We booked out tickets out of Railey from a tour operator next to our bungalow who offered us the best deal on the peninsula. I mean, he organized the whole thing: Boats, mini buses, coaches, ferries, the whole damn trip. Railay to Ao Nam Mao, Ao Nam Mao to Krabi, Krabi to Surat Thani, Surat Thani to Don Sak, Don Sak to Thong Sala. Three hundred kilometers in eight hours and at 500 baht. Trust me, it’s a very good deal. We were headed for the great unknown, but to get there we had to follow the regular tourist trail.
Ok not really. It was a pretty good deal though, but the only unknown in where we were headed was how bad the weather would be. We were on our way to Koh Pha Ngan, the tarnished heart of the backpacker trail in southern thailand. I just felt like starting this post with a little homage to The Beach. As per usual, the journey to our next destination wasn’t without several amusing incidents. To kick it off Owen, Matt and myself almost got lost at the ferry terminal in Au Nam Mao. We got off the Longtail boat and there was no one to tell us where to go. We wandered up the peer and ended up at the main road with no buses in sight. A little worried we headed back to the peer and asked around. Eventually someone told us to head down past some nearby resort to where there was some sort of ticket office and we were told to wait there for the mini bus. This then took us into Krabi where we had to wait for a bigger bus to cross to the eastern coastline of southern Thailand.
While waiting for this bus a middle aged Thai women started going mental for apparently no reason. She was screaming and flailing her arms about and Matt thought he heard her say something about a dog. We looked around and saw two dogs having a scuffle a little up the road. Suddenly a Thai guy came stalking out from behidn our mini bus. His face was murder, he had a cigaretting hanging off his lip smoke puffing out, and a broom stick cradled on his sholder. He marched up to the two dogs and started beating one of the dogs with his broom stick. I guess the one that wasn’t the women’s dog. We stood there stunned while he beat the dog to a hair short of death. When he was done it was lying on the ground clearly damaged, and as it struggled to stand up he just beat it back down. It was awful to watch.
A long bus and ferry ride later we arrived in Surat Thani on Koh Pha Ngan. It was raining quite heavily. I had wanted to avoid Koh Pha Ngan and instead stay on the Western coast where the weather was better, but had reluctantly given into Owen’s flimsy argument of “You can’t come to Thailand and not visit Koh Pha Ngan”. We caught a taxi to Hat Rin Beach and checked into Coral Bungalows, which were a bargin due to the bad weather. With the three of us sharing a room it was only 100 Baht a night each. There was also a Black Moon Party on that night, which is the less known sibling of the famous Full Moon Party and Half Moon Parties. It was down at Ban Tai beach on the sand but before we decided whether or not to go we headed down the road to the local 7-Eleven to buy some drinks. Just as we left the store the skies opened up and the rain bucketed down. It was ridiculously heavy. The three of us sat stranded under an awning and the rain didn’t look like it was going to let up anytime soon. I had a plastic bag from 7-Eleven so I had the bright idea to get naked to stop my clothes getting wet. I took off my shirt and shorts and wrapped them tight inside the plastic bag and then walked back to the bungalows in my underwear. It would have been a hilarious sight, and I copped more than a few odd looks from local Thai people as I strutted down the road in the pouring rain wearing only my underwear while laughing manically.
Back at the bungalow we sat on our balcony and drank and played cards until the rain eased up. Owen and I went to suss out this Black Moon party since we figured we had to at least try and go to one of these Moon shindigs while we were here. We started by heading back into Hat Rin and buying something to “keep us awake” from the local pharmacy and then since we had missed the taxi from the bungalow we started walking towards Ban Tai. On the way a dog from the hostel followed us and kept us company, at least until we ran into a pack of more savage looking dogs further down the road. They stood in the middle of the road blocking out path. I started edging around but they started growling dangerously. Suddenly they attacked and went charging past us towards the dog that had followed us. Owen and I took this opportunity to sprint past down the road, only looking back when we heard our dog yelping as it fled its attackers back towards the bungalows.
We didn’t realise how far it was from Hat Rin to Ban Tai. Way to far to walk. Luckily a taxi truck came rumbling down the road and we hopped in the back with a bunch of Israeli guys heading to the Black Moon Party. The party was shit. We arrived and were told “It’s pumping, lots of people inside, now give us your 500 baht and you can go in”. In we went only to be greeted by loud rave music, scores of bars lining a large beach-become-dance floor flooded by black lights, and a few scatterings of people. I guessed there were only 100 or so people there. We got our free drink then sat by the ocean and talked. Every 10 minutes or so we would have to turn away some Thai guy offering to sell us drugs. A little while later it started raining again, only lightly this time, and we took refuge on the balcony of a nearby bungalow. After having an awkward conversation with a gay middle aged Swiss guy who apparently visits Koh Pha Ngan twice a year we decided to cut our losses and head home.
