Koh Phan Gan
Nose up at paradise
As we walked up the causeway from the ferry, an orderly collection of touts waited at its end. Holding boards with the names of different beaches, different resorts they called at us to choose from. There was a relaxed atmosphere to the touts rather than the frantic shouting, pulling and jostling that touts in Asia are usually associated with. I spotted a woman with a board saying 'bottle beach,' our eyes met and she led us to her taxi. No words, no hassle. Lindsey and Alex were asking who is this woman, how can we trust her? They had not seen her board which she had placed by her side after she had made eye contact with me and they had certainly not seen that moment when our eyes met. 'Chill' I said rather annoyingly. "I hate it when you say that' said Alex. But then the older brother is allowed, if not entitled to wind up the younger brother, "I know. Chill!"
The taxi was a bone shaking pickup with a metal roof and open sides covering the back. On the plinths on either side were paper thin foam cushions to sit on. We jumped in the back and the driver started the engine and we headed north. At Chalokum we transferred to a narrow boat. An engine, the same sort that is used for modular agricultural equipment; basic tractors, cultivators, mills and pumps sits on the back driving a propeller at the end of a long shaft. We had to wade out to board the boat, Lindsey was wearing long trousers so I chivalrously carried her out to it. Our packs were piled at the front and we travelled around the headland to the next bay that was only accessible by boat.
I had read good things about Bottle bay in a French guide book I had briefly perused in a bookshop earlier in the trip. It may have been a paradise beach, white sand, turquoise sea, palm fronted with simple wooden huts. But without the blue sky the effect was lost. I'm sure even paradise looks dull with a grey sky and moody rain clouds obscuring the Sun. And then it started to rain.
There was no accommodation on bottle beach. Well there was, a grotty hut well back from the beach that was little more than a garden shed with a dirty mattress on the floor and cost 100 baht a night (two pounds). It was nowhere near the bathroom and there was no way that three of us were going to stay in one tiny room with no fan, no washing facilities and a single soiled mattress.
Back on the beach it was now a sellers market. With all accommodation full and no other means to leave, the boat taxis could charge what they liked to take us away from this beach. And they could add a little more because it was raining. "Daylight robbery" I cursed as we handed over 200 baht each for the twenty minute trip to the next sandy bay.
A decision is needed quickly. The left beach or the right beach. A peaceful bay with two strips of palm fringed sandy beaches separated by a rocky outcrop between them. "The right one has the whiter sand" says Alex. The right one it is then. And so we find ourselves comfortable installed in Ton Nai Pan for the next 14 days.
I have never really been one for the beach. The concept of lying on the sand, gently roasting with the protection of factor 25 does little to appeal. The odd dip in the sea adds momentary excitement to the experience, but after a few minutes bobbing up and down it is time to return to the beach and suffer the consequence of the water; a thick dusting of sand stuck to the flesh and swimwear. The only way to remove the sand stucco is to return to the sea and the cycle continues.
Beach life can be significantly enhanced with a strong wind for flying a kite, or a tempestuous sea that rolls in tubular waves for body surfing. Sadly this beach offers neither. The wind, when it graces us with its presence is gusty and unpredictable in its direction. The kite folds as I struggle to find the wind, it crumples and falls and I feel a fool in front of the bronzed bodies who have no need for distractions to their doing nothing on the beach.
Yet despite all that, the days pass and we remain on the beach and I tolerate it. This is our holiday from our holiday. I've slung a hammock up from the rafters of our beach hut and I sink into it, idly rotating between reading, writing and sleeping. Lindsey does likewise- like me she is no sun goddess- she lounges in front of the fan in the hut, occasionally emerging to look at the beach, then shaking her head, 'no, too hot for me today.'
Our hut sits on the beach. It is perpendicular to the sea, so lying in the hammock I face the beach and the sea gently lapping it. Our hut is at the front, there are two behind it. Alex stays in the last one. An English couple stay in the hut opposite ours. We've not communicated with them, keeping ourselves to ourselves. She spends most of the time supine on the beach darkening her already dark brown skin (unnaturally brown- when she wears a skimpy bikini she reveals the beginnings of a backside that has been denied the exposure of the sun and is as white as the sand it lies on). And he, like me lounges in the hammock. Only unlike me he passes his time with the rolling and smoking of spliffs. The pungent, woody bonfire aroma of grass joints wafting our way in the breeze.
