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Published: September 7th 2006
It's 3am and I'm standing with a group of good mates on a white sand beach, brightly-coloured 'buckets' grasped tightly in our hands, howling at the glorious full moon high above. On the beach all around us, fluorescent body-painted travellers from every corner of the globe are dancing like crazy people. A few metres down the beach to my left, a group of Thai fire dancers are whirling flaming sticks with wild abandon, flinging them up into the air, leaving fire-trails in the night sky. We can feel the heat on our skin but it doesn't seem to matter right now. A sunburned Englishman suddenly stumbles frantically past us to the water's edge, where he proceeds to empty the contents of his considerable stomach into the sea. A little beyond him, an inebriated couple are getting a little too friendly (if you catch my drift), seemingly oblivious to the vomitous condition of the ocean in which they're so passionately embracing. This is the infamous Full Moon Party (FMP); a legend amongst ravers the world over and one of the biggest parties you'll ever find. Crazy, wild, seedy, invigorating, often disgusting but always entertaining... The FMP is something everyone should experience at
least once in their lifetime! But there were a couple of other island trips before Koh Pha Ngan for the FMP, which I'll write about first... Koh Samet
At the beginning of the term, the entire group of Western exchange students did pretty much everything together - meals, trips, clubbing, and so on. As you can imagine, this was a lot of fun but entailed a lot of standing around trying to decide what to do. (Especially for meals; imagine trying to accommodate the individual preferences of around 15 people when trying to figure out where and when to eat each night...) As you might expect, this state of affairs couldn't last long and we soon started to split up into small, and ever-changing, groups. However, on this first trip to Koh Samet, pretty much everyone came along and it was a lot of fun, (once we finally got there), to be on such a beautiful island with such a big group of friends.
We only had a weekend on Koh Samet but it's not too far from Bangkok so it worked out well. The weather wasn't exactly the best when we arrived, (to be honest, it rained
quite a bit), but noone let that deter them in the least. The girls quickly located a row of comfortable deck-chairs and lay back to 'sun-bathe', while we rounded up a big group of guys from all along the beach and started a huge game of beach soccer. Incredibly, some of the guys we played with that day ended up being fellow Rangsit students, whom we met up with weeks later in the Rangsit student pub!
That night was memorable for one main reason: it was the night we were first introduced to the Thai 'bucket'. Served in a kids' beach bucket, this is a sweet-tasting but lethal concoction of cheap vodka, industrial-strength Red Bull, lemonade, lime and ice. My stomach was a bit off that night, so I couldn't drink much myself. However, this meant I got to enjoy the show as my fellow exchange students got liquored up and then gave me a highly entertaining demonstration of exactly how Americans party while abroad. (They assure me that they're much better behaved back home; a claim I take with roughly a kilogram of salt.) =P
The next morning, I rounded up a few of the least hung-over
and we rented a couple of sea-kayaks. After making our way quite a distance out of our bay, we realised we didn't have time to paddle back so decided to head to land and carry the kayaks home, (I'm sure it did seem like a good idea at the time). Paddling in towards the beach, we were suddenly caught by a big wave and driven forward much faster. Naturally, we responded by paddling as fast as we could to try and ride the wave as long as possible. We managed this surprisingly well, almost reaching the beach before the wave suddenly swung us around and completely capsized us, grinding our grinning faces into the sand. Well worth it. =) Koh Samui
Bangkok's traffic is bad at the best of times. But the total gridlock on the night of the King's anniversary (60th year in power!) was something else. Yellow-shirted crowds (yellow is the King's colour, light blue the Queen's) thronged the streets, rapturous faces beaming or shining wet with reverent tears, thousands upon thousands of candles lit and held aloft... Our bus crawled the yellow madness at a pace that made snails look blindingly fast in comparison. Luckily, Casto
& Leti were on the bus with me - two of the best travel companions you could ask for. We passed an enjoyable night chatting, playing cards, and even managed to get a few hours' sleep.
We only spent a couple of days on Koh Samui, as we were meeting the rest of the group on nearby Koh Pha Ngan for the FMP. So we just relaxed on the beach during the day and then watched World Cup games at night - perfect! While it is a beautiful island, with a lot of fun things to do, Koh Samui is a little too developed for my tastes. There are just too many bars, hotels, beach vendors selling ice-creams and massages, and tourists (and the prostitutes or slightly more subtle 'companions' that inevitably flock to them in Thailand). Koh Pha Ngan
Catching the ferry across to Koh Pha Ngan on the day of the FMP, we quickly located the rest of the group and spent the afternoon trying to gather and conserve energy for what we knew was going to be a crazy night ahead. For anyone heading to a FMP soon, the 'Liberty Bungalows' (in Baan Tai; head
down a dirt track towards the beach just after the 7-11) make an ideal base. The bungalows are basic but the common area is perfect and the food amazing.
Later that night, after a short sawng-teaw
ride (and a couple of cursory drug searches at police checkpoints), we arrived at Haad Rin beach, the site of the FMP insanity. It is hard to describe the experience of wandering down onto the beach on the night of the full moon. Picture in your mind a long, wide stretch of white sand beach (which will be looking decidedly less white the next morning!) looking out into a darkly calm bay, a few wooden fishing boats bobbing expectantly off-shore. Now, imagine dozens and dozens of bars and clubs all along this beach, of all different sizes and styles, offering a huge variety of music, drinks and ambience. Try to picture their crazy flashing lights, see the technicolour neon signs strung up in palm trees, imagine the smiling barstaff waving you inside and the body-shaking tunes being pumped out of the enormous speakers on the sand. Now add to the scene numerous stands offering fluorescent body-painting, with huge boards behind them advertising some
of their designs. Finally, add the most important part to the mix - roughly 10,000 ravers, travellers from every corner of the globe, here to experience and take part in the FMP madness. I doubt there's anything quite like it elsewhere in the world.
We quickly acquired buckets and then spent the next few hours exploring the beach and the various bars/clubs along it. In all the craziness, our big group quickly broke up, (although we seemed to randomly bump into each other all night), and I spent most of the night with Casto, Leti, Emily and Trace. We walked from one end of the beach to the other, in search of the best bars, music, atmosphere, fire dancing and so on. I had a blast that night, carving up the beach with increasingly-crazy dance moves, which were admittedly fuelled by the two and a half buckets I worked my way through. (And yes, I paid in full the next day... =/) When the sun rose the next morning, we (as well as thousands and thousands of others), were still dancing, bleary-eyed and tired but still going. Eventually though, we decided we'd have to call it a night (or
should that be a morning?) and found a sawng-teaw
back on the main road. As soon as we reached Liberty Bungalows, I collapsed gratefully into a hammock and slept for most of the day. The FMP was an experience I'll never forget but am in no hurry to repeat just yet, (and not just because of the nasty hangover from the cheap whisky and too much Red Bull). Just a little too crazy and seedy for me but a great night nonetheless.
And next, for something totally different, an entry about my Mum's recent visit!... Giving her a taste of Rangsit life, exploring Bangkok's wats and shops, swimming with elephants on Koh Chang, walking across the Bridge over the River Kwai, patting tigers in Kanchanaburi, and just catching up on the last seven months or so. A great time with an amazing and adventurous lady! =) Tune in soon...
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