playing the same tripe on repeat that you’ve heard a hundred times before at every bar you’ve been to before this in Thailand. There was one place that had some good tunes playing, so we stayed there for a long time dancing merrily on the stage, avoiding the widening holes caused by the stage panelling falling apart.
At around 1:30 am, I decided to have a bucket. This proved to be a bad idea. I have since learned that any number of buckets is a bad idea, but it’s sometimes said that many are spiked. Whatever the case, I have no memory of the rest of that night which is a great shame since I know I could have carried on for hours after that. Fortunately I was with some amazing people who took care of me. Apparently I was entertaining so that tempers the guilt a little, and I got home (well, their hostel actually – I couldn’t find mine) with all my belongings still with me. Result!
The full moon party is a massive money maker for the island, and particularly Haad Rin, the beach on which it takes place. To that end most hostels require a minimum stay over the full moon period so I was locked in for another three nights after the big party. Others at the hostel had arrived a few days before the party and so checked out quickly. This meant I had a massive dorm to myself, but no one to socialise with. Poor me! I did one thing that took my breath away – a SCUBA dive with Whale Sharks. Holy wow.
It’s remarkable how the town totally changes when the party ends. The streets stay empty, and so I was more than happy to head up to Koh Tao when I did.
Koh Tao is a tiny island compared to its larger siblings to the south, but similarly less developed. The main beach on the west is the only major settlement, and has most of the hostels. Not three minutes off the boat I bumped in to a girl I’d met on Samui so it was a great start. We arranged to meet later and I checked in to my London Underground themed hostel, met my bunk mates and arranged a quiet evening out. Koh Tao has a number of bars further up the beach, but its only the one that most people visit that stands out: Fishbowl. It’s a pretty wild place that never fails to have fire shows, loud music, big crowds and a pretty wild time. Everything is on the beach and compared to Samui, it’s a great balance between crowds and a laid back atmosphere. Recommended.
The main reason that most people visit Tao is not just because of its location and beaches but the cheapest SCUBA diving in the region. You can gain a full PADI open water qualification for $240, which is about as cheap as you can get. I already have my OWA, so decided to do something a bit different. Free Diving is offered by two places so I signed up for one three day course for the next day.
Sara and I hired scooters the next day and set off for a brief tour of the island. Brief by necessity as the island is so small, but also because many of the roads to the north and east beaches are perilous at best. We visited beautiful beaches and had lunch at the top of a lookout point restaurant with views across half the island. Stunning. Then I remembered it was her birthday. Shit. Too little, too late, I bought half her drinks in the evening and we went out dancing etc until the wee hours of the morning. I had to call it a night at 3am since my Free Diving course started at 7:30am the next day. Not ideal, but no regrets!
Bleary eyed, I managed to arrive on time and got the course under way. My instructor was a criminally beautiful Canadian girl so my hungover was tempered a little. Over the next three days I learned a whole lot about the physiology of breathing etc, swimming techniques and other things besides. For the experience, I feel it was somewhat over priced but still worth a look. At the end I managed to dive to 20 metres with a single breath, and could have managed more but insurance says no until you are further qualified. Shame.
Koh Tao is a very easy place to spend a long time, but after a week or so I had to call it quits. Saying good bye to the warm sands and gentle breezes was a difficult time but I had to do it eventually and head north to the capital, Bangkok.