The hut is little more than six metres square. It is raised about a metre above the beach; concrete posts sunken into the sand support the palm- wood structure with a palm leaf roof. At the front is an inelegant step made of three concrete slabs. When we arrived they were precariously assembled and when Lindsey stood on the corner of the upper most slab she unbalanced it and it fell on her leg, scraping her flesh like rind from a lemon leaving a nasty bloody graze that took days to heal.
It has the luxury of a bathroom at the back. I assumed we would be staying at somewhere primitive, with a long walk to take a shower or perform bodily functions, but I think such places are now in the minority. The notion of a few shacks on the beach, inhabited by hippies has been demolished by the tourist dollar. Replaced by the 'resort' that has a reception and a shop and a restaurant and a sound system that pipes a steady vacuous soundtrack of Britney and Maria Carey. I wonder if there are any hippies left. The guests at the resort include the dreadlocked, the tattooed, the body pierced, the gap-year backpackers as well as the thirty-something holiday makers taking a fortnights break from work, The middle-aged couples and the families with young toddlers running after each other and the older sibling trying to get away from their parents. 'India darling, can you please go and see Daddy, he wants to show you something.' India scowls and fidgets uncomfortably. Her face shouts 'mum, why do you have to embarrass me like that in front of my friends at the bar. I am eighteen you know...'
Take the path, scrabble across some rocks, then swim to shore
We took a few excursions during our stay at the beach. The first was to the beach adjacent to ours. It seemed an easy destination, separated by a small outcrop of rocks where a wooden path had been built, apparently meandering around the rocks. It did so to a point and then stopped. We'd walked along this wooden decking and were more than three quarters of the way around the rocks but now it stopped and there was only the mildest suggestion of a path cut through the dense vegetation to carry along on. We tentatively walked on, pushing through the overgrowth following the dusty path that was little more than a razors edge. Suddenly a noise. Movement. I don't know who jumped the most, him or me. Bloody hell look at the size of that thing. I'm used to seeing geckos. they are everywhere, but imagine a gecko fifty times the size of a gecko. A gecko that is the size of a crocodile. A lizard with a huge belly, thrashing tail and powerful legs that sent it thundering into the bush. Was it a komodo dragon? Do you get them in these parts?
We progressed even slower now. Watch your legs, watch out for the snakes. The path brings us out near the beach. Only it is not the beach quite yet. We are standing on a huge boulder looking at the beach and we scrabble along the boulder, jump to another, climb up a third, shimmy down a fourth but this is no good. The path has brought us to a dead end.
"And I'm not climbing around any more rocks" says Alex. "My shoes are not designed for it and my insurance doesn't cover rock climbing."
"Quit your whinging" I say. Writing it sounds like I am being a bit of a bully. Sorry Alex.
But he is right and he has jumped into the water and it is up to his chest and I follow him and we wade to the shore. To a beach that is little different to ours. We grab a can of iced tea and then we take the easy path back.
We rented a motorbike and motored around the island. It took a while to get used to the gears. Going up a steep hill the engine was struggling in second. I dropped it down into first and inadvertently pulled a wheelie. Clinging on to me behind, Lindsey was not amused. We went to Hat Rin. The Party beach. An Auzzie had told me about this beach. "I'm not racist or anything." Here we go, I thought, some evil sentence is going to follow, "but Hat Rin is like an Israeli military camp. Hell, it is like a mini Jerusalem." I wasn't sure if this really counted as racism and there in Hat Rin I think he had a point. There were a lot of Israelis there. A lot of falafels. But then there were a lot of Brits as well. Even a place offering a traditional English roast. It was like a distant satellite of Kosan Road. Cafes catering for the Western taste. Bars serving beer and buckets (small buckets with a dozen so straws and a choice of small bottles of local whiskey, rum, or vodka to be mixed with Red Bull and/ or Coke and ice). Tattoo parlours and body piercing establishments. A poster advertising a list of new age activities- reiki, healing, meditation, centering and 'Getting in touch with your Guardian Angel'. Cafes showing a back to back diet of films, continuously from 9 in the morning to last showing at 11:30 at night. No conversation in these places. The clientele resembling zombies, all heads looking up at the giant screens with pasty faces and gormless jaw drooped looks. Internet cafes advertising speedy connections and small rooms advertising PlayStation. 40 baht an hour. So come all the way to Thailand and play Grand Autotheft III or Fifa World Cup or whatever. Everyone is going around keeping themselves to themselves and I wonder whether something about travelling has been lost. You don't need to meet people. You can remain in a vacuum, insulated by the familiar. The internet, the western films, the Premiership, the western food, And you keep the thumbs and fingers in shape on movie games. 'Wha!' says this travel snob. It's just not hard enough. Roll on China again!
