Ko Pha-Ngan

Sweden has a population of about 9 million people. I’ve been told that about 300,000 of them come to Thailand every year. That’s 3 percent, and very impressive. I spent several days on Ko Pha-Ngan with mostly Swedes, the large majority of them beautiful, half-naked and dull. I have very quickly developed a disdain towards them (well, at least the ones here.) Though I highly recommend this phenomenon as beach-front eye candy (words would fail to describe the criminal and oft bordering-on-statutory material here — sorry, no pics), they turned out to be the most insular bunch I’ve seen thusfar. If I sound like a disgruntled, dirty old man, well.. I’m seeking a petty revenge towards Them (and am trying to make you jealous.) Apparently some people travel half a globe just to hang out with people from home. With the exception of a great couple I’d first met in Bangkok, my friendly smiles at Swedes have, by and large, been answered with a blank stare and a turn of the head; all these gross generalizations have been confirmed as practice by Erik, the friendly Swede, and Hella, a boisterous Norwegian who tells me that the Blonde Ones do nothing but complain while in paradise.

Ok. End of rant. I feel better: the Swedes may all be gorgeous, but they leave much to be desired. [I should mention the large population of Israelis. They at least seemed to properly enjoy the beach without pretense. Their female population was also beautiful, but very small compared to the men. Oh well.]

Luckily, Sonia and Sean shared a couple of days with me on the beach in Haad Rin, location of the infamous full-moon party, and center of young tourist life on the island. Haad Rin is the perfectly sized village as far as party destinations are concerned, and every night is an excuse for a celebration, full-moon or not; all over the island are signs, in fact, advertising all manner of party — full-moon, half-moon, black-moon, geisha-moon… waning-gibbous party, anyone?

Spending several debaucherous and sleepless nights here was the perfect antidote to the more mainstream Ko Samui. After a lazy afternoon on the beach, the tourist population generally enjoys dinner and a movie: most restaurants show bootlegs of American films, including screeners of current releases with hilarious engrish subtitles. Schedules are posted along with the menu, leading to the phenomenon of picking a restaurant for its entertainment, rather than food.

The evening usually continues at the numerous beach-front bars, where my Burner heart was warmed by excellent fire spinners. Free food, drinks were often given away for one reason or another (bar anniversary, hoop throwing contests..) and the infamous Buckets (a $10 sand pail of ice, thai whiskey or vodka, red bull or other mixer) are peddled late, and dance music is blasted well into the morning. As you can imagine, after a few buckets the party starts to lose control a bit. Late one night some guy (non-Thai) tried to steal a girl’s bag. Immediately he was thrown to the ground by half a dozen inebriated but sharp-eyed bartenders and locals. Dragged off the beach and into the alleyway, he would likely have been beaten to death had Sean not intervened, explaining that he was an American medic and he couldn’t let it go on. The kicking stopped, and while waiting for the police it was explained that the man had come to Haad Rin before and stolen passports and other valuables. In the end, Sean’s heroics diffused the situation and as a result we were offered free drinks. Of course.

Overall, Haad Rin has its charms. Between fresh fruit shakes on the beach, dogs sleeping in the middle of traffic, cheap sandwiches at 5 in the morning, winding, treacherous roads, barefootedness, coconut groves and jungle/beach parties, the small town feel of the town remains one of my favorite stops so far. If you expect a party atmosphere, you wouldn’t be disappointed; but though other spots on the small island offer yoga retreats and sleepy towns, and general peace and quiet. I fully expect to make my way back here some day.

Haad Rin, like all popular destinations in the area, is growing rapidly, and threatens to lose its summer-camp-esque atmosphere. To wit, I had to change hotels when I could get no sleep due to thumping techno till 5, then construction right next door at 8 in the morning. Indeed, it seems that the entire local economy and sleep schedule has begun to revolve around the demands placed by dance-craved Europeans. I just hope Starbucks doesn’t decide to drop in..

My final night I went to Half-Moon party in the middle of the jungle, where an open-air club was set up, and hundreds of people danced the night away. I decided to skip the full-moon party, happening in a few days, as the place apparently gets more crazy than it usually is (hard to believe.) After a late night pool-party and nightly beach dancing, I think I’m good. Besides, I think I’ve had my fill of euro-techno for a while, and hope to find a bit more substance at Burning Man in the fall.

Instead, I’m headed to Ko Tao for some SCUBA lessons and more beach laziness before heading up north.

2 Responses to “Ko Pha-Ngan”

  1. srjosh Says:

    SCUBA! So awesome. Keep the travelouge coming; those of us left behind want to live vicariously!

  2. ignacy’s blog » Blog Archive » From Beach to near-Bronchitis, and Beyond Says:

    […] the Indian state of Goa was much more than I’d expected. I suppose I was anticipating another Ko Pha Ngan, with not much beyond bikini-clad tourists overstepping local modesty. The Lonely Planet encouraged […]

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