Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Full Moon Party

At last, I was here! After ten hours of plane travel, twelve hours overnight by bus, countless hours of waiting around and a five-hour boat ride, I was finally here! In paradise! Tired, hot, desperately in need of a shower and eager to lie down but, when I disembarked at the tiny port of Thong Sala on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand, excitement buzzed through my pores.

Ten days on this island was not enough as I could easily spend months here. The island had it all — from isolated beaches to the one beach that people from all over the world flocked to every month, on a full moon, to dance the night away. That's why I am here!

Hoisting my backpack higher on my back, I walked along the pier towards the town, shaking my head at all the touts offering transport to various beaches on the island. With the sun beating down, the high humidity and the weight of my pack, I was soon sweating like a pig and I had barely walked fifty metres! By the time I got to the nearest bike shop, I was drenched.

After haggling with the 'sales' person, who chatted with his mates in Thai, he gestured to a scooter. Assuming that was the one I was getting, I walked over to it looking it over for any major marks, dents and anything that looked suspicious. The last thing I wanted was to be stung with a whopping bill for repairs to the bike that hadn't resulted from me causing it. After signing the paperwork, I handed over my passport and a deposit before taking off towards Haad Rin otherwise known as the party beach.

The road, if it can be called that, is one of the steepest roads I have ever come across. I thought that the engine of my bike would give out due to the strain I was putting it through. There were others on smaller capacity bikes on the road with me and they were all in the same boat as we struggled to conquer the treacherous hills. The majority of the bikes were carrying passengers and their joint weight would have outweighed my weight along with the weight of my pack. How they got over the hills, totally beats me.

My bike held it together and I made it over the last of the hills. With my heart still beating somewhere in my mouth, I made the remaining journey to Haad Rin with both brakes engaged to slow my descent. The whole time I was on the road, I kept to the left and let the crazy tourists and the locals whiz by me. They all appeared to have a death wish and the close encounters between cars and bikes was enough to make me ride like I was ancient! From what I had heard, bike accidents were a daily occurrence especially during peak season. It was easy to identify those who had been in a crash as they were covered with bandages and grazes sometimes referred to as the 'Thai tattoos'.

Anyhow I got to Haad Rin in one piece, checked into a basic looking bungalow situated on the hillside. It was a bit of an uphill trek to get to it, especially in the humid conditions, however, the view of the ocean was worth the hike. It was magnificent!

The room itself was clean. It had a bed, shower, and a functioning toilet. What more could a girl ask for! Besides, the only time I would be in here would be to sleep and shower. The rest of the time, I would be on the beach, working on my tan or exploring.

A quick shower later and wearing as little as possible, I headed to the beach to scope the action out. Surprisingly there weren’t that many people around. I would have thought that with the full moon party being a few days away there would have been a lot more people around. The lack of crowds suited me just fine as I found a spot close to the water and prepared myself for some serious sun worshipping.

For the next couple of days, I did just that while, in the evenings, I explored the tiny streets and window shopped. I found myself sitting at restaurants that showed back-to-back movies which helped kill the time and I was not sitting at some bar fending of advances from men. When I had enough, I headed back to the sanctuary of my bungalow to swing in the hammock with my e-reader.

On my third night, I noticed that there were a few more people in town. The atmosphere was different. It was charged with excitement! The streets were humming with languages from around the world. That night, the music from restaurants and bars seemed louder than the last few nights. It was as if the music competed with the conversations. The music won! The pulsating beats drew people in. For those on the streets, there was plenty to see and do. The locals had set up along the sidewalk selling glow sticks, glow paint, and various other items. All sold alcohol placed in little kids buckets.

Yeah! I know! Strange right! The first time I saw this bucket / alcohol setup, I thought it was a way of displaying the various combinations of alcohol and mixers you could buy for the price advertised. It was only after seeing grown men and women walking around with buckets in their hands, sipping from one of the numerous straws sticking out and their extremely happy faces, that it clicked! I thought to myself back then, I would never do that to myself as everyone looked ridiculous. Fast forward a couple of years, and yes, you got it, I am the proud owner of my own tiny little bucket. My poison being vodka, lemonade and Redbull with lots and lots of ice! Bliss!

Sipping away, I took in the surrounding scene. Everyone was already in party mode and at two in the morning, everyone was still going strong. At this rate, they would be partied out before the all-night party started!

The morning of the full moon saw the beach deserted and littered with empty buckets and straws. The locals half-heartedly went about cleaning the beach. Finding a spot, I settled down for another session in the sun and let the heat suck out the two buckets I had consumed last night. It wasn't long before, the sounds of the waves, the warmth of the sun coupled with my late night drew me into a relaxing slumber.

