Koh Phangan: The island that never sleeps

After a far-too-short visit to Koh Phangan in February for the Full Moon Party, it was finally time for us to come back and really explore the island for everything it had to offer. This time however, we’d be alongside our friends Brad and Karalee.

For the first part of the week, we stayed on Bottle Beach. It was a more secluded part of the island, which let us relax and take in some peace and quiet. We had a beautiful beach on our front steps, and a small bay without too many neighbours. We had a lot planned for the week ahead, and this was a great little place to charge our batteries.

Our first stop was Guy’s Bar. Located on the far side of a mountain, you have two options for getting there: long tail boats through the ocean, or a near-death 4×4 truck ride up one side of the mountain and back down the other. Since it was windy and the waves were choppy, we only had one option: mountain climbing in the box of a pickup.IMG_6494

To say the drive was scary would be an understatement. In pitch black, all we could see was uphill on this narrow cracked dirt road with massive rocks and potholes. We were holding on for dear life and wondering how we were supposed to get back out of here. We were thick in the jungle and just hoping that the brakes weren’t going to give out. At one point, all you could see was the road and the sky — it was that steep.

Once at Guy’s Bar, the pounding techno and serene layout calmed us down. We settled in for a long night of dancing and we made a few friends. The exclusivity of Guy’s Bar was a bit of a treat in and of itself. The trek there kept away the casual tourists, and left you with a club of pure enthusiasts. All in all, the trip to Guy’s Bar is worth it if you’re hoping to really experience the magic of Koh Phangan.

The next few days we took rather easy, spending time walking through the night market, enjoying good food and taking in the sunsets. Koh Phagnan is beautiful and has so much to offer. It’s an island both small enough to get around but big enough it offers a bit of everything. We hiked to waterfalls and relaxed on the beaches to offset the partying, don’t worry!

Our next big event was ‘The Jungle Experience’. This party was taking place near Haad Rin beach, so we switched bungalows to one closer to the party. In the heart of the jungle with only black lights to light everything up, we found another oasis of techno. Karalee and I danced until our feet hurt, but managed to leave before Luke and Brad could get us into any trouble.

IMG_6403The next day, the four of us headed to Amsterdam Bar to catch the sunset. Amsterdam Bar is a pool and bar set on a hill in the perfect position to watch the sun setting over the island. With loungers and chill music, we were happy to sit in silence and take in the view. It was a really incredible moment to spend all together.

Later, Luke and I stopped by a free psytrance party called Baan Sabai. Tucked away by the water, this little gem of a club was filled with psychedelic posters, black lights, palm trees, and pounding psytrance. We snagged a hammock and got our fill, watching people around us feel the music and dance to the trippy beat.

On our last day, we met Brad and Karalee for some swimming on Haad Rin beach. Haad Rin is best known for its parties, but I have to say it has some of the most stunning water and an incredible view of the island. The water was crystal clear and the beach had so many food options. We sat and smoked a hookah as the sun set before finally saying goodbye to our friends.

Getting to spend a week with Brad and Karalee on Koh Phangan was the highlight of our trip. Having them around showed us that a journey is only as good as the people you get to share it with. We made unforgettable memories and it’s something that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

Here are some of our favourite pictures from the trip. Remember, you can click on any picture in any post to see the full size image 🙂

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Snorkelling on Koh Tao

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Koh Tao is a little island off of Thailand that’s known for its scuba diving schools and picturesque snorkelling. We were very excited to meet up with our two friends from Toronto, Brad and Karalee, who were taking a week-long PADI diving course on the island.

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How does it get much better than this?

Getting to Koh Tao from Phuket was a bit of a trek. We decided to take a bus from Phuket to Surat Thani and then the night boat from Surat to Koh Tao. You can do packaged travel options but this one allowed us to enjoy the night market in Surat Thani, relax, and then save on a night of accommodation while sleeping on the boat (rather than a 12-hour day drip via bus and boat to arrive at 8pm).

The night boat is about 500 baht ($15.50 USD) and left at 11pm and arrived at 6am the next morning. You sleep on these mats in rows next to strangers but there’s a bathroom and it’s all other backpackers so it was quite comfy.

We arrived groggy and walked to Koh Tao Garden Resort where we’d be staying. It was 7am now and the little old couple running the place let us in, turned on the TV, and sat us down and got us juice as they cleaned our room. Luckily, someone checked out early and they let us check in right away. We highly, highly recommend this place. We got our own bungalow for about $15 a night and it was just like a cottage. It was perfect.

