A Crazy (But Happy) New Year In Koh Phangan

Trip Start Jun 13, 2011
Trip End Jun 12, 2012

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Where I stayed
Maipenrai Bungalows

Flag of Thailand  ,
Thursday, December 29, 2011

What initially made us decided to visit Koh Phangan was the big New Year Full Moon Party - we just thought we’re travelling the world for a year, why not bring the new year in with a bang!?’ - and as much as that night itself was not the best (to say the least - but more about that later!), we’re so glad it gave us a reason to visit this wonderful island.

It was another multi-transport extravaganza to get there; long tail boat - speedboat - minibus - stop in Hat Yai for 2 hours - tuktuk - big bus - 3 hours in Donsek - ferry - 4x4, but it all went pretty much according to schedule and was done within 24 hours. The only thing of note that happened was that we bumped into Katrina, a girl we’d met while trekking in China, in the street in Hat Yai - it was lovely to see her, but it’s funny how these things happen when you’re travelling!

We potentially had almost 2 weeks to spend in Koh Phangan, by far our longest stay to date - we knew we were going to spend at least a week there over New Year, but thought we might visit another island depending on how we got on. I think we knew almost straight away that we wanted to stay, and actually grew to love it more and more as time went on.

What surprised us at first was the size of the island -  much bigger than any we’d stayed on before. But that’s one of the nicest aspects of it - there’s absolutely loads to see and do, if you want, but as it’s so spread out, there are still loads of quiet, chilled out areas. We had looked into it a bit, and decided we wanted to stay a bit away from the madness of Haad Rin (where the parties are held), and Thaan Sadet beach couldn’t have been more perfect.

The beach itself wasn’t huge but the setting was really beautiful, with just a few wee bungalows and some fantastic places to eat and drink, all very rustic and natural. The place we stayed, ’Maipenrai’, was almost faultless. We had an amazing bungalow (600bt) right on the beach, so we fell asleep and awoke every day to the sound of the sea, and walked out every morning onto the golden sands. The restaurant/chill-out area was really nicely done, with loads of special touches, good tunes, great food and lovely staff. The other couple of places were also nice; J.S Huts had a nice beach bar, and Plaa was set on the side of the cliff, affording lovely views out to sea and over the bay.

So we had a couple of days just chilling there before heading down for the celebrations. We knew it was probably not gonna be totally our kind of thing, but it seemed like a bit of a traveller’s rite of passage as well as a fun way to see in the new year.  Now, I would love to say we ended up having the best time ever - unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth! 

We piled into pick-up trucks for the 1 hour drive through the crazy inland mountain roads, and as we got closer it was fun to see the vans of colourfully dressed and painted people in high spirits approaching from all over the  island - we started to think it might be more fun than we were expecting! However, as we were queuing to get to the drop off point, out of the blue my stomach cramped up and my whole body started burning up - it came over me so suddenly I could barely make sense of what was happening - I just knew I needed to get to a toilet! So, without even being able to say a word to Barry (the only thing I was concentrating on was not throwing up over everyone in the van), I managed to hop over the side of the (slow) moving van and make a run over the road to the nearest hotel - which luckily enough turned out to be a plush Hilton-type place

After my stomach had completely emptied itself, I did feel slightly better for a while - still burning up and a bit out of it, but not as bad. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long - after a few sips of water I had to run back to the loo! The worst part was that we were stuck there - our return ride wasn’t until 2.30am! So there was nothing else for it but to try to make the most of it. We headed down to the beach just in time to catch the fireworks - luckily the countdown was about 8 minutes late or we would’ve missed them! It was nice to see, but it was absolutely mobbed and pretty rowdy (plus the firework debris was falling into our eyes), so we decided just to have a wee wander round the streets instead.