Two 'taxis,' open topped pickups, go to Thong Sala, the main town everyday at 10am and 4pm. I go one afternoon to the bank. On the way down I am with some Germans and a Frenchman and a Dutchman. The Frenchman speaks no English. Conversation is conducted in English and French. I sneeze. "Bless you" says one of the Germans. "Salut" says another.
On the way back I am first to be sitting on the pickup. I am reading and four English people jump on board. They are shortly joined by a couple of lads from Reading who are on their gap year and they begin talking and getting familiar with each other. I sit alone, ignoring them. And then they start introducing each other and someone asks me my name and suddenly I am pulled into their conversation. There is Alex and her boyfriend and Catherine and hers. Catherine has a round face with acne and a haircut that looks like she tried doing it herself with a penknife scissors. She is chatty. Her boyfriend is a weedy looking man with dreadlocks and studs above his top lip and below his bottom lip, and a ring through his nose and a plethora of metal in his ears. They are from Tunbridge Wells. But Catherine is pleasant enough and her talk is enthusiastic. She is talking about how she wants to go to India and she is misinformed. She says something like
"I hear that Calcutta is a shithole that you should avoid." I try to bite my tongue but can't help myself. "Best city in India" I say.
"Have you been to India?" she asks me. I think I appear aloof to her. But I didn't want to talk to them in the first place. "Yes" I reply
"Whereabouts?" and I always have trouble with this because I don't want to sound like I am blagging, but I have to tell the truth. "Well, I've seen a bit of the north and a bit of the south"
"So have you been to Calcutta then?"
"Several times. In fact we are going there now. Overland. I've got some friends there. I went to University there." Now I've done it. And she is picking my brains, but to be honest I'm faintly enjoying it.
Conversation dries up and it is getting dusk and I see how beautiful this Island is. Majestic trees and ferns. Magnificent hills. I have a feeling of harmony and peace and love of nature. Trees silhouetted against a sunset thick with red and purple hues. Awesome. Catherine's boyfriend lights up a joint. He offers it round. I decline. The smell of the grass cuts through the shit-sweet smell of the durian fruit that is in the bag by my legs. They are the two smells that will remind me of Thailand. Weed and durian. And a tinge of sadness overcomes me. We will soon leave this Island. After the full moon party we will be on our way, leaving this natural beauty behind.
I have not been entirely honest with you when I have spoken of no distractions from the lazy life on the beach. There is one. Diving. We checked out a number of dive schools on the Island but concluded that the one on our beach was probably the best. Their courses were slightly more expensive than the others, but they have a speed boat which meant we could leave directly from our beach. No taking taxis to get to a larger, slower dive boat and twenty minutes to the recommended dive site of Sail Rock, rather than two hours.
The fact that I'd not been diving for ten years did not matter, my records were held on the PADI database and it would be no problem to go straight into the Advanced Open Water course. Alex meanwhile would have to start from scratch.
