Koh Phangan. I remembered fire-dancers spinning acrid flaming weights into mesmerizing patterns. I remembered peeing vast quantities of booze into the sea under the big sliver moon. I remembered a hundred different beats and rhythms. I remembered hobnobbing with people from around the world in buzzing cafes.
That was the Koh Phangan that I remembered: the massive Full Moon Party, a Peter Pan lifestyle where no one grew up and the rest of the world was reached through their respective citizens.
Four years on, I’m still foolish, less able to hold my wine and unlikely to stay awake after midnight. I should have crossed the island from my list of places but I was nostalgic.
So I went back to Koh Phangan once more.
En route on a mud road
“The party’s on the 7th, this Thursday. Were you expecting a quiet time?” answered one of the British youths. I had wondered aloud about the many farangs (western tourists) on the ferry to the island. We were in a Song Thaew to Had Rin, where the full moon party would be held. The road climbed and dipped steeply. We hung on for dear life as the Song Thaew roared past other pedestrians or growling scooters.
It was almost sun down. Hand-painted signs tacked to a tree pointed in all directions like an absurd signpost transplanted from Alice in Wonderland. Some brightly declared “warm-up” sessions to the actual Full Moon Party at pub XYZ while others extolled the virtues of a nearby resort/bungalow/guesthouse/pub.
“I tried the buckets that they were selling. You know, the ones that chuck a bottle of Thai whiskey, coke, red bull and ice in a little plastic bucket.” the British youth said to his friends.
His eyes lit up, “It got me drunk so quick! Pure pleasure!”
Now that I think about it, it was mostly farang who were on that stretch of road.
Had Rin Town
I lucked out on finding a cheap guesthouse in Had Rin, especially with the Full Moon Party just days away. It was perched on a hill behind the beach. Clambering up to my little hut sapped my breath and energy. But once there, I had an excellent view of Had Rin and the beach town.
The little town had sprawled: more new buildings, paved roads and concrete bungalow skeletons climbed up the hillside. There just wasn’t any more space near the beach.
There were plenty of sounds from the sprawl. During the day, I heard metal clangs, happy yelps and longtail boats as they sped between beaches. The night was boomed with loud trance and techno from the shoreline pubs; what few lyrics were crystal clear to me from my bed.
And it was appropriately quiet in the morning; the town slumbered beside the uneven blue-grey sea.
Night-time in the Village
Had Rin is Holland Village doped up on Speed. Everything was ostensibly catered towards party nuts.
“Bucket of Joy – 200 bht!” shouted a sign in neon-red paint.
The main sprawl was dominated by cafes, Thai massage parlours and tour operators. They line the main street connecting Had Rin Nok and Had Rin Nai. Internet access at jacked-up ADSL speeds can be rented at 2 bht / min (120 bht or SGD$5 / hour) at all decent shops. Message parlour windows are plastered with messages of commendations in Nihongo; well and good for the Japanese-literate. Cafes are chic and versatile, décored out in beach bum fashion and attracting the same.
“Pizzas, shakes, Israeli breakfast, Fish and Chips, Thai food!” cried another sign just outside a busy cafe.
The sprawl was crowded. Buffed boys and gorgeous women showed off beautiful tans and physiques with precious little coverage. Others were red faced from peeping at the sun for too long. A couple, chattering in Hebrew, strolled past me. Packs of “one-day” friends debated in English with different accents. Their table was packed with drinks and more alcohol. The busiest queues were at booths selling banana pancakes and fruit shakes. Everyone had come in from a day out at the beach and they were buzzing with incredible energy.
A shake-seller slipped me a piece of paper. “Mushroom Shake” was penned on it in blue ink. I smiled back and slipped him back the paper.
My senses were frying from the noise and party universe. I fled back to my hut on the hill. It was four days before the Full Moon Party.
Two days in Koh Phangan and I was getting antsy. The days and nights were unfailing similar. I would head to a beach to swim for a bit and burn under the sun, go into the sprawl for food and drinks, then back to my hut at night where I would write my entries. There didn’t seem to be any variety apart from drinking or talking to other tourists. After a while, everyone looked the same to me. I couldn’t tell them apart and I didn’t want to either.
I needed something else. The island couldn’t just be one big party place.
Or was it?
Originally written for Youth.sg (2006); edited (2010)