The final stop on the Real Gap ‘Thailand Experience’ tour was Koh Phangan, home to the infamous ‘Full Moon’ party. After three weeks in both the city and the more rural areas of Thailand, we were all pretty excited to get ourselves onto the beach and into the sea; the hard work of the previous fortnight and a 24 hour coach ride from Sangklaburi had given us a party appetite.
Our accommodation was a beach side resort called Mac’s Bay, which I would certainly recommend. We were staying in 2/3 bedroom huts, either by the pool, the garden or the beach. Myself, Char and Tash were lucky enough to procure a poolside hut, a privileged position that was more than appreciated; a flip-flop’s throw away from our beloved sun-loungers. One of the things we noticed immediately on arriving on the islands is the more obvious western presence, not dissimilar to that of the Khao San Road. In other words, there were brightly coloured vests, fake Ray Bans and dodgy sunburns left, right and centre.
Every morning at Mac’s Bay got off to a flying start. As someone who values breakfast more than most other human beings, I was sorely missing my go-to favourites. The majority of morning meals in Thailand had so far consisted off lacklustre toast and over-sweetened preserve or stodgy rice with peas and unidentifiable bits of meat. I’m all for last night’s takeaway for breakfast once in a while, but I have to admit I was longing for fresh fruit, oats and regular bowel movements. And I was in luck. Mac’s Bay offered plenty of Thai options for those wishing to continue their education, but also huge slices of watermelon and pineapple, granola with generous dollops of fresh greek yoghurt, french toast, eggs, bacon and glorious fruit smoothies and shakes. I sampled pretty much all of these, and each meal was improved hugely by the giggles when the waitress announced every offering at ridiculous volume: ‘HELLOOOOO SCRAMBLED EGG! HELLOOOOOO NARNA SHAKE!’
Having arrived on the island early on the eve of the Full Moon Party after a day-long coach ride, we did little aside from sleep and sunbathe for the first day. However, we did make it out to Ando Loco in the evening for a fantastic meal. This place was great, run by a couple from the UK, serving up sizzling Mexican food with all the trimmings; tequila cocktails, spicy burritos, fish tacos, guacamole, chimichangas – the LOT.
The day of the Full Moon was upon us. Desperate to make the most of our last week together, we enlisted trusty TripAdvisor to entertain us during the day. We settled on hitting up Koh Phangan’s Total Wipeout course. If you’ve seen the TV show, I’m sure you can imagine what greeted us as we pulled up in the truck.
If not, feast your eyes on the Thailand’s most terrifying inflatable water assault course. Packed with tourists, naturally, but hilarious. If you were particularly agile, you could have your lap of the course timed by the owner; the clock was stopped when had scaled the second cube and begun waving your arms around like a maniac. For the majority of us mere mortals, even making it round the course was a challenge, but hilarity is guaranteed regardless of talent. Would definitely recommend this activity for any boisterous travellers looking to expel some energy, rather than lying by the pool.
After managing to fall off some of the rollers and hurt my back, I had the pleasure of watching my pals lie on one end of an enormous inflatable pillow whilst three Thai guys jumped in sync onto the other end from a considerable height, catapulting a screaming Brit high into the air, where they flailed their arms and ended the manoeuvre in a charming belly flop. Eat your heart out, Tom Daly.
We were back at the hotel just in time to head down to the market at the end of the road, buy some garish tie-dye and face paint and attempt to barter for a crate of our beloved Spy. Needless to say, we failed spectacularly, paid the original price and wandered back to the hotel.
The Full Moon did not disappoint – or at least not for us. A few in our group claimed that it was ‘not what they expected’. For me, it was an enormous, absolutely mental party on a beach with hundreds of people two-step shuffling in their flip-flops, rum buckets in hand, without a care in the world. This was precisely what I had expected…
There were several staged areas (with random holes in the middle – just to add a little danger to the dancing experience) and row upon row of stalls selling slabs of pizza, drinks and noz balloons. Music was pretty varied; anything from house to reggae to chart pop. If you didn’t like what you heard – no worries, just move on down the beach.
TIP: Buy drinks buckets that are literally just the bucket with sealed bottles of drink inside. You haven’t a clue how weak (or strong) the pre-mixed ones are; not difficult to get a lot less or a lot more than you bargained for. Having said that, I felt pretty safe at the Full Moon, but I was in a big group of MAINLY sensible people. There is certainly a dark side to the event, perhaps best illustrated by the fact there is a dedicated pen for paraletic people, paraded by a guy shining a torch on peoples chests to check they’re still breathing. So, basically, don’t be an idiot and stay with your mates.
The majority of us had purposely booked a RealGap tour date that coincided with a Full Moon. I would HIGHLY recommend doing this, because in all honesty, I feel that Phangan would be a little disappointing were it not for the main attraction of Haad Rin beach; other islands have more to offer in terms of regular night life. We did return to Haad Rin a couple of days later and the beach was still pretty buzzing, although nothing like Full Moon. There’s quite a few nice hotel bars and restaurants where you can sit out on the beach with some tasty food amid candles and shisha pipes.
We had a meal at Bay Shore a couple of nights and were not disappointed either time – they offer Thai and Western food so everyone’s a winner. Our sophisticated candlelit dinner was swiftly followed by surplus cocktail buckets, a wide array of terrible dance moves and Ula’s baffling explaination of a ‘schnitzel’ as a ‘kind of cross between a sausage…and a pretzel.’ Wholly and fundamentally innacurate but had us giggling for the rest of the trip.
Our last day altogether as a group was spent at Angthong National Park, one of the most beautiful parts of Thailand I saw. It’s a collection of about 40 different islands, most of which we passed via speedboat and several of which we stopped at for various activiites. We jumped off the boat at Koh Wao to snorkel amongst shoals of bright blue and yellow fish, hopped off again at Koh Sam Sao primarily for a lunch stop (but also for our clumsy friend Ula to drop both her phone and camera in the water) and again at Mae Kon to see the Emerald Lagoon.
Unfortunately, it had been a little misty and rainy, and the lagoon was looking a little less emerald than it had in the guide book, but beautiful nonetheless. A cheeky magnum purchased from a random guy on the beach gave me just enough energy for an extremely muddy hike to the top of Wua Tulap. Only three of us actually opted to do the walk as it was so muddy, but with my Converse ruined long ago, I was more than game to burn off a bit of ‘rice weight’.
The view from the top was incredible, and well worth the terror of pulling myself up slippery mud slopes with a raggedy old rope with Noinah, our guide. She did the entire thing in bare feet. Can’t decide if that is heroic or idiotic, but she did it nonetheless.
On the last day, it was beautiful and sunny. About half the group headed off to scuba dive on Koh Tao – an activity I was in two minds about. In the end, I opted to stay at the hotel by the pool with my friend Stacey and read my book. As much as I would have liked to go, I was on a budget and my scuba dive money was secured firmly for the Great Barrier Reef in a few weeks time. The girls loved every minute and assured me afterwards it was well worth the trip, so if you’ve got the money, I would recommend it on their behalf!