Koh Samui and the Full Moon Party
Here are my opinions on Koh Samui, and a little bit about how the full moon party has changed. I've always been a fan of Koh Samui and intend to retire there. These are just my views and you may well disagree but thanks for reading.
KOH SAMUI IS OVERDEVELOPED
I would disagree with this. There is only one area that is overdeveloped and that is Chaweng.
Chaweng caters for the clubbers, the shoppers, and the tourist hordes. I actually rate Chaweng quite highly for a good night out. There's loads of clubs and bars if you are in the mood. Girls aplenty. Green mango is a huge warehouse-type club that is half-inside and half-outside. Free to enter, it is always packed and once the bars shut the girls head there. It is expensive for a drink, but that's club land I suppose.
Chaweng has loads of great shops and a small market in the daytime. If you are in tourist-mode, you can spend a lot of money there. If you are in traveller-mode you wont like it all. Its nothing like the real Thailand so don't expect diverse culture. But if you want to pick up some clothes there's a lot of good, one-off shops. I've picked up a few decent threads in Chaweng.
Its the part of the island that caters for the youngsters. Chaweng can be a lot of fun or your worst travelling nightmare, depending on your mood, age and expectations.
I DONT LIKE THE THAIS ON SAMUI.
A surprisingly common point. I have to agree. In fact I would agree to quite a large extent. Some of the Thais you encounter on Samui can be the worst types. Rarely in the daytime. But certain areas at night have an element of danger about them.
The ladyboys come out at night, trying to flag you down on your bike. They're horrible, the Samui ladyboys, like something out of Bladerunner. Tall and bony with that weird voice, they come out of the shadows. One of them walked up and hugged me one night, groped me, I pushed him away and next thing I noticed was my money had gone! He was slick, I'll give him that. I wonder if that has happened to anyone else? In England I've often suspected we have a slight reverence for pickpockets due to Oliver twist. But this thing was no lovable chimney sweep.
I like fusion bar in Lamai, its a great little bar but is run by the Thai mafia. There are a few very westernised Thais knocking about, and they appear to have bypassed all the best aspects of western culture (charm, wit, humour, humility etc), and gone straight for the "loud, obnoxious, moody, drunk etc". They have learnt well!
One night in the upstairs bar in fusion, there were a few very drunk mafia types becoming aggressive towards me, for no other reason than I was with one of their girls. And by that I just mean a Thai girl, not a mafia girl. (if such a thing exists).
The bar staff that night were petrified. I remember that well. Its a funny thing to write about, because there's no real story here for me to convey. There were no words exchanged. It was pure "vibe". I got the hell out of there.
There are, of course, many many decent Thais who live and work on Samui. When I eat, I tend to frequent the same noodle stalls, and I've met some wonderful Thai people who I have a good rapport with and they seem to genuinely value my custom. But I have heard it said on a number of occasions that Samui sometimes attracts the worst type of Thai person, and I wouldn't disagree with that.
KOH SAMUI IS TOO EXPENSIVE
Not really. It caters for all budgets, so you can travel on peanuts or enjoy a bit of luxury. Its up to you. I always used to travel on a backpacker budget. 350 baht rooms are available. TV, bed and a cockroach!
Don't forget that Samui has always really been a backpacker destination. I recently saw a clip on YouTube of "Lamai beach 1992" and there was nothing there. Lamai is a thriving community now but only 20 years ago it wasn't much more than a dirt road.
There's also a wonderful submission I read recently titled "Koh Samui in the 80s" and its a great tale. There are parts of Samui even nowadays that are wonderfully primitive. just small shack-type restaurants right by the beach, with rooms. For these places, I recommend an area near Lamai called Hua Thanon.
There's huts on the beach for about 800 baht. And I mean right on the beach – The sea will wake you up in the morning. That's normally my preferred option. Then you've got hotels starting at about 1000 baht and going as expensive as you want. I really don't think Samui is that expensive. Its about the same as pattaya pricewise. Get a bike for a week for about 1000 baht. You MUST have a bike on Samui. I like nothing more than exploring the island by bike.
WHAT ABOUT BIKE HELMETS ON SAMUI?
Unlike Phuket, bike helmets are not mandatory on Samui. People may think that's either a good or a bad thing. I like feeling unrestricted by a helmet while I am poodling about in the daytime, but I always stick one on at night. A big difference between Phuket and Samui is, in Phuket the police will pull you over and issue a fine if you have no helmet. This doesn't happen in Samui. But I once got stopped by a large number of police in Nathon, and fined 400 baht. They pulled the whole road over that day, because no-one wears a helmet in Samui. I remember having to queue for ages to pay the fine.