Tits on the beach
So I am relaxing on the hammock and I see that Alex is going out to do his first confined water dive. He's walking onto the beach wearing a wetsuit and he's got the aqualung and mask and the tank of air and he's carrying flippers and now he is wading out into the sea. He is someway off but I am interested in seeing how he gets on. I remember the binoculars we bought in China, so I grab them from my bag and return to the hammock. Alex is quite far out now, the water is up to his neck. The instructor is explaining something and I am adjusting the binoculars and watching them out there. Alex puts his hand on his head- everything is OK and then they go down leaving the surface bubbling from the air they exhale. So with no brother to watch I move the binoculars to the horizon. A couple of fishing ships. They momentarily hold my attention before I move my focus back to where Alex is diving. I find the bubbles. He is not deep. He will probably be down there for a while. Keeping the binoculars to my eyes I move them to the shore, up the beach and they are blurred so I focus them and oooops, don't think I was supposed to do that. In focus, staring at me are a pair of well formed bronzed boobs ! Blimey! I get the fear and hide the binoculars. Has anyone seen me eying up the beach? Oh no. There's loads of them now, loads of topless women. How was I to know that I would focus on a topless blonde woman, kneeling in front of a salesman, inspecting the Thai fisherman pants he was selling! Paranoid. I'm sitting on the binoculars, lying on the hammock as though nothing has happened. I don't think anyone saw me. To think people could accuse me of being a pervert! And I was only watching my brother (yeah, yeah, and where is he now my accuser would ask!). The shame of it!
Nice tits though!
Diving is like riding a motorcycle. Once you have learned how to do it, it is easy. It just takes a few moments to remember the details. The diving was fantastic, although my memory of diving in Sharm el Sheik in Egypt was of more multi-coloured fish, more striking coral. I ask one of the instructors on the boat who had been a dive instructor in the area whether this was a fair comment.
"Is the Sinai diving better?" I asked him.
"Your next dive is always better" he cryptically replied. We then talked about the Sinai; Dahab in particular. He told me there are 40 dive schools there, a Hilton and other international hotels. This amazed me. I was in Dahab many years ago when it was a sleepy bay, little more than a Bedouin encampment with simple stone-walled buildings for hotels; shacks selling rag rugs and cafes, little more than tents, selling that ubiquitous travellers fare, the banana pancake. And there was little more to do there than sit around playing backgammon and smoke the noxious local weed and maybe go snorkelling with some shoddy rented equipment; a leaky mask and oversized fins. And that's why I went to Sharm el Sheik to do my diving.
My dives included a deep dive to thirty metres (it felt nothing like it) and taking some photographs. Unlike in Egypt when I was spooked and chased by a flesh eating trigger fish, the dives were peaceful and tranquil. Unlike the boat. During the intervals between dives we rested on the boat which was tossed around on the waves. Our dive site was no more than a rock protruding from the sea and the stationary boat took the full pounding of the open waves. Not one to suffer from sea sickness it came as quite a surprise to begin to feel quite groggy. The surprise turned to shock when my stomach and brain decided enough was enough and engaged the digestive system into reverse. I dashed to the toilet. The stink of piss made me retch and that made me heave and the morning's muesli (diced carrots of unknown provenance) pebble-dashed the toilet. I flushed the toilet and my chunder was washed away into the sea. This made me feel significantly better and resulted in a feeding frenzy of fish by the boat which added considerable interest to the next dive.
Four dives took their toll on my ears and left me with an ear infection that prohibited me from making my final navigation dive for several days. Indeed it was more than my ears that put my navigation dive off. The weather turned bad churning up the water and turning it murky. With poor visibility diving is little fun, so I was left with little to do other than spend days lounging in the hammock.
Alex had a similar problem with his ears. He could not equalize as he descended- he was unable to clear his ears and could not go lower than five metres without his ears paralysing him in pain. The ears, nose, throat and sinuses are all joined; with the onset of a cold mucus clogs the sinuses, blocks the eustachian tubes and prevents the diver from equalizing the pressure in his ears with that in the water. And so he had to wait for his cold to pass. He was unable to equalize his ears, so he works at equalizing his tan, reddening his whole body rather than just arms and neck and face.
The be here now multi-tasking diving/ skiing instructor
Finally the sea calms and I do my final dive for the advanced certificate. The Navigation dive. I have a new instructor, Roberto. He says he is from Italy but speaks with a German accent and could easily be mistaken as such. He is tall and thin with a blonde mane down to his shoulders that he carries in a pony tail. His face sports a three musketeers goatee beard and his complexion is roughened by outdoor living. He looks like he is touching forty. As a diving instructor he is very thorough. He is new to the dive school and I get the impression he is not overly impressed with the way it is run. I met a Dutch dive instructor on the island who knew Roberto. He said "yes, he is very serious. Very German. And I don't mean that in an unpleasant way".
