Koh Phangan, Full Moon Party and New Years Eve

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Ao Chalok Lam, we found a beautiful beach
Ao Chalok Lam, we found a beautiful beach
DECEMBER, 2009 - We finally made it to Koh Phangan after a night of traveling from Bangkok. Then, after wading through the chaos at the ferry port we found our ride and eventually made it to the Haad Tian Beach Resort on the North West part of the island. By songthaew (truck that a bunch of people sit in the back of) it was about about a 25 minute drive, part of which was spent picking up a bunch of other people who were heading the same way, and the last portion of which was quite bumpy coming down a windy dirt road to the hotel. The resort was absolultely perfect for what we wanted -- beach front, remote, but still close enough to get to the Full Moon Party fairly easily (about a 40 minute drive). Since getting to Koh Phangan had involved a long night and day involving tuk tuks, trains, buses and boats, we were happy to get settled into our room and relax for the evening. We showered and then went back to the hotel restaurant for a beer and some dinner before getting a night of much deserved sleep.

The hotel (or I guess we should call it a resort) was pretty much the only thing in the area, nothing else (except for another resort) within walking distance, so it was good that it had all the amenities. Restaurant, pool, internet, masks and snorkels, books, and as we learned and utilized later on, motor bike rentals. It was the afternoon of the December 29th when we arrived, so it gave us two nights to relax before the big New Year's Full Moon celebration at Haad Rin.

When we woke the next day, we were bummed to find out what seemed like a little fatigue and tiredness the day prior, had turned into quite the illness for my girlfriend. After the long journey to get here from California, combined with two days of dirty air in Bangkok, she really started feeling not well. So we spent our first full day in Koh Phangan laying low; for her it included a lot of bed time and thai TV (and a few American 80s movies), while for it included some swimming, snorkeling, reading, laying on the beach, writing, and getting acquianted with the resort and what it had to offer.

On New Year's Eve, she was feeling well enough to be upright for a few hours, so we made the decision to rent a motor bike. For 150 Baht, or just less than $5, we had the bike to ourself all day. It turned out to be one of the best decisions we made the entire trip, and we quickly learned that this is the only easy and cheap way of getting around at your own pace and seeing whatever you want. Throughout the day, we covered a good portion of the entire island, spending the first part back near the ferry port in Thong Sala. We ate lunch there, used the internet, and hit the pharmacy for some antibiotics in hopes that it would speed her recovery. From here we went back north to the remote Ao Chalok Lam bay, where there is really not much going on. Some little shack restaurants on the side of the road and a few isolated guest houses and bungalows. Without knowing where to go, we took a turn down a little dusty road. This was another great decision, as it dumped us out onto a nearly remote and absolutely stunning beach. This was a postcard moment, exactly what you think of when you think of Thai beaches. A few other lucky swimmers, some longtail boats bobbing in the water, blue sky, and nothing else. We lounged here, took a swim, then went out for more exploring.

One of the things we really wanted to do was to climb Khao Ra, highest peak on the island. But feeling how we were, and with the big party quickly approaching, we decided against it. Instead we went in search of some waterfalls. Trying to find them took us into the interior of the island where it was jungle. We found a few, but quite honestly, they were a little underwhelming. I did do a short amount of hiking up the mountain in hopes of finding bigger falls, but after 15 minutes or so and having found little more than a few small waterfalls with overcrowded pools, I headed back to where my girlfriend was waiting with the scooter. From here we went back to Thong Sala to stock up on some groceries for the night and the next day. Fresh fruit, juice, water, and then a big surprise when we tried to some beer. It seems as though no alcohol can be sold between the hours of 2 and 5PM at the grocery store! But strangely we were able to go next door and get what we needed with no problems.

Supplies procured, we hopped back onto the motor bike and raced back to the resort. It was sort of a comical moment, as all the last minute arrivals to the island for the big party night were making mad dashes to their accomodations. We saw quite a few bikes with couples on them, precariously balancing backpacks while not so safely going a little too fast for the island roads. Though in fairness, we were doing the same; both of us on the scooter with a backpack of fruit, juice and beer, and another bag with water and snacks tucked between my feet. It was a fun ride back, and we even got to see the sun go down over the water.

Fire Dancer, Full Moon Party
Fire Dancer, Full Moon Party

Arriving at the hotel, we now had a couple hours to prep for the big night. As I noted, the resort was in a pretty remote location, so the manager pre-arranged taxi service to Haad Rin. It was pricey at 200 baht per person, but on a night like New Year's Eve, you don't have many options, and taking a motor bike isn't really an option either. The rides were every hour or two hour from 6 until midnight I believe, and I think we went for the 8:00 ride. I should note that it is certainly a possibility to stay in Haad Rin and avoid the transportation issue, but then you run the risk of not being able to get away from the party. For us, it was well worth staying a bit away from Haad Rin and dealing with it. Hotels in and around Haad Rin also sell out many months in advance, so if that's your goal, plan ahead. It is a good bet though, that most hotels on the island will be able to get you to the party, as the majority of the island have the intention of spending their New Year's there. (Side note: Travelfish was an invaluable resource when trying to plan where to stay on the island)

The ride was full and fun, with about 12 of us from the resort packed in the back of a pickup truck, and we made it to Haad Rin. I'm not exactly certain of how it was supposed to work, but it seemed that they required you to pay an entrance fee to even get into the area, and being that by now it was only a few hours away from midnight, I wasn't in any position to argue. Maybe it was a rip off, maybe not, but it wasn't any excessive amount, so we paid it, got our bracelets, and then headed down the main street to find some dinner. The scene was already beginning to be quite a spectacle, with the entire area of Haad Rin being quite a different place from the remote and laid back North West part of the island. Restaurants, bars, vendors, and shops lined the main street, so we decided on what looked like a safe place to eat. Some good food, a few beers, and we journeyed down to the beach.