So I would say – Always wear a helmet if you are passing through the Nathon area of Samui. There is a large police station there. They occasionally do large-scale roadblocks. Otherwise, the choice is yours. But bear in mind Samui has a huge amount of motorcycle accidents, much more than is revealed statistically.
I LIKE KOH SAMUI AIRPORT!
I love Koh Samui airport. Its tiny and I've never seen anywhere else like it. You are off the plane and through in no time. I think Koh Samui airport really has a lot of character.
BUT THE TAXIS ARE REALLY EXPENSIVE.
The taxis at the airport ARE really expensive. 500 baht to reach Chaweng town centre (it's only 4 kms away). I recommend getting a minibus, there are always plenty at the airport. That will set you back a couple of hundred baht. The only hassle is, they wont leave until full. There is another alternative and this is my favourite method, simply walk out of the airport and hire a bike straight away. There's a couple of bike hire places right outside. Of course, this only works if you are travelling light.
I like the fact you can touch down on a plane in Samui, and be driving away on a bike in a matter of minutes. And then your holiday begins! Its a lovely feeling to be zooming away with your rucksack on your back. Especially when you were only in Bangkok an hour ago.
FOOTBALL ON KOH SAMUI.
If you love football, it is possible to get yourself a game on Samui. There are a few Thai teams around. Me and my friend used to frequent Bauhaus club in Lamai (alas no longer there), and the Thai bar staff had a team which we joined for a few games. Bauhaus was a pick-up joint, the place everyone seemed to go to after dark.
I never did get on the score sheet for Bauhaus FC, but my friend did. To this day I am still reminded that I couldn't score in a brothel.
Never underestimate a mans love for his football team. To an Englishman, his football team is his love no matter what. I support a small team but I remember once going to Manchester United's ground, there is a flag that is still displayed to this day – "UNITED, KIDS,WIFE – IN THAT ORDER."
THE GIRL WITH THE BURNS.
Regulars will have seen her. The girl with the burnt face selling flowers. She has been working the bars of Lamai for at least ten years. I did hear a terrible story about her from a bar owner who I have known a long time. He said some of the farang bar owners got together one night. Familiar with this disfigured yet happy girl over the years, they all agreed to chip in together enough money to pay for corrective surgery to her face. Incredibly, the girl declined, saying she wasn't allowed to, because she would make less money around the bars.
I don't live in Thailand but stickman, being a soldier on the pavement, has always mentioned that Thailand is not always what it seems when you scratch under the surface. The girl in Lamai is an example of that, and shame on the people who profit from her behind the scenes.
RUNNING ON KOH SAMUI
Samui is a great place for running. I used to run regularly from Lamai to Chaweng. That's about 8 km and its a real tough but rewarding run. Winding roads, hills, its a run that you need to properly prepare for. Very important to do your stretches before, otherwise you will be out of the game for the next 2 days, you will struggle to walk. Unless you are super fit! Which very few of us are.
All day and evening you see joggers in Koh Samui. Many are Muay Thai people in groups. Has anyone else noticed how boxers and martial artists seem to be some of the most respectful people out there? I've always found these people to be really decent. I think their discipline and training helps them. Also I think outside of the ring, these people have nothing to prove.
You'll often see these little crews jogging between Lamai and Chaweng. Ask – "Ok if I join you?" and they are usually happy to have you tagging along at the back. The only problem I've ever had is keeping up.
I got hit by a car and broke my leg in 2006, and I spent my whole rehabilitation working towards doing that Lamai/Chaweng run again. It became a goal and I'll never forget that first run when I was back to fitness. It really meant something to me, probably might sound a bit silly to anyone else but it was a personal thing. Racing the hills of Samui again, I felt like rocky balboa climbing the steps. The beaches in Samui are also superb for running, beach work really drags on your legs so its best to stick close to the shore. I truly believe you can eat and drink pretty much what you want, as long as you run and work out. Earn your Singha at night and I promise you it will taste better!
THE BIG BUDDHA
Its big. It's a Buddha – Does exactly what it says on the tin. I like this area, its very serene. There's always Thais paying their respects to the big man. Also, there's a series of large bells surrounding it which you can bang with sticks. The view from there is, in my opinion, about as good as it gets. Picture postcard stuff. The planes fly over pretty low, as the airport is close. Doesn't sound very serene does it? Somehow though, it manages to be, and its a must-visit on Samui. Gotta take your shoes off for the walk up though, and that is one hot walk!
