Days 12-14: Ko Phangan (or Ko Pha-Ngan)
Ko Phangan is one of the three islands situated in the Gulf of Thailand, the other two being Ko Tao and Ko Samui. Most renowned for its full moon parties which attract crowds of over 30,000 people, this is a tropical party island. I had wanted to see what one of these parties was like but found that in my haste to book my tickets, I would be missing the full moon party by 5 days. Which was all well as most accommodation places require you to book around 5 nights of accommodation if you want to stay on the night of the full moon party. I checked the party schedules and arranged my trip to hit the Jungle Party and Half moon party!
On the 13th morning in Thailand, I departed from Ko Tao on a two hour ferry ride to neighbouring Ko Phangan. After booking the 10:30am Songserm ferry the previous night, the last of us took the 9am taxi from Big Blue back to the pier and said our final goodbyes as we headed in different directions. A wave of sadness washed over me as my adventure on magnificent Ko Tao had come to an end. The last of us left and we were left scattered, leaving the way we came in, apart.
Upon arriving on the party island, I was assaulted by locals looking for business. I took a bicycle taxi with my duffel bag, backpack and camera bag and questioned if I would make it to my hostel alive without a helmet. We headed towards Wanderlust hostel which I found to be one of the better rated hostels on hostelworld.com . A very clean, well-kept hostel with good facilities including a clean shower/ bathroom in each dorm, lockers and air conditioning.
A Serbian man who lived in Italy for a couple of years and his wife ran the place and were very helpful in answering queries. For 200THB/night, it was well worth it and came with a resident puppy name Yucky (or ducky, something-ucky). The hostel itself is a party hostel with the common area being populated with drinking games like battle shots, drinko and an eight player beer pong table that had been completed the day I arrived, to be christened that night.
The hostel was pretty empty during the day so after settling in, I decided to do one of the things for my Thailand bucket list which was to try a Muay Thai training session. I had previously done kickboxing for two years and so Muay Thai was of interest to me. I rented a scooter from a recommended renter by the hostel for 200THB a day, I waited for it to be delivered to the hostel. This would later be a cause of some issues for me.
I drove around 20 minutes, including time spend lost, to one of the multiple Muay Thai gyms on the island and reached just over an hour before training started. With nothing else to do, I just decided to have a gym session before.
It was an interesting experience training barefoot in a tropical outdoor environment. The 2 hour Muay Thai class cost me a balmy 400THB. Consisting of a 20 minute warm up either skipping or on the elliptical (I chose the latter), followed by shadow boxing and some technical skills and then culminating in a couple of challenging 4 minute rounds. By the end I was covered in a lovely shiny layer of perspiration and panting for my breath, definitely a worthwhile experience and great for fitness.
I then headed back to my hostel to shower and rest up for the Jungle Party. I texted the two Swedes I had met on Ko Tao who had been serendipitous enough to end up on Ko Phangan whilst most of the others ended up at Tonsai in Krabi after Ko Tao. We met up at our hostel and christened the new 8 player beer pong table with a competition where everyone put on 20THB and the winner took all. I was sadly knocked out in the first round by my Swedish friend. Alas it was not for nothing as the other one ended up winning the competition, 300THB richer.
Once the match had concluded, a Songthaew (pickup truck taxi) came to the hostel to pick up all the party-goers and we were off for a fun night in the jungle! After about a 15 minute ride, we had arrived and were all pretty lubricated from beer pong and some pre-drinks at the hostel.
Upon entering, we discovered we had to buy “coupons” in order to buy drinks from the bar as they didn’t accept cash. We got a bucket each and then the party was on! Music was trance-y with jungle vibes (appropriate) which was nice but got repetitive. Luckily, the bucket was having its effect on me and I just enjoyed the music and attempted to dance.
The second day on Ko Phangan was spent mostly recovering from the night before, there was a half-moon party that night but was all partied out and it cost a whopping 1000THB for entry. Quite a few of the hostel people also took a miss on the party and we heard back that the music was cut off for a few hours due to technical difficulties and was more or less like the jungle party but with different music and a few more dance floors. I instead opted to go check out Amstardam bar where I heard was a really nice place that was good to watch the sunset from. I took a 15 or so minute scooter ride, a little afraid of driving off somewhere, overseas on an island, by myself but it turned out to be okay and I was quite proud for doing so!
