Beaches & Bungalows: Our Time in Koh Phangan & Khao Sok
We said goodbye to the southwest coast of Thailand bound for the infamous Koh Phangan. This small island off the eastern coast of the country was well-known for its most famous monthly event: the Full Moon Party. These celebrations had gotten a reputation for being over the top all night debauchery fests, loaded with drunk foreigners making bad decisions. The reputation was so well-known throughout the country and even the international community that many people tended to avoid this island. However, after some research I found that there were things to see and do on the island that didn’t involve binge drinking. Although, while we had decided before we left that we may be a little old for the Full moon party scene, we did decide that we were definitely not too old for the tamer, more well-organized Half Moon Party.
After experiencing the more party-like atmosphere of the islands, we were ready for a brief trip back to nature in the form of a two-day excursion to Khao Sok National Park. We figured this stop would be a good time to recharge a bit and prepare ourselves for the trip to the north.
What We Did
Day 195 (2/2/17): After Kyle left us at three in the morning, we got a couple hours more sleep before our journey to our second island of Koh Phangan. The trip itself was not an easy one. We took a four hour bus ride across the country followed by a two hour ferry to the island itself. When we finally arrived, we walked to our hostel, Goodtime Backpackers Hostel at Charm Beach where we got checked in to our own private beachfront bungalow. Being tired from the journey, we got some dinner from the hostel restaurant. Afterwards, Adam went to sleep and Katie, Justin, and I walked out into the sandbar that stretched far out into the sea, hunting crabs and other night-living sea creatures. We also took a brief stroll down the beach to check out some of the other hotels and bars nearby before calling it a night, and passing out in our bunk beds.
Day 196 (2/3/17): We slept in and decided to hang around the hostel. We started the day with some sand volleyball, Katie and Justin versus Adam and I. Needless to say, with Katie’s volleyballing superpowers Adam and I lost all three games. Afterwards, the boys took a break and Katie and I played a couple of young German guys. After representing the U.S. proudly and destroying them, we went to the pool and relaxed in the clear water, finding the lack of salt refreshing. After relaxing a bit more in the hammock and on the beach, we were craving vegetables. So, we went to the super market and snuck in the ingredients to make an amazing, large ceasar-esk salad in the lid of a cake pan (it was the cheapest big bowl-like container we could find). Having stuffed ourselves full of nutritious food in preparation for the next day’s partying, we went to sleep.
Day 197 (2/4/17): Today was a jam-packed day. As a birthday surprise, Adam planned for us all to visit “The Challenge” Koh Phangan. It is a WipeOut-style obstacle course set over a lake in the northeast of the island. We rented scooters and made our way through the countryside to the course. We spent the afternoon trying out the different obstacles, swimming, sipping on a few birthday beers, and of course making each other laugh with the variety of ways and positions in which we could involuntarily enter the water. After a few hours and exhausting ourselves on the course, we got on our scooters and headed back to the hostel. Not as young as we used to be, we were all a little beat and decided to take some late afternoon naps to rest up for the Half Moon Party. Waking up sore a couple hours later, we ate, showered, and went to the grocery to buy some booze to pregame the festival. We changed into our party outfits and played games in our bungalow, passing around a disgusting vodka and juice concoction. Once we were feeling good, we paid for a taxi to the festival. We stood outside, painting ourselves in luminescent paint, readying ourselves. We entered the festival, collected our free buckets of booze, and explored the grounds. We spent the rest of the evening and into the early morning dancing, drinking, and jumping around with the masses. Adam and I headed home first, packing into a taxi (Adam was literally standing and hanging out the back), and passed out. Katie and Justin danced a bit longer and then also headed back for the night.
Day 198 (2/5/17): We woke up late and feeling a bit hungover after the night’s activities and decided our last day on the island was going to be a lazy one. We spent the day lounging in hammocks, reading, laying on the beach, and playing cards. We got food at a Thai place up the street for dinner and watched our last Koh Phangan sunset before packing our bags for the next days’ travel. It was time to head north.
Day 199 (2/6/17): We woke up at 3:45 a.m., got our stuff together, and headed for the port to catch our 5 a.m. ferry back to the mainland. After a couple hours ride, we deboarded the ferry, and found the taxi driver brandishing Katie’s name on a piece of paper. He took us to a tour company office, where we packed small daypacks for our trip into Khao Sok National Park. We entered the park, got on a longboat, and began exploring the Cheow Lan Lake. We drove through the lake floored by the steep cliffs and limestone karsts present throughout, snapping an ungodly amount of pictures. After visiting some of the lakes’ most famous sights, we made our way to our floating camp. We were assigned an over water bungalow and took some time to swim. We had an amazing Thai lunch, feeding the leftovers to the large school of fish that seemed to accumulate just off the platform at every single meal time. We borrowed some kayaks and went exploring on our own, searching for fish and monkeys. However, while we could hear the monkeys in the trees, we had no luck in spotting them and returned to our camp. Later in the evening we got on the longboat and went out to the jungle where we hiked up through the growth and along the waterways to see some awesome 400+ year old trees and learn more about the plants and life in the jungle. After completing a Tarzan-like swing on some cines, we got back on the boat, a little dirtier than we started, and headed out. We searched the edges of the lake for monkeys, but were unable to spot any that weren’t insanely high up. So, we gave up for the day and stopped briefly at a small fisherman’s camp on the way back to our camp. After returning, we shared dinner, played euchre, and enjoyed being in such an incredible place.
