Vagabond Tales: Full Moon Parties And Surfing A Monsoon

Heather Ellison

There are few larger rights of passage on the Southeast Asian backpacker circuit than the full moon party on the island of Koh Phangnan.

A tropical version of Ibiza on psychedelics, the pull of this legendary debauch is so strong that nary a backpacker within a 1000-mile radius has the chance of escaping its hedonistic spell.

From the highlands of Chiang Mai to the the back alleys of Bangkok, the week leading up to the night of the full moon becomes a spiral of buses, ferries, trains and tuk-tuks all headed for the sands of Haad Rin.

During the party, in the same way that the full moon acts upon the tides, so too will it elevate the young, the promiscuous, the inebriated and the curious to levels exceeding their monthly average.

Imagine 30,000 revelers with their toes in the sand, gyrating en masse to visiting DJ’s, executing brain cells with whiskey and Red Bull, and losing themselves in the glow of the moon. While liquor is guzzled and consumed by the bucket, most in attendance are drunk on freedom, and the intoxicating possibilities that accompany the unknown.

It’s a big, hot, beautiful mess, and it’s one which every traveler needs to experience at least once.

%Slideshow-777%Started in the 1980s by a handful of Western backpackers, the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party has gradually morphed into one of Asia’s largest parties. Drug use is common, despite the harsh penalties, and the party continues to well beyond sunrise.

For a better idea of the level of debauchery, take a look at some of the “party tips” on a website devoted to the party.

-Don’t bring your passport
-Don’t bring any valuables
-Don’t bring a bag, because you’ll get drunk and lose it
-Wear shoes to protect your feet against broken bottles
-Don’t eat anything offered by strangers
-If you actually plan to sleep, get accommodations far, far away from the party.

Or, for a more visual approach, step inside of the party with this video from lbwtravel.

Having just endured an all-night party on the neighboring island of Koh Tao, I was actually among the select few who decided to get some sleep. Not without staying out until 3 a.m., however, which was more than enough time to revel in the scene.

Body paint replaced clothing the further the night wore on, and fire-twirling locals illuminated the dark sky. Dreadlocks twirled in rhythm with the House tunes, and the sand became littered with eventual one-night stands.

Since I enjoy people watching as much as the actual party, I opted to squeeze in a few hours of sleep and return for the scene during sunrise. On the walk back to my bungalow far, far away, a light breeze began to rustle the trees and was punctuated by stronger gusts. A storm, it seemed, was brewing on the horizon.

Three hours of sleep, two ibuprofen and one bottle of water later, the orange light of the rising sun revealed a scene of social warfare. For every two bodies, which continued to gyrate, a fallen soldier lay collapsed on the sand. For every bucket, which continued to hold liquid, four others were discarded on the beach. The clouds thickened, the beat continued and a scrap of white linen, which was once someone’s pants flapped in the breeze as it dangled from a tree.

By 9 a.m. a few hundred remained; by 11 a.m., perhaps 30. Finally, by 3 p.m., as dozens of Thai workers cleaned up the detritus, the number of party-goers had dropped to one.

Heather Ellison

With trance music on the iPod and booze in the veins, the party continued on his own personal planet.

My attention meanwhile, had shifted from the party to what was suddenly brewing offshore. Mutterings of a monsoon had been percolating through the community, and the wind-driven waves had been increasing by the hour. By no means were they good waves, but they were big enough to ride.

As we mentioned in our article “6 Surf Destinations You’d Never Think Of,” Thailand can actually get decent surf during times of a passing monsoon. The problem, however, is finding a board, as none are offered on the small Thai island.

Gulping down a banana pancake and slurping on a fruit smoothie, that’s when I spotted it leaning against a house:

A haggard, blue, obviously used longboard, which had been hand-carried in by a backpacking Argentinian. With the sea salt on the breeze and a pounding in my head, I approached the fellow traveler about renting out his board.

As it turns out, he and his friends were on a 12-month tour of Thailand and had rented the beach house for an entire three months. Nursing a hangover from the previous night’s party – his third in a row – he loaned me the board completely free of charge.

With board in hand I jogged to the beach, my bare feet dodging the curbside debris. The wind intensified to the point of destruction, and plastic chairs were sent scurrying down the beach.

At the scene of the party, the lone dancer remained.

Heather Ellison

Paddling out into the wind-driven slop, the hopes for waves were novelty at best. With gusts approaching 40 mph and onshore winds crumbling the surf, I largely questioned the point of the endeavor.

That was, until, I caught the first wave. And the next, then the next, and the next after that. Ugly, short, onshore, and mushy, it revitalized a feeling, which had been shelved for too long.

