Koh Phangan – it’s not just about the Full Moon

We counted down to midnight with 30,000 people as we watched the most fantastic fireworks show – some of the biggest and loudest I’ve ever seen! Then it was more drinking and dancing until we decided we’d had enough around 4am.

After Christmas on Koh Lanta it was off to Koh Phangan for New Year. Lanta is off the West coast of Thailand whilst Phangan is on the East so to get there we would have to cross the mainland and then take the ferry, a journey which should take around six hours. However, after being transferred from minivan to pick-up truck to bus to restaurant to bus to ferry we ended up spending a whopping 13 hours on the road, despite insisting when we booked the trip that we wanted minivan all the way. When they make you change buses then wait at a restaurant for two hours when you are only an hour away from the ferry you start to feel like you are being a little bit ripped off. Richard’s done the route before and says it’s notoriously bad but unfortunately we didn’t have much choice – the alternative is to hire a private taxi but when you are on a budget it’s not really an option. If you’re in a large group and looking to head East-West or vice-versa we would advise grouping together and getting a private minivan, it should only take three hours. Also, you are better off going via the larger Raja car ferry, it’s more comfortable than the smaller tourist boat the agents will always try and book you on.

We arrived in Koh Phangan around 9.30pm on the evening of the Half Moon Festival but after a day on the road all we wanted was our beds. We were staying at a great little place called Sunset Cove near Had Yao beach, which with a swimming pool was our last little luxury before we started slumming it. This side of the island is quieter, there’s more to see and it’s much more relaxing, and we’d recommend it over Had Rin, which is probably great if you’re 19 and wanting to get drunk every night, but a bit nasty in our opinion.

Much like Lanta, the best way to explore the island is by moped so we hired a bike and set off on the road. We hadn’t got far before I got bitten by something and when we stopped to look, whatever it was had pierced the skin and drawn blood. Lifting up the seat of the moped to see if anything had crawled inside we found a hideous red Chinese centipede – from what we have read their bites can be incredibly painful but luckily it didn’t really hurt much at all.

Koh Ma

We also went up to the very North where there is a small island just off the shore called Koh Ma which is great for snorkelling and has a lovely, quiet beach. At low tide you can walk across the sand spit to the island which is fun but watch out for the jelly fish – we saw one guy get stung. Whilst on our travels around the island we also spent an afternoon on Bottle Beach, a great little place and worth the trip. You can get to Bottle Beach on a bike but most people hop on a long-tail boat.

The day before New Year we ventured down into Thong Sala town and Had Rin beach, the venue for the infamous Full Moon Party, which is full of Western bars, fast food joints, and shops selling neon Full Moon t-shirts. The beach itself is not much to write home about but it was still busy, with volleyball, jet skis and even a Miss Had Rin bikini competition which fortunately (or unfortunately for Richard!) we weren’t around to witness. That evening, back at Had Yao, we went for dinner at a local restaurant with a few South Africans we had met at the hotel. For 110 baht you got an all-you-can-eat buffet which you cooked yourself on a little barbeque in the middle of your table. Lots of fun, great value, tasty, and full of locals later on in the evening, always a good sign in my book.

100 Baht all you can eat BBQ

On our way to a bar later, we literally walked over a brown snake about a metre long. It seemed like it must have been hit by a car as it was still alive but in plain view and not moving away from the side of the road. Needless to say, we stayed well clear although the South Africans did manage to get a few photos!!

New Year’s Eve was suitably lazy with an afternoon nap for good measure, in preparation for our night on the tiles. We got a taxi down to Had Rin around 9pm when unfortunately it started raining, but luckily it was only a bit of light drizzle which cleared up in no time. After a bite to eat and watching a baby pig being fed a bottle of milk (don’t ask) we hit the buckets and set off exploring the various sound systems that compete for airwaves along the beach.

Full Moon Bucket stalls

We opted for a spot at the North end of the beach, hopping between the techno and psy-trance sound systems. We counted down to midnight with 30,000 people as we watched the most fantastic fireworks show – some of the biggest and loudest I’ve ever seen! Then it was more drinking and dancing until we decided we’d had enough around 4am. After a taxi home with some very amusing Maltese guys who’d had a couple of magic mushroom milkshakes and a spot of TV to wind down we finally hit the sack around 5.30am. Great fun, you get a taste in the video at the top of the post!

A few final days of relaxation whilst the island slowly emptied and then it was time for a rather epic journey by ferry, bus, and two overnight trains to Chiang Mai…

Lastly, we have to mention the English pub on Koh Phangan, that’s all I’m going to say. It’s an English pub, see for yourself.

