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.
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.
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.
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.