Yes, I was surfing in the middle of a Thai monsoon, on a stretch of beach covered in beer bottles and backpackers, but even in this outpost on the other side of the world, there was a sense of familiarity, which made it feel just like home.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

Beer babe’s favorite European bars

Katarina Van Derham, the 2009 St. Pauli Girl spokesmodel, doesn’t like to spend all her time in one place. The Slovakia native now lives in Los Angeles and still loves to get out on the road as much as possible. When she’s home, her favorite place to grab a pint is Barney’s Beanery in Santa Monica. She can have a relaxing drink on the patio, which is a prime people-watching spot. Of course, she has favorites on the other side of the Atlantic, as well.

The 2009 St. Pauli Girl spokesmodel‘s European Favorites are:

Morrison Pub (Cannes, France): there’s always live music and a welcoming crowd; Cannes’ “beautiful beaches and relaxed vibe” help

Phanas Pub (Rijeka, Croatia): Phanas is a great party place with rock music piped in; Katarina came here while shooting a music video for a Slovakian band

Mermaid Bar (Ibiza, Spain): this bar caters to an international crowd, has clear water and a great club scene

U Medvédku (Prague, Czech Republic): a house beer and authentic Czech food are served, and you’re only footsteps from the city’s stunning architecture

CK Browar (Krakow, Poland): grab a beer at this bright brewery before shopping at the outdoor street fairs on Saturdays

Salm Bräu (Vienna, Austria): located in a charming old building, this bar is a great stop en route to Slovakia (since Vienna has the nearest international airport)

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Photo of the Day (08.26.08)

Mallorca. This island situated some 250km of the southern coast of Spain is the largest of the Balearic Islands and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. You may have heard of the Mediterranean party capital Ibiza? This is right next door.

I’ve been tossing around the idea of crashing in Palma, the capital of the Mallorca (and of the entire archipelago)
for Thanksgiving this year and believe that this photo taken by jonrawlinson may have finally helped me commit. Now, if only I could find good plane tickets.

Have any cool photos you’d like to share with the world? Add them to the Gadling Pool on Flickr, and it might be chosen as our Photo of the Day.

Here Come the Eurotrash!

Sure, we are cultured, good-looking and sophisticated. We are also snotty, pathetic, greasy-haired, and over-cologned. Yep, folks, I am talking Eurotrash. If you have ever been to Ibiza, you know what I’m talking about.

Before I get hundreds of responses accusing me of being an ugly American, let me clarify again that I am actually a European. Ugly European, if you like.

I came across Urban Dictionary’s list of definitions for Eurotrash. Here are their top three:

  1. Post-modern, degenerate, trendy, or out-of-style European cultural phenomena masquerading as avant-garde High Art. Its origins are primarily German/Austrian but have extended to France, Scandinavia, and Italy with success.
  2. A certain people and outlook, those who are products of a sneering, overly-socialized culture who take perverse pride in their stylized, postmodern, lazy lifestyles, and those who would choose to emulate this.
  3. A human sub-phylum characterized by its apparent affluence, worldliness, social affectation and addiction to fashion. Males are characterized by a semi-slovenly appearance (including half-shaven faces), greasy hair, rib-hugging shirts, tight jeans and loafers worn without socks. Women are easily distinguished by anorexia, over-bleached hair, gaudy jewelry, plastic surgery (particularly breast-enlargement) and their attachment to the male species. Both sexes greet each other with “air kisses,” immediately speak of their last trip (often Paris, Rome, Majorca), spend hours at “see-and-be-seen” restaurants and exhibit a world-weariness and pained sense of irony.

There are more.

If you are still puzzled, think the Beckhams, who have just recently successfully transitioned from Eurotrash to Calitrash.

Party Flights Themed After Nightclubs

Monarch, the European budget airline, is offering Ibiza-bound passengers a more exciting way to travel. Revelers en route to the world’s foremost destination for clubbing and all-around debauchery can now get started early on the company’s new “party plane.”

Or can they?

Because, by the sounds of it, the party is a little lame. While the inside is said to be decked out in bright colors and a nightclub theme, cabin crews won’t be tolerating any drunken behavior, and anyone who’s already intoxicated won’t be allowed on board in the first place. It’s been awhile since I’ve been clubbing, but — if memory serves — isn’t getting drunk more or less the point?

But, says Monarch, the fun part is that you’ll be able to buy “funky” music CDs during your “party plane” experience. Unfortunately, a) this doesn’t sound like fun at all, and b) it seems to run contrary to their claims of “chic hedonism.”

On the other hand, “it’s the first time a plane has ever adopted a music brand,” says a company spokeswoman. This may not make the new planes much of a party, but is certainly something that set them apart from the competition.

So, a little in-flight fun — even if it’s subdued — might be a good way to get the party started, even if you’ll have to hold back on the real rowdy behavior until after arrival.