The Masons Arms

Koh Lanta – Christmas on the beach

It was decided early on that Lanta would be our destination for Christmas as it is an easy island to spend time on

It was decided early on that Lanta would be our destination for Christmas as it is an easy island to spend time on. Lanta actually consists of two islands, Noi and Yai, Lanta Yai being where the tourists head. We decided to travel overland, a route that’s not advertised much to backpackers as the travel mafia tend to push them onto the boats from Phi-Phi, Krabi or Phuket. We opted for the shortest sea crossing to Pak Bara and then a minivan on to Koh Lanta (via a couple of small car ferries), a much cheaper option than a boat the whole way.

Lanta’s busiest area is around Long Beach, a 6km long sand beach close to town which is home to a bunch of bars, restaurants and huts as well as mentioned earlier, half the population of Sweden. We quickly realised most people would be celebrating Christmas on the 24th, so the search was on for an English bar!

But before that, the first job was to move accommodation. We had booked an AirCon room for the week at a place called Nautilus, but when we arrived we were presented with a fan room for much the same price. When we asked the owners about it they were not so much laid back more apathetic, and informed us they were not bothering with Christmas and didn’t have an explanation as to why the room did not resemble what we paid for. Coupled with the fact that the resort was right at the arse end of Long Beach and a good twenty minute walk to the action, we decided to look for alternative accommodation. So the next day, motorbike rented, we set off and found a dirt cheap room in the middle of Long Beach, Blue Sky Bungalows. It was a perfect spot, clean, friendly and free Wi-Fi for 500 baht a night, not bad for high season.

The weather now decided to behave; we had hot days of blue skies, we spent days on the beach, only 30 seconds walk from our hut, and many hours skidding round the island on the motorbike with Leah hanging on the back. I made her wear a helmet under the guise of safety; really it kept me amused as she looked hilarious in it, sorry Leah.

Most of the island is covered in dense tropical forest/jungle and we ventured in on foot to visit waterfalls, followed sand tracks to hidden and beautifully deserted beaches and ticked off the items on the Koh Lanta ‘must-see’ map.

We also made it out on the boat trip that we had postponed when in Phi Phi. We spent the day hopping around islands on a speedboat – after breakfast on Phi Phi Don the first stop was Monkey Beach where there are, surprise surprise, lots of monkeys. All very cute until the tour guides started feeding them Pringles and cans of Coke. Then off for a spot of snorkelling which was very impressive indeed, even compared to what we had seen already in Lipe. Next was Bamboo Island, where we had a spot of lunch and relaxed on the beach, then finally on to Phi Phi Le and the famous Maya Bay, immortalised in The Beach. It’s an incredibly beautiful spot but unfortunately when there are hoards of tourists running around and twenty speed boats moored at the shore it somewhat loses its charm. But if you can block all that out it’s still worth a visit.

Koh Phi Phi, Maya bay. Well positioned shot...
Koh Phi Phi, Maya bay. Pan right...

Christmas

The local 7-Eleven provided some decorations – hut sorted. An English bar called The Tavern promised an authentic English roast – booked. And while the Scandinavians scoffed meatballs and ‘many herrings’ we had a couple of Chang and stumbled on the bar next door playing some nasty techno. Christmas Eve complete.

Koh Lanta - Home for Christmas

So, here is our Christmas day itinerary, somewhat removed from the usual, but great nonetheless.

9am – Wake up and opened mini Christmas stockings, thanks mum, decidedly more Christmassy now.

10am – Huge fry up, greasy spoon style. Leah opted for extra pancake, take note.

11am – Swim, the water was exceptionally clear and bath water temperature. A first for us both on Christmas day.

1pm – Massage for an hour, Leah opted for an oil massage and I suffered a back and shoulder assault. While Leah was blissfully nodding off I was being beaten to a pulp by a very smiley Thai lady who seemed to be enjoying the pain she was inflicting.

2pm – Fish feet pedicure, weird. This practice involved suspending your feet into a tank of about 100 hungry small fish who nibble away at your feet for 15 minutes. For the first 5 minutes we regressed into small giggling children while the staff looked on blankly – they had obviously seen it all before.

2.30pm – Christmas pudding, yay! We’d brought a couple of mini puds with us all the way from London and persuaded the local restaurant to stick them in the microwave for us in exchange for a generous tip. A little taste of home, even without the brandy butter.

3pm – Film, as per tradition.

7pm – Dinner at The Tavern. Unbelievably, we were served up a meal the size I’ve never seen before. Prawn cocktail, full Turkey (we think) roast, sprouts, the works. We lucked out, the food was great and even the wine was half decent. I couldn’t finish the meal, Leah surprisingly nailed the lot.

