A Travellerspoint blog

The Real Laos

Caves, karst and rivers at Muong Ngoi

The main dengue fever had gone, but I was still pretty exhausted when I arrived at Muong Ngoi Neua. After a typically Lao disorganised and time consuming process of preparing the mini-vans we left for Nong Khiaw. I was completely amazed when we arrived after two and a half hours, well shy of the quoted four hours. A feat completely unheard of in Laos. I’ve heard people talk about “Thai-time” or “Nepal time” to describe things happening slowly, but Laos takes it to a new level. Once you escape Luang Prabang and Vientiane everything in Laos is relaxed and slow. Nothing happens in a hurry.

Of course once we arrived in Nong Khiaw we waited another couple of hours for the boat up the river, despite the fact the boats and drivers in the town, and everyone who ended up riding the boat was there. Whilst waiting I met a few fellow solo travellers who would become my crew for the next few days.

The scenery in this part of world is incredible. Filled with dramatic jungle-draped karst peaks and shear limestone cliffs riddled with caves. After another typically Lao style 45 minute wait after we’d piled into the cramped boats we finally wound our way upstream over the shallow rapids to our idyllic riverside destination. I thought I’d done well ending up sitting at the front of the boat away from the noisy engine, but changed my mind after getting splashed after every rapid we ascended on the way to town.

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I was surprised how many tourists were on the boat, and how many were in the town, as I’d though I was getting a little more “off” the tourist trail. But the town was fantastic, still managing to retain a local feel, whilst having comfortable cheap rooms and that dramatic landscape. I was shattered when we arrived and had a power nap before we “hit the town” that night. This consisted of a fantastic (and cheap) Lao style vegetarian buffet followed by sitting around a fire and drinking the single bar in town out of beer. This may sound like an impressive and drunken endeavour, but in fact they only had two beers left at the bar, so it wasn’t much of an achievement. The bar owner was a rather eccentric young lazy Laos guy, who gave the excuse of “I’ve been too drunk to buy beer for the bar.” It seems this part of Laos loves a party, and takes any excuse to get stuck into the fifty percent proof Lao-Lao and beer Lao. When we arrived in town we passed a Laos party which was in it’s death throes, the rough dirt floored bar covered in playfully wrestling drunks. This is impressive as this was about 3:30 in the afternoon. Later that night the same bar was filled with what looked like kids restarting the party. Presumably after their parents had safely passed out after the afternoons activity. Laos is not a late night place, but the locals certainly love an afternoon drink.

The next day consisted of trekking to caves and small villages. The going was fairly flat and easy going, but we covered a fair few kilometres. I was impressed at my effort that day after the dengue. Again I crashed and burned when we returned to town at the end of the day. The cave was fairly impressive, and disappeared a fair way into the hillside. There were a couple of entrances into the cave system, one through the river (which only continued if you did an underwater swim(!)) and one a small dead end. We did however see one of the most insane creatures I’ve ever seen. It was like a centipede, but had long spindly legs like a daddy longlegs. The photo doesn’t show it, but this cave monster was about 10cm long. It reminded me of the bizarre eyeless transparent-skinned cave lizard I’d seen earlier in the trip. These things are weird, you can see all the organs working through the skin.

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By this stage our numbers had surged to a six-nation seven member squad. We ambled our way through the scenery to the small village of Huay Xai, where we were greeted by the enthusiastic owner of the only small local restaurant in town and his endless shots of Lao Lao. After a simple lunch and the requisite circumambulation (I love that word!) of the town, we made our way back towards Muong Ngoi. The pace wasn’t super quick after the lunch time Lao Lao.

The next day was a similar trip, however instead of foot powered we were on the river in a small longboat. The first village we visited was fairly famous for its weaving, and is a popular destination for textile-craving Laotians. This gave the town a fairly colourful look as the locals plied their wares. We sat and watched a group of the local kids for a while as they played a game of spinning tops. They used these wooden tops that they had carved themselves and seemed to have rather impressive skills. I never quite understood the rules of the game, it just seemed like the goal was to knock all the other tops out of the way, but it looked like fun. It’s great in this part of the world to see the kids playing outside in the street. Forming big social groups and making up these games. It’s not something you see back home any more. It made me wonder, not for the first time on this trip, if in Western countries we over complicate things. These kids looked happy.

