Thursday, March 31, 2011

Koh Phangan and Koh Tao

Koh Phangan; you may have heard of it before. It's where the famous 'Full Moon Parties' are thrown on the beach, once every twenty eight days, on this beautiful island in the Gulf of Thailand. My friend Lea and I had meaning to head there for a few months, so finally, just a couple weeks ago, we made the trip. After a grueling thirteen hour over night bus ride, we arrived in the south. From there, we took a ferry, on which we slept. The duration of the boat trip took two and half hours. The islands of the gulf were experiencing amazing weather that week, and we were quite lucky! Friends of ours who had gone south before and after us all experienced rain and gloom. After meeting up with a few friends who were already on the island, we laid out on a beautiful white sand beach. The cliffs, jungle and mangroves look absolutely magnificent under the burning sun, the water clear and warm. I turned many shades darker that weekend.

In the evening, we headed over to the Black Moon Party. Since it was a new moon, there was no full moon, but it was quite a party anyway. Phangan also throws half moon parties, so there will always be a party for you to visit no matter when you go. The entry fee was 500 baht with one free drink, though I have heard that for the Full Moon Party there is no entry. The music was decent, they spun electro-dancey music. The decorations were really quite awesome, everything was neon and glowing in the dark. People were stumbling around drunk with the famous buckets... buckets are literally a mini bucket of mixed alcohol that you're supposed to share with a couple of friends, but those who are looking to get really drunk just have a bucket to themselves. It looks cooler than walking around with a bottle of booze in your hand anyhow. There were food carts set up near the entry, so when the drunk munchies kicked in, one could grab a bite to eat without leaving the premises. It is really hard to estimate how many people attended since the premise was so large... at least one thousand.

Unfortunately, when Lea and I returned to the home of yet another friend we were supposed to stay with, our host became slightly strange, and we felt really uncomfortable sleeping there. So, we called a taxi at five in the morning and went to sleep on our friend's bungalow's front porch. What an adventure! The weather was good, just sweatpants and a hoodie, sleeping in a chair by the beautiful beach... it could have been worse!

Lea's German girlfriends (there were three) were so surprised to find us on their front porch in the morning! We told them about our adventure over breakfast, and then they convinced us to head to Koh Tao with them. Tao means turtle in Thai, but we didn't see a single turtle the entire time! Koh Tao was about an hour and a half's ferry ride away. When we arrived there in the late afternoon, most of the bungalows and guest houses had filled up already. We settled on a really nice room for 2,000 baht per night (about $70), which is quite expensive for Thai prices, but considering we slept on a bus one night, and a porch the following night, we really just wanted to get some zzz's. After checking in, we hung out on the beach until the sun went down, showered and took a power nap, and then headed out for some seafood barbeque on the beach. I ate barracuda for the first time, and it was delicious!

The next morning, we decided to go snorkeling. We took a boat which dropped us off at six different destinations, for about forty minutes each. Unfortunately, I forgot how horrible of a swimmer I am. When we were dropped at the first spot, shark bay (mini sharks, mind you) we all scrambled into the water with our snorkeling gear. Somehow I started swimming in a different direction as everyone else and found myself ten meters from the boat, with no one around me, still getting used to the snorkeling gear and not even near where the fish were supposed to be. So, I panicked. I had never had a panic attack before... I can tread water, and I can swim, very slowly. But the fact that no one was around me and that I was kind of far out really freaked me out, so I took off the snorkeling gear and had to talk to myself, and dog paddled back to the boat. Wow that was a horrible feeling, I felt like I was going to die. The rest of the snorkeling trip I wore a life jacket, but I managed to get back in the water like a brave, big girl and saw some amazing fish and coral reefs. I had an underwater camera as well so I snapped some cool shots.

Lea and I had planned and budgeted to leave the following morning. The other girls were going to stay one more day, and convinced us to stay in their room for one more night. They could help us with expenses until we got back to Bangkok, and that way we could all travel home together as well. So we stayed one more evening. We had dinner at an Indian restaurant on the beach, where there was a live acoustic guitar man singing and strumming. I requested 'Santeria' by Sublime, which he played for us. Something about Sublime and acoustic music really just screams 'beach' to me. After he finished up, a DJ came on and played electro, while fire dancers spun fire and received tips. It was quite spectacular. It was an early night to bed, seeing as the snorkeling trip had really drained our energy. And then the following afternoon we headed back to Bangkok!

Overall, it was quite a fun trip with some strange happenings and possible misunderstandings with our would-be host on Koh Phangan. We had great weather, great food, great drinks and a great time! The southern islands in the Gulf of Thailand are a must visit, but be sure you check the weather!