I recently posted about our itinerary to Thailand, and how we would have done it differently. Now I will go into further detail on the places we have visited, our experiences, and provide some advice. The main reason we visited Koh Phangan first, was for the Full Moon Festival.
They also have a Half Moon Festival which I’ve heard is just as fun, so if you miss the Full Moon Festival, you might be in luck! From what I have read, this island basically turns into a ghost town after the party is over, but I might be wrong! Typically the few days before and after the parties each month are the busiest, so be sure to book your hotel well in advance if you plan on staying here!
Planning our Trip for the Full Moon Festival
While planning our trip, we really wanted to try and make it for the Full Moon Festival that we had heard so much about. We looked at the 2 weeks we had off, and realized the festival would fall a few days into the trip, so ultimately this became our first real stop! We arrived late in Bangkok, and basically got a cheap hotel on Booking.com to sleep a few hours, before our flight the next morning.
A few of my friends asked why we flew to Bangkok for such a short period, and the reason is, we found the majority of affordable flights from Seattle flew to Bangkok, which is common, and then domestic flights are pretty cheap from there. We had the choice of an early flight to Koh Samui, or late. We decided we’d rather be on a beautiful island more than we wanted to be in a busy, dirty city. After our lovely 4 hour nap, we woke up and went downstairs to check out, and got a cab to the airport.
Trip to Koh Phangan
Since most of the Southeast islands are too small to have their own airport, you would fly into Koh Samui, and then a ferry to the island you want. The flight was only about 50 minutes from Bangkok to Koh Samui, and the impressive thing was that they served a full breakfast meal service on the flight in that time frame! When we arrived in Koh Samui, we got really excited because we were already seeing beautiful blue waters, glimpses of some hill-top temples, feeling the hot tropical air, and wanting a cold drink! Here, you get off the plane by walking down a set of stairs, then getting on an open air tram to the terminal, outdoor, thatched roof airport.
Quick Stop in Koh Samui
Once we got off the tram, we wandered a bit not knowing what to do next. We got a map, saw where the ferry terminals were, but were a little unclear on how to get to Koh Phangan. A representative from one of the tour agencies asked where we needed to go and guided us to one of the counters. We purchased our tickets for 500 baht each ($15) which included a 15 passenger van from the airport to the ferry terminal, and the 45 minute ferry to the island. We arrived at the ferry, and had time to kill, so we dropped our luggage, and explored a bit.
As we walked around, we saw a shop selling tank tops and t-shirts with some iconic Thai images, and I fell in love with a colorful elephant tank top for 100 baht (about $3). We grabbed a snack at the restaurant right off the pier, and we were happy to know they spoke a little English. Luckily, most places in Thailand, especially tourist spots, all spoke some English. We got ourselves some Thai beer called Chang, chicken skewers, and a young coconut that you drink the water out of, then scoop the flesh out to eat! When it was time, we made our way back to the pier, got on the boat, and headed to Koh Phangan!!
Ferry Ride to Koh Phangan
On the boat, they have you drop your bags at the front, even though you enter and exit the back. This was the same for every ferry went on, and it really caused mass chaos every time we arrived at the destination. There was no clear route to take, so everyone was bumping into everyone, digging to find their bags. Almost everyone on the boat, including us, had large, hiking packs, versus suitcases. I HIGHLY encourage this if you travel to the islands in Thailand! I cannot imagine having a regular suitcase here. Since it was so hot, you really only need tank tops, shorts, bathing suits, and any personal toiletries and items.
Death Defying Motorcycle Taxi
After we got our bags, we got off the boat, and wandered around again not knowing what to do next. Taxi drivers swarmed the area yelling “TAXI! WHERE YOU GOING!? TAXI!” A man with a taxi vest on came running over asking where we needed to go. We gave him the name and location, which he was familiar with, and told us how much it would be. “Ok follow me,” he said, and we proceeded to follow him to a set of motorbikes. I looked at Tiago with concern and said, “Uhhhh I don’t think so!” We apologized and said we wanted to take a car or something. We continued wandering and found out the two taxi options. Either we take a motorbike, or an open air taxi. The open air taxi was essentially a pickup truck, converted into a safari like vehicle.
Instead of waiting for 13 other people to take the taxi, we said “YOLO!” and got on the motor bike. They made sure we had our waist and chest strap secured on our bags, and off we went….WITH NO HELMETS! I didn’t know where to hold, so I alternated from white knuckling the handle behind me, getting hand cramps, and holding the waist of the skinny Thai driver. These were windy, hilly, sandy streets. I kept thinking, “OMG I’m going to die, or get severely hurt in my first few hours here!” Luckily we made it to our bungalows and we both had the same thoughts and experience. “That was super dangerous, my forearms hurt, let’s not do that again!”
