After FIVE full months on the road; endless trips on planes, trains, and buses; hundreds of miles walked; constant stresses over language barriers and searching for food; and the most sicknesses in a short amount of time than we’ve EVER experienced before (thank you, China)… it was time for a BREAK and time for recharging our “traveling batteries.” We needed a bit of normalcy and one constant place to call “home” for awhile, and we needed it NOW! Koh Phangan, a cute little island off the coast of Southern Thailand, answered our call.
James’ aunt Lori (among other of our family members) was elated about this decision, and she put it perfectly by stating something about how a lot of our trip we had been spending SO much time trying to fulfill the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: food, shelter, water, etc. In our normal, everyday lives back home, we never even thought about these things, and I doubt YOU do, either. You go to sleep, you wake up, you eat breakfast, go to work, eat lunch and dinner, go out to eat at your favorite restaurants when you want to, and you turn on the faucet or go to the water dispenser and fill up your glass when you need to. Sure, you might budget and shop smartly, but you probably have food around you at all times and familiar grocery stores and restaurants are plentiful wherever you look! Your life is often routine and for the most part I’m sure you rarely stress about food, shelter, or water.
SO… the fact that James and I had been jumping country to country, moving city to city every 3-7 days, we were just plain EXHAUSTED from it all and just needed to STOP and settle.
And, settle we DID!
We did some research before arriving in Koh Phangan on places to live, but found that very few house rentals were listed on the internet, and the ones that we found were grossly overpriced and/or required a 75-100% paypal deposit beforehand—not safe! Upon reading advice online to just show up on the island and ask around, we booked a hostel for three nights and our goal was to secure a house rental within that time period. Fingers crossed! And on the second day, we ending up calling a woman who could, “Show us some places.” The funny thing is, she showed us only one place, and it was EXACTLY what we were looking for! It was close to town, close to a
grocery store, but far enough away to be quiet and NOT touristy. The house was near the beach and had an air conditioner, equipped kitchen, WIFI, hot water shower, TV with a couple cable channels, and a lovely outdoor patio. The landlord woman seemed cute and pleasant and spoke good English, and we swiftly negotiated the monthly price from 12,000 baht ($390 USD) to $10,000 ($320 USD). PERFECT!
Next, we needed to secure some kind of personal transportation, since the only other way to get around on the island was by foot or by taxi. Again, after online research of motorbike rental companies we could trust and stopping by a few places in person, we bargained down a month-long motorbike rental to a measly 3,000 baht ($96.)
So, YES, you read right: For a mere $420 US dollars, we had a fully furnished apartment and good transportation for ONE WHOLE glorious MONTH! Think about that compared to a nightly charge at a hotel back in the states!
Our first couple weeks at the house involved doing a whole lot of NOTHING, which was WONDERFUL and MUCH NEEDED. We slept in, watched a lot of movies, went running every day, cooked our own food for all three meals per day, did a ton of computer work on creative stuff, caught up on expenses, and finally were able to reply to long-lost emails and reconnect with family and friends over video chat. At the end of week one, I was starting to feel a bit “guilty,” since we barely left the house AT ALL, except to exercise or to take a trip to the grocery store. That’s my usual instinct of not wanting to miss out on anything (I always try to do WAY too much and see WAY too many things in general and end up overwhelmed or exhausted in the end because of it), but I had to fight those feelings away and just RELAX. And I managed to really enjoy that time of NOT HAVING TO RESEARCH ANY TRAVEL-RELATED STUFF!
During the month we were on Koh Phangan, we spent some time exploring a few of the many beautiful beaches on the island, taking a few nice drives on our motorbike up the coast, and enjoying a few dinners out on the town. We also took a nice weekend trip to the nearby island, Koh Tao, for some scuba diving, but I’ll talk about that in a different upcoming post. In addition, we decided to partake in some of the craziness around town…
One thing that IS very exciting and fun about Koh Phangan is all the parties around the island. Koh Phangan is known notoriously for its monthly “Full Moon Parties,” as well as the bi-monthly “Half Moon Parties,” and monthly “Black Moon Party.” In addition, there is pretty much some kind of crazy party every night of the week at other resorts and places around town, including
boat parties, pool parties, jungle parties, and waterfall parties. You name it, they probably have it here. Because of this, Koh Phangan has gotten a reputation (good or bad, you decide!) of being PARTY CENTRAL. Unfortunately, people don’t realize the island itself is beautiful and there are many areas and beaches on the island that are calm, relaxing, full of beauty, and are NOT affected by the party area of the island. And fortunately, I did a bit of research to make sure we were staying in an area that wasn’t full of drunken tourists, and we ending up having the perfect mix of our own little paradise with an easy taxi ride into town to attend some of the crazy parties.