The beeping tone of my alarm woke me up. It was time to have a dip, drink water, slather on more sunscreen and turn over to cook my back. That was how I was going to spend my day, getting up only to grab some grilled chicken with spicy papaya salad and more water. When I got tired of sleeping, I read about the 'Bangkok Hilton' on my e-reader. The gripping true stories about the occupants sent to the 'Bangkok Hilton' and their life inside the walls was enough to frighten me. No way was I going to accept any 'gifts' besides I had read that undercover cops were notorious for being present at the full moon party locations.

As the sun started to set, I went for one last swim before heading back to my room for a shower and a catnap. Walking towards my bungalow, the venues along the beach were in full preparation mode. They were setting up the rigging for the speakers and lights, bringing in huge coolers and stashing alcohol and lots and lots of buckets.

A few hours later, decked out in shorts and a tank top with shoes on for a change, I ventured out and the transformation was complete. Huge strobe lights lit the clear star-studded night. The music was playing but nothing too overly loud as yet as it was still early evening. The beach was still somewhat empty with the locals in the final stages of setting up but it wouldn't be long before the volumes were increased drawing people to the beach like a moth to a flame. 

The streets were a different story. The hustle and bustle, the cacophony of different dialects, the music being pumped out of each shop front, the bored visages of the locals as they held up signs for taxi or as they manned the outdoor stalls all added to the excitement sizzling in the air.

Finding a table at one of the local Thai restaurants on one of the side streets, I fuelled my body and watched people go by as I loitered after my meal. The steady flow of people making their way through the laneway had increased ten-fold. There were people everywhere, making their way from the various beaches in Koh Phangan and from the other islands. This was the party to end all parties and one to experience just to see what the fuss was all about.

The five minute walk back to the beach now took twice as long as I manoeuvred around the masses and when I approached the beach, the sight was amazing. The number of people was just staggering. Most were already well on their way to being intoxicated and I doubted that they would even last another hour.

The music was now definitely pumping out and each resort and bar on the beach had their own style of music playing. From Pop to hardcore psychedelic trance. Each trying to outdo the other in an attempt to pull in the bigger crowds to dance the night away right there in front of their venue with the beach as the dance floor.

I slowly made my way down the beach, taking in all the sounds, watching the excitement course through every single person. The atmosphere was electrifying. There were people everywhere. Dancing like there was no tomorrow or simply swaying in time to the thumping music which seemed to reach inside and grab hold of you. People were talking, laughing, making out, lying on the sand close to the water where they were less likely to get trampled and even in the water. There were people getting fluoro tattoos, being stupid enough to jump the fire rope. The area around the fire rope smelt awfully like singed hair and skin and there were a few overly intoxicated revellers already getting treatment from burns!

Shaking my head, I made my way to the beats that pulled me in the most! The heavy bass, the fast breakbeats and in my opinion the best electronic music ever produced — drum and bass. On this beach, there was only one bar that played it and the crowd out front were going absolutely nuts as the DJ of the hour brought in some sweet tunes complemented with the rapport of the accompanying emcee whose lyrics enticed the crowd to fever pitch frenzy.

This emcee was good. He knew when to shut up so that the tune took precedence. I danced all the way to the inside of the open venue finding a spot near the back but in view of the  DJ booth and lost myself to the sounds. I danced the night away occasionally hydrating myself on vodka, lemonade and Redbull buckets with lots and lots of ice. When the DJ played for himself or when the emcee 'chatted' all over the tunes, I went for a little stroll to the beach to take in the atmosphere and people watch.

Everywhere I looked, was pulsing with energy — people dancing like they were the energizer bunnies or swayed with what little energy they had left in them or it could just be that they were extremely drunk! In either case, they had the ever present bucket in their hands. If they were not dancing, they were being treated by the medical teams or catching their breath lying supine on the sand.

As the sky lightened, the few thousand revellers turned to face the ocean welcoming the sun with what little energy they had in them. The tempo of the music being pumped out did not slow or soften and though my whole being was tired, I kept going. Raising my arms high above me, face turned upward, eyes closed ignoring the drunken advances of the men around me I swayed in time to the beats welcoming the sun and the early morning heat.

Finally, opening my eyes, I took in the mess that was now the beach. The beautiful stretch of sand was littered with buckets, straws, cigarette butts, lost property and people sleeping or sitting in all states of undress. Everyone looked tired, and the fluoro paint they had gone to town with looked garish in the new day.

As good a time as I had had, my body wanted a shower and the bed. Later on, once I caught up on some sleep, my plan was to get something to eat and spend the remaining days I had left on the island, exploring on my rented scooter. The little town of Thong Sala and the other beaches that people escape to, to find that peace and quiet away from Haad Rin would be a welcome change. 

I had lot's to look forward to, but right now, the call of the shower and the bed was too strong!

Copyright Tia J. Lee 2015
All Rights Reserved.