We practice navigating with a compass on the beach, then we swim out into the bay and descend. It is very murky, visibility is less then 50cm. I'm navigating and a large black blob fills my mask and suddenly I am staring at a barnacled mass of rock. I swim back and forth and swim in a square using the compass as my only guide. I don't believe it, I am disorientated and the current is strong but I follow the compass all the same and on the third attempt when we surface I have indeed swum a square and am back at the same place we started at.
Swimming back to the shore I talked to Roberto. He is a dive instructor in the summer season and a ski instructor in the winter season. Nice life if you don't mind living in the present. Which is the religious way, or at least the Buddhist way. Jesus called on people to be here now, but Christians today seem more concerned with the future, judgement day and the after life. Roberto has a home in North Italy but he spends little more than a month or two there each year. Training before skiing. "You're not using all your muscles when diving". Like most dive instructors he smokes regularly and heavily. "All that clean air when you are diving, got to balance it with some dirty air." The middle way I suppose. More religiousness. This is his first time in Thailand. He usually dives in Egypt which he prefers. "The best dive here is the worst dive in Sinai". Just what I thought. He asks me what I do for a living. "I work in IT" I say. "what's IT" he says. Brilliant. "Computers" I say. The only computer he uses is his dive computer. Why should he know what IT is. Diving and skiing. That would be a life. I tell Lindsey about Roberto. "What about the future though? What about savings? what about a family?" "What about them? He lives in the here and now. In the moment. Very religious. Inspiring. Cool".
Organised chaos: full moon dive, full moon party
I went on a night dive. We took the boat out to Sail Rock and dived just before dusk and an hour later. It was pitch black and quite disorientating. I was with my buddy and we were following the dive master but then we lost him. We should have ascended but that would have meant the end of the dive. This was the sixth time I'd been round Sail Rock so I decided I knew the dive site reasonably well and was a newly graduated advanced diver so thought it was not so bad to continue with my buddy. He seemed to think similar. Well he gave me the 'OK' hand signal when I pointed 'let's go'. It was pitch black with a thin beam cutting into the void, illuminating the coral and fish on the rock. I got the fear. Do I really know this dive site. I became convinced we were diving into a cave. It was so dark. Engulfed by darkness. Nothingness. Only the beam of light. We are going to die. No we're not. Be calm. 'You know where you are going' I kept telling myself. Keep an eye on our depth. Keep an eye on the air left. Getting through it quickly. Be calm. And then my buddy stops. The dive master has grabbed his flipper. That shit him up, something taking hold of his flipper. But we are with the dive master again and that is good and he takes us to a crevice in the rock and we see moray eels and shrimps and how good they look. Brown and alive.. I only ever see shrimps pink and on a plate. Air is getting low and we begin to ascend. We take a three minute safety stop at five metres, then surface. The moon is large. The party beckons.
We take a speedboat. Much faster than taking taxis or the local longboats. There are twenty or so revellers on the boat. El Captain is a long haired, wild eyed Thai man, his mate has a shaved head and arms choked by tattoos. I'm sitting at the back of the boat. Next to me is Dutch man with a baggy white shirt that fills with air and balloons out as the boat picks up speed. Earlier he'd made a scene about his shirt. We were wading out to the boat and an Englishman who was wearing jeans didn't want to get them wet. So the Dutchman carried his English friend on his back, stopping halfway. "Get your filthy shoes off my white shirt" he pompously barked. And now he was sitting next to me taking his soft pack of Marlboro cigarettes out of his shirt pocket. He turns them upside down and taps on the bottom. A small package wrapped up in cellophane drops out. He delicately unwraps it. It is a tablet. Ecstasy I presume. He puts it into his mouth, holding it with his thumb and forefinger and bites it in half. He swallows the pill and screws his face up. Must've been unpleasant. "Water" he grimaces to the Englishman who passes him a bottle and he takes a big swig. Then wraps up the remaining half of the pill and puts it back into the cigarette pack.
-So it's going to be a night like that then?
A joint is passed around. I shake my head, "No thanks."
