Koh Phangan. An island off the Gulf of Thailand best known for the Full Moon Party, an event that, fittingly, happens once a month on the night of the full moon. Travellers from all over the world gather on Sunset Beach in Haad Rin to participate in the festivities by devouring buckets (more about this later), dancing and engaging in what one may call hedonistic activities until the early morning light shines.
It just so happened our travels linked up with one of these infamous parties. Even though we thought perhaps we may be a bit out of our element (or too old?) given the fact that we had been avoiding the party scene for most of our trip, we thought we might as well join the crowd even if we wanted just to spectate. We went ahead and booked our accommodations in Haad Rin (a week ahead of time, things book up pretty quickly in town during the surrounding dates), and took the one hour ferry ride over to Koh Phangan from Koh Tao three days before the full moon.
We arrived at the Thong Sala pier mid morning and hailed two motorbike taxies to take us to Haad Rin. Keep in mind we both had our big backpacks, plus each had a smaller backpack. The guys driving the motorbikes were obviously seasoned riders, and somehow were able to manuever us and our luggage getting us there (relatively) safely for 200 baht ($8.00 CAD).
Driving the roads from Thong Sala to Haad Rin felt instantly different from Koh Tao. It is a much larger island with a totally different vibe. More people, less resort style hotels. A ton of hostels. We found that a lot of the businesses cater to the full moon goers, and you see signs advertising pre-parties and post-parties leading up to and following the main event. Unfortunately, a lot of travellers will only travel to Koh Phangan to experience the Full Moon Party, coming into town one day before or sometimes on the day of and leaving the day after. During our time on Koh Phangan we discovered that it has so much more to offer then what it is solely known for. We were only booked to stay for five days and then were planning to head to Koh Samui, but we scratched that plan and stayed on Koh Phangan for almost two weeks.
We checked into our hostel, and upon first glance were quite pleased with our room. It was a standard fan room with a double bed, a little balcony, and a cool spiral staircase that lead from our entrance up to where our bed was. There was only one dead cockroach in the bathroom, so that was good. It even had a spot to park our hogs (Britt refuses to call it a scooter) outside. All of this for $20 bucks a night, a 5 minute walk to Sunset Beach. Not bad!
We hit the beach for a swim, hit a pub for some beers, and hit the sack early as we were tired from the travel, heat and sun.
The next morning we woke up eager to explore the island, so we went to the reception and rented a hog for our travels. They only had one left so unfortunately we had to double up (not near as badass as we wanted to appear). After a couple of toasties (more about these little pieces of heaven later) we set off to find what Koh Phangan had to offer.
Haad Rin is on the southern tip of the island, and to get to or from you must ascend and descend a variety of hills which feel like mountains when you are riding a scooter (hog). These hills make for some of the best views of the ocean we’ve ever seen. Crystal clear turquoise water with islands in the distance.
We had researched what there was to do on Koh Phangan and being the semi-adrenaline junkies we are we decided to find either the Wipe Out obstacle course (if you’ve ever seen the show you know what we’re talking about), or the Slip-N-Fly. We found the Wipe Out course first, but unfortunately they were shut down for a few weeks. Finally we found the Slip-N-Fly, a little amusement park that features 3 different slides, volleyball, mudpit jousting and other activities. One of the slides you ride down on a body board (like a lazy river but on a downhill slope where rocks break your tailbone every inch of the way), and two huge water slides. One of the slides flings you farther, while the other one flings you higher. It was 600 baht to get in, which is pretty expensive for cheap backpackers like ourselves, but that allowed you to enter every day of the “Slip-N-Fly” party (they are only open for three days before the Full Moon and three days after). It was late afternoon by this time so we decided to make a day of it the following day instead.
That night we felt like experiencing the buckets that everyone always raves about. Buckets are exactly that, sand pails that are filled with a mickey of the booze of your choice, a can of the mix of your choice, and a bottle of Red Bull. Sounds dangerous, yes? There are stands set up all along Sunset Beach with local people trying to sell you their buckets. The buckets range from 150 baht-300 baht (6-12 bucks, the Thai alcohol ones are cheaper). We were drawn to a woman named Pa who was workin’ it harder than anyone on the beach. If you ever go to Koh Phangan, buy your bucket from her and tell her that her Canadian friends Jeff and Brittany say hi. Somehow, the entire time we were in Haad Rin she was able to remember our names (tricks of the trade, I guess), and after we bought our first bucket she told us that she’d keep giving us deals if we returned and branded us (wrote Pa loves you) on our hands, and when we woke up in the morning we had Pa loves you all over the pillow cases in our room. Classy.
