koh pha-ngan - Where's Byrne?

koh pha-ngan

29.08.2011 – 01.09.2011 Sunny 35 °C

We paid 250bt each to get to Koh Pha-ngan, a short boat trip north. This is where the famous full moon parties are held. If you’ve never heard of them, my understanding is they started about 10 years ago and are held on a beach, Haad Rin beach to be exact in the very south east and up to 5,000 people turn up, hence why all the guidebooks say book a room in advance if visiting near a full moon party. They also run black moon parties (no moon), half moon parties (erm – half moon) and blue moon (no idea!) parties. We were 10 days from a full moon party so weren’t planning on going, that’s a long time to spend on an island half the size of Samui.

Our boat pulled up in Haad Rin (luckily) and we set off trying to find somewhere to stay. We found loads of suitable rooms, guest houses and resorts but they all had one thing missing; Wi-Fi. You had to pay for it at everyone of them. We came to the conclusion that this must be the norm on Pha-ngan (well done ah!) but were wrong, there were plenty of places about with free Wi-Fi just none right near the pier where you arrive. We checked out of our nice room the following day and moved onto a B&B/home-stay cross called Rocky’s. Rocky’s was basically this Thai bird’s house but she had four rooms built above her living room that she let out. To get in you had to walk through her front room, past the dogs, cats, bird in a cage, kids, TV, shower room, up a hill, up the stairs then onto our landing with our room directly over the TV. 250bt a night was a brilliant price though (in case you haven’t figured out, you double the baht to get the pounds, so 250bt is approx £5). We spent the first few days just chilling, going to a half moon party on the beach which was good, we didn’t know it at the time but we turned up about 8pm which was so early the barman on the beach was giving us bottles of Tiger for £1 each, probably in the hope we’d stay. Don’t worry my friend, for £1 a bottle of Tiger we were going nowhere. The night really warmed up later with arm wrestling competitions, tie a balloon to your ankle and stamp on everyone else’s balloon trying not to get your own balloon popped competition, lambada under a bamboo stick – on fire, etc. You get the picture. It even started pissing it down which continued as showers throughout the night but it didn’t matter, nobody cared. It was a great atmosphere. The real full moon party must be unreal if you add up all the freely available drugs, more people partying (drunk easy girls), good music, cheap drink, hot weather, all night barbecues and games. We had a great night anyway and was out until 3am ish but couldn’t drink any more. Next day was a write off.

The day after the hangover from hell we hired a bike and grabbed a map to venture round the island. The whole of Pha-ngan has great, newly laid tarmac roads and to a lot of the places there is just one road in and the same to get back out, so you couldn’t really get lost. We hopped on and headed for the next town, Thong Sala where there was supposed to be a great night market for dinner. We planned to pass back through here later for grub. Small problem was, getting there first. A guy said to us be careful as the road out of Haad Rin was good but had tons of hills, and as you know I’m a rookie on a bike. We had a twist and go, the same as before, which was good, but having B on the back made me less confident. Taking it easy, and I mean taking it easy, we were being over taken by young girls and kids about twelve-years-old, we were making steady progress into the ten-kilometres to Thong Sala. Up and down, up and down the road we went. I was thinking it wasn’t too bad until we got to the peak of this one hill in particular that looked like a sheer drop and included a sharp bend at the bottom to boot. I wouldn’t have fancied doing it in a car I’d just rented, let alone a cheap bike. We stopped at the top bracing ourselves, yes, it was that bad. We hadn’t had enough time to test the bike and build up confidence that the front wheel wouldn’t come crashing off half way down so this was weighing on my mind. Sod it, ready? Lets go. We pushed off and hit 50kph in seconds, I kept off the brakes a bit longer as in a way it was exhilarating until I looked down and saw we were doing 80kph and this bend was approaching fast. I hit both brakes but we didn’t seem to be slowing. My heart dropped. I didn’t let onto B but I really shit myself, we slowed enough as we hit the bend, just looking up in time to see a sign which said ‘35% gradient, SLOW DOWN’. I remember thinking, what fucking good is it over half way down the hill?! Idiots, I bet there has been a few smacks there. Despite our initial reluctance, we negotiated it like Evil Knivil and went on to have a safe journey to town. Thong Sala was nice if a bit quiet, we zipped through and along the west coast stopping at a Wat (temple) along the way. The temple was a little repetitive, set out much the same as other Thai and Malaysian temples but made a nice stoop for a drink. On our way back south we spotted a farm like place advertising home made ice cream. I had coconut, banana and coffee (not at the same time) and they were bloody lovely.

