After a long day of travelling, I arrived on Koh Phangan on Saturday evening. For my first night I was staying near Thongsala, where the boat from Surat Thani arrives, so that I could get to my hostel easily and also to visit the Saturday night market along the main street. After checking in and a quick shower, I walked back along to the pier to check it out and try some yummy new Thai foods – I picked up some kind of coconut ball, pork satay, a spicy noodle sausage and some dragon fruit for a meagre 60 baht. Once back at the hostel I got chatting to a Spanish guy in my room and we had a couple of drinks before joining in with the beer pong tournament the hostel had organised. We pretty quickly lost and went for a wander along the road with a pack of dogs following us, as they seem to be everywhere in Koh Phangan. After bumping into some other people from the hostel we wound up in a salsa club for a bit of a dance before calling it a night. Considering Slumber Party has a reputation as a serious party hostel, it was quite a tame night for which I was definitely glad after a long day!
The next morning I was up fairly early to move up north to Shiralea Backpackers Resort. My plan while being here was to get some serious relaxation in and explore a bit of the island, but as usual my plans never work out. Admittedly when I first arrived it was dead quiet, and I walked the minute down the road to a totally stunning and almost completely deserted beach. After an hour there during which I got seriously sunburnt, I went to explore the area and maybe grab something to eat, only to discover it is pretty isolated and without a car or scooter there is almost nothing within walking distance, other than the more expensive beach-side restaurants.
Feeling a little disheartened I made my way to the pool to read and write for a bit and got talking to two South African guys, a French man and two Scottish girls. The men had just arrived as well, but unlike my attitude to use the place to detox and relax, they were already enjoying a few early afternoon drinks. Eventually I gave in to their offers and so I got involved in what turned into a pretty messy (for them) and very fun night.
The next morning I was up early for my first ever scuba dive! I was going with Reefers Diving who are conveniently located right next door to Shiralea, and we were heading out to Sail Rock, the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand. After a quick drive up to Chaloklum, we hopped on the boat where we had breakfast and the two of us who were new to diving had a quick theory lesson. As we approached Sail Rock, the storm which had been lurking nearby all morning finally hit us, but as we were about to get under water it didn’t matter so much.
We spent some time going over the basics again in the water, learning the four simple skills, and getting used to breathing from the tank. We then had an hour long dive which was just mind blowing. Sail Rock is one huge coral reef and I was just in awe the entire time. The highlight for most people was seeing a whale shark, but honestly just being down there and swimming amongst all the weird and wonderful fish was the best bit for me. After the hour, we surfaced and had a break for lunch and then went down for another hour, by which time I was feeling way more comfortable and confident and we were able to really explore the coral reefs.
To top off the amazing day, I went to watch the sunset on the beach when I got back down and it was easily one of the most stunning ones I’ve ever seen in my life. Seriously fantastic day.
The next day I was up early as usual, got in a nice bit of yoga then caught up with my French friend over breakfast. He was planning on exploring some more of the island on his scooter that day and invited me along so I figured why not? After a quick coffee stop in Thongsala we spent the whole day driving all over the place. He’d been coming to Koh Phangan for years, so showed me some of his favourite spots, we took refuge from a storm and had a mid morning cocktail then a delicious lunch at Jip Shop, where I had the best Thai curry ever next to a talking bird and a baby rabbit, visited a friend of his at his boxing gym come stoner cafe (weird place) and just generally had a really nice day exploring and practising each other’s languages. The idea when I came back was then to have dinner, a couple of drinks and an early night, but it ended up being more than a couple of drinks and waking up in the middle of the night with serious food poisoning.
Having been up all night being sick I was feeling pretty rough the next day. But my lovely Spanish friend Raul from my first night at Slumber Party had planned another day of island exploration, and I had to move hostels anyway, so the utter babe that he is, he came to pick me up and we had a really lovely day together. Our first stop was the national park where we hiked up past the waterfalls to the most amazing view point and had the picnic lunch we’d brought and then sat and chatted for an hour or so. From there we went to the (not so) Secret Beach, and even though it was a bit overcast it was still lovely, and exactly what I needed when not feeling my best. Easily my favourite part of the day though was learning how to ride a scooter, so I drove us back to Thongsala where we came across a night market and had our dinner from a few of the stalls there.