ISN'T KOH SAMUI FULL OF THE FULL MOON PARTY HORDES?
Yes! Well, in Chaweng anyway. There's lots of party people and loud music in Chaweng's central party area. But you only really find this in Chaweng. The rest of the island would struggle to tell you if there was even a party on.
There is no airport on neighbouring Koh Phangan, where the full moon party is held. (not yet anyway- but there will be soon.) Many people base themselves on Koh Samui. If you are going to the FMP, in my view it makes a lot of sense to base yourself on Koh Samui. I always did.
I spent about 10 years going to these parties and I'm going to write a little bit about them now. You can travel to the FMP by speedboat from Koh Samui for 800 baht. It takes about 20 minutes. Its exciting taking the speedboat from Koh Samui to the full moon party. Everyone's up for it and the drinks always flow nicely. The thing to remember is that these parties really do mean a lot, to a lot of people.
If you are backpacking around Asia with friends, the FMP is the event you've all been talking about for months. Most people were probably talking about it even when they were back in their homeland, saving for their trip. By the time people reach the full moon party, they've probably been travelling around Asia for months. Its a welcome break from arduous bus and train treks. Backpacking is fun but it can be grueling sometimes. The party is a chance to cut loose after bone shattering journeys on bumpy roads sat next to goats in Laos.
Everyone gets dressed up and painted at the FMP. People take 100s of photographs. There are always large queues for phones as youngsters call their friends and relatives. In the nineties, the full moon party was ace. Its a bit different now, but still a good experience.
"We shall fight them on the beaches!" famously said our politicians. But why, when you can dance on them instead? Whatever people may think about the full moon parties and the people who attend, the vast majority are just people who are out to enjoy themselves and have a brilliant time.
I don't go to the FMPs anymore after my last experience. But I'm not kidding myself – Its because I'm too old for it now. If I was 20 I would probably still love going.
The full moon party was always a "peoples" festival because it was free. Twenty years ago, backpackers on Haad Rin beach realised they had the best view of the full moon. From then on, it went from a handful of people in the nineties, to the huge spectacle you have nowadays.
Now there's a big fence up on the Samui side. If you travel by speedboat you will be charged admission and given a wristband. Its not expensive – 100 baht I think it was- but for me, this change is significant. I think its the beginning of the spirit changing. The party was never about wristbands and payment before. How long now before it becomes "The Singha full moon party" with 1000 baht admission and a fence of all sides?
The thing is, people will still come. Glastonbury festival in England is over 150 POUNDS admission! So 1000 baht, what's that, twenty quid? Bargain!
My last experience wasn't a good one, and I finally blew the full-time whistle on my partying days. I'd had a good run and never ended up appearing on "banged up abroad", so I'm thankful for that.
The parties were a huge part of my life, the dates always circled on my work calendar. I was one of those who would stay right to the end and help clear up the beach, this activity was always advertised in posters at the party, and you'd normally find about 100 people staying behind and getting involved as the sun rose in the morning. There was a really good vibe at full moon parties during the nineties.
I like the idea of karma. Even if its not true, its a nice way to live your life. I once got together with a lovely girl at a beach clean-up, we'd never have met otherwise. If that's not a good advertisement for karma I don't know what is.
Koh Phangan was an escape for me from the English nightlife for a while. I mean, I love England, but the pubs shut at 11pm! The nights just getting started. And I will freely admit that the English are quite a violent nation. We are the only nation to use the word "glass" as a verb.
I suppose I started to think negatively about the party the moment I was charged to get in. But I couldn't help noticing a few things after that as I strolled along the beach, Singha in my hand.
Plain clothed police were attempting to sell narcotics to clubbers. These people are as easy to spot as a shark in a swimming pool. They simply did not have a fun demeanour and are to be avoided at all costs. Don't even engage in conversation with these people.
Stickman once commented that the drug use at these parties put him off going. I can categorically state that there are no drugs taken at a modern-day full moon party. You'd be crazy to even THINK about it with all the plain-clothed plod around. They piss-test, there's no escape. I mean, drug taking probably does happen on a really, really small scale. But you will never see it.