Back on the road, we were seeing signs all around the island for the Masons Arms, an English pub outside Thong Sala. We followed as a nice cold pint and a reminder of home would be well received. As we spotted it in the distance, it was like a mirage of an oasis in the desert. Unreal, it was as if someone had picked it up from England and plonked it in the middle of a field on a Thai island. From the authentic black and gold signs to the obligatory wooden benches outside. Upon entering it was even more impressive. It was 100% a British pub. I had a pint which was good, but was too full from the ice cream and other snacks we had throughout the day to eat… until I read how good the menu was. I thought we owed it to eat something, anything, so B ordered a roast beef baguette. In Thailand all bread based products are sweet, they add the sugar as a preservative so they don’t go mouldy so quickly but this means they don’t taste too great. In the pub though, a real roast beef baguette turned up that any pub in the UK would be happy to serve. The baguette was toasted so had a crunch, the salad was fresh and the beef was lean. Amazing, we really enjoyed that. We got chatting to the owner, Shaun. He was from Southampton and explained that the pub was based on his local back home. He’d been out there for over a decade but the pub was only 3 years old. Nice guy but I felt sorry for him because it really was a fantastic gaff, unfortunately only us and 1 other white guy were in there. Free Wi-Fi, darts, great grub, cold fresh beer, A/C – what more could you want? I was ready to move in! For those of you who would like to support him, he’s on Facebook, search The Masons Arms and give him a ‘like’.

We moved on using our trusty bike, which I’d become quite confident on as the day went by, back to Thong Sala and to the night market. A wow was needed. You were spoilt for choice for dinner and it was cheap. Upon walking in we were nabbed by a smoothie guy who offered us any smoothie for 20bt (yes, that’s 40p). We then moved onto barbecued chicken, a Pad Thai, noodle soup and a pork and rice followed by 2 spring rolls and a doughnut. That was the tip of what was for sale but we were ready to burst. In Thailand you sometimes get places where you wish you were hungry again just to carry on eating and this was one of them.

Back on the bike and heading for home I realised I’d never driven at night before. It actually wasn’t a problem but was daunting as I knew we had all those fucking hills to come but in reverse. Coming up to the first one was a big incline then a big coast down. We hit 80kph  going down again just coasting. Back up, then down, round the corner, up, round another corner, it seemed to be never ending, until we got to the big boy on the bend. It was a left bend this time and I saw it coming up in the distance so I revved up giving it everything, back to 80kph briefly (sounds a bit embarrassing really as I think that’s about 50mph but it seems so much quicker on a bike with someone on the back).

The bike was screaming but that soon stopped as we hit the hill, the poor old girl (the bike, not B) started to lose speed even though I had it maxed out. We got slower and slower and slower and didn’t seem to be making much progress to the top, we ended up going so slow I couldn’t balance the bike any more and nearly went into the ditch next to the side of the tarmac. ‘B, jump off and walk’ I said. She was not best pleased. Must have been all the grub we’d eaten at the market.

What a great day we had. Koh Pha-ngan was definitely our favourite island so far. The chilled out atmosphere, no one pressuring you to go fucking diving and hence no divers talking about some stupid fish they’d seen or how far they’d gone down, the great cheap food and places to go get smashed and finally the island itself to go riding round all added up to somewhere that will live long in our memories. Verdict: Best of the islands in Thailand.

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