The bar was very chill with a pool on the first “floor” and the actual bar on the top. It had a reggae vibe to it and they were playing music to match said vibe.
The view was amazing with a nice ambience, the patrons here were slightly on the older side compared to my experiences on the island until then.
People were openly smoking joints on the balcony area (purchased from the bar for 200THB) and “happy” shakes were also sold but not advertised. It was a bit awkward and uneasy by myself and I didn’t find it a good place to meet other people compared to the ease I had in hostels. Food and drinks were much pricier and not as good and I would eat before if I were to go again. The view was amazing and I stayed until after sunset when they took out bottles of gasoline and lit them like torches along the perimeter which was pretty cool. I left just into twilight as I was a bit afraid to drive back in the dark by myself.
I returned to the hostel and hung about in the common area just playing pool and talking with others and went to bed for then next day!
My third day on Ko Phangan, I had wanted to see my Swedish friends once more before who knew when we would meet again, if ever. They had relocated to the North-West of the island to a little stretch of seaside called Salad beach. I took my trusty scooter for about a 25 minute drive up the west coast of the island and turned off on the Haad Salad sign (Haad meaning beach in Thai). It was a nice stretch of beach in a little bay, the water was shallow with it being around knee height for about 50m+. The water had fish and small crabs in it and also some debris, driftwood and other random trash in it. I even found a wooden bedpost in it!
The sun was scorching and I had to stay in the water most of the time just not to become fried. I had no idea how the Swedes were tolerating it as I sat around awkwardly as I didn’t bring some sort of towel to lie down on. I tried to minimize the amount of sand that stuck to me with little success and instead went up to lounge in the restaurant with shade and safe from the sand.
I bid my solemn farewell to my favourite Swedes and joined up in the plans of two other Germans who were headed to Amstardam bar.
I scooter’d down back to Amstardam bar for the second time and stopped for a few viewpoints on the way.
I met up with the two German girls who I had met at my hostel and had a drink till sunset.
I was pretty determined to try a happy shake, not having had the experience of psilocybin before. After hearing about the psychedelic experiences of some other travelers on Ko Tao with happy shakes, I was expecting to see some cray cray. I split the 700THB concoction with another and sipped it with caution. Tasting rather fibrous and healthy, I was disappointed when we sat around with no effect from our magic beverage. We then headed back to the hostel and the effect of the shake was to make me real sleepy as I went for a 2 hour nap back in the dorm.
Day four on Ko Phangan saw me leaving the party island. A Russian girl in my dorm was leaving on the same day as me and we decided to head back to Bangkok together. We went to the supermarket to get ready for the 17 or so hour journey back to Bangkok. On the way back to the hostel, just as I was about to pull in with my scooter, disaster hit and a sand patch right outside caused the scooter to slide out underneath me. Just 10 seconds before I was to be done with the scooter, tragedy hit me and the side mirror was left broken with a few scratches on the front fender and undercarriage. When the rental guy came, the repairs were to officially cost 5500THB but he quoted a price of 3000THB, saying half-price. I was then able to talk it down with the help of some of the hostel staff to 2000THB. Needless to say I was pretty pissed and upset.
I’m still ambivalent about scooter rentals on the islands, while they provide a cheap and quick way to get around, the possibility of your trip becoming ruined can become a reality very quickly. On the islands, they charge you for every little scratch and grossly inflate the prices. They don’t charge you for repair costs, they charge you for replacement costs so things can get pricey real quick and almost all places will require a passport as deposit, meaning you will have to fork out a large sum of money. The scooter horror stories are many and are extremely commonplace.
Bandaged mummies are a pretty common sight with a girl on Ko Tao having to stop her diving course and be bed bound for her trip after an accident. Ms Russia also encountering an accident resulting in rental and medical bills and stories of another girl who almost paid 22000THB for replacements but was reduced to 7000THB. Even after treatment, most people would be put on anti-biotics which means no booze. This can be a real pain when you’re on holiday in a country with $2 beers.
I thought I would be okay with over 2 years of motorcycling experience under my belt but I let my pride get the better of me. I still wonder if I would rent a scooter again, while the convenience, freedom and novelty is nice, things can go South very quickly and could almost spell an end to a trip.
After my little incident and getting my passport back, I packed my stuff and chilled out until my 5pm ferry back to the mainland. The hostel owner was very nice and gave Ms Russia and me a ride (on a scooter ironically) to the pier and we were on our grueling journey back to Bangkok!