We finished dinner and then made our way through the masses of people filling the street in the area where meets the beach. The short walkway down was filled with vendors, all of the trying to sell you the famous buckets of Thai whiskey (or whatever poison you chose). I couldn't resist, so chose my bucket with vodka, and a guy who was probably all of sixteen years old proceeded to dump the entire thing into the bucket and then added a can of 7-Up. Moving onto the sand, there were nightclubs lining the beach in the both directions, vendors squeezed in where there was space, and several DJ stages out on the sand itself. With fire spinners, dancers, and already a fair amount of drunk people, the party was starting to ramp up at this point, as the New Year was just a few short hours away.

It was now that I finally realized just how beautiful this beach actually was. Though we actually never saw it during daylight hours, with the brightness of the full moon you could easily see that it was an absolutely stunning beach in an absolutely stunning location, and there's no doubt that the original full moon partiers picked the perfect site. Wide and flat, spanning probably close to a mile in length, bordered by sloping hills with a scattering of guesthouses as it rose up into jungle on both ends, and with shallow waters going out into the bay, it is a gorgeous location. And even on this night, the craziest and most crowded night on this beach of the entire year, if you walked in either direction you could actually find some open space. The only thing to watch out for was drunk people already starting to pass out in the sand. On this night there was not a cloud in the sky, the music was bumping, and the party really made for a magical evening.

As the New Year started closing in, the club DJs started doing the countdown, and at the stroke of midnight fireworks exploded in all directions, and a few different stages set fire to "Happy Near Year" and "Full Moon Party" signs which were set up just for this purpose. I have a feeling that this was just the start of a long night for many people, but for us, we just cherished the moment. Being there for such an event is just something that can be explained unless you are there. I would also like to point out that prior to the trip I had seen quite a bit of negative press regarding hte party, talking about drugs, violence, and vandalism. Though based on our experience, everyone seemed to be in great spirits, and I didn't witness any problems. In fact, when we were leaving the hotel, people were giving me a hard time for the fact that I carried my little day backpack, saying that I would most certainly lose it or have it stolen in the chaos of the evening. But I had no problems. Of course I kept my eye on it and didn't do anything stupid, so maybe that played a role in our safety and our returning home with my bag, camera, and video camera all in tact. Though I suspect that if we stayed until sun up, we may have seen a different side of things.

For us, the end of the evening came around 2AM, at which point we finally decided it was time to get back to the hotel. Though getting back to the hotel and the rest of our Koh Phangan experience will have to wait until my next entry.

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I took a few videos from the night of the Full Moon Party, they are a bit dark, but you can get the idea.

Also, here is a better one I found. This is NOT mine, but it gives a much different perspective.


If you would like to use these photos, please see the copyright info. Thanks!

Haad Tian resort, Koh PhanganHaad Tian resort, Koh Phangan
Almost full moon, Koh PhanganAlmost full moon, Koh Phangan
Looking west from Haad Tian Resort beachLooking west from Haad Tian Resort beach
Sitting in restaurant, looking at pool and oceanSitting in restaurant, looking at pool and ocean
Some sort of lizard roaming thru the bungalowsSome sort of lizard roaming thru the bungalows
Market in Thongsala, Koh PhanganMarket in Thongsala, Koh Phangan
Welcome to Koh Pha ngan, sign in Thong Sala near pierWelcome to Koh Pha ngan, sign in Thong Sala near pier
Cruisin' Koh Phangan on our scooterCruisin' Koh Phangan on our scooter
Ao Chalok Lam, we found a beautiful beachAo Chalok Lam, we found a beautiful beach
Curious cat outside our doorCurious cat outside our door
Another view from Ao Chalok LamAnother view from Ao Chalok Lam
Dirt road to Ao Chalok LamDirt road to Ao Chalok Lam
Paradise Waterfall, Koh PhanganParadise Waterfall, Koh Phangan
Sunset New Years Eve, riding back to hotelSunset New Years Eve, riding back to hotel
Back of Songthaew, heading to Full Moon PartyBack of Songthaew, heading to Full Moon Party
Haad Rin Full Moon Party, trying to get down to beachHaad Rin Full Moon Party, trying to get down to beach
Road down to Haad Tian ResortRoad down to Haad Tian Resort
Full Moon Party, Haad RinFull Moon Party, Haad Rin
Entrance to Full Moon Party, Koh PhanganEntrance to Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan
New Year's Full Moon PartyNew Year's Full Moon Party
Fire Dancer, Full Moon PartyFire Dancer, Full Moon Party
Fire Dancers, Full Moon PartyFire Dancers, Full Moon Party
Away from the chaos, Full Moon PartyAway from the chaos, Full Moon Party
Excited to be at Full Moon Party (this is not me)Excited to be at Full Moon Party (this is not me)
Full Moon Party, Haad RinFull Moon Party, Haad Rin
Full Moon Party blurry lightsFull Moon Party blurry lights
New Years Countdown FireNew Years Countdown Fire
New Years Full Moon Party FireworksNew Years Full Moon Party Fireworks
New Years Full Moon Party FireworksNew Years Full Moon Party Fireworks
Distant fireworks, New Years Full MoonDistant fireworks, New Years Full Moon
In Haad Rin leaving Full Moon PartyIn Haad Rin leaving Full Moon Party
Haad Rin, leaving Full Moon PartyHaad Rin, leaving Full Moon Party

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