The only way that I can describe my time on the island of Koh Phangan was that it seemed cursed. Sounds morbid, I know, but it was as though everything that could go wrong did. I got sick, it rained a lot, Paula had her iPhone stolen and got a hefty fine for scratching a scooter, Simone and Lewis argued, there was a big drama with trying to organise our ferry off the island…it wasn’t great.
Allow me to rewind.
When we arrived, we were struck by the beauty, not only of the island itself, but also our accommodation. We’d booked a bungalow at the Dewshore Resort, which boasted a huge swimming pool and stunning sea view, complete with lots of hammocks to relax on. After having a quick breakfast in the restaurant, me and Paula went exploring the beach and found a stunning little tree swing attached to a low hanging branch over the sea. We spent far more time than necessary seeing how high we could go, before we hired scooters and went off in search of a spa that Paula had read did amazing Thai massages.
Could we find it?
After about two hours of driving aimlessly around the island, we headed back to Dewshore to study the map, and then we were off again. Koh Phangan really is a stunning island. Not only are the beaches lush but it’s very mountainous and the long windy roads flanked on either side by wild rain forests are so fun to speed around on a scooter. However, all of the twists and turns were starting to make me feel a bit sick, and every time we stopped to get our bearings, I felt really ill.
When we eventually got in the vicinity of the spa, Simone and Paula went off to ask for directions, and I immediately bent over and puked on the side of the road. When they came back, they looked worried and said that they’d been advised to turn back immediately because the sun was about to set and as there are no street lights, the jungle is extremely dangerous to drive through once darkness sets in. Well, we raced back to the bungalow in a record 20 minutes, and as soon as we arrived, I had to run to the bathroom to throw up again.
I won’t bore you with the gruesome details but let’s just say that the next 48 hours were a write-off for me. Meanwhile the others were going out snorkelling, exploring beautiful beaches and waterfalls and partying – I don’t know what was worse; the physical illness itself or the feeling that I was missing out on the island that I’d been looking forward to visiting more than anywhere else in Thailand.
* * *
Anyway, by the time day 3 rolled around, I was feeling a bit better, and so I got up early and went in search of a Thai massage. It wasn’t long until I found somewhere, and so I paid 300 baht (£6) and lay face down in anticipation of my 60 minute massage.
Thai massages are unique in that they work literally every part of the body, from the cracking of the fingers and toes, to the kneading of the calves and thighs, wrists, forearms, even face and head! Parts were, of course, uncomfortable, especially when the woman massaging me knelt on the back of my thighs, but having my back and shoulders cracked and being stretched into all sorts of positions more than made up for any pain that I experienced, and I left the massage parlour feeling as though I was walking on air.
That afternoon, Simone, Lewis and I went to the beach at Haad Rin, location of the infamous Full Moon parties, and god, was it beautiful. The sand was white, literally white, and the gentle waves kissing the shore were such a vibrant shade of blue, they almost didn’t look real. At either end of the beach you could see the huge trees of the surrounding jungles, and colourful fishing boats were bobbing around in the shallow waters.
We spent the rest of the afternoon soaking up the sun, before watching it set and going for something to eat at one of the many bars dotted across the sand. Feeling pleased that I could finally start appreciating Koh Phangan, I agreed to go out with everyone that night to see what the nightlife had to offer.
I wasn’t planning on drinking much because I was still mindful of my dodgy stomach, and so I was glad that the first part of the night was relatively chilled. I ordered a gin and lemonade, and sipped it slowly, letting the ice melt and taking in my surroundings.
However, before long a game of fire limbo begun in the bar next door and so we gathered round to watch and cheer everybody on. I watched as the others tried their luck, and then we danced and hung out with some guy from Chile while some kids showed off their skills at chucking balls of fire around. The bar then held a mass arm wrestling competition, and Simone and Lewis proved to be the ultimate power couple when Lewis beat the current ‘winner’ of the guys and Simone consecutively owned about six or seven girls, winning herself a free drink.
The party continued and we danced some more, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into it. I hadn’t had more than a couple of sips of alcohol but it just wasn’t going down, Paula was being chatted up by some guys and Simone and Lewis were dancing in the sea. Forcing myself to make small talk with the guy from Chile I sat down and tried to distract myself, but there was no hiding from the all too familiar feeling in my stomach that meant a nice bout of vomiting was on its way.
I barely had chance to tell Lewis and Simone that I needed to go home before projectile vomiting everywhere.
How dignified of me.
* * *
When I woke up on our final day, I quickly found that I wasn’t the only one to have had a bad night. Paula had had her phone stolen after leaving it on the beach to go swimming in the sea, and so she was understandably upset and pissed off at herself. Things only got worse when we realised that there was a good chance we weren’t going to be able to sort out our transport off the island the following day, which caused Simone to get upset and end up arguing with Lewis.
With all of us in foul moods, we all separated so that we could basically sulk alone rather than make things even worse for each other. I spent the day in the pool, reading my book and crying for no reason.
When the afternoon was finally over, Simone, Lewis and I went to a nearby restaurant (which had some really cool hammocks and the food was DIVINE) before getting a taxi up into the mountains to the ‘Amsterdam Bar,’ whose only nod to Amsterdam seemed to be the spliff that the barman was smoking when we arrived. Aside from that, I have no idea why it was called the Amsterdam Bar, but it was still really nice.
To get to it, we had to climb up loads of steep steps, until eventually the bar presented itself. The bar itself was pretty ordinary, but the seating area (basically a huge tiled roof terrace with beanbags and mats dotted around) looked out over the whole of Koh Phangan, and even though the view was pretty obscured by darkness, the beauty of it was still undeniable. Reclining with our drinks, we gazed at the stars and ended up in a hugely cliched but interesting conversation about life on other planets etc. etc.
Strangely, it was the perfect ending to what had been a pretty awful few days.
Would I go back to Koh Phangan? Of course! I wish to god that I hadn’t been so ill for the majority of my time there, because from the little I saw, the island has a lot to offer. Not only is there natural beauty in the beaches and mountains, with plenty of waterfalls and jungle to explore, but there is also a large traveller scene that, providing you avoid the Full Moon nights, isn’t too out of control.