Ko Pha Ngan is not the big bad place you’ve heard it is

One of the most famous events that people associate with Thailand is The Full Moon Party – but it’s also the most notorious. You’re always hearing about drunk girls getting raped, revellers getting robbed, partygoers getting burnt and people drowning while trying to get on/off the boats.

From all that I’d read I had this image in my mind of Ko Pha Ngan being this awful place where all the trashy 18 year olds go to get smashed and do stupid things like chasing each other around with tasers and where all the locals hate the tourists and take any opportunity to take advantage of them. Hardly appealing.

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But, despite all of that, I’d also heard enough praise from people who’d been to The Full Moon Party that I had to go.

I came prepared of course. I had my own padlock to prevent the locals from stealing my things, I was staying on the island itself so there was no fear of drowning while trying to catch the ferry, and I’d bought a huge book with me so that, if the place was really the kind of den of iniquity that some made it out to be, I could just just read in my room and avoid all the assholes.

My first impression of Ko Pha Ngan, tbh, was not great. Getting there had been trial enough – on the overnight train the aircon fluid was leaking on to me all night long in a steady stream, and I spent the boat ride wracked with the worst motion sickness I’ve ever experienced so that by the time I arrived I was sleep deprived, nauseous and drenched in a nervous sweat. And the first thing I see when I get off at Thongsala  is crowds of gaudily painted cars mounted with loudspeakers blaring pre-recorded party spruiking. Loud and annoying and not relaxing at all.

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Google Maps hadn’t mapped the streets of Ko Pha Ngan, there was no sign of public buses or trains, my GPS wasn’t getting signal… I didn’t know where to start or in which direction to head. So when a guy on a motorbike taxi told me he’d take me to wherever I needed to go for 200 baht I happily took him up on his offer.

And that was when I first started to see how beautiful Ko Pha Ngan was. The salty ocean breeze quickly dried off my nervous sweat, and as we sped away from the pier, the noise gave way to the gentler sounds of the wind blowing through the trees and the occasional soft laughter and chatter of the people we passed. It was all quaint little streets, quiet and not overly developed, with intermittent local stores and restaurants lining them. There were some bars and clubs too, but they had the same chilled Island vibe, the staff lounging around taking in the sun at this quiet part of the afternoon. It all felt very genuine, and not what I’d been expecting.

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My hostel, Hard Road Cafe, was not amazing – my dorm room was very basic and never got cleaned while I was there, ending up seriously foul. But my roomies were amazing: Mitch, from Canada, who heard me in the bathroom and have me some pepto bismol, then introduced me to Pontus, this gorgeous Swedish guy who’d been travelling with him since they met on Koh Phi Phi, and Marnie, a kick ass Canadian girl who’d also joined them recently. We had a rocking time together.

We spent our days swimming, chilling at  the hostel pool and the beach, playing ping pong and wandering all over the island. Mitch and Pontus had hired bikes and were sweet enough to drive Marnie and me around on the back of them.

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We had our favourite juice stall down at the food markets, we had amazing luxurious massages, we’d go to Amsterdam Bar (famous for its mushroom shakes) to watch the sun go down, and we’d laze the afternoon away at the beach at Shambala, where we could lie in the hammock drinking coconuts and where the owner gave us some free sugar bananas that he’d grown.

The curries on Ko Pha Ngan were wonderful – massamun was always the best bet but there were also some other interesting concoctions like ‘happy curry’ that were pretty delicious. You had to be careful with the green curries though, and make sure you stressed that you didn’t want them spicy – I forgot to do it once, had a spoonful, and burst into tears, it was that hot.  I had to give up on it and down three bottles of iced tea before the pain started to go down.

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The island had so much beautiful natural scenery. A lot of the beaches were competely isolated, and you’d be the only one there on a little stretch of paradise. We had a lovely little hike through the national park, too, and frolicked in the waterfall.

The one downside is that all of this is was only really possible because of the motorbikes. The only ‘public transport’ on the island is songthaews – basically utes with the tray converted into seats – which work kind of like a bus in that you can get on and off anywhere along the route, but they have a flat rate of 100 baht no matter how short your trip, and they don’t have set times or routes so you have to just hope you pass one going your way.

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And if it’s empty they often decide to wait until they fill up – or you can pay the equivalent of what they’d make when full if you want them not to wait. Very limiting. Which is perhaps why almost everybody who come to Ko Pha Ngan ends up hiring motorbikes – even if they don’t know how to use them – and why there’s such a crazy high incidence of bike accidents there.

Then there was the partying. We had our own really killer party at our hostel the first night – we got pina colada buckets (made with actual fresh pineapple and coconut), boogied away and ended up having a grand time doing flips into the pool and trying to throw each other around.

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I didn’t love my hostel but it had preparties every night before sending people off in taxis to the various parties around the island, and that included huge all you can eat buffets. They were expensive and we never paid for them but we’d sneak a chicken leg or two (or five) and occasionally Marnie and I’d convince someone who had paid to bring us a plate of food. I know, I know, that was a little bit naughty but we did spend so much money there and they had so much food anyway that we didn’t think they’d miss just a little.

We didn’t go to any of the other parties either – our hostel had mainly younger backpackers, a lot of whom were really immature and kind of chauvinistic and who did indeed get very drunk and chased each other around with tasers and were just kind of boorish.

Instead we ended up hanging a lot at another hostel in town – Vagabonds – that didn’t have a pool but was right on the beach, had an adorable labrador puppy named Pad Thai, had fun BBQs and turned the other eye when you sneaked in your own drinks and had a really good vibe where everyone was cool and you could just talk to anyone without them acting like they were in highschool cliques. It had more real travellers and less guys on bro-trips who’d refuse to play ping pong with a girl on the basis of gender (which was a thing at Hard Road Cafe).

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And how was the actual Full Moon party? Absolute blast. That whole night was huge and hectic. I got separated from my friends, got lost somewhere on the island, found some randoms, went to the party with them, ran into Pontus, danced with him until he went home, then danced on my own until the sun was well up in the sky.

The whole of Haad Rin gets sucked into the party and there’s different stages all down the beach, all with really good music. I was loving all of it but then I hit the drum & bass stage and that really made my night.

It had such a good vibe – everyone was so happy and so nice. I ended up dancing and talking to so many random people that I didn’t at all care that I’d lost my friends – I was just having a banging time.

Even the stall holders were getting right into it and dancing along, and it was so pretty with all the fire twirling and skipping going on around the place – I didn’t see anyone get burnt ether.

I think the party goes on till the noon, but I’m not sure – once the sun had been up for a while, I was done. I went searching for a songthaew along with a sweet Swedish boy who was trying to convince me to go back to his hostel, then left him to go back to mine, alone.

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Isn’t it funny when you’re just too tired to get yourself into bed? I was so exhausted but instead lay down by the pool and ended up chatting to – and getting breakfast with – this really lovely guy named Curtis.

Talking to Curtis was great, he was telling me, competely sincerely, about how in love with his girlfriend he was and how they’d traveled separately for a while and he was so excited that they were joining up again soon. It’s so different to what you usually hear from guys, and it was so pleasant to see someone just actually properly in love and not ashamed of it.

So that was Ko Pha Ngan – seriously wonderful actually, and not at all what I expected it to be. The only bummer was that I ended up with really bad food poisoning the night before I was leaving, and had uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhoea for hours on end until Pontus, absolute darling that he was, walked me to the medical centre at 4am where I got plied with pills upon pills, put on an IV drip, given an assortment of injections and charged a few hundred dollars. Thank goodness for travel insurance.

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