The ferry arrived at Haad Rin Nai Beach from Big Buddha at sunset. Legions of sybaritic party-lovers disembark three days before the first Full Moon Party of the year kicks off on Haad Rin Beach. If you’re looking for a party on one of the best tropical islands in the world this is the place to be. This is Koh Phangan, island oasis for hippie backpackers looking for a good time. I’ve met people who stay here for months, caught in an endless circle of lazy sunny days, good eats, cheap accommodations, and fellow party-lovers for company. People do not come here as much for the adventure, nor the chance really to explore, although both can easily be found on this tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand. It’s the Full Moon beach parties, which are world-famous and attract DJ’s and free spirits from all over the world that draw people here. This big island packs a powerful punch, if you’re not just here for a party. There is a little magic here for everyone when you know where to look.
We make our way off the dock and pause for a minute on the beach to watch that splendid orange orb in the sky sink a little further into lavender oblivion. In the fading light of the afternoon, we ponder over our accommodations for the night. We have found ourselves in a peculiar predicament, since neither of us bothered to book our accommodations ahead of time. We set out to see if our regular bungalow on Haad Rin Sunrise beach was available. It wasn’t.
Unfortunately, as the evening progresses, we realize that it was going to take ages if we continue on foot. John stops at an Internet cafe to look up places with vacancies, and we end up booking a room for $25 US at the Drop Inn Club Resort and Spa . It is steep compared to our usual $500 Baht ($14 US), but we like the accommodations and we know we can move in a few days once the island starts emptying out again. Besides, it’s nice to indulge every once and awhile. And yes, $25 a night is expensive for backpackers in Asia.
We spend our first three days relaxing, dividing our time equally between the pool and the beach, devouring books and an assortment of fruit shakes and fresh fruit throughout the day. The beach parties, which we avoid, rock on every evening. We choose instead to fill our time with motorcycle excursions and balmy boat trips around the island. In the early morning hours, we rise and hit the beach for a few hours before the heat of the day sets in. By noon, we are sprawled on giant pillows in front of the television watching reruns of Friends and The Simpsons, chomping on whatever strikes our fancy.
By 10pm on the third night, we find ourselves down on the beach clasping matching candy red sand buckets filled to the brim with ice, Red Bull, and various hard liquers. These Island Buckets are a signature trademark of the island, along with island tattoos, which often occur the day after a long evening session of Buckets. The beats are thumping as we walk barefoot down the moonlit beach.
Along the way, we pass a collection of colorful buildings, each reverberating in turn with various styles of electronica: Hard House, Happy House, Jungle, Drum & Bass…. The Christmas lights twinkle merrily in the moonlight and several bonfires flicker in the distance. A warm sea wind resounds gently off the rolling waves, bathing everyone with a cool breeze that whispers.
The fire dancers are out in force this evening. Inked and oiled bodies smoothly gleaming between the fiery licks of flames; they sway and rotate with casual indifference. Their simple gestures send fire drenched poles and chains into the air, sun-browned bodies twist, turn, and catch with one arm behind the back. Down and up again, the flames climb higher with each flick of the wrist. I could watch these guys forever. Self-indulgent partygoer’s pound the soft sand, moving deeper into the rhythms of the night under the bone white full moon. This is Ko Phangan.