I had previously been to Thailand during the summer of 1999 and the entire time I was there I was very ill. I never made it out of Bangkok because of my fear of getting seriously sick and having to go to a hospital and having nothing close enough to help in an emergency. So when I had the opportunity to go again a few years ago with my two best friends, I jumped at it. I was back working in New York City and managed to get a few weeks off. So I jetted around to a few different destinations in Southeast Asia. I then met my friends who were already there backpacking.
After two fun filled days of partying until the early morning in Bangkok on the backpacker mainstays of Khao San Road and Patpong, we shot down to Ko Phangan, which is a small island off the east coast of Thailand in close proximity to Ko Samui which is a more mainstream island with mega resorts and the whole nine. The main draw to Ko Phangan is the beautiful white sand beaches, the cheap and easy living and, of course, the all night partying including the infamous Full Moon Party.
We arrived five days before the party because we wanted to make sure we got accommodation and didn’t have to sleep on the beach each night. Of course, I was leaving the day before the party but we had heard that the real party was in the nights before the actual party so I was pretty psyched. We got rooms at this disgusting hellhole right on Hat Rin Nok beach which is right where everything happens. The rooms couldn’t possibly bring us down because we had slept in worse, even though the rooms were filthy and mine had blood stains on the walls along with other unknown substances.
We were a four second walk from the beach. When we arrived we quickly put our things down and ran out to the water. As we emerged from our bungalows, we stopped in our tracks in awe of the beauty of this beach. Crystal clear waters and white sand beaches accompanied by beautiful jagged mountains guarding the seclusion of our beach. The beach was dotted with small bungalows and restaurants, which became bars at night. We looked around and also saw that there were no people past their late twenties on the beach. It was a backpacker’s paradise and everyone there was beautifully tanned and ready to enjoy Thailand to the fullest.
The sun was baking and the water was like a warm bath. As we got accustomed to our surroundings we realized the we were pretty much the only Americans there and most of the people were from Israel, Australia, Canada, Sweden and of course the UK. It had been a while for us since we were on a beach that was European in nature. The women were mostly topless and we were in heaven.
After a day of enjoying the scenery we went into town for dinner. It’s not really a town though. It’s more of a street with a bunch of cheap restaurants selling Thai food and playing pirated first run movies. It was fabulous. After a great meal of $1 Pad Thai, which would be a staple of our trip to Thailand, we returned to our filthy bungalows for a nap before we sampled the legendary nightlife which had made this tiny island famous.
As we emerged from our slumbers to head to the beach where everything went on we were amazed at what we saw. The beach had converted into a gigantic bar with torches burning everywhere and fire twirlers lighting up the evening sky. Every bar along the beach had set up a satellite bar on the beach and laid out carpets for sitting at small tables. We walked around in amazement of how many people there actually were and we tried to find a table to use as a home base. We finally managed to find a table that was only occupied by two other people and sat down with them. Next up was getting drinks. We were told that you had to drink buckets here. A bucket consists of a bucket of ice, a can of a red bull type drink, a can of coke and a pint of your choice of alcohol, we chose whiskey. Additionally each bucket comes with a hundred straws for communal use. Needless to say it was meant to get you as drunk as possibly very quickly and then keep you up all night and that’s exactly what it did.
The bars all played different styles of music with DJ’s that were imported from as far as Europe just for this festive occasion that occurs every month, coinciding with the full moon. We partied all through the night and as it became our trademark of the trip we didn’t go home until we were swimming in the water at sunrise.
As the days of my trip dwindled and we continued on the same beach and party schedule, it is worth noting a lot of the craziness that actually goes on at this full moon party. The drug scene is out of control. It’s funny that for a country in a region where the penalties for drugs are so severe that they are so prevalent. We saw people having sex on chairs right in front of everyone. It was almost a foregone conclusion that you would see this type of activity every hour or so and of course there was streaking and skinny dipping. Throughout the course of the night you will see any amount of people running around butt naked, streaking through large groups of people cheering and then eventually jumping into the water.
The water at night is used as a giant toilet by everyone who had drunken too many buckets and didn’t feel like fighting the crowds to the bathroom. It’s funny because everyone was aware of this but nobody seemed to care, including my friends and myself. Everyone was always back in the water the next day frolicking as if 10,000 people hadn’t peed in the water the morning before. But this is Thailand and this is Ko Phangan and anything goes here.
The day before I had to leave the island I wanted to rent a motorbike and drive around the to see what was up those mountains and what was on the other side. I met some Aussies who were interested in taking a ride and we set off on an adventure at 50 miles per hour. We covered most of the island and it was incredible. The beaches on the other side of the island were as nice as the party beach. The mountains and views were stellar and we stopped for a bite at a tiny beachside café on the north side of the island where we were the only patrons. It was fantastic and we made it back just in time for one last night on the beach before I had to leave.
As I headed toward the ferry to Ko Samui to get my flight to Bangkok, I reflected on my time in Ko Phangan. The public sex and all the “lady boys”, which are very common to Thailand, the sex change capital of the world. All the freedom that is this backpacker’s paradise. The gorgeous beaches that are distinctly Thai and the wonderful people that makes a trip worth doing. These are the reasons that people end up staying in Ko Phangan for weeks and months. Simply put, it doesn’t get any better than this island. I am so happy that I did it while I am still young enough to enjoy it and not be too grossed out by it. It is what it is and it is Thailand at its best.