The five weeks I spent flitting between Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui (with a break to Borneo in the middle) were among my best on this whole trip. Each island has its own unique vibe and signature, though they all embody the quintessential beach lifestyle prominent in Thailand. Due to some good timing and a new travel buddy’s arrival (hey Court!), I was lucky enough to begin and end my time on the islands on Koh Phangan, attending not one, but two full moon parties. These wild nights were broken up by a relaxing stint on Samui and two glorious weeks on Koh Tao, which has definitely claimed the title of my favourite island. Check out all the deets below!
For the majority of my trip, the tried and true method for finding accommodation was to get to the new city and start asking around for a good place, often walking for a bit and getting rates from a few places before picking one to settle on (tip: ALWAYS ask to see the room beforehand!). Having said that, the week of full moon requires that you book something in advance; the increased stream of travellers heading to the island makes affordable accommodation few and far between. Derek and I lucked out big time the first time we went and booked into Phangan Rainbow Bungalows on a recommendation from friends. I since booked back there for full moon round II in August, and would highly, highly recommend the place to anyone else coming to Koh Phangan. Set in Baan Kai, these bungalows are far enough away from the main beach that you can get a good nights sleep and not worry about potential theft (which is pretty common on the night of full moon), but are only a quick taxi ride away from the heart of the party, Haad Rin. Run by an Aussie named Martin and his wife Noy, Rainbow is a great place to meet people, relax on the beach, and consume massive amounts of food. Seriously, the food. From western to Thai, everything I tried was beyond amazing. Particular favorites were the bruschetta, no name vegetable, and any of the curries. Come to the island just for the food at this place.
Now that I got that gush-fest off my chest, here’s what I actually got up to on Phangan. Known primarily as the party island, Koh Phangan never disappoints in this regard. In addition to the world famous full moon party (more on that in a sec), theres also a monthly half moon party, almost nightly pool parties, and there’s always something going on on Haad Rin beach. It’s pretty easy to fall into a pattern including copious amounts of beach, sun, buckets and dancing, though in different levels depending how much fun you had the night before. The Coral Bungalows pool party is not to be missed, but be extra careful while you’re there- it’s pretty easy to get hurt when a hundred drunk people are pushing each other into a pool all night. As another note, don’t go out too aggressively the night before full moon, it may leave you unable to fully (pun!) enjoy the epicness that is this party. I was dumb enough not to follow this cardinal rule, and though I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the pool party, I’ve never in my life been so hungover than I was for the July full moon (which also happened to be Derek’s birthday!). Still got painted up, still wore fluorescent clothing, still went to the beach, but most unfortunately, was not able to consume any alcohol (and I really did try). As I mentioned before, I was able to redeem myself in August when I attended to party with full gusto, but all the same it was pretty interesting to watch the happenings with sober eyes. First, I cannot believe how crowded that beach was! Everywhere you looked you were assaulted with neon clothing, paint, and glow stick bracelets. With the music pumping at full blast, the way these masses of people were dancing was contagious, if not a little comical. As an attempt to keep the beach clean through the night, garbage cans can be found every 10 or so feet, and even funnier, a sectioned off ‘sleeping area’ exists to contain partiers in need of a quick pick-me-up nap. At 4:30 am I decided to admit defeat and headed back to Rainbow for an early bedtime (by full moon standards at least), but found myself unable to sleep due to the energy drinks I had consumed in lieu of alcohol. Unsurprisingly, much of the next day was spent napping and recovering- Derek had made it to sunrise and was in desperate need of a good rest as well.
After six days in party paradise, it was time to move on. The week following full moon is the busiest time to head to Koh Tao, so I decided to take to less travelled route and grabbed a boat to Koh Samui for some serious relaxing. Koh Samui is known as the resort island, and true to form that’s what covers most of its coastline. I stayed at the charming Weekender Villa Guesthouse, which is not to be confused for Weekender Villa Resort, the former being almost budget friendly and the latter costing more than triple my daily budget per night. Run by another Aussie (this one named Tony), Weekender was the closest I got to luxury on this trip. In this case, luxury meant a private air-conditioned room steps away from an ocean-side pool- it was simple, but certainly a nice change from the fan rooms with shared bathrooms that I experienced most of my trip. As for what I did while staying there, there’s not a lot to say beyond suntanning, reading, watching movies, and recovering from the madness of Koh Phangan. It was a lovely place to chill out, but because of the resort-centered draw, I didn’t meet any backpackers (let alone someone my age) and was actually happy to be moving on at the end of the four days.
After a quick trip to Borneo (see the last post for that story) Court and I headed to Koh Tao for two weeks of diving, sun, hiking, and various other antics. We decided to complete our SSI open water certification with Big Blue Dive Resort on Sairee beach and jumped into it right away, attending our first class the day we arrived. A nice bonus of doing any diving on the island (esp any certification) is that most resorts include free accommodation in the deal and we were lucky enough to score a sick room of our own for five days. Now for the good part: diving!