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Luke surrounded by his new friends.

Since Koh Tao is known for snorkelling and scuba diving, we opted for getting ourselves our very own snorkelling sets, renting a bike, and checking out all the recommended snorkelling points.

The snorkelling on Koh Tao is incredible. There are many spots where you can snorkel within ten or fifteen feet of the shore and already see hundreds of brightly coloured fish, sea urchins, and coral. At the northern tip of Koh Tao is the Sunset View Restaurant, with public access to an excellent dive site. As there is food from the restaurant hitting the water, there are schools of fish waiting in the shallow water where you jump in. It doesn’t get any easier to snorkel! This was also the site where Luke managed to spot a large blue triggerfish.

For those considering snorkelling, I think it’s well worth it to beach hop and see what each location has to offer. Some spots we visited were relatively empty one day, only to be filled with fish the next. All in all, it was great swimming and snorkelling pretty much wherever we went.

Here’s a beach guide: http://www.travelfish.org/feature/163

We also spent some time with Karalee on a secluded little beach called Freedom beach. A cute little beach that’s a bit off the beaten trail, it’s a perfect haven for getting in some snorkelling or taking a nap. Seashells hang in the streets and there’s an awesome lookout on the way there.

Overall, Koh Tao is a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the other islands and it still has everything you need: beautiful beaches, nightlife, and just enough charm.

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Phuket? Meh.

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Oh, Phuket.

Obviously, Phuket was on our travel itinerary since we’re in the South of Thailand and everyone and their drunk best friend has a travel story from Phuket. I guess it’s safe to say the place is more infamous than famous, and we quickly found out why.

I don’t want to completely rule out Phuket, because I’m sure there are lots of sides to it, but we really didn’t enjoy it. After seeing much of the South already, Phuket was a big let down. It had a grimier feel than Bangkok with much more in your face sex (ping pong shows, girls dancing on poles, and Asian girls teetering on platform heels galore) on the main drag and the beaches we checked out were sorta…meh.

Mind you, we stayed closer to the Patong Beach area (which is the main tourist area) and maybe that was our issue. I’m sure there’s lots to explore in Phuket but if you’re coming to Thailand, please just hop to the islands sooner rather than later and enjoy what the South really has to offer.

IMG_6165Our trip was generally uneventful. We had a hotel mishap and had to endure the blaring sounds of construction every morning, but we got a free meal out of it at least. We made a trip to the mall to replace our broken Mac charger, bought a second-hand GoPro Hero 3 (yay!), and explored the more local eateries.

One highlight was No. 9 2nd Restaurant which we only noticed due to the massive line out front. Intrigued, we lined up and we were glad we did. About a 10 minute wait (as we were salivating over all the food being brought out), we finally got to sit down and enjoy some of the tastiest Thai food we’ve had this trip. Trust us, it’s worth every minute of standing.

I’m sad to say we don’t have much else to say about Phuket. We enjoyed walking the main strip, popping into some clubs and checking out the crowd, and we liked watching the sunset on the beach.

Overall, I’d say that it’s worth checking out but only for a night or two. If you’re into partying and not knowing what happened last night (or, which ladyboy happened…) then it’s definitely the place for you. For us? Back to the islands!

Taking in the beauty of Krabi

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After several days of island hopping, it was time for all the natural mainland beauty that Krabi had to offer. We were looking forward to Railay Beach, as well as the mountain scenery everywhere.

 We arrived in the evening and were welcomed by the night market where we snagged $1 crab cakes and delicious smoothies. Every evening, the night market comes alive with so many different kinds of foods all for super cheap.

We woke up early the next morning to ride our motorbike to the Emerald Pool and the hot springs waterfall. Many tours offer a package to the pool, the hot springs, and the tiger temple but we opted to go on our own time to avoid the crowds and schedule.IMG_5575

The Emerald Pool (Sa Morokat, Crystal Pool) is a natural pool of water filled with clean, pure, glistening water. It’s at an absolutely perfect temperature for lounging all day, surrounded by forest. We got there around noon and it wasn’t too busy. The water was so clear; you could see the ground and everything through it. It was a perfect crystal blue.

Close by was the Blue Pool, which is spring water that has this almost fake-looking aqua blue color. It was really pretty to look at. There’s no swimming allowed at the Blue Pool, since it’s surrounded by quick sand! When you clap your hands the sand bubbles up underneath the water, which was pretty cool to see.