We jumped in a taxi heading back to Coral Bungalows and found it was full of Swedish guys who were staying at the same place as us. One of them looked like Andrew WK and he was blind drunk. He was shouting all sorts of incomprehensible gibberish to which I sagely nodded and replied with a noncommittal “Yeah Man”. At one point he almost fell out the of the back of the truck but I caught him and threw him back into his seat. He then said something about Thai money and upturned his wallet and threw several hundred Baht out the back of the truck. He was out of his mind. After this came the sing along. Andrew WK man started yelling “Koh Koh Koh Koh Pha Ngan, I’ve got sunshine in my hand”, or something along those lines. The song was interspersed with some loud percussion made by violently kicking the roof of the taxi. It was an interesting ride home to say the least and when we got back to the bungalows our previous canine companion gave us a sad condemning look for abandoning him earlier.
The following day didn’t start with rain. That was a plus. Matt decided to chill out by the pool reading and having some downtime, while Owen and myself headed into town to hire motorbikes. Hat Rin has a reputation for some really slimy motorbike hirers, who will give a bike to anyone and then try and extort as much money out of you as possible for the slightest scratches. If you have had a semi serious crash you’re gonna be handing over hundreds of dollars to get your passport back, which they conveniently keep as collateral. We spent a while trying to find somewhere that would lend us manual bikes as we had acquired a taste for them during our Mae Hong Son Ring adventures. Eventually found a sleazy Thai man who lent us some bikes. The bikes were old and shit. We continued on regardless and rode down past Ban Tai to Thong Sala and then across to Ban Chalok Lam on the other side of the island. This beach was quite dirty and not at all picturesque. On the way Owen also got a flat tire and had to pay to get the tube replaced, thankfully it only cost a couple of dollars.
At about this point Owen started getting really glum about how Koh Pha Ngan was shit as it wasn’t living up to his expectations. I asked him what exactly his expectations where, he knew it was a tourist island and that the weather was shit, and that no one was here. I kind of felt bad for him as he had been planning his trip to Asia since he was 16 or so and had hyped it up so much in his head that the tourist sullied reality could never live up to his idealistic expectations. The irony was that this was pretty much the moral undertone of The Beach: the perfect tropical islands of Thailand being consumed one after another by hungry western tourists until there was nothing left. Personaly, I found Koh Pha Ngan exactly as I expected it to be. No more, no less. It would have been nicer with better weather, but better weather would have also ment more tourists. Currently it was quite deserted which I found kind of pleasant.
We decided to finish our ride by looping back along the coast to Thong Sala. On the way we stopped off at a beach for a swim. To get there we had to go down some sketchy muddy tracks to get there and our bikes only just made it. We also passed an elephant riding place where the elephants looked to be in poor health. It was sad but there was little we could do other than refuse a ride. While nearing Thong Sala Owen started noticing signs for a British pub called The Mason’s Arms and wanted to go check it out. We eventually found it and it was one of the most awful gaudy spectacles I had seen in Thailand. A ridiculous classic British Pub smack bang in the middle of a tropical island. Owen loved it. It was the happiest I had seen him in weeks as he sat their munching on several Yorkshire Puddings. I guess he was really feeling homesick. That night James arrived at Coral bungalows and we had a chilled night drinking beers and playing cards. There wasn’t much else happening on Thailands party island.
The next day Matt went scuba diving up at Shark Rock, one of the famous reefs near Koh Tao. Since we were flying home soon we didn’t have time to actually visit Koh Tao, so he just payed the little extra to do the tour from Koh Pha Ngan. We had decided to head to Bangkok that night. The weather turned out to be really good, exactly what you would expect from a tropical island. I spent the day taking a few photos and chilling out by the pool finishing off The Beach as I needed to give it back to Owen before we headed north, as he was heading south toward Malaysia. We also returned our bikes and Mr Sleazy seemed sad that he couldn’t find anything wrong with the bikes to charge us extra for, he was also not impressed when Owen suggested he should pay him back for the tire since he gave it to him with it already flat. Mr Sleazy just replied “I don’t own the roads, it’s not my fault if it goes flat”. Idiot.
Matt got back form his scuba trip and we I said goodbye to James and Owen. By this point I’d travelled with Owen for close to two months and it was sad to say goodbye without knowing if we would ever meet again. Such is the life of backpacking though. It was a doubly sad moment for me as it finally clicked that my trip was almost over. In 3 nights I was heading back home to Australia. The only thing standing between me and home was an overnight bus and a couple of nights in Bangkok.