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Published: April 17th 2012
I. LOVE. THIS. ISLAND. It has everything I love wrapped up conveniently in a little package. Clear turquoise waters. White sand. Jungle interior. Mountains. Night life when you want it, whispering palm trees when you don’t. Bungalows on the beach for $20 a night. It is a backpacker’s dream. As I write this entry my skin is still emitting heat from all the sun it has absorbed in the past five days. I smell like a tropical island – part sweat, part sea salt, part no-cares-in-the-world euphoria.I wish I could store this smell in a little bottle and dab in on my wrists on a cold winter’s day.
From Chiang Mai Travis and I took a twelve hour bus south to Bangkok and spent the night in our usual hotel near the airport, Rafael Mansion. In the morning we flew south to Surat Thani, took a shuttle van to the coast, and then boarded a high speed catamaran to the island of Ko Phangan. I sat out on the upper deck to breathe in the fresh sea air. The electric blue skyline was shocking after the browns and greens of the jungle. As soon as we docked two young guys
scampered off the boat, stripped naked, and ran Baywatch style into the water. I felt like we had arrived home.
Per usual I was sleepy from all the traveling of the previous few days so I spent the afternoon napping in the hammock on the porch of our bungalow. It was a cute little straw thatch place - simple but adorable - and directly on a pristine white sand beach (Rainbow Bungalows on Ban Kai beach). We became friends with the owners right away – an Australian guy with the cool, witty charm of Anthony Bourdain and his wife, Noy, a sweet as can be Thai woman. At lunch we learned that the Full Moon party was actually that night, rather than the following as we had planned for. We hadn’t come to Ko Phangan specifically for the Full Moon party as many backpackers do, but we didn’t want to miss it either, especially considering this one was the largest of the year. Sleepy or not, it was time to shake the slumber from our eyes and go get our party on.
Open bed trucks overloaded with neon painted white kids went screeching by the driveway of our
bungalows with the ferocity of a lion in pursuit. There was party
in the air. The island was excited. We grabbed a seat in one, feeling a little old, and like we had missed the memo on the neon body paint. These were not the creative, artistic crowd of Burning Man; they were young kids who had gotten lost on the way to spring break, dressed identically in factory made Full Moon party t-shirts and covered in neon glow in the dark paint. Moments later we arrived at Haad Rin beach. We picked up a couple of buckets (literally – buckets) of rum and coke and pushed through the squirming, pulsating crowd towards a glowing orange orb in the distance. Two young Thai guys were spinning a jump rope that was lit on fire while drunk shirtless boys took turns trying to run in and jump over the flames. Naturally, it was horrifying, but we couldn’t take our eyes away. They alternated between fire jump rope, fire limbo and fire hula hoop. Travis took a turn at the limbo. Just to the right was a rope ladder and adjoining slide lined on either side by two large flames, which
I later conquered. We climbed up on a large platform to get a better view of the debauchery and ended up staying there for most of the night. From the height of the platform we could see the entire stretch of the beach. Large open air clubs facing the ocean lined the entire cove blasting house, trance, and pop music; all merging and blending with one another. The sand was covered in bodies – dancing, squirming, writhing bodies. At all times there was a row of boys peeing into the ocean. I made a note to myself not to go swimming there the next day.
The following day we rented a motorbike from a place down the street so we could come and go as we pleased. However, there was very little need to leave. Rainbow Bungalows had everything we needed – sun, waves, and delicious food. We spent the rest of the week alternating between relaxing on the beach and exploring the island by motorbike. The south coast of the island, where we are staying is well developed but the north coast is wild and rugged. On our third afternoon we rode the bike up the coast whizzing
by restaurants, surf shops, and other backpackers on motorbikes with skinned knees; the sea always sparkling on our left. We stopped about halfway to the north at Haad Yao beach, for a beer and a soak in the sea. Afterwards we continued on until we reached a small fishing village called Chalokulam, where we stopped and had dinner at a seaside café. A couple of days later we found ourselves on the bike again looking for a lunch spot and decided to stop at the Lake Hut which had an amazing rope swing and a two story climbing gym out in the middle of a calm little body of water. We spent the whole afternoon there playing Tarzan and goofing around on the equipment.
On our final day we did something that I’ve been wanting to try forever – scuba diving! Travis has gone diving multiple times before and is certified, but I have never been so we chose a Discover Scuba class, where the instructors stay with you the entire time. We got picked up early in the morning and headed over to the surf shop to meet our instructors, two cool, laid back guys from the UK.
After filling out some paperwork we headed north to the pier in Chalokulam where we hired a driver to take us out on a longtail fishing boat for the day. We puttered out to a calm spot about 300 feet offshore called Mai Haad Reef and suited up. The location was stunning – ribbons of turquoise, emerald, and aqua danced on the horizon. We got in the water right away and started practicing diving skills - how to clear goggles of water, how to breathe through the regulator, and how to add and decrease air in our vests so we could sink and rise as needed. And then, we were ready. I pressed the red button on my vest and started to slowly descend into the water. Large air bubbles floated up above my head as I gradually sank. Rays of sun pierced through the water, their intensity obscured by the opacity of the water; and then my feet touched the ground. I couldn’t believe how fast we had sunk - we were about 35 feet down, the deepest you can go without being certified. I looked around me at the watery world, excited and a little nervous. It took
me some time to figure out my buoyancy and get comfortable breathing under water, but before long I was swimming and admiring the reef with ease. I saw a giant purple blob with green tentacles coming out of it, a black spiky creature with little eyes on the ends of the spikes, a fluorescent blue and yellow fish, a black and white striped fish with a long pointed nose, and another ugly black, lumpy fish that looked exactly like a rock until it opened its eyes. The sheer amount of fish and sea life was spectacular. We came up after about 50 minutes and had a quick lunch on the boat. The sun was so intense however, that we couldn’t wait to get back in the water. For our second dive we swam around the side of the island, the current pulling us along the entire way, alongside a massive reef wall, through a narrow ravine, and eventually came up inside of a small cave. A school of fish with a neon yellow line running through their center joined us for much of the dive. Our boat was waiting for us just outside of the cave. The entire experience was
amazing, and definitely enough to get me hooked on diving – I can’t wait to go again!
On our final night in Ko Phangan, we decided to go for a walk along the beach. Somewhere along the way, however, we heard the familiar beat of electronic music and decided to follow it. We crossed over a small river (an inlet from the ocean) and onto a dark jungle road. The road was pitch black with thick vegetation burrowing down on us from either side. I would have been fine with this if it weren’t for the constant threat of street dogs that are ubiquitous in Asia. Sure enough, moments later three grungy mutts emerged from an obscured driveway and began barking at us. Despite my friendly demeanor, they barked and nipped at my dress until we had passed their turf. Luckily, we were closing in on the music – it was emanating from a spacious open air bar up ahead. A beautiful Thai woman with long, black hair was on the decks. A crowd of ex-pats, travelers, and young Thai men and women danced – a ripple of tribal tattoos, flowy clothes, dreadlocks, and bare feet. I could have
stayed there forever. We ordered up some mojitos, I listened to the mesmerizing beats, and imagined what it would be like to live here.
To see more pictures from our trip check out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejarvisproject
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