As we were both moving down to Haad Rin that night, we then had to make our way further south and already the party atmosphere was building with songthaews packed with neon clad backpackers. My amazing Spanish man drove me down on his scooter and we were subjected to a very stern faced drug search en route.
Arriving in Haad Rin was surreal after the past few days spent in other parts of the island, and honestly the second I arrived I already wanted to go back. When I got to my hostel, that feeling only worsened. Finding the Zoo Hostel was hard enough, as only the bar and tattoo studio actually have signs. So I asked at the bar, where I was signed in and led down an alley behind the tattoo shop to a dark room. When I asked which of the tightly packed together beds was mine the guy had no idea, but as most were filled with sleeping bodies it seemed a safe bet to show me to one of the empty ones before leaving me there in the dark with no further information. Great. There was barely room to move, let alone a place for me to put my things, and it’s a good thing I’m fairly slim because even then it was a struggle squeezing between the beds to get up to my bunk.
With the full moon party the next night and still feeling pretty rough from my fun filled night of food poisoning, all I wanted to do was get a good night’s sleep. My arrival seemed to wake everyone up though and it turned out they were all power napping before heading out to the Jungle Party at midnight. I felt pretty lame staying in on my first night at a new place, but I knew it was that or miss out on the main event the next night. But I got to briefly meet some of my 13 roommates before they headed out, and with the place pretty much to myself after that I was able to get some sleep.
The next morning I was up early as usual, but was definitely on a different sleep pattern to everyone else in the town, for whom it seemed normal to sleep all day and stay up all night. I had a quick walk around Haad Rin to get my bearings and went down to the beach for a spot of sunbathing, by which time a few people had emerged including a guy from my hostel in Bangkok, so we caught up over some food in the hostel bar – which turned out to be one of the only good things the place has going for it. After getting food poisoning from my beloved pad Thai, I needed a little break from Thai food and the Zoo Bar was able to provide a damn good burger at the best price in the whole of Haad Rin.
To be honest, there isn’t much to do or see in Haad Rin, so I wiled away the day on the beach. Around me the party was getting set up and people were already starting to drink by the late afternoon. Most people from the hostel didn’t want to head out to the party until a lot later on, but everyone from the Shiralea hostel was out earlier than that so we had a nice little reunion. I decided not to start drinking until later on so I could pace myself, and to be honest after seeing the buckets of booze I was slightly put off the idea all together. The Zoo Hostel was giving us a free one along with neon body paints, so I made my way back to get my full moon party look on, and then just wound up going back to the Shiralea crowd for the rest of the night. Admittedly I’m not huge into partying; It was a fun night but by no means the highlight of my trip. And when the torrential rain started around 1am I decided to call it a night!
Next morning I was up before some of the others had even made it back. According to the map there was a view point about a 15 minute walk from the hostel, and I thought I’d go and check it out. Instead of a quick stroll, this turned into me getting lost in the jungle for an hour and a half, adding to my already numerous injuries, and almost being completely stranded. But it was worth it for the amazing views from the top and I discovered a much nicer beach around the other side from Haad Rin.
When I eventually made it back some of the others were emerging in various states of hangover or still drunk and a few of us caught up over lunch. The rest of the day was super chilled out, and Haad Rin itself felt like a ghost town. I was supposed to stay another couple of nights, but with most people leaving that day or the next, me and another of the guys decided to move to a different hostel back at Thongsala to make it easier to catch our ferries in the morning. The next morning we all checked out and jumped into one of the many Songthaews loaded with people getting out of there.
The hostel we moved to was supposed to be The Majestic, but it seemed to be the same place or taken over by Phangan Arena and was a completely different vibe from what we were expecting. But it was cheap and it wasn’t in Haad Rin, and that was all we really cared about! It was another really chilled out day. We grabbed some lunch and had a wander into Thongsala, a quick visit to Wat Pho, which after the temples of Bangkok and Chiang Mai was hugely disappointing, and a final visit to the night market for my last ever mango sticky rice. I was hoping to get a decent night sleep but the hostel had some pounding bass music playing until about 3am – not ideal.
The next morning I left the island after having one of the best weeks ever, and began my long journey home…