Visiting Koh Pha-Ngan
The catamaran ride from Koh Tao to Ko Pha-Ngan was quite choppy and full of what seemed like teenagers/gap year kids (tourists) who couldn't go more than 30 minutes without lighting a cigarette. It's really a curious case of people indulging in their vices while on vacation because I don't believe that any of these American/European kids would smoke that much when they're back home or they'd be dead in a year. Nina started getting really sick from all of the second hand smoke on board so we decided to move towards the back of the catamaran where we had to stand. Nevertheless, we did appreciate being able to watch the beautiful Gulf of Thailand with all of its tiny islands dotting the sea on our ride.
After almost two hours, we finally arrived at Thong Sala pier in Ko Pha-Ngan, grabbed our belongings and started walking towards the taxi/shuttle area. I remember walking along the pathway and thinking it odd that there was a full outdoor gym available for use. It takes real dedication to go on a beach vacation and lift weights. In any case, using our experience in Koh Samui and Koh Tao, we made sure to negotiate the shuttle fare to our hotel in Haad Rin. It was a 30 minute ride to Haad Rin and it was the day before the full moon party so there wasn't much room to negotiate.
The ride to Haad Rin was very hilly and I feared for the safety of the poor foreign souls who were brave/naive enough to ride a scooter in this terrain. We finally got to our hotel called Moonstone Studio and were immediately greeted by a friendly French ex-pat who worked there. He showed us to our room and reminded us to insert our room key (we were only issued one) in a designated slot in order for the electricity to turn on. The room was was really small and had no amenities other than a roll of toilet paper, a safe and a pool. It didn't bother us since we were only here for two nights and the night of the full moon party we didn't even expect to sleep.
The French ex-pat gave us some suggestions for dinner and he pointed us in the direction of a hidden pathway toward a beach that intrigued us. We decided to head to this hidden beach before sunset so that we could film some drone footage. The pathway took us though the jungle and past a small village which lay next to this hidden beach. As soon as we emerged from the jungle we were stunned by the absolute beauty of the landscape. The purple and orange sky contrasted beautifully with the palm fronds and boat wreckages that littered a part of the shore. The shore itself was populated by tiny bungalows, local villagers tending to their boats and children running freely.
While we were flying the drone one of the local kids ran up to us with a look of such excitement on his face. I showed him the screen which allowed us to see everything from the drone's perspective several hundred feet in the air and we even waved at the drone during this exhibition. After bringing the drone back to the ground he ran away to tell the rest of his friends and family about these two strangers who had shown him a drone. As a show of good faith, I raised my hand in a high five motion and he ran towards me and gave me a high five. Giggling and filled with joy, he ran back to his parents who then gave us a friendly smile and wave.
The next day we decided to head into the main part of town so that we could walk around and get T-shirts for the full moon party as well as get a situational sense of what to expect later that night at the party. Due to the influx of party goers in the thousands, everything was being sold at inflated prices. Most T-shirts were selling for anywhere between 300 - 500 Baht (approximately US $10 - $17) and swim trunks/shorts were selling for 500 - 700 Baht (approximately US $17 - $23). These were cheap goods that would normally sell for half that amount elsewhere in Thailand but negotiating a lower price was impossible since none of the vendors were willing to lower their prices. It was a supply/demand situation that they happily exploited. All hotels and hostels were at full capacity and we saw many a backpacker walking from place to place trying to find a room with no success.
Later that night we went back to the main beach in order to attend the full moon party. There were so many songthaews (pick up truck that has been converted into a ride sharing taxi by turning the bed of the truck into an extra cabin with wooden seats and metal bars installed) clogging the roads; each one filled with more drunk tourists looking to have a good time. Just outside the main entrance to the party, street vendors crowded the area in search of an easy sale. They were selling everything from glow in the dark paint to accessories, T-shirts, food and alcohol. We stopped at a street food vendor who served us some excellent Pad Thai and Chang beer for a total of 80 Baht (approximately US $2) before paying the 100 Baht fee (approximately US $3) per person to enter the party.
As we were entering the full moon party, we noticed people who had too much to drink being carried out by their friends and we would later see just how common this was throughout the night. As we got closer to the party, the sounds from the DJ booths and raw energy of so many congregated young folks pulsated through the ground and into our bones. On the left we could see a huge mosh pit of people jumping around to EDM while just a few feet from that they were playing hip hop. Every few feet that we walked we noticed a different DJ booth set up and playing a different genre of music. We heard everything from Latin pop, reggaeton, salsa, merengue, bachata, EDM, trance, house, hip hop, old school hip hop, trap, reggae, Soca, dancehall and others. All this energy contrasted with the gentle waves crashing right next to us made for quite a night and indeed we were eager to explore more.
We spent most of the night walking up and down the crowded 800 meter (half a mile) beach. We had fun watching people fire jump roping, fire hoop jumping, fire limbo dancing, sliding down a 2 story slide into the crowd and generally acting a fool. Eventually we felt comfortable enough to buy a bucket of questionable alcohol from one of the local vendors on the beach and join the party. We laughed, danced and sweat all night. At some point in the night, the organizers of the event lit up a huge sign celebrating the full moon party in all its glory and everyone cheered before going back to dancing on the beach.
Since we were due to take a 10am (10:00) ferry to Koh Samui, we decided to leave the party and head back to our hotel room around 5am (05:00). As soon as we hopped off the songthaew all that we could see was just how dark the entire premises looked. When we got to our hotel room we noticed that the electricity wasn't working. In that moment, all we could do was send a hasty Whats App message and email to the hotel manager in vain as we wondered what was going on. I then noticed that all of the surrounding neighborhood was without electricity and that's when a fellow traveler who was staying below us explained to me that the full moon party often causes widespread power outages in the neighborhood.
Since we now had no air conditioning and the room was blisteringly hot, I resolved to sleeping outside on the porch while Nina, hopeful that the power would return, insisted on sleeping inside. At first it was uncomfortable and having come back from the party exhausted and ready to sleep in a bed I was furious. However, that fury slowly evaporated into the cool air of the dense jungle. For the first time since my days in the army, I could look up at the night sky, completely unobstructed by noise pollution and appreciate the serenity of listening to all the animals in the jungle while having absolutely nothing else to do but to be with my own thoughts. I slept surprisingly well throughout the night.
The next morning, Nina and I caught a songthaew to Song Thala pier in order to catch a ferry to Koh Samui. We were accompanied on our ferry ride by a bunch of party goers; each one telling stories of mishaps and adventures from the previous night as though they were battle scars. As we overheard these conversations, Nina and I looked at each other and we both knew that nothing needed to be said. We had also survived the full moon party.