Also that night we met a pair of lovely British lads from London that we ended up hanging out with a few times. Their names are Dan and Greg, and we decided that if they lived back home they would definitely be part of our squad.
The next day we set back out to hit the Slip-N-Fly. It was Buddha day in Thailand, and businesses are not allowed to sell alcohol out of respect. This was just fine with us, and we had an awesome day hitting the slide and watching other people backflip and bellyflop.
February 23rd, 2016. Full Moon Party. We had heard about it and read about it for what felt like ever. That day we took the hogs out and hit some other beaches on the island (now we each had our own hog), and relaxed and prepared ourselves for the festivities that were about to take place.
Every month, on the eve of the full moon 40,000 invade the rather peaceful island (normally with a population of 13,000 people). Sunset Beach is flooded with partygoers. Stands are set up to dance on, vendors looking to paint your body for a fee, a jump-rope lit on fire for anyone brave enough to try, DJ’s set up in bars all along the beach pumping our rave and trance music, a bar advertising balloons of laughing gas and Mushroom Mountain are among some of the events that take place at Full Moon. We met up with our English friends, as well as an American named Sage, and joined the fellow dancers on the beach until the early morning.
This event is not to be taken lightly. As much fun as it is, like anything there is a certain degree of caution that needs to be taken. Luckily it being the two of us we are able to look out for each other, but the potential dangers of this event would be greatly increased if one were solo. Things like not taking a drink from a stranger, not buying drugs from a random who offers (we had heard that this happens a lot and some of the times the person who sold you the drugs is a cop or will rat you out to the cops, and Thailand has very strict drug laws), and also being mindful of potential dehydration from being in extreme heat are all dangers. Thankfully none of the above happened to us and we had a great time.
The next morning we got up bright and early to access the damage and go for a swim. Quite a few people still up and partying, some passed out on the beach, and a ton of garbage littered the street, beach, and ocean. As fun and interesting as this party is, it definitely ain’t helping our environment any.
We decided to hop on the hogs and hit another beach on the island. We landed in Haad Yao, a quieter, semi-upscale part of Koh Phangan where we spent the day relaxing, swimming, and getting beachside massages.
We had planned to leave Koh Phangan on our fifth day there, but because we loved it so much, we decided to stay. After the full moon there is a mass exodus from the island and it became very quiet and peaceful. We wanted to get to know another part of it, so we loaded up the hogs with all of our bags and set off, homeless, in the pouring rain.
Ending up back in Haad Yao, we booked into JB Bungalows, which was about a 10 minute walk from the beach, and was more backpacker friendly than some of the swanky hotels that were located directly on the beach. For 500 baht a night, we got our very own bungalow with a wicked view of the ocean, a fan, our own bathroom and a porch with a hammock. It was beautiful and clean, and the owners treat you like family. We would highly recommend this place if you are ever on Koh Phangan!
Our last few days on the island were spent relaxing and exploring. We found the local night market, in Thong Sala. Every night vendors set up their stands offering Thai and International type food like skewered meats, sushi, fresh fruit and veggie smoothies, and so much more. It is delicious and cheap.
We also met a wonderful couple who were fellow Canucks that had done plenty of Thailand travel. On our last day in Koh Phangan we all hopped on our hogs and they took us to a beautiful beach that we had never seen and to the fishing village, where we dined on some of the best, freshest seafood we’ve ever had. Shoutout to Graham and Jessica, can’t wait to meet up with ya’s again, somewhere in the world!
Early the next morning, Mr. JB gave us a ride to the pier. We boarded a ferry, and said goodbye to Koh Phangan. We left the islands the same way we had came, ferry to Chumpon, bus to Bangkok, but this time looking more tan and at least knowing the currency conversion, sad to leave but excited for our upcoming mainland adventures!
Footnote: Toasties – Ham and cheese sandwiches you get from the cold section of the 7-11. Bring them to the counter and they will place them in a sandwich maker and toast them for you. 25 baht ($1 CAD). Fricken’ life changing. A Southeast Asia backpacker staple.
Britt and Jeff 🙂