Day 200 (2/7/17): We woke up early and went for another boat safari searching for monkeys. This time we were successful and saw a couple of groups playing around on the trees near the edge. We returned for lunch and then said goodbye to our floating camp in paradise. We had some boat trouble on the way back, but got some help from a local fisherman and were towed back to the port. We collected our stuff from the tour company and then made our way to the “My Jungle House” resort in another part of the park. We made friends with a couple on their honeymoon during our walk in the woods, before heading down to the river to play in the creek and watch the monkeys playing on the cliffs. Katie and I then left the boys and had our fit at ever Thai massages. Afterwards, I wanted to marry that lovely Thai lady and Katie and I secretly resolved to get another one before we left the country. We rejoined the boys, met up with our new friends, and walked down the road to a Thai restaurant on the river. Afterwards, we grabbed a beer at a Rasta bar up the road and shared some stories before walking back for the night.
What We Learned
From everything we read and from talking to locals on Koh Phangan, the Half Moon Party is where it’s at. And we had a blast. It was a big-ticket item for us at $32 apiece, but it included a booze bucket and it was a crazy experience you cannot recreate. That being said, there is a lot more to do on the island than just one of the moon parties. The island itself is beautiful, and the locals are friendly. While we were all feeling too tired to explore the island much, it is cheap to rent a scooter and from what I hear the beaches in the North are stunning. So, consider a visit, even if a rage in the jungle or on the beach isn’t your scene.
Thai massages are awesome. I had never had one before coming to Thailand and I am in love. Instead on just rubbing your muscles as they do with the Swedish massages, Thai massages also incorporate stretching, pressure points, and short motion rubbing. A little bit of warning, however, these ladies will get all up in your business with no thoughts about it. No joke. At different points throughout the hour-long experience, I had an older Thai lady rub my upper thighs, manhandle my ass, and laying on my back as I am bent in half. And that was just part of it. But guess what, I would do it again in a heartbeat and I did, when we were in Chiang Mai. And not only is it amazing to be stretched out and pampered that way, but you can get an hour-long massage for only 200 baht, or a measly $5.70. I almost felt bad about it….but it was pretty impossible to feel bad after being touched by this wonderful Thai Angel.
Spiders in Thailand get huge. Like scary huge. Even Adam and Justin, grown men with no fear of arachnids normally said they would not want to mess with them. We found one at the jungle house resort that was as big as a human head. We discovered they are called Golden Orb-Web Spiders and are one of the biggest species of spider in the world. Yay! I would not get within 10 feet of it. No way dude. But honestly, in Thailand, spiders seem to be everywhere so if you have the fear as I do, it’s best not to look too closely at any of the local vegetation….
Sometimes, even the most avid travelers need a break. On Koh Phangan, we took a bit of a break. While we had a couple of days packed with activities, we spent a lot of time just laying around doing nothing, reading, swimming, watching Netflix, etc. This sounds like a bit of a no-brainer, but believe me it is tougher than it sounds. When you are in places that are so incredibly unique and amazing it is very hard to not feel like by watching Netflix, an activity you would pursue with gusto at home, you may be missing out on seeing something special. But constantly go, go, going you run the risk of burnout. And I know for a fact that all of us Nomads have gone through that at some point. So, make sure you take some time to do nothing, even if you are in a really cool spot. Long-term travel is a marathon, not a sprint.
Playing sand volleyball with Katie against the two young German guys at our hostel was a highlight. They two guys were a bit cocky and totally underestimated Katie and I, making it even more fun when we easily defeated them. And, while the boys are fun to partner with, it was nice to have a teammate with a bit more volleyball prowess.
The Challenge was an amazing birthday gift from Adam. I had an absolute blast running around the course trying out the different obstacles, watching each other fail and succeed (mainly fail) at completing them. I finally got to do “the Blob” as I had seen done so many times while watching and researching the movie Heavyweights. I learned quickly though that it is not as much fun as it seems, and I had the angry red welts on my back for the next three hours to prove it. The iceberg obstacle was also pretty awesome (once I could get up on it), and I got a kick out of sliding down or jumping off its shiny, slippery white sides. Our favorite obstacle was actually the very first one, a trapeze-like swing that you held onto until you were out high above the water, letting go and landing with a splash. We all did it like five or six times. However, the most entertaining and frustrating part of the course was obviously the big red balls. You climbed into a platform and had to run across three giant, floating red balls to get to the platform on the other side. While it sounds easy, we quickly discovered it is all but impossible for anyone who is not under 100 lbs or who does it 300 times a day. We considered it a victory if you got to the second ball and managed to even touch the third one as you plunged headfirst into the lake. The amount of amazingly hilarious and awesome spills taken on this particular obstacle made it another favorite. I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard in my life. Additionally, we made Challenge history that day. At my request, we all completed a timed trial of the Challenge course where you must successfully complete a couple of the obstacles and at least attempt the others. Katie and I put in excellent performances, making the women’s leaderboard. My time of four minutes and seven seconds was the overall fastest, placing me fourth on the leaderboard. Yay!
Staying in bungalows over the lake in Khao Sol National Park was pretty sweet and something I had had on my bucket list. And while our room consisted of a small mattress on the floor and a cleverly rigged up light fixture by the door that only worked from 6 to 11 at night, I thought it was incredible. We just later there listening to the monkeys and insects and other creatures of the forest while also hearing the water lapping up against the big logs of the floating camp. I loved it and would go back in a second!