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The second village seemed a bit like a ghost town as we wandered through the dusty streets. It was only when we got to the far side of the small village we heard voices in the forest and followed our way down a path into the trees. We stumbled across the preparations for the big Hmong peoples new year celebration. They had freshly slaughtered at least one cow and the ground was covered in the butchered meat, being divided between the families for the new year. The whole town was gathered around, with the kids playing to the side, while the men argued over the weight of the meat portions. The more interesting side was the “offal kebabs” which were segments of all the different organs of the cow strung out along a sliver of bamboo. This is apparently a spirit offering and we spotted them making some kind of soup of stew. Nothing is wasted and the skin is used as well.

I spent two more days in Muong Ngoi, these were more relaxing, with some short walks into the surrounding forests and catching up on some guitar. After a couple of relatively busy days, my body was crashing again so I needed some down time.

I was sad to leave Muong Ngoi, certainly a highlight of my trip. After the typically disorganised and time consuming boat trip it was time for the “bus.” I decided on the local form of transport, the songthaew. These are converted small trucks with bench seats in the back. Being local transport, it was packed with extra plastic seats in the aisle and sharing the ride with bags of rice, vegetables and of course live chickens. The ride was squashy and uncomfortable but it’s always great to have these authentic experiences. I did however loose feeling in my buttocks for a couple of days afterwards.

As Muong Ngoi was my last “real” destination it was time to start the journey home. First to Luang Prabang, then Vientiane and back to the black hole of Le Village in Kuala Lumpur...

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Posted by nomadSteve 04:17 Archived in Laos Tagged caves river laos limestone karst muong_ngoi Comments (0)

A very Dengue Christmas

I opened my eyes, blinking as the world slowly came into focus. It took me a few minutes to remember it was Christmas day. Things were hazy and I realised my head was pounding. I tried to move but my body was arguing strenuously, every muscle aching. What the hell did I do the night before? We did have our Christmas celebrations a day early, European style, and I did have a big day, including more than my fair share of Lao Lao whiskey (rocket fuel.) But I wouldn’t have expected a headache like that? By the evening I’d replaced the booze with water, usually a good ward from headaches. And the sore muscles? I figured that must have been from the swimming and jumping into the river. “Shit,”I said to myself, “I must be getting old!”

It was only the next day on way to Vientiane I realised I had developed a fever. Ah, it all suddenly made sense. Then the rash appeared. I met a travelling Aussie doctor who confirmed my amateur diagnosis.

Dengue fever.

And so began the most relaxed Christmas, New Year week of my life. Usually at home this time of year is crazy. Busy and social, not to mention the annual 3 day music festival I usually attend. I didn’t expect anything that special this year (hey travelling is the perfect chrissy present) but it was different spending most of it in bed.

I was pretty philosophical. Hey I’d been travelling nine months, it had to happen sometime. And I was aware that dengue can be much worse. I spent the week catching up on some reading and watching a couple of TV shows. I made an effort to keep eating and a sweet Austrian girl kept me in a ready supply of tea. All in all, it was probably as pleasant as a bout of dengue fever can be. I could still function, but I was pretty exhausted most of the time and the muscle and joint pain was pretty annoying. I can see why dengue used to be known as bone-break fever.

By new years day I was in need of a change of scenery (Vientiane is not my favourite city in the world) and made my way north. Despite the continuing dengue, I was well rested, having slept my way through the new year. My original intention was to head to the far north of Laos, up to Phonsali and Luang Nam Tha, but I was now a week behind schedule and made for the small village of Muang Ngoi Neau instead, the first leg being the 10 hour bus trip to Luang Prabang. It was a strange trip with my continuing fever, but sitting in a bus isn’t too different to lying in bed. The lunch stop confused me. I lined up to get a noodle soup and realised everyone had small yellow tickets, i tried to ask some of the Laos passengers where you got them from and one pointed at a separate counter selling the rice dishes, I lined up there, but was then sent back to the noodle counter, everyone seemed confused. It was only after a circular conversation with the woman behind the stand that I realised the yellow tickets looked familiar. I rummaged in my pocket and retrieved my bus ticket stub. Ah ha! The lunch was included in the ticket. Who would have known? Of course by this stage I barely had time to consume my lunch and had to pour the remains of the rather spicy soup down my throat as the bus driver leaned on the horn. I stumbled back onto the bus in a feverish daze sweating and eyes watering from the chilli. When we arrived in Luang Prabang I was totally spent, and began my search for accommodation. A feat that proved tough at 8pm on New Year’s Day. I grabbed the first available overpriced room and fell straight into bed.