The boat sped down the east side of the Island and rounded the peninsular that is Hat Rin on the South East. In the distance we could see it. A cheer on the boat. A long thin line of light, an illuminated multicoloured thread of film traversing the darkness. Thicker it became as we got closer. Then we could pick out the detail, then the dull rumbling thud of loud music. Closer to the beach and the people. Thousands of them lining the beach. And not just one rumbling bass line but many. We wade ashore. We wade into a film. What is this place? The Full Moon Party.
We walk the length of the beach. It is maybe a kilometre in length and is lined with restaurants and cafes and clubs with names like drop In Bar and Orchid. Many of them erected their sound systems directly onto the beach. Large walls of speakers pumping out a fairly uniform diet of hard house, techno and trance. Only a couple of them played anything softer. Around each sound system people were dancing. With the tide high the beach was narrow and much of the time we found ourselves walking amongst people dancing. Where there was no dancing, Thais had set up stalls, lit by florescent neon tubes and were painting naked flesh with florescent paint. Bare backs with huge Technicolored dragons. Glowing orange and yellow faces to freak out the trippers. And the occasional bare chest with luminous concentric circles around brightly painted nipples. To the outskirts of the beach people sat around on the sand, chatting and drinking. The exception was the odd couple going through the stiff motions of Thai boxing whose techniques they are learning. Buckets were much in evidence. Groups of friends sitting around sipping at Red Bull and Vodka and whatever else through straws. At the back of the beach were food stalls and everywhere were impromptu bars, selling alcohol and soft drinks and the ubiquitous buckets. We walked up the beach and down the beach and I wanted to dance but Lindsey was feeling uncomfortable and Alex seemed very stiff. We got some drinks and sat down on the sand. "What do you think?" I ask them both. This annoys Alex. I'm always asking him this question but I like to talk and he doesn't, "If I wanted you to know what I'm thinking I'd tell you".
"Lindsey? How d'ya feel?"
"It's all a bit much for me. All these people. The noise. I've never been to anything like this before..."
"Don't worry. You'll get used to it".
Great I'm thinking. Two really enthusiastic party people here.
A young Thai girl approaches us. She is no more than six years old and she is selling beads, necklaces and in her hand are glowsticks. Bright yellow florescent tubes. And she is dancing to pumping techno, not an eastern, oriental style of dancing, but the western move-your-arms-and-shuffle-your-legs-a-bit. Almost big-fish--little-fish--cardboard-box. She waves the sticks in my face. "Forty Baht" she says.
We get up and walk the length of the beach again. We bump into Alex and Catherine and boyfriends. Boyfriend with the multiple piercings on his face and dreadlocks is wearing a sarong. Only a sarong. And he tied his money in the knot at the fold in the front. But the fold came undone and he's lost all his money. Ha! Western kids trying to be like locals. It never works. Boy, there's a knack to tying your sarong...
We stand in front of a wall of speakers. I find dancing easy, Lindsey less so but Alex can't find the groove. Walking again. Along the shore, the sea gently lapping against the sand. Not the crystal water that we are familiar with on this Island. It is a dirty sea and there is rubbish piling up in it. Bottles and cans and a line of men stand, backs to the beach, ankle high in water, pissing out to sea. I notice a girl in a bikini wading out further. Between the boats that are anchored off the beach she squats down to relieve herself.
We are at the Drop In Bar and the music is hard but Lindsey is more relaxed and she starts dancing. Alex leaves us to wander around by himself. We agree to meet up with him at 4. We are dancing to this nose bleed techno, little more than a 140bpm boom boom boom boom. Just rhythm. No melody. Very tribal. We are in the midst of dancing bodies. Wide eyed bikini clad girls and bare chested Israeli men. And I have to stop and laugh. "What's so funny?" Lindsey mouths. I shout into her ear, "You. Us. Here. Dancing to ear bleed techno! We'd never do it back home. What would people say, what would they think if they saw us dancing to this." There was a Viz character, Ravy Davy I think who would dance to anything. He'd walk down the street and he'd hear a pneumatic drill and he'd dance to that. And that is what we are like. Pneumatic techno.
