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Koh Phangan Part 1

Excerpts taken from Naked Farang: Four Weddings and a Coup

My earliest trip to Koh Phangan was on my first ever visit to Thailand in 1994. After spending a couple of days hanging around Khao San to get acclimatized and arrange our onward travel, my friend Stan and I made our way down to the island where we planned to stay for a month, relaxing and partying over the Christmas and New Year period.

We stayed in the Ban Tai area, sharing a bungalow because we were travellers and on a budget. The bungalow was a typical cheap and cheerful one-room wooden construction on stilts with a balcony, costing about 100 baht per night. We were under the palm trees and right on a beautiful stretch of beach. It was paradise.

The first week was spent relaxing and enjoying the beach or exploring the surrounding area during the day. On a couple of occasions, we trekked up into the jungle hills back from the beach, clambering over huge rocks or trooping through dense undergrowth like children playing explorers. We came across a meditation centre on one sortie, but they seemed surprised and annoyed that someone had found them. I think they wanted to count to 100 and send us off for our turn to hide. Later we discovered a clearing, where we could climb up on rocks and get a great view back down over the treetops to the sea and Koh Samui in the distance. Deeper into the jungle we found a waterfall, although it was nothing more than a series of tiered rock pools at this time of year. Still, it was somewhere to cool off after all our exertions. I never have been able to just sit and sunbathe on a beach, no matter how beautiful it is.

Once the sun went down each evening, we would go in search of parties. Ban Tai is about six kilometres along the coast from Had Rin, which is famous as the venue for the full moon parties. It was with great anticipation that Stan and I set off for our first lunar powered extravaganza. I had spent the previous two winters in India, and the parties there, especially in Goa, had been well-organized festivals of uninhibited revelry. I had told Stan all about them, and we were expecting the same in Had Rin.

We walked back from the beach to the road and caught a songthaew, which is basically a pick up truck with a roof on the back and two rows of seats fixed one on either side. The name “songthaew” actually means “two rows.” They are popular, cheap forms of public transport throughout Thailand.

The first part of the trip was fine, travelling on a sealed road, but the fun was about to begin as the road deteriorated into a dirt track snaking up and over steep hills. I feel I should clarify that by “fun,” here I am referring to “extreme danger.”

As we made our way up the deeply rutted track, the songthaew started to slow down as it struggled with the ascent. We weren’t alone in our plight. There were plenty of other songthaews and, more alarmingly, farangs on motorbikes attempting to negotiate safe passage over the hill. The looks on the faces of people we saw ranged from crazed excitement to sheer terror. Stan and I were oblivious to the danger. This was just part of the package as far as we were concerned. It’s no fun if it’s too easy.

Finally, the songthaew met its match and ground to a halt on one precipitous rise. The driver quickly slammed on the handbrake. This was going to be some “hill start” and certainly more difficult than the one I had accomplished on my driving test back in Blighty. He explained to us that he needed more traction on the back wheels, and asked us to stand on the tailgate, whilst bouncing up and down to help him achieve this. It seemed like a reasonable request to Stan and me, but most of the other passengers bailed out and walked to the crest of the hill to wait for us there, shaking their heads in disbelief. Stan and I took up our positions on the tailgate and looked seriously at each other and then the steep descent behind us. Maybe it is dangerous, we thought momentarily, but it sure is a lot of fun. We started bouncing up and down and laughing wildly as the driver revved the engine, released the handbrake and, after a brief wheel spin and backwards lurch, continued up the hill.

If that situation came about today, I would probably be one of the head shakers, but we had a party to get to and we weren’t going to let something as trivial as a life-threatening manoeuvre stop us.

When we arrived at Had Rin, the first thing that struck us was what an ugly dump it was. In the resort where we were staying, there was space between the bungalows, and we were right on the beach. Had Rin was like Coronation Street, with bungalows packed together in tight rows away from the beach. There were also several bars and restaurants offering “special mushroom omelettes” and souvenir shops selling the inevitable tie-died t-shirts. It was more like the Klong Toey shanty slums along the railway tracks in Bangkok that a tropical island beach resort.

The beach itself was nice enough. There were restaurants and bars all along its length and the music was already pounding out a dance beat. We walked along the beachfront to get a feel for the party. As we did so, the dance music was replaced by rock music. Each bar had its own sound system competing with its neighbours. This meant that instead of one big happening with everybody on the same vibe, being taken up and down by the music together, the Had Rin full moon party is really just a series of small parties crudely huddled together. This was our first disappointment. The second was when we found three scouse girls selling “speed punch,” which turned out to be Red Bull with a few diet pills crumbled in.

Things were about to get better, however. We decided just to find the bar that was playing music most to our liking and spend some time on the beach in front of it. This proved to be a smart move because in doing so we bumped into a couple of friends from England, Johnny and Sarah, who had stopped off in Thailand as they were making their way home from Australia. It turned out they were staying in Ban Kai, which was halfway between Had Rin and Ban Tai where we were staying. They were actually working in a resort there, and they introduced us to the English owner, Graham, who was also with them at the party along with his Thai boyfriend, Lek. We spent the rest of the night chatting and catching up, and I gave Had Rin a lesson in dancing that it will never forget. It must have been the Red Bull.

Finally, as the moon gave way to the sun, we set off for home. The Had Rin slums looked even worse in the harsh light of day. Wide-eyed Israelis nodded and gurned at us from their balconies as we made our way to the waiting swarm of songthaews ready for our roller coaster ride back to planet earth.

Excerpts taken from Naked Farang: Four Weddings and a Coup

Related article – Puff the Magic Dragon: Koh Phangan Part 2

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28 Nov 2015, 04:52
Catherine the samlor (bicycle vsioren) was invented 70 odd years ago but the Skylab samlor was introduced in Udon Thani in 1978. The original samlor is a pedal powered vsioren but the model shown in my post is now used in many Thai towns and cities but originated in Udon Thani and was apparently invented by Mr Narong Utranusorn for his company Ake Pa Nich which at the time sold and rented out rickshaws. I think there were earlier vsiorens of motorized samlors in Thailand but the Skylab revolutionised the market. My research (just found it) shows the tuk tuk was introduced to Thailand about 50 years ago.It's a confusing but very interesting subject and I'm unsure if Mr Narong Utranusorn and Mr Atipong (my previous comment)are one and the same person or two entirely different souls who both lay claim to inventing the Skylab.Now I'm even more confused because I may have found two different Udon Thani citizens and their companies who claim to have invented the Skylab.
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