I watched a guy leaning against a wall attempting to make a roll-up cigarette, just a little bit of golden Virginia tobacco, and these undercover guys pounced in an instant. 3 of them. They turned the bag inside-out and looked well pissed-off that they didn't get a result. They fly police in from Bangkok now, its a different ball game completely with these types. No avoiding the "second stage" by slipping a local copper a bit of four-figure paper.
You can always tell the police by their attempts of dressing cool. They will always wear terribly unfashionable stuff, a Britney spears t-shirt, something like that.
Occasionally they will get lucky and wear a t-shirt that is so far out of fashion that its gone full circle and has come back in again.
You cant pay them off like the good old days. Ah the good old days! Its funny, me and the rest of the hipsters would sit around, talking about how corrupt the world was becoming and how disenfranchised we felt. Then someone would get busted for smoking a joint, pull out a few thousand baht and suddenly corruption wasn't such a terrible thing after all!
Bill hicks said – "Do you think making nature against the law is a bit…unnatural? What's more dangerous to a human being, smoking a natural resource, or sending them to prison for it?"
You know the small, tiny percentage of people who cannot drink socially without becoming an addict? Its the same with drugs. Some people just should not drink or take drugs. These are also the same sort of people who should never step foot in a casino. But these people are still the exception and not the rule.
During the 90s, the whole of Haad Rin beach was "at it" – no exaggeration. It was unusual to see someone who wasn't as high as a giraffes knackers – It helped that the police were almost non-existent.
Koh Phangan was the coolest place in the world in the nineties, and people "in the know" came in from all corners of the world. It was very multicultural – I never saw any fights and we played a lot of football together on the beach during the daytime. It was at night when everyone came alive though.
But very few people ended up in the nut house or the monkey house. I'm only talking about magic mushrooms here (taken in milkshake form), and the odd smoke – all natural stuff. There were people on harder stuff but they weren't the people I knocked around with.
Terence McKenna said – "Mushrooms can dissolve boundaries between you and your cat. Even between you and your washing machine!".
I should point out that this era was about 15 years ago now, and I'm not attempting to glamorize anything. I'm just telling it as best I remember. Things were a bit more hardcore back in the day. I met some real characters. I felt it was more real, less contrived. It wasn't about photos and proving you were there, It was more of a lifestyle than a one-off party night out. Me and my friends would stay for months sometimes.
The youngsters nowadays have tattoos on their arms, and they will explain every last bit of them to you. "Oh I got my tattoo in Tibet, its a small logo, means "unity."
Ask a person at a nineties full moon party where they got their tattoo. "My tattoo? I've no idea where I got this bottle of Chang!"
It was interesting being part of a community where no-one was on the make. People really did look out for each other. As the Irish song goes – "Of all the money I ever had, I spent it in good company."
But you know you've probably stayed on Koh Phangan too long when you find yourself wandering around the beach, asking complete strangers – "Excuse, me, do you have the time?"
"Yes its 10 o clock."
"..And, uh, do you have the day?"
So to conclude about the full moon party – You should go. Its still a good experience. Don't behave like a dickhead. Don't jump into the sea, (people drown, happens a lot).
Remember where you are. Don't go to mushroom mountain if you don't know your surroundings well. You are not superman – You cant fly. If you THINK you can fly, try taking off from the ground first.
So the FMP – The choice is yours. I'm not saying everyone SHOULD go. By all means stay in your house and listen to jungle. I'm just saying alternatively, you can go to the jungle and listen to house.
You move away from the party scene eventually. Nowadays I can be found in and around pattaya. Yes, maybe in a travelling sense, I have "sold out". "Pattaya Thailand" is a cool enough badge to sew to your rucksack with all the others, but its not really cool in backpacker circles to go back there 15 times.
So why did I go from the beautiful beaches of Samui, to the mean sois of Pattaya? – Well a few things really. There's the financial side. I don't earn big money. Doesn't bother me admitting that. I'm not one of lifes big hitters. It costs an extra £150 to fly down to Koh Samui. If I'm on a short holiday, that sort of dosh goes a long way in pattaya. 2 good nights out. – Or 1 REALLY GREAT one!
The girls in pattaya are certainly a bit different to the backpacker girls. The pattaya girls sport the "girl next door look" – If you live next door to a brothel. I've found the toughest girls back home are often the pussycats inside. Someone on this site once wrote – "Girls in the west are tough on the outside and soft on the inside. Thai girls are soft on the outside and tough on the inside." I think a lot of people will identify with that. I've certainly found it to be true.
