16: Sun, Sea and Scampi 'n' chips
After recovering from the shock of the Tsunami, and the relief of finding that our friends on the West coast were safe, we made a conscious decision to try and enjoy the rest of our holiday on Ko Pang Nga.
A short ride on the Bangkok underground, a 10 hour sleeper-train ride, a 2 hour bus ride, a 3 hour ferry ride and finally a ridiculously pot-hole ridden songthaew journey and we reached our destination. As you might guess, after this journey I was ready for a nice comfy bed. Chance would be a fine thing. We checked into what we were assured was the only available accommodation, Twilight bungalows. Among Twilights better features was a sink which was perfectly aligned with my nose when on tiptoes (I am 6 foot 2) and a toilet that was designed for a vertically challenged dwarf. After cleaning my teeth, with arms aching from holding them so high, I tested the bed and discovered it was several planks of wood arranged in a waffle-effect. About as comfortable as sleeping on a washing line, still beggars cant be choosers and I dont mind sharing with a few beetles, spiders, mosquitoes and the odd cockroach too much.
The popularity of Ko Pang Nga with tourists and travellers is escalating. Nearby Ko Samui already has one airport and another is currently being built. This means it is very easy (for those who have enough money) to fly to Ko Samui before taking the half-hour speedboat trip to Ko Pang Nga. Before you know it you have enjoyed a trip of complete comfort, made a stylish entrance and are feeling the warm velvety sand between your toes! The Island is described in the Lonely Planet as casual, with a beach for everyone. This is a fair analysis most of the time.
Once a month however, when the full moon shines, Ko Pang Nga is anything but casual. On the night of the full moon, it is the scene of the biggest beach party in the world. Travellers, tourists and Thais collectively congregate on Haad Rin beach to party on the six different music stages and innumerable bars and clubs until the early hours. Ravers from around the world have been gathering here for the last ten years, as you can guess it has been the scene of some hedonistic pleasure-seeking and many people who have been may not remember it too well! A large police presence suggests that the use of illicit substances is on the decline although the popularity of the party certainly isnt.
I enjoyed the full moon party. There was an eclectic mix of music on offer, a refreshing change from the freeze-dried R and B, or Eagles inspired American soft rock usually available in Thai bars. The drinks were cheap and the mood was jovial. We walked up and down the beach several times before anchoring in the drop in bar which was playing good music and even offered space on the dance floor! After several Mai Thai cocktails, a couple of Chang beers, 2 minutes playing the air guitar and one zigzagging moonwalk across the dance floor, I needed to go home.
On the Songthaew heading back to Twilight, I met two Russian men who are Ko Pang Nga veterans. I told them my plan to hire a motorbike to explore the following day, and they enlightened me on the subject of the Pang Nga tattoo. That is, an exhaust burn to the right calf, strapping around the left shoulder, and two plasters covering bloody, sun-burnt knees. I decided that perhaps motorbike wasnt such a good idea.
I spent most of the following 5 days relaxing on the beach, reading and soaking it up. The Islands roads are awful (hence the regularity of the Pang Nga tattoo) and the Songthaew drivers charge around 50 baht to get anywhere. They must be among the highest paid people in Thailand; by comparison 5 baht gets you as far as you wish to travel in LopBuri. The Thai government had planned to invest 13 million Baht in a new road system for the Island, that money will now undoubtedly be required on the West coast.
I went on a boat trip and tried snorkelling which was good fun but for the sunburnt back. In the port (Tonge sala) we discovered a bar/restaurant run by an English ex-pat, the menu boasted such treats as bangers n mash and scampi n chips, even claiming to have that most hallowed of foods, the cheese sandwich with actual cheese! Bonus.
On the penultimate day of our trip, tempers began to fray as one cockroach too many began to share our beds. Also one of our friends had to ask the owner of Twilight to kindly help him remove a snake from his bathroom. We threw in the towel and booked into a hotel. At 500 baht per person (about £7) it was extremely expensive but, I have to say well worth it. We returned to the scene of the full moon, Haad Rin, for New Years Eve, the mood was respectively low key due to the Tsunami disaster. Prime Minister Thaksin had called for all New Year celebrations in Bangkok to be cancelled altogether.
I caught the ferry the following morning feeling suitably refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to begin the new semester. By the end of the journey home, I was tired, irritable and ready for a holiday!