So we wandered around for a while (punctuated with the odd toilet-dash!), taking everything in. the music was pretty terrible and there was a fair amount of drunken nonsense, but over-all there was a nice atmosphere (and I loved seeing everyone’s funky body-art - so cool!) - I just wish I’d been able to join in rather than walking about like a broken toy! Barry managed to get into the swing of things though - helped on the way by a ‘Bucket’ - which is literally a kid’s plastic bucket filled with the alcohol of your choice, in his case whiskey, coke and red bull - fatal

The evening took a drastic turn for the worse when I had to make yet another run to the loo - we’d somehow ended up on a street with no bars, so when we spotted a little restaurant Barry ran over to ask if I could use their toilet. The guy refused, which of course is fair enough, but when Barry tried to explain the situation to him he got really aggressive (I suppose they get a bit sick of drunken foreigners and just don’t want to hear it), so there were words exchanged (as far as I know ’w****r’ was the insult of choice from Barry), at which point I demanded that he come with me to help find somewhere that would let me in. So we walked off, only to turn round a minute later to find the small Thai guy had taken off his shoe (a plimsoll) and was running up to attack Barry - if I wasn’t so shocked it could have been almost funny. His friend managed to pull him off, so we marched off, a little confused over what had happened - only to have both of them jump on Barry a minute later. It was one of those awful situations where Barry could’ve easily laid them both out (they were tiny), but that would’ve only made the situation worse. As no-one else was helping, I had no choice but to try  to drag one of the guys off him, which I managed by jumping on him, which then resulted in a woman (I think she was the mum) dragging me off him by the hair, pulling out clumps and ripping my earring out at the same time - absolute madness. By this point, a couple of Westerners came to our rescue and restrained the Thais, giving us a chance to get away, thank god. 

I was absolutely shaking after our encounter, so we found a quiet wee place near the pick up point for a drink (Barry a much needed beer, me still on the water - which really didn’t want to stay inside me!). Fortunately we didn’t have long till our lift home, and I can honestly say I’ve never been more relieved to get to the end of a night out.

The bad luck continued when we awoke to a storm on New Year’s Day, which turned out to be the tail end of a typhoon and lasted for 4 days solid. It was actually pretty scary - the waves were lashing over the rocks (and getting alarmingly close to our beach-front bungalow), and the front of our roof got ripped off in the strong winds. The only saving grace was that I was feeling that terrible that I didn’t really care - plus there was something comforting about cosying-up and hiding from the storm.

By the 4th , I was starting to feel a bit better and the storm had decided to calm down, so we were able to get back out to explore. The walks from Thaan Sadet were fantastic but very tough, especially in the heat, but there’s loads to see and do. The nearest beach was pretty much an hours walk away, and was really nice too (although a lot bigger and more developed than where we were - it even had a 7-Eleven!). But closer than that there are some lovely waterfalls and other forest trails, and a cracking wee bar called ‘Hide on High’, which was run by a lovely Thai guy and is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been. There’s also a great restaurant/bungalow place by the name of  ‘Seaview‘, where I think we’d stay if we get back to the island.

We spent our last night in the port-town of Thong Sala, as we were catching the 7am ferry the next morning. It was strange to be back in ‘civilisation’ (traffic, shops, bars etc), but in a way it was nice too. We found a wee guesthouse in the centre called ‘Buakao’, and although it was a bit on the pricey side (800bt), it included such luxuries as hot showers and a proper divan bed - mmmmm mmmmm mmmmm! We picked up some supplies to see us through to our next stop in the jungle, and decided to treat ourselves to a pizza as we’d just spent 2 weeks eating only Thai food and knew it would be the same to come. We found a great stone-oven place just outside the centre, next to Tesco’s (I still can’t get over seeing them around!), then had a final drink at the ‘Mason’s Arms’ - a really authentic, pretty English style pub that is so well done it’s almost confusing!

So, even with the food poisoning, assaults and typhoons we had a great time - which really sums up just what a fantastic place Koh Phangan is! And by the end of our time there, we felt totally relaxed and ready to get stuck in to some ‘proper’ travelling again - as much as a few weeks island hopping has been wonderful, it’s great to get back to the adventures again! 
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