I used to date a pretty tough girl back home for a while. Jamaican she was. I thought she was gorgeous. She was what I would call "dangerous yet beautiful". Despite that, I still had a lot of love for that girl, from the top of her head right down to the electronic tag on her toe.
You can ask me about my drinking, you can ask me about my disastrous love life. You can ask me about being a complete failure – But no personal questions.
People say life isn't fair, but I think it is. Life is honest. If you follow the party lifestyle you may well end up without much cash. I haven't got much to show for it. But be happy – Its the most important thing in the world. And for anyone who's ever given you a hard time, always remember that happiness is also the greatest revenge.
I would warn people though, if you pursue the "Live fast, die young" culture, there is one thing that no-one tells you – You don't die! You just feel shattered at 40, you try and stay fit, and become that sweaty bloke on the treadmill at the gym. Did I waste all my money on exotic drinks and psychedelic experiences? No, I invested it! I met some drunken bores, and I met some crazy people. I met some true artists, and I met some friends for life. Luckily, I didn't meet any brown uniforms.
Your not supposed to say "I've enjoyed my life.", are you? Every time I see entertainment on TV, its always some sort of talent show like X-factor, where the singer goes – "Ooh I've had such a tough life! My budgie died! Lifes been such a struggle for me! ". – Well I loved my time on Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. And if anyone reading this was present at full moon parties during the nineties, I hope you did too.
Out of the many different people I met, my favourite person was a 65 year old man up on mushroom mountain. What he was doing at the full moon party, I honestly don't know. He was quite eccentric and dancing like a 20 year old. He said to me – "Son, I've been a millionaire since I was 32 years old. What does a woman call a man like that?"
I looked puzzled. He said – "Sweetheart, usually." then carried on dancing.
Later, I sat with him and shared a bucket. I asked him who he was with, he said himself. He looked me straight in the eye, and said – "The two saddest events in my life were that my first wife left me.." he took a slug of vodka and red bull. – "And my second wife didn't."
To conclude about the full moon party I would say – Don't do drugs in Thailand. There are horrific penalties. I caught the tail end of that scene, its a whole new ballgame now and not worth the risk.
BACK TO SAMUI – WHERES BEST TO STAY?
I would say Lamai. Definitely. I like it because its got a nice sense of community. Saturday nights are the best. There's a big Thai boxing ring in the town centre, and that's where everyone heads on Saturdays. You always tend to see the same faces. There's a few naughty bars around, several food stalls and fusion nightclub is across the road.
There's a good atmosphere in that little square on a Saturday night. Its always packed. I like to watch the English football in the bars, chat to the girls and watch the boxing too. The boxing is free.
It sounds funny, but the naughty bars in Lamai are surrounded by families watching the boxing and eating. And they don't really look out of place. The bars in Lamai are not anywhere near as full-on as, say, pattaya or Phuket. I remember once travelling with a female friend who had no idea that these girls were available, it didn't even seem to cross her mind.
I had the strange experience once of watching the Thai boxing on a Saturday night in Lamai. I placed a bet on a girl boxer. Then I went over the road later to fusion club and I saw the same girl dancing on a speaker. Above the music, I told her she'd won me some money. Turns out she was a boxer/bargirl and she offered to help me spend my winnings! That was an "only in Thailand" night.
So while I'm on the subject of "only in Thailand", here's a couple of things. – Has anyone been to Tony's gym in soi Buakhao, pattaya? Its a perfectly decent gym, small and inexpensive. (70 baht a session I think). Maybe you've visited before. Last time I went, I was astonished to see a sign above the male Thai cashier – "Please ask for a receipt as we cannot guarantee the honesty of the cashier."! First of all, who would sit working underneath that sign all day long! Secondly, how terrible is it that the sign is needed at all. By the way, I'm not saying Britain is more honest, I just think we have more CCTV!
I once asked a Thai girl a question that had really puzzled me – maybe this has puzzled you too. I asked – "Why do Thai people never say "I love you" to each other, even if they have been together for 30 years? "
"Too shy." was the answer.
Too shy! So I continued – "Then why are Thai women notorious for cutting their husbands cocks off, to such an extent that I'm told there is a private ward in a Bangkok hospital that solely specialises in their restoration?"
She just smiled and didn't really give me an answer. I am genuinely puzzled by this. It's an area of Thai culture that I just cannot understand. I am not even close to understanding it. – Thai couples are too shy to whisper "I love you" after a lifetime together, yet still bold enough to hack off a todger and throw it down the khazi?
Still, its the place I love.
Thanks for reading my submission.