Island Life: Koh Pha Ngan

A series of transport – van, plane, bus, high-speed catamaran and taxi – brought me safely to the island of Koh Pha Ngan in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Pha Ngan is Thailand’s fifth largest island and the birth place of the Full Moon Party.  No one knows how the Full Moon Party started exactly. It’s rumored to have been a going away party in the late eighties and it just stuck.  In high season, 30,00o people flock to the island for the all night rager that happens each month on the – you guessed it – full moon.  Multiple sound systems, Thai island boys spinning poi (helloooooooo!), clubs selling “special” mushroom shakes, fire jump roping and bat shit crazy tourists swarm the island for the big blow out.  It truly is an international dance party with loads of Europeans, Israelis and Aussies.  Not too many Americans interestingly enough. I might even say it’s Thailand’s version of Burning Man minus the art, cleanliness, and sophisticated beats.  I don’t mean to sound snobbish but the “ounce, ounce” here can be repetitive and annoying.

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The party was a spectacle for sure.  Go-go dancers, drunken farang, fireworks, $5.00 island buckets full of booze and straws, and neon body paint.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Perhaps because it reminded me of that crazy experiment that happens each August in the Nevada desert; perhaps because I felt at home.  I’m most fascinated by the Thai islanders because they have a completely different vibe than the Thais in the city or village.  They are tattooed, pierced, tribal and beautiful.  I found myself enamored with them.

Little did we know, our hotel, the Drop In Club Resort and Spa, was the place to be on the peninsula of Haad Rin. Every day at 3 p.m. the pool deck threw a “foam” party which meant bumpin’ beats and suds galore.  One big fat group bubble bath and perhaps the craziest shit I’ve seen so far.  One day I was at the beach by myself enjoying the tranquility and I saw something floating in the air.  At first I thought it was birds then I saw that it was suds. I wondered what the hell it was and where it was coming from.  I soon got my answer.  I can’t imagine the soap is good for the environment yet alone the impact of 30,000 partiers on the beach throwing glass bottles on the sand and pissing in the ocean.

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The beaches of Koh Pha Ngan are amazing.  “Ngan” means sand bar and there are many.  The water in the gulf is seagreen and warm.  In this heat, it is heaven to my Montana blood.  The sand is smooth and soft.  You can rent boats, go diving, snorkeling, water skiing, etc.  Most of the island is undeveloped, dense jungle.  There are elephants, monkeys, coconut and rubber trees, and more exotic fruit than I’ve ever seen or tasted, mangosteens being my favorite so far. The island is home to 12,000 permanent residents.  Some historians believe it was first populated by the sea gypsies, or chao leh in Thai.  I’m completely fascinated with this ethnic group of water dwellers.  I’ve read there are only 6,000 sea gypsies still in existence and that commercial modern life is a threatening their extinction.

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Overall I ate well, enjoyed some wonderful Thai massage, soaked up the rays and watched many sunsets.  Island life is good.  I could’ve stayed longer but the party scene gets old for me quickly. A testament to my age, I suppose.  10 years ago I would’ve gone bat shit with the rest of them.  Now, I’m not interested in drinking buckets full of warm whiskey, burning my flesh while jumping fire rope, making out with strangers and losing my wits completely.  As is always the case in my travels, I prefer to kick it with the natives.

I’m ready for a more authentic Thai experience so I will venture in the next day or two to Chiang Mai – Thailand’s cultural hub.  A city of universities, temples, museums, language and cooking schools.  It appears you can study everything from the northern Thai dialects to Buddhist meditation.  I plan to rent a guesthouse for about a week and enroll myself in a Thai language intensive.  I’m not sure I’ll learn much in a week but the basics are better than nothing.  Two things I know for sure:  Thai is fucking hard and English isn’t widespread.  Cross your fingers people.  I’m sure I’ll make an ass of myself often but I have to give it my best.  Then it’s onward to Mae Sai, a small Thai town on the border of Burma and home to DEPDC’s headquarters.  I plan to start volunteering by February 1st.  My life will look much different very soon.  I welcome a spot to call my own and a daily routine.

I’m in Jum’s village for a night or two to relax and decompress from the party island.  It’s just me and the Thais now which I love.  The village children are friendly and curious but they are more reserved than the children in India and they don’t swarm me completely although I sometimes wish they would.  It’s peaceful out here and the food keeps on a’coming.  And does this family know how to cook!  I love walking around and checking out the village roads, fish farms, markets and small shops.  I don’t know this for sure, but I think I’m the only whitey in town.  The Thais here think I look Indian rather than American which absolutely delights me.   Most of my readers know that I hold India near and dear.  Last night, we ate fresh steamed shrimp with the hottest sauce imaginable.  The shrimp are sometimes 6 inches in length.  Amazing.  Samot, Jum’s brother, calls me Noval.  He is often found smiling, whiskey in hand.  He gives me the thumbs up and asks, “Thailand okay?”  It’s more than okay, Samot.  He’s a damn good cook who used to be the mayor.  He’s incredibly kind, handsome and hard-working.  If he wasn’t already married, I might try my hand.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Saa Wad Dee  family is incredible.  I’m honored and blessed to be in their village, with their relatives, having an authentically Thai home stay.  I’m gonna go have some snacks on sticks now and relax with everybody.  I’ll even try a fried bug or two but I’m not sure I can stomach the grasshoppers.  It’s the thought of the guts that holds me back.  Until next time…

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3 thoughts on “Island Life: Koh Pha Ngan

  1. Ounce, ounce, ounce, ounce… You should totally go to Ibiza! With all the foam and the body paint, it sounds like you’re on Spring Break with the cast of “The Jersey Shore.” You’d better let the DJs know that you have all of the gay dance remixes in the world on your computer.

    1. It was Jersey Shore all the way but better looking. The Israelis and Thai islanders are va va voom for sure. The gays were out in droves and I wished you were there. If only I could’ve commanded a DJ station, I could’ve rocked that party. Save all the new music for me, Rich. I can tell I’ll be out of the pop culture loop for the foreseeable future. P.S. The Thai popular music is not good. Imagine 1960s Asian karaoke and that’s what you get.

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