IMG_20150210_153041Next we were off to the hot springs, which was home to a small series of waterfalls. It was basically a naturally made jacuzzi. Getting in at the top, the water is pretty hot but as you go from the top level down to the other levels of the waterfall, it slowly cools down. The waterfall has tons of areas to sit and relax or find some gushing water to play under. When you get to the bottom, you can jump into the pond to cool off before heading back to the top again. Words don’t do this place justice… it was as beautiful and refreshing as any spa could ever hope to be.

On our way home, we got to enjoy the beautiful limestone scenery, as well as rubber tree plantations and jackfruit farms. It was one of the most incredibly beautiful motorbike rides of our trip. We pulled down a side dirt road as we pulled into town to watch the sunset, and were greeted by a few local boys and an elephant. The locals who owned her let us take pictures and enjoy the view of the sun setting over their property.

Thailand is filled with so much beauty, and Krabi especially gives you chances to see nature at its very best. It was refreshing to feel somewhat off the usual tourist path and being able to take in the sights Thailand has to offer.

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The Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan

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The Full Moon Party in Thailand is one of the most famous all night beach parties in South East Asia, if not the world. Koh Phangan is not only famous thanks to the movie The Beach, but also for the monthly party hosted on Haad Rin beach. Nearly 30,000 people come to enjoy music, fire shows, neon everything, and of course buckets of booze.

When we realized we’d be arriving on the islands the day of the Full Moon Party, we decided we had to go. We looked into accommodations on Koh Phangan, but everything was either booked up, price hiked, or demanding a minimum five-day stay (which wasn’t in our plans). We did some quick research and asked a travel agent and quickly learned a really cool hack: you can stay on Koh Samui and take a $25 USD round-trip speed boat there and back. Perfect.

This catch was amazing for a number of reasons. Our bungalow on Koh Samui cost only $15 a night and we had it all to ourselves. The island wasn’t rammed with drunken partiers, but still had an exceptional music and club scene. The beaches were less packed, the food was amazing, and we could keep our distance from the craziness if we wanted to. It was an all-around way better option for us.

IMG_20150203_235238Our travel agent on Koh Samui got us a round trip speedboat trip for 800 baht, which was significantly cheaper than what was offered right at the dock. If you buy at the dock, they’re asking 1100 baht. So, try to shop around. This price included a bus from our hotel as well as the boat there, boat back, and the final bus home (note: in the early morning hours this bus ride can get pretty overloaded, so don’t rely on the ride home being straightforward). The speedboat takes about 15 minutes and everyone is cheering and stoked on life so it’s a fun trip. Oh, and skip any VIP tickets – they’re useless. Regardless of which route you pick, your ticket is good from 10pm till 7am the next day to get you home.

We had read a lot of horror stories about the Full Moon Party online. So many people say it’s not safe, it’s gross, it’s just a bunch of drunken backpackers, etc. etc. We weren’t sure what to expect and I’ll admit I was a bit nervous. Conversely, we had met two other couples that went to the Full Moon Party on a whim and loved it, so we were also hoping to be pleasantly surprised. We both grabbed some potent Thai Redbulls (Google it, they’re insane) and headed over around midnight.

We got to Haad Rin beach around midnight when everything was already in full swing. It was 100 baht entrance ($3 USD) and they weren’t checking any IDs (duh, it’s Thailand). We scored some free body paint that other partiers were sharing and Luke IMG_20150204_023617was the artist of the evening. We grabbed a flower headband, a bucket (200 baht, $6 USD for a pint of Thai rum, a Coke, and a classy plastic drinking bucket), and began to explore.

The party sprawls across the entire beach. Every little bar is selling buckets, food, and playing their own music. You can hear anything from Top 40, to electro bangers, to crazy deep psytrance, to bone-shaking drum and bass. If a song comes on that you don’t like, just walk 15 feet further and enjoy the music there. We settled in for some deep house at one place, and then ventured on to some crazy fist-pumping electro the next.

There is also fire everywhere. Fire dancers, fire signs, fire limbo, even fire jump rope. Luke gave that a try – the flaming 50’ rope would start swinging, people would join in and start jumping, and eventually someone would screw it all up and cause a wipeout. Untangle, clear the jump-rope area, repeat.

There was a water slide, dance stages on the beach, black lights and lasers everywhere, and endless opportunities for exploring. We really enjoyed just walking around, people watching, dancing, and seeing all of the stuff offered by the island. Black lights kept the neon glowing, and stores stayed open all night (in case you forgot to bring your own neon swag).