Looking for something a little less heavy we find another sound system playing tunes of the happy house genre. We are dancing and I see three figures standing right in front of the speakers. Just standing there. Like statues. They are three Indian men, with gormless looks and droopy eyes and tiny moustaches and stripped nylon shirts, standing. Watching. Looking. Staring in that Indian way. Staring at the woman to their right whose features and appearance suggest she is from somewhere in South America. Unlike the other revellers with their hippy clothes, or bikinis or bare chests, she wears a low cut revealing black dress. Like she thinks she is Marylyn Monroe. And her eyes are lined with thick black eye makeup. She thinks she is a sex goddess, dancing seductively, thrusting her large breasts out and dancing like she loves herself. The Indians certainly love her.
There are thousands of people on the beach. Travellers, revellers, ravers, partygoers. I first heard about the Full Moon parties here in 1993 when I was working in Calcutta. I thought of flying over but never quite made it. I thought that they would be magical and marvellous, the fusion of the travelling scene which is outgoing and friendly; and the dance scene which was equally friendly (if often an ecstasy induced friendliness). At least they both shared a common opening few lines, "'allo mate, where you from" etc. But here at the Full moon party in 2002 I don't get a feel for the vibe. I don't sense much spirit, much friendliness. I'm dancing and grinning with a cheesy grin and it is not reciprocated. Only once does someone smile back at me, a German who is clearly buzzing on some substance or another. Perhaps it is the music. Hard, almost violent. Or maybe it is just me. Getting too old for this sort of thing? Or is it because I am no longer a solitary character. I am a unit and why do I need to talk to strangers? So maybe I missed what the full Moon Party was all about..
We take a rest and Alex stumbles across us sitting on the sand. He is drinking beer and getting pissed and I am drinking red bull and vodka and feel alert. Lindsey drinks water, the red bull makes her stomach turn. We are close to a sound system playing hard, loud and fast drum and bass. Surprisingly few people look totally out of it. Mostly drunks. Little evidence of drugs, the aroma of pot is conspicuous by its absence. But then there is a police presence on the beach and Thai justice comes down hard on drugs. Yes, there are lots of bodies strewn on the beach, sleeping where they have fallen, but there are not many casualties of hedonism, stumbling around completely off-face. But there was one outside the club playing drum and bass. A gangly European man with thigh high shorts and a fitted shirt tucked in them. He sways from side to side and stares at the women dancing. He is fascinated by them. Mouth agape, ogling them. He would appear dangerous if it wasn't for his stagger. He taps a man on the shoulder and points at his bottle of water. The man offers him the bottle and he takes a long swig then hands it back. No words are spoken. And he staggers off, following the girls dancing in bikinis.
Closer to us on the beach someone approaches us. He kneels down and grabs my shoes, almost oblivious to the fact we are there.
"Oi" says Lindsey, "They're his" pointing at me. The man mumbles an apology. There is a small low table to the right of us and under it is another pair of sandals. The Teva sort. He has spotted them and picks them up, places the soles against his bare feet and nods and grunts "mmmmmm". He puts them on and walks off. Dancing in the sand is hard barefoot. It is near impossible with sandals. We danced around ours like the fat slags dancing around their handbags in the nightclub back home. But fuelled on buckets, dozens of people must lose their footwear. A seasoned full moon party goer told me when he arrives on the beach the first thing he does is to find a secluded spot and bury his flip flops. But if not his shoes, he will always lose something. His money, his cigarettes, his lighter. And that explains why despite the filth and piles of rubbish on the beach in the party's aftermath, there is always an army of people ready to clean it up. Never know what you might find...
There appear to be fewer people on the beach as the night draws on. But it is an illusion. As the silver disk of the moon crosses the sky, so the tide goes out and the beach becomes larger. The moon, the tide, the party vibe. All interdependent, interrelated.
The sun rises and it is a perfect sun rise. So many times have I awoken to be disappointed by the sunrise and here it is, unexpected. Always the way. And I didn't even have to crawl out of bed for it. Lindsey is beginning to tire. I'm still dancing as she sits and watches. Dancing facing a sunrise. A red and purple and golden sky. A perfect end to the night. And then we took the speedboat home to sleep well into the afternoon.
And now back in Bangkok and ain't it 'orrible. Leaving for Laos tomorrow. Back into travel mode. Wha!