Written 17th Feb, Haad Rin, Koh Pangan, Thailand
The Koh Samui part…
After the 30 hour journey from Langkawi in Malaysia to Koh Samui (Via Satun and Hatyai, a number of boats, buses, minibuses, taxi’s and songthews), I was pretty desperate for a few things – namely a shower, a beach, some sun and some social interaction.
All of these I did get of course, within my first hour on Koh Samui. Sharing a Songthaew (Thai transport for tourists, each person pays a fee and, like a bus, the pickup truck/car/taxi stops at various places) from the pier with a few others. With a beautiful big beach and a busy town with every amenity you could need (McDonalds anybody?), Chaweng is easily the most popular destination for tourists, both jetsetters and backpackers alike. After dropping my stuff off at the hotel and meeting my friend May, we headed to the beach to join her friends and enjoy a lazy afternoon.
With massage and beauty salons, restaurants, guesthouses, bars and shops lining the road parallel to the beach, it’s difficult to be bored in a place like Chaweng, even if it’s a little on the ‘touristy’ side of life.
As I arrived on the island, I found out pretty quickly that my expected date to leave could not be more well timed – just 2 days before the notorious Full Moon Party on the next island – Koh Phangan.
Playing on the beach, perusing the shops, having a henna tattoo done, meeting tourists and getting into many a random singsong – both me and my friends, and random ice cream vendors on the beach (Faith Hill eat yer heart out!) took up the 4 days I was in Samui, and the evenings were filled with girly ‘getting ready’ sessions – something I’d really missed since leaving home, getting all ‘prettyed up’ before heading out.
So – when eating in Thailand – or anywhere as a general rule, if you’re saving money, local dishes seem consistently cheaper than western food. I hear many people say ‘you should eat as the locals eat when you’re travelling’, but I would honestly say ‘eat what you want within your budget’ – and if you’re up for it – local food or not. As an example, in Chaweng it was pretty pricey I’ve now learned compared to other parts of Thailand, with a local dish such as a green curry or a massaman coming in at around 150 – 200 baht (£3 – £4), and western food, such as a pizza or burger coming in at round 250 – 400 baht (£5 – £8).
My stomach having (mercifully) felt fine for a few days, I decided to risk some meat here, each evening going for a different Thai chicken dish, discovering my two favourite Thai dishes, the panang curry (Thai red curry) and the massaman curry (coconutty, creamy, potato and onion and yum).
After food, we would head out to the busiest bar on the beach, Ark Bar (not the cheapest place to drink unfortunately, at 600 baht for a bucket) for a few drinks, a great place to meet people, watch the sea go in and out, get into some lively music and watch some cool fire dancers (one of whom decided to do a fire dance around me….pretty terrifying – but pretty fun!), before moving on to one of the nearby clubs, such as the Green Mango, for dancing and debauchery.
Having met some people during our time in Chaweng who were heading to Koh Phangan for the full moon party, I decided to meet up with them after the girls had gone, which seemed to come all too fast, and before I knew it I was off to the next place.
The Koh Phangan Part
Here was the first part of my trip entirely solo travel, and I was nervous for all of about 5 minutes until I got chatting to a couple of people in the minibus on the way to the boat…for people who know me I’m sure it will come to no surprise that I got chatting…!
I met 2 Canadian guys on a boat trip packed with farangs (the Thai word for white people) travelling over for the full moon party (FMP), as we were. This boat trip was calm and gave me a chance to finally take in the beauty of this part of these islands, the stunning bright blue water and green islands jutting out along the way betweenthe two larger islands were lovely to look at. After 2 hours, the boat dropped us off in Haad Rin, the island’s busiest and most touristy town for a few days every month, where thousands of westerners descend to drink, shop, sunbathe and most importantly, party.
I found that to stay in Haad Rin around the FMP, generally most guesthouses and hostels require a minimum booking of 5 nights, and of course, the prices are hiked up from every other day in the month. I chose a hostel called Baan Talay, which cost me 500 baht per night (£10) – and this was the cheapest accommodation I could find!
So, whilst on Koh Phangan it’s safe to say I was pretty lazy, visiting the beach, putting my old Ultimate Frisbee skills to…average…use in the water, and wandering around Haad Rin during the days, and heading to some of the beach bars in the evenings, meeting with some of the people I’d met in Koh Samui the previous week. The only day I actually did anything different involved accompanying the Canadian guys I’d met on the boat on an afternoon short tour, involving an elephant trek, where I sat on the neck/shoulders of a huge elephant with the guys behind me on the elephant’s back (really not the best/nicest way at all for an elephant to be ridden). My legs tucked behind his ears, our elephant wandered off mostly unassisted into the jungle area nearby for a short trek, coming back through a small pond area. My balance was severely tested sat where I was, not like riding a horse at all, which I’m fairly used to – needless to say the guys were both in stitches watching me grabbing on for dear life to anything I could find on the animal!
After this, we went ff to a local Chinese temple, with a large golden Buddha inside, and a second, laughing Buddha in front of him with a fat, rub-able belly for beleivers to rub for good luck, and plenty of colourful animal statues surrounding the place.
From here we ended up at a nearby waterfall in the jungle, a 15 minute climb over rocks and trees took us up to this waterfall, which had a small pool to swim in, where our guide wasted no time to climb up to a high rock and backflipped into the water, and the braver of our group followed suit. I decided to gingerly climb across the rocks to the water rather than climb up and jump, and it was one of the most refreshing moments I think I’ve ever experienced, if only all hot days ended up with a waterfall at the end! 20 minutes later and we headed back down here a Thai buffet was waiting for us – very welcome!
That whole afternoon was fairly expensive, I’ve not come to learn, but at the time seemed good value for money as I’d not experienced anything else – costing 1,000 baht each (£20).
After the FMP (it’s own blog post, I think!) most people, with a bad head and a dodgy stomach, headed to nearby Koh Tao, an island famed for it’s diving, something I didn’t have the money, nor the inclination, to partake in, and so I decided to nurse my hangover and stay on Koh Phangan a few days more, on a different part of the island – Baan Tai, where I met a lovely bunch of girls who I spent a few days chilling by the hostel pool and private beach area, seeing some stunning sunsets, and going to the half moon party with (possibly also discussed in the FMP blog post). One thing about my time here did make me laugh, I encountered rain for the first time since I’d left the UK – two days in a row a heavy downpour lasted around 2 hours and gave a much fresher feeling afterwards, I can honestly say in an odd way, I’d missed rain a little!
One thing that struck me about the Thai islands, more than anywhere else I’ve visited before or since, was how much more of a ‘holiday’ place they seem to be, than a ‘traveler’ place like many areas I’d been to, bringing with it the partygoers and beach lovers – I met far more Brits here than anywhere else as it seemed to be a hugely popular destination for the fortnight holiday maker.
After these few days, we were all headed to the same destination and so decided to go together, and the flight was booked…to the most visited city in the world, the ‘love it or hate it’ city. Bangkok.