Our decision to head to Koh Phangan was a spare of the moment one. We had a loose plan to head to the North of Thailand after leaving Nong Khai but we’d made no onward travel arrangements which worked in our favour. The day before leaving Nong Khai Chris had a conversation with his cousin Mike (hello Mike!) who was staying on the island of Koh Phangan and it was decided that we would sack our plans to head North and instead travel over 24hours South in order to meet up with him. We planned only to stay for a few days and then explore nearby islands Koh Tao and Koh Samui but again our plans went to pot as we enjoyed Koh Phangan so much that we spent all our designated time on the one island. But more of that later!
In order to get to the island we first had to get a bus to Bangkok which was a very long journey taking over 12 hours. En-route the bus stops for toilet breaks every so often, at one point Chris got off and had a little spree round 7 eleven meaning the bus set off without him. Had I not gone and stopped the driver I’d have been heading to Koh Phangan by myself! It was late when we arrived into Bangkok so we headed straight to bed and in the morning went and secured ourselves tickets to Koh Phangan. We’d read many horror stories of the ‘Khao San Rd buses’ and how children go through bags whilst you sleep on the bus meaning you get off the bus without all your valuables. For half the price of any other buses or trains though we decided to take the risk. We made sure all our valuables (we don’t have many) were in the rucksack we brought with us to our seats and held tight onto it all night as sleep is never really on the cards on the ‘sleeper’ buses. You’ll all be pleased to know that It didn’t appear that our bags had been tampered with so all was well. After a two hour wait for the ferry and a four hour ferry journey we made it onto Koh Phangan!
Mike was staying on a part of the island called Haad Tian East and Chris had cleverly booked us a lovely place to stay on Haad Tian West. So we were nowhere near Mike who we’d travelled day and night to visit. I guess it’s an easy mistake to make, surely they could have thought of something a bit more dissimilar to name these beaches. Luckily the place we were staying was great, with its own pool and private beach. Not bad for poortravellers! We spent the day snorkelling off the beach and relaxing in the sun which was a perfect way to end our long journey. The following day we did more of the same as our location was hard to get to and away from. But with snorkelling at your door step there wasn’t much reason to venture too far!
On our third day in Koh Phangan we had a little overnight excursion to the North Eastern part of the island. The road to get to our destination was great and showed us that despite the island being quite large and overdeveloped in parts there are vast amounts of untouched jungle sprawling through the centre of the island. We arrived at a beautiful beach where we met Mike and two of his friends (hello Katie and Jen!) The afternoon was spent enjoying drinks on the beach, giving Mike and Chris an opportunity to catch up. For the evening we’d been invited to a jungle/beach party of sorts, we arrived to strobe lights galore as it appeared the lighting technician was having way too much fun experimenting with different effects. The party was fairly quiet but we put this down to the fact that it was on a remote part of the island and that the famous Koh Phangan full moon party was going to take place the following night so perhaps people had saved their partying for then. Our midnight feast was supplied by 7elevens toasty machine and then we headed to bed. Before we headed back to our western location we had a dip in the beautifully clear sea, it was like a giant swimming pool. On leaving the sea it appeared that our motorbike key had swam out of Chris’ pocket to join in with the fun, the motorbike where we had locked all our belongings under the seat and was our only means of getting back across the island. So the next 45minutes were spent wading around in the sea trying to find the key which you might think would be an easy task due to how clear the water was… This was not the case. Luckily I have the eyes of a hawk and managed to find it sitting on the bottom of the ocean. Panic over.
We had one more day on the west of the island so decided to make the most of our motorbike (and key) and have an explore up and down the west coast. We were aware of an island called Koh Ma which is connected to Koh Phangan by a sandbar and we’d read that the snorkelling around Koh Ma was some of the best on the island. It was the beginning of sunset by the time we arrived and with only one snorkel I decided to sit on the sandbar and admire the setting whilst Chris had a snorkel. He informs me it was the best snorkelling he’s done and that there is an underwater city of different corals, schools of multicoloured fish and sea urchins the size of gym balls. One of the rare occasions when a waterproof camera would have been ideal!
That evening we headed to the Full Moon Party but in a slightly different way than all the other people who were heading there. It’s tradition to wear neon clothes and body paint for the occasion which we did neither of and also consuming a lot of alcohol is normally on the agenda which we didn’t do any of. We just went to see what the fuss was about and to see what was going on. In fairness it was a lot of fun, the entire stretch of beach had been taken over by the party, there were some insane fire dancers and all sorts of other weird and wonderful things going on. On this occasion just witnessing the events was enough.