Freeway Bungalows and Bar
We were not sure where to go when we got to the Bungalows, since it was ultimately a ramshackle bar/restaurant with 5 guest bungalows. We walked over to the bar, and spoke to the man behind the bar who helped us get checked in. The bar/restaurant/shop/tattoo parlor looked like it was made of driftwood, with hand painted signs, seating areas without chairs, where you sit on a cushion to eat and drink, as well as some other wood tables and chairs on the beach. This was the west coast of the island, and I guess this time of year, the tides are much lower, so you can easily walk out onto a beautiful sand bar any time of day. Each bungalow had a little porch with a hammock, which was nice to relax in, look at the ocean and listen to the birds in the coconut trees.
The room, however, was left to be desired. The bed was fine, but there were no screens on the windows, a fan (no AC), and a mosquito net. The bathroom had no toilet paper, soap, or toiletries, so we were happy that we brought our own stuff. It was also dirty, because it was ultimately like a camping out house with running water. We decided we would call it “glamping” because it was nicer than a cabin or tent, but certainly no 5 star resort. Good thing we only spent 1 night and 2 hours here.
In Search of Swimmable Beaches and Massages!
After trying to swim where we were, which was hot and shallow, Tiago was on a mission to find a better place to swim. We called up Mai, and had him bring us to Haad Yao. This was a much nicer beach, with more small resorts on it, restaurants, and a 7 Eleven! The water was still pretty shallow and warm, but it was a bit more enjoyable than the other spot we were at. I saw a massage bungalow right on the beach, and went back and forth whether or not I wanted to do it. I finally said, “Ok Tiago! See you in an hour!” and walked over for my first Thai massage.
I did not take a picture, but picture a thatched roof, open hut, with about 6 massage mats, where you can see everyone getting their massage. I laid down, and she went to work. MAN was she strong! A Thai massage is nothing like the typical Swedish oil massages you are used to. Most of a Thai massage doesn’t involve any lotion or oil, but rather, friction. The therapist uses their body weight to press into your body to release tension and stretch you out. At one point, she had me sit up and lock my fingers behind my head. Then she pulled me backwards onto her knees to crack my back! It was super intense, but I thoroughly enjoyed it!
We hailed a cab to go back to our place for sunset, a nap, then had dinner at Happiness Restaurant. This was right next door to us on the beach, in a hut like area, where we sat on the ground. I guess sort of Japanese style? Since the food was so cheap, we ordered way more than we could eat, including papaya salad, pad Thai, grilled squid, and garlic bread! We went back to our bungalow, put down the mosquito net, opened the windows, and turned the fan on full blast. We slept so-so, because the bed was hard, the motorcycles and taxis were terribly loud on the street 10 feet away, and we were worried about bugs all night.
Ford Resort – Pre Party Adventures
The next morning, I woke up feeling sore. At first I thought it was my beating from the massage, but later I found out I actually was pretty sick. I had body aches, rapid heartbeat, and a sore throat. BAD TIMING!! I tried to suck it up by taking some Advil to ease the pain, having some frozen shakes, soup, and rest. I didn’t want to do ANYTHING this day, even though it was the Full Moon Party. Tiago was convinced we were not going since I felt so crappy, but I told him we were going no matter what.
We found a place up the street to have lunch, at the Ford Resort, which is where I had more soup and shakes to try and feel better. Here, we met Johnny, a Swiss artist in his 60s who has been travelling the world painting, and has opened up 7 galleries worldwide. He was pretty hammered and sociable after numerous mojitos! We saw that the resort had a nice pool, so after we ate, we purchased our taxi tickets to the party and got permission to use the pool. YES! We met a really nice group of people from Atlanta in the pool that were visiting for the Full Moon party. The water helped cool me off and make me feel better, and we had a few beers. Johnny found us, and conversation got pretty interesting, including politics, his travels, and ladies he’s met.
More Dangerous Taxi Rides
We decided to leave, take a nap, and get ready for the party! I loaded up on Advil, since that was something that would make me feel better, and then we walked to the shuttle to the party. We had a little time when we arrived, so we got a beer, used the free dayglow paint to get all neoned out, and then boarded the pickup truck. This was literally a pickup truck with a railing around it. No seats. We crammed about 8 of us in, and started driving to the party.
