Published: December 27th 2009December 27th 2009
I didnt hear the gunshots.
I was dancing, chatting and drinking with an assortment of party people and local folk wearing fluffy red and white santa hats.
The music went dead.
The crowds evaporated away.
A light rain was falling as mist in the night.
The party was over.
Three young boys were shot on the beach on Phi Phi on Christmas day.
The passengers on the well-worn route through the islands of Thailand know the route even if they haven't taken it before.
It has its own history, literature, fashions, gossip and rumours. Sitting on a ferry, or on a cramped minibus, advice is swapped over copies of the Lonely planet and Alex Garland's 'The Beach'.
From Koh Pang Yang through Samui and down to Phi Phi, the chat and gossip increases.
Friends are made, girls meet boys, boys meet girls. Numbers passed, stories recounted, tips of beaches and hotels are rumoured and passed on.
This year has a full moon that falls on New Years eve. Everyone is going, excited at the chance to be at the biggest party in the world.
Everyone says they are staying in Samui and getting the
The travellers rumours were also saying that Koh Phi Phi, once the island paradise of 'The Beach', has been ruined - too much building, too many tourists, ruined coral and noisy bars.
So instead everyone was going to destroy the beach on Koh Pang Yang instead.
I was in luck - Phi Phi was quiet for Christmas.
Hordes of people had chosen not to visit this year. The streets free, the beaches empty. The chugging longtails sitting idle in the shallows and the screeching massage girls dozing in the shade.
Quiet and relaxed, Phi Phi still impresses with its niche of island life and breath-taking sweep of beaches, but the town has been scrambled together in a hotch-potch of clumsy concrete boxes, rubbish piles and leaking drains. Get yourself out of the centre and the sleepy jungle takes over once again.
A year ago, on the back beach near to the centre of town, loud beach bars with fire shows and soundsystems popped up, attracting the crowds to drink all night and dance to thundering high speed techno.
Phi Phi was becoming a mini-model of Pang Yang, high-profit bars on the beaches
making money as quickly as the cheap sleeping blocks could be constructed. The pounding music was noticeable across the island on the first night I arrived.
Phi phi maybe relatively quiet but the bars still pumped their music, the holiday makers needed feeding and the touts competed even more viciously for the dwindling masses.
The small drunken groups staggered through the streets even as the sun rose. Trees were being cleared and hillsides excavated by hand and handcart to make way for new bungalows.
Everyone was saying that the land owners were going to ruin the island in the next few years, and that things were different now, but this steaming pot was about to boil over.
Quick money and a police force easily paid-off have allowed this small island to erupt in recent years, and unfortunately on this Christmas day maybe an argument led to a gun being passed around bar owners, a loss of face needed settling from an argument the day before, or maybe an old debt sorted, who really knows?
In the middle of a heaving, dancing, christmassy crowd, six guys with faces wrapped in sarongs rushed into a beach bar and shot
at their victim.
They got the wrong person. Their shots hit three thai teenagers and killed one of them.
The heaving, sweating backpackers staggered off along the beach, unaware of how close they had been to receiving a deadly wound and few column inches in the newspapers back home. I was one of them.
I heard the island rumours over the next few days, the bar owners in town saying this won't be the end of it, how the local police will get in trouble and how things will change on the island now.
Maybe things had already started to change. As the word had spread up the backpacker trail that Phi Phi has been ruined, so the crowds have stayed away and the hotels and bungalows were emptier this high season.
The money-making ability of a small island with short resources and short tempers has been pushed to its limit.
Its a massive shame that it takes the life of a young person for times to change.
I woke up this morning, took a run as the sun rose, passing the spot where I had been metres away from the incident,
the noise of the shot had been drowned out by the beat of of the music.
At the end of the soft golden beach, wooden houses crumbled in to the sea and I found a track through the undergrowth. Following it and clambering through grasses I found a secluded rock with a view along the golden beach. The town was awakening with trails of rising smoke, boats warming up in the bay and the beach bars now silent.
They haven't re-opened yet, who knows if they will?
A hundred thousand people are set to descend on Koh Pang Yang for the full moon new years party.
The party here will be sombre with the travellers away and the loud bars closed.
As one bar owner put it: ''Well, Phi Phi ain't Pang Yang for gods sake''