There’s a book by a guy called Alex Garland. It’s called The Beach. It’s a pretty excellent, self-aware piece of writing featuring a cast of generally despicable characters with hipster mentalities. I mentioned this guy in the last post. Just before we departed Bangkok and headed South our friend recommended this book for us to read. The main character in it gives a pretty scathing assessment of Koh Phangan, an island in the South. But, as hinted at above, the main character is also kind of a dickhead. The islands in Southern Thailand are paradise. Everything here is so beautiful I could take a close up picture of my arse cheeks near a beach and it would be postcard material.
But before we go further, some geography. Thailand consists of a peninsula dividing two groups of islands. On the Western side you have towns on the peninsula such as Phuket and Krabi, and islands such as Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. On the Eastern side of the peninsula you have the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao. Switching between both sides requires some degree of organisation, multiple ferry rides, and overland travel, so we decided to commit to the Eastern side, mainly Koh Phangan, on a friend’s recommendation.
Access to Koh Phangan is by boat only. A ferry departs from Don Sak pier nearish to Surat Thani and takes you there via the well-developed island Koh Samui. With your excellent intelligence, Mother, you may have already figured out that “Koh” is a Thai designation for “island”. We skipped Koh Samui and headed straight for Koh Phangan, with plans to move on to the smaller Koh Tao afterwards.
The ferry was crowded with a mix of casual tourists, travellers, and full-moon party-goers. The monthly full-moon parties on Koh Phangan are something of an infamous attraction, and your typical full-mooner is easily recognised by their fluoro singlet with shitty vinyl printing on it. The full-moon party is internationally popular and has driven the development of the town at its location, Haad Rin. We had been warned about Haad Rin.
We were to stay at three beaches on Koh Phangan, the first being Haad Khuad (or “Bottle Beach”), a reasonably remote village away from the busier southern side of the island. Once we survived the free for all maelstrom that was the ferry baggage room and made a swift exit from the ferry pier, we immediately jumped on the back of a pair of scooter taxis . The scooters took us over to the Northern coast, to the fishing village of Chalok Lam.
Waiting for a boat.
From there we chartered a fisherman to give us a lift on his longtail boat around a headland or two and land on Bottle Beach, directly outside our bungalows.
Travelling in a boat.
It was a costly journey by Thailand standards but it felt pretty fucking rock and roll to land on the beach, jump into the surf, and walk straight in to the rooms.
The view from our bungalow. That section of beach is where we landed.
Bungalows are awesome. Cheap, private, prolific, and close to the beach, we stayed in nothing else on Koh Phangan. We spent 3 nights on Bottle Beach, chatting and disc hucking with the bar staff, making some new friends, and hiking up the side of a mountain to reach a pretty spectacular view point.
Bottle Beach as seen from the viewpoint.
Bottle Beach was idyllic but we wanted to see more of the island, so with some goodbyes and the staff pleading for us to stay we made an exit with a hope to return at some point.
Bye bye Bottle Beach.
The gentleman half of some friends we had made had his birthday coming up and they had moved down to Haad Rin to spend some time there.
With much trepidation we made our way back over to the Southern coast and down to its Southernmost peninsula to the infamous town. We soon discovered that Haad Rin is not the sphincter of Satan that it is made out to be. There were a few too many stores with endless racks of fluoro singlets that you might well find a rave themed Narnia behind, and a few too many music-festival variety wankers (and slightly too many people generally); but Haad Rin is one of the best, if not the best, looking beaches on the island. We spent only two nights there, enough time for some messy birthday buckets on the beach with our friends from Bottle Beach and to make a sneaky escape before the rest of the full-moon crowd turned up and accommodation prices blew out (which they do in a dramatic way).
I (inexplicably) don’t have any pictures of it in the day, but here’s a night pic of us building a fort around a stray dog on Haad Rin.
We jumped in the back of a ute and caught a ride up some winding dirt roads to another quieter beach on the East coast called Haad Sadet. We spent three days laying around, drinking, eating, swimming, watching monitor lizards swimming in a river and visiting this amazing mountain top bar which we stumbled upon. This guy lives up there during the dry season and makes jewellery and serves alcohol. It was an awesome little structure and set up, even the toilet had ocean views.
Bedroom up top, bar underneath.
He had some friends from Bangkok staying with him, and we made some new friends and were invited to share in their whiskey and food, so we drank and ate for free. It was excellent. Even without the freebies and the company it is a fantastic establishment and you should already be booking your plane tickets to check it out.
Look at these absolute legends.
Jenny had a minor crisis when she decided she was running out of money, refused to take any of mine, and started frantically looking up places she could volunteer. She was ready to leave for any job, even volunteering if they would give her accommodation and food. She was going to abandon our plan to go to Koh Tao. The situation was looking grim.
Switching from holiday mode back in to work mode is hard enough, but switching from holiday mode into job searching mode, whilst still on holiday and reasonably cashed up, is a real effort. It was during this crisis that we had a storm roll in over the ocean.
We decided to hole up in one of the bars to watch the storm, taking a break from the job search and playing a little bit of that king of card games, Big Two. We had already taught Big Two to numerous people on our trip and we were about to teach it to a few more. Some Germans who had been visiting the beach for the day on their scooter but were now stuck because of the storm asked to join in. Whilst chatting they mentioned how nice Koh Tao had been, another island just North of Koh Phangan, and that we should definitely check it out. Thus ends the tale of how Jenny’s worrying of her dwindling funds nearly ended the holiday early.
The next day we made plans to visit Koh Tao. I was originally going to write about it here but this one is already too long. Writing blogs is hard. I’ve had to rewrite this one three times and I’m still not sure it doesn’t suck. I hope you got some enjoyment from it anyway.
More to come,