Christmas Dinner on Koh Lanta

9pm – Leah takes a short nap as she is feeling a little sick (note extra pancake and huge dinner)

10pm – Beers with the staff of the huts, massage place and restaurant, they even found and erected a Christmas tree. Perfect end to the day, except the naff R’n’B on the hi-fi and the creepy Israeli guy (name forgot) who was trying to get me to dance to Ice T – never going to happen.

So, there you go, an exhaustive description of a very weird Christmas day in Thailand that turned out almost perfect. We’ve now been away for one month and it’s still just as exciting as when we set off. Fellow travellers’ stories of South America just seem to excite us more. And we still have two months left to explore Asia.

Next stop Koh Pha-Ngan, and the infamous New Year’s full moon party…

Koh Lipe- perfecting the art of doing nothing

Doing nothing is not as easy as you might think. It actually takes some practise. Luckily for us, we had two weeks on Koh Lipe to hone our skills, an island so small you can walk from one side to the other in around 20 minutes. The waters are as clear as anything you have seen on any postcard and the sand powder white. It’s an idyllic location that’s definitely already been ‘discovered’, but worth the time to get there.

Doing nothing is not as easy as you might think. It actually takes some practise. Luckily for us, we had two weeks on Koh Lipe to hone our skills, an island so small you can walk from one side to the other in around 20 minutes. The waters are as clear as anything you have seen on any postcard and the sand powder white. It’s an idyllic location that’s definitely already been ‘discovered’, but worth the time to get there.

We decided to take the speed boat down from Phi Phi to avoid spending nearly an entire day on the ferry. It’s still a good four hours and it’s a bit of a bumpy ride but definitely preferable to the stomach churning motion of the ferry on a windy day. Unfortunately it’s also not cheap so we agreed we’d find a more economical route for our trip back up to Koh Lanta.

We opted to stay near Sunset Beach, the quieter side of the island, at a cute little bungalow outfit called Jack’s Jungle. It’s small and laid back so if you’re looking for somewhere lively you’ll be better off elsewhere but it was perfect for us. The huts are in the jungle so they’re well shaded and stay fairly cool but are also prone to mosquitos as Richard unfortunately discovered. The only downside was the bed, which we were sure was actually polished marble with a sheet on top – after two weeks we were both longing for something softer.

Like I said, Koh Lipe is small – there’s not much of a ‘town’ to speak of, just a single street lined with the usual array of restaurants, internet cafes and tattoo parlours. Romsai seafoods was a particular favourite of ours – it’s not only one of the cheapest restaurants on the island but also makes the best curries and pad Thai we’ve tasted so far. If you’ve had enough of Thai food and fancy something Western then Spider Monkey is a good bet, but do be warned that Western food is expensive on Lipe and a pizza will set you back at least 200 baht. There’s also a great bakery which does the best doughnuts ever – the apple or custard ones are highly recommended!

Beachwise, Pattaya is the best for swimming, Sunrise the best for snorkelling and Sunset the best for, well, sunsets. We rented snorkels and saw some great sights mere metres from the beach including angel fish, black spined urchins and even a few clown fish (Nemo to those not briefed up on tropical fish). If you want to go further afield there are plenty of organised trips available but we decided to hold off until we hit Koh Lanta as the weather was a bit unpredictable. One day during a torrential storm we donned our macs and had an fantastic walk around the quieter beaches on the island enjoying the place completely to ourselves, awesome. You can see some pics of that day in the Thailand gallery ( viewpoint beach).

Our daily activities were steered by the weather – when it was fine there was swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing, when it was wet there were books, cards and films. We spent most of our afternoons at the Blue Tribes bar on Pattaya beach – the poor little puppy who couldn’t walk because he had been bitten by a snake was definitely a reason to keep returning. Luckily he had nearly fully recovered by the time we left and had three new four day old puppies for company as well.

Nightlife on Lipe is chilled – the usual beach bars playing a mix of Chilli Peppers and Bob Marley. Unfortunately James Blunt also seems to be a favourite but the less said about that the better. We did stumble across one hidden beach bar which looked like it might kick off a bit of a rave but sadly the complete lack of any customers put a bit of a dampener on that one. People just don’t go to Lipe to party – why would they when there’s Phi Phi and Koh Phangan a short hop away?

So, overall, a fairly uneventful but blissfully relaxing and chilled two weeks, which was just what we had planned and exactly what we needed to get out of ‘work mode’. Next stop, Koh Lanta, for Xmas by the beach with half of Sweden.