The next day we made the move to Haad Thian East where Mike was staying and the beach is only accessible by taxi boat which is caught from the same beach that hosts the full moon party. As you can imagine the beach didn’t look quite as good the morning after and the clear up was well underway. Haad Thian East is a very remote location and once you’re at the bay there isn’t an easy (or cheap) way to get anywhere else. It’s dominated by a resort called ‘the sanctuary’ which is a hippies dream offering all sorts of detoxing programmes, yoga classes and colonic irrigation sessions. We didn’t get too involved in this, I managed to convince Chris to come to one yoga class and that was about it. Although we did make full use of the steam room and plunge pool! As it’s such a remote location your food options are fairly limited, we did anticipate this so brought with us a good supply of muesli and bread to provide us two meals a day and this left enough money in our budget to treat ourselves to a nice evening meal every night. Our favourite place was ‘bamboo’ who did a particularly tasty massaman pumpkin curry and had a lovely location on a huge boulder over looking the next bay and out to the ocean.
There is a trek that can be done from Haad Thian East over to Haad Rin- the beach where the Full Moon Parties are held, so me, Chris and Mike put on our walking boots (I lie, I did it in flip flops) and embarked on the walk. It took just under two and a half hours to walk through the thick jungle to Haad Rin. We got a bit lost at times and started climbing up steep hills clinging on to trees before realising we’d gone wrong. It was a very hot and sweaty walk but well worth doing, it was so nice to see our destination appear through the trees infront of us. Even nicer to run into the sea at the end! Mike got the boat back as he had a massage appointment, hard life ey. Me and Chris decided that in the interest of saving money we’d do the trek back which only took us an hour and a half as we knew our way going back.
We embarked on another much shorter but equally sweaty walk up to a view point that offers views over two bays and out onto endless sea. It’s very lonely at the top of the viewpoint making it feel as if it’s just you and the sea out there. Quite breathtaking. The walk to the viewpoint isn’t tricky it’s the rock climbing that takes the biscuit which I again attempted in flip flops. Not the easiest climb but again certainly worth it! When we weren’t trekking about, relaxing on the beach or eating in nice restaurants we spent some time watching Mike do some filming. For anyone who doesn’t know Mike he is a cameraman and had brought all his filming equipment with him to Koh Phangan in the hope of filming some macro life. He managed to find a colourful bug which was the first star of the show but proved tricky to film without it flying away. Next up was a praying mantis who loved the camera and stayed more or less still for all of the filming. It was such a cool little thing and the shots are incredible, you can see his eyes rolling all the way around. It was a lot of fun watching Mike film and watching all the bugs in action. Not something you get to witness everyday!
Whilst staying on the west of the island we witnessed some amazing sunsets. We’ve seen a lot in our seven months of travelling but they never get old. When we moved over to the East of the island we didn’t get the sunset but we did get the moon. This worked out particularly well as we witnessed a lunar eclipse right in front of our bay. Such an amazing experience, the moon was totally unrecognisable and appeared like a whole new planet infront of us. We sat and watched it rise in the sky and change in colours. For the next few days after the eclipse the moon was so orangey/red in the sky, such a nice sight. Moon gazing also gave opportunity to witness lots of shooting stars which just added to the occasion.
We said our goodbyes to Mike and got the boat back to a more accessible part of the island (on a particularly choppy day, us and our bags got soaked!) We’d planned to spend our last day on the island at a place called Wipe Out which is an assault course sort of thing like the one on the TV show- imagine big red inflatable balls and climbing frames etc. Chris also wanted to pop back to Koh Ma to experience the snorkelling there again. However the motorbike that we chose to rent decided to stop working halfway between leaving our bungalow and arriving at either destination. Many men got involved with trying to fix it but nobody could figure it out, the thing just didn’t want to start. So we then had to contact the shop we’d rented it from and get them to come and collect us, take us back to the shop and swap the bike over. This ordeal took hours meaning we only had time for a brief stop at Koh Ma. I got scared off by the sheer amount of sea cucumbers so didn’t snorkel for too long but Chris made the most of it.
As previously mentioned we’d really enjoyed our time on Koh Phangan and got swept away with events that we spent all our designated time on the one island meaning we didn’t get to see neighbouring Koh Tao or Koh Samui. It was also a really nice opportunity for me to meet Mike and for him and Chris to spend some time together. We’d imagined that Koh Phangan was going to be full of drunk and stupid Brits just after the full moon party and that the place would be a bit of a dump. We were totally wrong, there is one small part of the island like this but there’s a whole other island to explore beyond that.
We embarked on the long journey back to Bangkok where we planned on spending Thai New Year- known as Songkran (our third new year since ours in January!) We are very much looking forward to meeting up with Rene, Loren and Jane whom we met in Bangkok months early and would all be back to celebrate Songkran.