The next morning I awoke to find the fever miraculously gone, and in surprisingly good health. I packed my bags and continued my journey to Muong Ngoi Neau, and began one of the best bits of my trip....

Posted by nomadSteve 05:33 Archived in Laos Tagged bed vientiane dengue Comments (0)

Confessions of a serial tuber

Everything seems like a good idea in Vang Vieng

You take a deep breath and reach upwards. Your hands tightly grip the handle. You take one last look at the shirtless and painted crowd beneath you and take that final step forward. You start surging forward, flying over the surface of the river. The metallic whirring of the pulley gripping the zip line cable fills your ears, mingling with the pounding riffs of “Killing in the name of” that tear the air. Your eyes are glued forward, intent on the end. You’ve done the zipline before, but this time is different. This is it, this time you won’t let go. You know it will hurt, you’ve seen how it hurts. But fuelled by a mixture of alcohol and macho pride, it has to be done. You can’t leave this place without trying it. The sound of the cable gets louder and more high pitched as you go faster, faster. That all important knot in the cable getting closer and closer. You want to let go, save yourself. But you have to do this. Faster, Faster, Closer, Closer.

SNAP

Your arms are pulled back until your fingers slip from the handles, muscles straining, your body surging forward. Then suddenly the world is spinning end over end, just a crazy mixture of sky, river and bars as the momentum sends you into a crazy spiral. You have no idea which way is up, but you know soon you will hit. You vaguely here the cries of “Oohh,” from the crowd as your world keeps turning. Spinning.

SLAP

Suddenly the world is turned a muddy brown as the river engulfs you. You have no idea which part of your body hit first. Your whole body rocks with the impact. You slowly float to the surface, then leap into the air, punching a fist to the crowd. “I feel ALIVE!” You swim back towards the bar, taking care to avoid those hidden rocks that left your knees bruised and bloody two days earlier. You haul yourself back up the stairs, past the piles of truck inner tubes and grab the beer that’s thrust at you. Your friend looks at you, slaps you on the back “good one, now I have to do it.”

You often hear the phrase “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” In Vang Vieng, everything seems like a good idea. The outcome of this particular “good idea” was my friend sustained a rather nasty black eye from following my suit and having a run in with his own knee on the way down.

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I’ll admit it. I was nervous before I got to the town. I’d heard the stories; I’d seen the travellers wielding their battle scars from Vang Vieng. Some small, some large. Would I survive? Would I be crippled? Would I remember tubing?

We arrived in the afternoon, and set ourselves at a bar on the river, watching the few drunk stragglers that had managed to float all the way back to town on their tubes haul their bodies out of the river, stumbling and cursing as their legs failed to properly follow their orders. As we would find out in the coming days, most “tubers” don’t get that far...

Tubing is like a collection of all the very worst things you want around a bunch of drunken 20 somethings. Trip hazards, fall hazards, fast flowing water, submerged rocks, sharp rocks, huge swings, zip lines, giant slides, big jump platforms and free shots. Mix it all up with scantily clad youths, permanent markers, spray-paint and large amounts of Beer Lao, buckets of local whiskey and in some cases magic mushrooms and you have a recipe for disaster, and a bucket-load of fun.

Tubing in Vang Vieng is a pretty simple concept. Get a tube and do a bar crawl down the river. This can actually be done on foot, swimming or by stealing tubes; but the actual tubing can be quite fun, even though you do end up spending little time on the tube. By bar two the permanent markers have come out and everyone is covered in rude slogans, most also wearing rough Rambo style headbands with rude slogans. Examples (and by far some of the “softest” there) is “I lost my innocence to ladboys,” and “I’m a <insert random insult here>”

The debauchery continues further down river as the swings get higher, and the zip lines, giant slides and mud volleyball start appearing. We never saw actual volleyball being played, these are basically mud wrestling and mud throwing pits, it’s disappointing I got no photos of these. I’ve never been somewhere where you can pick up a stranger and throw them into a pit of mud and they enjoy it before.

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I heard a few people in Vang Vieng say “but it’s not culture.” I would actually disagree. It certainly isn’t Laos culture. It’s very removed from Laos culture. But it’s got a unique culture all its own. From the original concept of relaxed day floating down a river through a spectacular karst limestone environment has grown, evolved and twisted into the crazy uniqueness of tubing it is now. There’s nothing in the world quite like it. The full moon party and I imagine things like spring break and Schoolies on the gold coast are similar, but Vang Vieng puts a different twist on it.

