One week ago my best friend Jack and I were using the Grab app to go between places in Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok.
Today we find ourselves on a rain-soaked tropical island that’s been described as a destination for “hedonistic hippies”, also known as Kho Pha Ngan. Traveler’s don’t have access to Grab in this part of the country and the taxi’s are too opportunistic. Rather, we’ve chosen the preferred method of transportation for Thai locals and the vast majority of visitors: motorbikes.
Without a visible speed limit and caravans of bikers in swimwear blazing back and forth on roads that are not always paved, Kho Pha Ngan gives me nostalgia from watching the movie Mad Max. The only difference would be that instead of a desert landscape we’re cruising through a lushly vegetated coastline with photogenic sunsets and coconuts.
Alongside our good friend Eric, who hopped a flight from the capital, we’ve been riding around Kho Pha Ngan in search of the meaning of island life.
Before going into further detail about our current whereabouts, it’s necessary to mention a few things in regard to where Jack and I just were: Koh Tao.
Koh Tao, Kho Pha Ngan, and Koh Samui are three medium sized islands that sit along the Gulf of Thailand, and belong to the Surat Thani Province of the country. This is basically the Deep South of Thailand, and a few skips away one can find themselves in Indonesia. Six hours via bus and two more via ferry, Jack and I left the vastly illuminated Bangkok and checked into the Bed and Ink Hostel, which is situated in the backpacker neighborhood of Koh Tao. A handful of travel websites call this destination “The Death Island” because a few tourists disappeared a couple years back and the cases remain unsolved. This isn’t a fair nickname because Koh Tao surprisingly receives over three hundred thousand tourists a year, and hardly anyone has a bad experience.
Fortunately, we saw no signs of suspicious activity during our two nights on Koh Tao. What we did see, however, was an island that valued its beauty sleep. On both nights of our stay we tried to explore the nightlife of the island, only to become aware that many visitors were either staying in a resort or waking up early the next day to take a snorkeling tour or get scuba certified. Because scuba diving is such an essential industry for the island, most businesses seemed to be respecting the need for an early night. Koh Tao, as we discovered, is recognized around the planet for its wealth of scuba certification schools and picturesque habitats for viewing sea life.
We did go snorkeling around Sairee Beach, where we navigated around small pockets of coral and some schools of fish. We learned our first valuable lesson of the trip on this beach: never trust the word of a longboat taxi driver. We got quoted a price to get driven via water taxi to a nearby island called Ko Nang Yuan then back to the port where our hostel was located. The views were beautiful, but upon docking at Ko Nang Yuan, our driver said that we needed to pay more baht for the return trip. He lied, saying that the original price wasn’t for the entire ride, just to this point. We’d been swindled, but there didn’t exist another alternative other than haggle a second deal. It was either give him more baht, or stay stranded on the island.
Despite this small negative encounter, we had a very positive experience in Koh Tao. I should once again say that all the people here are friendly, and despite the language barrier, we’ve managed to communicate. I’ve already accepted the fact that Thai is too challenging of a language to merely pick-up and that even “hello” or “thank you” are completely over my head. Luckily, if I use poor grammar in the simple present tense (I want americano, I use credit card, I no have money), people generally understand what I’m trying to say.
Kho Pha Ngan offers a more mixed bag of entertainment for visitors. Besides a developing scuba scene, there are numerous yoga retreats, meditation centers, and also monthly Full Moon Parties which attract thousands of young people. The Full Moon Parties draw substantial numbers of backpackers and tourists looking for different experiences, which gives this island a reputation for debauchery. Jack, Eric, and myself are grown-ups and responsible humans. This being said, we all share a similar curiosity to see what takes place during a Full Moon Party, so we’ve made this the primary reason for our stay on the island.
The party itself is tomorrow, so in the meantime we’ve dedicated the past few days to discovering where to get the next delicious Massasman Curry and some of the nightlife. We’ve hit an unlucky streak in terms of weather, as each afternoon has been soggy with rain. During the one day when the sky was clear, we put our trust in another scheming water-taxi. This instance, along the shore of Haad Rin, we paid for a roundtrip voyage to a difficult to reach yoga retreat because we wanted to try out a class. After finishing we backtracked to the pickup point to get taxi’d back to Haad Rin, but this time the driver claimed that we never paid and then demanded a higher fare. Long story short, we found another taxi to take us back. The only downside was that it was at night.
With angry ocean swells in the nearly perfect darkness of a Tuesday evening, a small group of Russian tourists and ourselves instilled our faith in a Thai water-taxi driver to take us to Haan Rin. He kept yelling, “No worry, no worry!” and “No butterflies!” which in turn made me pretty worried and sick to my stomach. His poise told me that he was an experienced captain, and we made it to the other shore without any problems, however there were a few moments when I said a prayer to Mother Nature, Poseidon, and Nemo to please get us back in one piece. The waves weren’t friendly, and I shook the man’s hand as we jumped off the boat and onto the glorious beach. I don’t think our lives were really in too much danger, but it was enough to make me want to be a better person going forward.
I can’t tell you much more about Kho Pha Ngan because the party hasn’t happened yet, but more updates are coming in the near future.
Thanks for reading, I hope you have a great day!