IMG_20150204_020847Yes, the Full Moon Party is a bit crazy. We saw drunkenness that can only be explained in terms of frosh week debauchery (including one guy dancing atop a billboard), and we saw some telltale signs of drugs. The large number of people and the short supply of public washrooms meant that hordes of bros were using the surf as a urinal. That was a bit grimy, but then again, when is a festival’s washroom setup not grimy? We just kept our heads about us, kept each other close, and kept our shoes on.

Overall the Full Moon Party is a blast and the basic safety rules apply: Watch your drink, watch your bucket, don’t accept drinks or party favors from strangers, take a buddy (and WATCH your buddy … too many girls were on the solo on the hunt for their lost BFF), don’t sleep on the beach, watch your stuff for pickpockets, try not to get blackout drunk, and WEAR SOMETHING GOOD ON YOUR FEET. Broken glass in the sand leaves a lot of backpackers hobbling for the rest of their trip.

In the end, it was one of the most memorable nights of our trip. Before we knew it, it was 4AM and we were grabbing chicken shwarma in preparation for battling the long line to get back on our speedboat. If you’re ever in Thailand around a Full Moon Party date, I cannot urge you enough to leave all of your inhibitions behind, grab a neon tank top, and just GO.

Watch our video recap of our night at the Full Moon Party:

We left our hearts on Koh Samui

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Getting to the islands in the South of Thailand was probably one of the most exciting parts of our trip. We had heard such great things about the beautiful beaches, the laid back atmosphere, and of course, the parties.

In our last blog entry we mentioned that we’re huge fans of techno and house music, and getting to the islands where we could feed our hunger for the music we love was beyond exciting. We spotted a flyer in Bangkok saying that the legendary Sven Väth was playing on Koh Samui, so we made sure to time our travels accordingly.

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Luke even made a new elephant friend.

We decided to opt for a private bungalow to enjoy the island life for six nights. We found a gorgeous place just off the main drag of Chaweng Beach for $15 a night (Pattara House, we highly recommend it), which by Samui standards was excellently priced. Shortly after checking in, we met a kind local lady who became our travel agent, bike rental dealer, restaurant recommender, and currency exchange all in one. We were set for the island!

I can’t help but gush when I talk about Koh Samui. My heart actually aches missing the island. I don’t even know where to begin with all the incredible things we did and memories we made. While prices are a tad bit higher on the island, as it’s a vacation destination for a lot of Europeans (it has its own airport, too), there are still so many markets and cheap restaurants available with amazing food. The beaches are also unique and plentiful, from busy central beaches to more secluded options.

The club scene was far more than we expected. Since there’s heavy European traffic, the music scene is proper and everywhere. The clubs are upscale but also free entry, due to the heavy competition, and I’d say they cater to a more mature crowd (which is a nice change). We visited Sound Hotel, as they were hosting a free deep house night with James Trystan, and for a grand total of $15 we got to smoke hookah in a fancy club by a pool bar. Later on in the week we visited many of the beachfront clubs offering excellent music and fire shows.

During the days, we enjoyed motorbiking around the island, exploring coffee shops, tanning on the beaches, and hiking to findIMG_5348 the most beautiful waterfall we’ve seen this trip. Hin Lad waterfall is majestic and easy to find. It’s a must see if you’re on the island and a great spot for bringing a packed lunch and going for a swim. We also visited the Big Buddha and the Wat on the hill, as well as the Bophut Fisherman Village’s market on Friday night. The Fisherman’s Village was notable for having the most original wares of all the night markets we’ve visited. We got to try sautéed garlic oysters for a dollar!

Finally, Saturday night rolled around and we left for Cha Cha Moon Beach Club to see Sven Väth. Nakadia opened with another perfectly deep set, and Sven Väth followed with an unbelievably rich four hours of sweet, sweet techno. We danced on the beach until our feet hurt, only taking a break to eat a Nutella-banana crepe that Luke snagged from a beach vendor. Being on this beautiful Thai island, dancing to some of the best techno I’ve heard in my life, with my feet half in the sand and half in the ocean… it was truly an evening we both will never forget.

With our time at Koh Samui coming to an end, we grudgingly packed up and made our way to the ferry. If you’re coming to Thailand and love beaches, music, and exploring, this island is absolutely perfect. Maybe we’ll even retire here one day…

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