The Prisoners of Phangan

Trip Start Nov 01, 2011
Trip End Apr 12, 2013

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The Ninth Circle of Hell

Flag of Thailand  , Nakhon Si Thammarat,
Saturday, December 31, 2011

January 29th, 2011, and we've arrived in Thailand once again. Good to see you again old bean! Time to horse it down South to Koh Tao, an island on the East coast, and home to numerous world class diving schools.

As usual, the travelling wasn’t straightforward. Due to it being high season and us being lazy, all the beds on the sleeper train from Bangkok were sold out. In addition, the second class tickets had also been hungrily snapped up, leaving us the delights of a third class ticket to contend with. This meant myself, Abi and Lou sitting right at the front of the train, the only whiteys to be seen, surrounded by teeming locals and sat on break-your-ass-hard benches overnight. It actually felt as if we were walking to the gallows, as we trudged past the sixteen coach train, witnessing the far superior classes of seat denied to us. The trepidation grew steadily with every passing carriage, wondering just how basic our seats would prove to be.

If sleep wasn’t difficult enough to come by, hawkers continually interrupted us during the night walking up and down the aisles trying to sell things, shouting in Thai the whole time. Why yes Thai man, it’s nearing 4am, I’m feeling utterly haggard and decrepit, but I’d be delighted to purchase a dried squid snack from you! In short, it was easily the worst journey we’ve done, and next time I’m on an actual sleeper train I will cherish my bed like a winning lottery ticket.

Nonetheless, we arrived in Koh Tao mid-afternoon via a combination of train, bus and boat, and were instantly revitalised. Abi had been before, and had always had amazing things to say about the place, and she was definitely correct. A magnificent expanse of beach curves around the crystalline ocean, at the foot of a mountainous island heavily mottled with lofty palm trees and tranquil bungalows. A perfect location to be doing our Open Water diving course the following week.

First however, we had a monolith to be seeing to. 2011 was coming to an end, and we were going to be spending Hogmanay on the neighbouring island of Koh Phangan, at the Full Moon Party. Pretty much everyone we had spoken to over the duration of our trip was attending, it seemed like the whole of South East Asia and more was being drawn there by the promise of mayhem.

We nipped across on the morning of the 31st, where we met up with the Kiwi boys and spent the day at their accommodation. Around 8pm, we got a tuk-tuk to Haadrin Beach, the location for the maelstrom. It’s truly difficult to encapsulate the experience.

 On arrival, we were dropped off a few blocks away from the beach, and were instantly enveloped in chaos. Literally thousands of travellers blundered, bounded and boosted through the streets, some already impressively far gone. I had a feeling those early birds would be the type to spend the turn of the year blinded by the glare of an emergency room light. We were sensible, of course. Our first purchase; three super-buckets, not just the measly sand castle makers partnered with a half bottle of whisky we were used to. We chose the big papas. Our buckets were more like laundry bins, and came with a full bottle of Sangsom whisky, a big bottle of coke and eight mini bottles of supercharged Thai red bull. An atrocious vessel to behold.

We made our way down to the beach shortly after, and headed straight to a place called Mellow Mountain. The whole beach is a huge curve of sand, stretching pretty much as far as the eye can see, and the whole of it was covered with a mass of revellers already, a cacophony of sights and sounds.  Mellow Mountain is situated on the far end of the beach, a series of bars built high on the hillside, affording an expansive view of the party below, and a good place to ease in to full throttle. Of course, an important occasion was on the horizon; midnight. We made sure we braved our way into the throng with good time to spare, and took in the turn of the year in sublime style. Completely surrounded in every direction by people partying hard, some temporary structures packed with folk towering high above, luminescent glowing signs spelling out Happy New Year all around, fire shows to be seen everywhere, we begun the countdown. A collective cheer of more than 40,000 individuals ripped through the air like an acoustic Mexican wave, as several different firework shows commenced, an astonishing way to celebrate. We were rendered speechless as fireworks soared above us, behind us, between us, and in the distance, the sky seemed to be exploding for an incredible length of time.

And this is how the rest of the party went. We spent the remainder of the night flitting between various bars, clubs and areas of the beach, constantly stunned at the scenes around us. Casualties were spied, people more drunk than a Glaswegian on Old Firm day abounded, a train of pickpockets and cutpurses were avoided, and somehow our group stayed together throughout. Most of all, we had an almighty smile on our faces continuously. Completely drained but still buzzing by sunrise, we finally returned to the resort for some crucial rest before our boat back to reality.

Suffice to say, we all had a fiendish hangover the next day, but that’s precisely what January 1st is for right? For myself, Abi and Lou however, the hangover was about to ratchet up a notch or two. We got our taxi to the pier in time for our afternoon boat home, and were greeted by an eerie silence. Not quite the stramash of struggling travellers queuing for the boat that we expected. After a bit of investigation, it turned out the woman on Koh Tao had told us the wrong time, and we had missed the boat back. Particularly great news this, as we’d only came to Koh Phangan wearing the clothes on our back, and with minimal funds, most of which was dispatched at the Full Moon Party. In my anger, I could have happily sailed home on a raft made of inept Thai salespeople, but  we were captive on the island, and had to go back to stay with the boys for another night. Woeful.

All was not lost, as that night we found one of the most delicious food markets we’ve been to in Asia, and banished the hangover to hell by devouring all manner of tasty snacks for a few hours.

We finally made the ponderous journey back to Koh Tao on January 2nd, a mere 24 hours later than hoped for, still decked in last year’s clothes, spattered with iridescent glow paint, and desperate for our own beds.

Still, there is no doubt that Hogmanay 2011 will go down as truly the most remarkable New Year of my life, and if I can ever spend a more memorable one in the future, I will be both surprised and delighted.
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