Along the way, we picked up 4 more people! TWELVE people crammed into the back of the pickup truck, and we were asked to all sit down at certain times. WHAT!? Another super dangerous adventure we were on. As we arrived, we all got out and were told to meet in the same spot when we were done with the party. They would be cycling through with 2 vehicles all night. Perfect! We wandered around, scoped things out on the streets, got some dinner, and got our first bucket of the night!
The drink of choice for Thailand is the bucket. On the street, they have beach pails, with small, sealed glass bottles of liquor, Red Bull (which apparently is different than the US one, because it contains ingredients banned in the US, including whatever was in the original formula of Four-Loko!), juices, and sodas. We made sure we got the Smirnoff or Absolut vodka over the cheap Thai vodka to ensure we didn’t get sick. These are a really good deal, because they are cheap, you can carry them anywhere, and you don’t have to get refills every few minutes. I was trying so hard to have a good time, even though I felt so crappy. I figured after getting a buzz on sipping Tiago’s drink, I’d be ok.
The Full Moon Festival
We made our way to the beach, and were in complete awe! Each venue had their own music, mostly EDM and some more mellow reggae at the end of the beach. We had fun walking up and down the beach stopping to watch people rage out, dance, and laugh. There was one area where they had a pull up bar where people were showing off on. There was also a flaming jump rope that was too dangerous for me to try, fire dancing and a flaming limbo stick.
They had a huge set of scaffolding where they lit the letters in fire, which was really cool! We met people from England offering us, “sniffies” and inviting us to a bar to get “shroom shakes.” We laughed and passed on that one! Certainly this is not the scene for everyone! We are pretty much aged out of this scene, but it was still super fun and entertaining.
Finding Friends in a Sea of People
Eventually it came time to use the bathroom. We didn’t want to be one of “those people” using the ocean, and decided to use a real toilet. You pay 20 baht (57 cents), which was fine by us, because they were monitored and cleaned regularly.
On the way back to the beach, in a sea of thousands of people, who do we see? JOHNNY!!! We almost died!!! He was so hammered earlier in the day, we thought for sure he was down for the count. NOPE! He found his way to the party too and we found him. The hilarious thing was that we didn’t even find the people we met at the pool. They were all dressed up in crazy costumes, who I thought would be super easy to find, but no. We find the lonely Johnny instead. Epic
Debacle Getting Back to Hotel
At 2am, I was calling it quits, and thought it would be a good time to find our taxi back. I was being a party pooper because I was sick, tired, saw one too many people puking and passed out. I also knew we had to catch a boat at some point in the morning to Koh Tao. Some people, however, party until sunrise, which I was definitely not up for. For me, that is just hell!! We made our way to the meeting point, aka the police station, where we saw some ridiculously drunk people.
One guy had to be held up by his friends, given a chair, where he proceeded to dry heave. Another guy, Nigel, and his girlfriend, stumbled to the meeting spot, where she had him sit down. We told her she should get him some water and food, and we watched him for her. He decided to lay down and take a little nap before she got back. When she returned, he was barely conscious, and could not drink the water she got him. She was not happy to say the least. We kept them company until the rest of their friends arrived. Nigel, laying on his side, decided he was going to be sick while facing his girlfriend, so she shoved him over. Puking in a police station driveway. Now that was probably a first for him!
We Finally Found our Taxi!
We waited almost 90 minutes for our taxi. Finally, at about 330am, the shuttle driver walked over with a sign, and we said hallelujah! He was parked up the road a bit, and we never saw him! We had a decent ride back with only 5 of us in the back, including 3 folks from Bangkok. We got back around 4:15am, had lots of water, and fell asleep.
After walking up about every 30 minutes, at 630am we decided to hail a cab to the ferry. We were planning on the 10 something ferry or even 1pm, but since we couldn’t sleep, we got the 810! Everyone waiting for the ferry was still dressed in neon, paint still fresh on their skin, and looking like zombies. Once we all got our seats on the boat, people PASSED out! I was too overtired to sleep, but it was funny looking at a boat full of zombies all passed out.
Kitty at the place where you buy tickets by the ferry
How we would have done things differently
Like I mentioned in Our Thailand Itinerary, what I would have done differently here, would be to stay on Koh Samui, get the ferry over for the Full Moon Festival, and take the ferry back either the next morning or even that night. I did not see a reason to stay on Koh Phangan for the party from what we heard and saw. We did not explore much here, but from what I have read, it is really all about the moon parties. So, go to the party, but don’t waste your time here otherwise! If this is not your scene, that is ok! There are plenty of other awesome places to visit in Thailand!