And let me tell you – the parties were AWESOME! James and I aren’t HUGE party people, but we like to drink and dance and have a good time, and we were happy to find our own place at each of the four parties we attended throughout the month we were in Koh Phangan.
First up: Jungle Waterfall Party (July 20). We took a $3 taxi ride up a mountain to a hiking trail, and then needed to hike another good 20 minutes by foot over the hill and down into an oasis type area. We got there early enough so that we paid NO entrance fee, and the excitement grew as we walked closer and closer to a black-lighted dance floor with fire twirlers and all! Music was pumping and artists around the area were painting neon creatures onto tanned bodies. We grabbed a drink and sat down for awhile, just taking in the craziness around us. People at the party were VERY friendly and talkative, we quickly made friends and worked our way to the dance floor. At some point in the night, a man came over with SCORPIONS and volunteers would stand with their eyes closed as they placed these HUGE scorpions all over THEIR FACES! It was quite an astonishing spectacle to watch . . . I really couldn’t believe somebody would VOLUNTEER for that! But I’m glad they did; I’ve NEVER seen anything that excitingly horrifying in my life!
Next up: Full Moon Party (July 24). WHAT A NIGHT! Party on the beach all night, fire twirlers, multiple music stages, and more! Originally, I was a bit worried about this party being TOO crazy or annoyingly crowded (again, we aren’t the biggest of partiers: definitely no drugs and rarely drink heavily), but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the party beach area wasn’t TOO crowded and people seemed happy overall. We were able to easily move about the long stretch of beach as freely as we wanted, could choose which music stage to stop and dance at whenever we pleased. Walking into the area, we saw a bunch of fun party-goers painting each other with neon colors, and decided to join in on the fun!… when in Rome, right?
Once we were in the main party beach area, we spent hours dancing at different stages, sitting on the beach, eating random foods, watching fire twirlers perform (and almost hit James with a wild out-of-control fire bit!), watching idiot drunkards do “the limbo” under a fire-lit pole, watching other SUPER idiot drunkards climb a tall fence and dangle off the top, watching other idiot drunkards fling themselves off the second floor of a building down an inflatable slide, and watching all kinds of other debauchery go on all over the beaches. And suddenly we noticed the sky getting brighter and brighter as THE SUN CAME UP!! Yes, we made it all night until the sunrise, and headed back home at 7am. We truly earned our “Full Moon Party badge” for sure!
Next party: Coral Bungalows Pool Party (August 5). This was a bit more laid back night, but still one of our favorite party experiences in Koh Phangan! The party was hosted at a hotel and we were SUPER happy that beers were only 40 baht ($1.33), a steal! We met a fun group of people from The Netherlands and spent the whole night chatting, dancing, and swimming with them. And—THE POOL! The water was warm, full of fun and friendly people, and the music was fun and upbeat. We closed down the party (around 3am) and went home having spent only around $10 each for taxi and beers all night!
Last party: Half Moon Party (August 14). We were excited to attend this party with FRIENDS this time! We met this great couple, Andy and Liz, back in April in China, and had met up with them again in Thailand a couple times (they are also doing an around-the-world trip), so we were excited to be reunited for a fun Koh Phangan party. In addition, another couple they befriended in Laos also joined us for the fun. We pre-partied at their hotel, which ended up being the most fun of the night! We sat at a little table on the beach, had drinks, painted each other’s faces and arms, and took a bunch of goofy photos. Once we got to the Half Moon Party grounds, we actually had to pay about $16 USD each to get in (super expensive for Thailand!), and James and I were a bit dismayed by just how CROWDED the area was! If we were early 20-something club hoppers, we would totally be in paradise. But for 30-ish travelers just going along for the ride… it was a bit overwhelming. Every dance area was MOBBED, it was hard to move around anywhere, drinks were expensive (well, “expensive” being $2.60 per small beer), people were constantly knocking into you and spilling drinks, and fights were breaking out here and there throughout the crowd. It was definitely AN EXPERIENCE overall, and we had fun dancing with our little group and enjoying the music. But after we had been “spoiled” by the previous three parties, it was a bit more of a letdown to pay SO much money (by Thai standards) and not be as fun as our other party experiences.
Overall, the party experiences were really fun and added a little extra excitement to our relaxing Koh Phangan island experience. And along with our relaxation and many romantic times (including a VERY SPECIAL “HAPPENING” that will be mentioned in an upcoming post!!), it was definitely the time of our lives!
In the end, we LOVED our month on Koh Phangan and REALLY REALLY wished we could have stayed longer! Normally, we have been a bit more flexible on this trip and could have stayed a little longer, but in this case we had already booked flights and made plans to meet some of our good friends from the US in Australia… sooooo…. buh bye, Koh Phangan!
We had SUCH a lovely time, but we WILL be back some day!
To see photos from Koh Phangan, click here. (more photos coming soon)