Learning to dive was like nothing I’ve ever done before and I was surprised by how intimidated I was at first. I mean, it sounded amazing and I was really excited for it, but the first time we submerged in the pool for 20 minutes I really had to focus on staying calm and breathing. Maybe it’s because it’s been such a long time since I’ve had to learn a new skill in an unfamiliar environment? Or because as a perpetual nose-breather I had a hard time adjusting to using the respirator under water? Oh, and then there’s my completely irrational (but never ending) fear of sharks. Either way, it was an exhilarating, if not slightly daunting feeling knowing that by heading out into the open water I would definitely be pushing my comfort zone. As it turned out, the scariest part of the day was when we had to swim around the dive boat to prove that we were capable of swimming 200m, and it was my only ridiculous phobia that caused that moment of panic. Probably didn’t help that I had watched a bunch of shark week vids the day before… But! Despite wearing neon (I heard once that sharks may be more curious and attack if they see neon… most likely false) I did not get attacked, and we quickly suited up to begin our first dive! Once submerged, it became so peaceful and beautiful that there wasn’t really room to be nervous anymore. The rhythm of each inhale combined with the breath taking coral acted as the perfect relaxant, and after equalizing my ears and achieving neutral buoyancy, we were off. One of the coolest things we got to see was a giant green sea turtle, but it would be a very long (probably boring) list if I were to tell you everything that we saw on our four dives. Needless to say, it was epic. And as a side note, I’d highly recommend diving with Big Blue, especially if you get lucky enough to get Luke as your instructor. He scowled when Court and I were acting dumb, but we know he really loved us.
Another great thing about doing our diving right off the bat was it gave us the perfect opportunity to meet some dope people (Anton, Matty, Sam, Jim, Kelsey and Laura), which unsurprisingly made for some ridiculously fun nights. Koh Tao is home to a long running pub crawl out of Choppers Bar, and I’d be lying if I said Court and I only went once. It’s that fun. Plus you get a discount on your second time, what can’t say? Great times were had by all and even better times were had at breakfast the next morning, reminiscing/remembering the previous nights shenanigans. Other than a few nights of pub crawls/related fun, we spent most of our time lounging on the epic beach, hiking around the island (though Court did much more of this than I did), finding some amazing restaurants, and relaxing in a big way. We also did an all day snorkeling trip around the island, where, get this, I swam with sharks!! Take that shark phobia! To be fair, they were black tipped reef sharks, I only saw them for a second, and I’m still terrified of shark attacks, but it was pretty badass nonetheless. To top it off, our guide for the day, Mark, was such a ridiculous person that we were laughing most of the day. Case in point: before heading to shark bay he asked everyone on board if anyone way afraid of sharks. A couple people put up their hands and he immediately replied with ‘Good! You should be!’ and a throw-your-head-back laugh that I normally associate with crazy people in movies. Guy was hysterical.
After the utter joy that was Koh Tao, Court and headed back to Koh Phangan (and Rainbow Bungalows!) for full moon round II. Not wanting to make the same mistake as last time, I planned my nights out carefully and thankfully only ending up going out once before the full moon. Made some excellent friends at Rainbow (Sammy and Elan from Montreal) and reunited with some from Koh Tao to make a solid crew for out big night out. Started off by trekking to the girls bungalows- they weren’t that far away, but as anyone who’s taken a cab ride from Baan Kai to Haad Rin will tell you, those roads are steep. Arrived armed with fluorescent paint and a giant bucket, we set about creating a ‘sangsom punch bowl’ and various masterpieces on each other. I think Sammy won with his version of a skeleton on Court’s hand… Though she wasn’t impressed. Decked to the nines and with most (if not all) of our revolting punch gone it was time for cabs and the ridiculousness that is full moon. Unsurprisingly, an epic night followed. Surprisingly, we all survived said epic night and made it to sunrise together! After some serious hydration and possibly the worst drunk food I’ve ever had, Court, Sammy, Élan, and I headed back to Rainbow. But it wasn’t bedtime yet! Still buzzing from the buckets and on an endorphin high we decided the logical thing to do would be to grab some Changs, head out to the sandbar, and create hilarious perspective pictures and videos. Can’t decide what I enjoyed more: that morning or the full moon party itself, both were seriously so fun. But like all good things, this too came to an end and we all crashed sometime around 11 that morning. A fitful day of half-sleep, sweating, greasy food, and copious amounts of water followed.
And with that, I bid adieu to Koh Phangan and the Thai islands for the last time (on this trip, at least!) and headed off to Malaysia. Quite the story coming up there!
Ps. The wifi is not quite up to picture loading where I am right now, so you can check out my Facebook album here for some visuals!