Of course this culture has its dark side. And any discussion of this “culture” can’t gloss over the questionable morality of it all. In any western country this simply couldn’t happen. Would never happen. The casualty rate is just too high. Rumours fly about the number of deaths each year, from one a year to one a week. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. Who knows what to believe? But the fact is while we were in Vang Vieng there were multiple serious accidents. The last day we popped out in the afternoon to take some photos (there was no way my camera was coming tubing.) Before we arrived a guy had gone off the giant swing. He let go at the wrong point and fell into a shallow part of the river. We also saw a guy at breakfast one day whose face was covered in cuts and bandages. He had an eye patch and his nose was taped, obviously broken. He’d gone the wrong way off one of the swings, clipping his face on the edge of the wooden platform before hitting the water. We also met a French girl who had done the same as my friend on the zip line, only her knee fractured her nose.

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Then there’s the big one, something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It was our last day tubing. Johan and I were among the less drunk of the crowd. I’m not saying we were sober, but the afternoon was getting on and things were starting to get crazy. We were standing on some steps at the back, overlooking the bar with the zip line. The guy standing next to me (who is actually called Guy) tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the ladder to access the zip line, “Man, that drunk girl almost fell!” I turned where he was pointing, just in time to see the girl drunkenly take the next rung of the ladder, slip and fall. She fell about 4 metres (see photo below) and went face-first into the wooden platform. It looked nasty. My first thought was “If she ever walks again, it’s a miracle.” The crowd swarmed and we lost sight. Soon enough her unconscious blood streaked body was being rushed to a tuk-tuk and hospital. We heard conflicting rumours of her condition. Ranging from, “Cuts and bruises, but otherwise fine” to “Open skull fracture,” which never ends well. I hope she was ok, but from that fall, it would be a miracle. As we were a bit more sober, it took quite a while to get the party spirit back, and I contemplated leaving. But half an hour later it was back to normal. Most of the other people there however were back to partying in five minutes.

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Maybe the danger is part of the thrill. In fact it is one thing about travelling. The danger. Like adventure sports. You sort of hope it never happens but sometimes you secretly hope for that disaster. The bomb or a tsunami or a bus crash. You don’t want to be killed or even hurt, you want to be survivor. I’ve heard quite a few travellers mention this. And those moments of danger always make the best stories.

Who knows? But I do know that tubing in Vang Vieng is some of the most fun I’ve ever had!

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Posted by nomadSteve 20:21 Archived in Laos Tagged river drinking backpacking tubing vang_vieng Comments (0)

Loi Krathong

The best light show in the world

The full moon of Novemeber brings one of Thailands most famous festivals Loi Krathong. The festival brings a few days of festivities, mainly consisting of the launching of lanterns laced with wishes and carrying away your sins and debauchery to the sky, and the release of candle and incense bearing Krathongs again carrying wishes down to the river spirits. And of course you can’t forget the millions of fireworks which made Chiang Mai feel like the centre of world war 3.

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I’d been in Pai with the Swedish boys, but decided to return to the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai for the festival. It was a little hectic after I arrived, being picked up by Eva, my French friend who is studying there, dropping my bags at her place and jumping on her bike to the festivities. I had little idea of the plan and really was tagging along. We met some of her Thai student friends and in convey made our way back out of the city to a university on the outskirts of the city and the site of the mass-lantern launching. It was crowded, really crowsded; with thousands of Thais squeezing up the narrow pathways to the temple and clearing which was the main site. On the way we stopped to launch a couple of small lanterns, grab some food and just enjoy the festival atmosphere. We then entered the main area and joined the thousands sitting on the grass. They then had surprisingly long ceremony led by the monks for the occasion. This ceremony consisted of Buddhist prayers and the telling of the history of the festival. Unfortunately all this was in Thai and left us rather baffled, not helped by the fact we were banned from talking. Still it was quite beautiful with the constant stream of thousands of lanterns soaring skyward from outside the arena.

Finally the time came to set alight the lanterns. We all waited while the hot air built inside the lanterns filling the thin rice paper until the lantern was ready for launch. Finally the voice of the head monk blasted from the speakers and with a cheer thousands of wish-containing lanterns soared skywards in a spectacular light show. It was an amazing and quite spiritual moment which left everyone smiling and buoyant.

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A second round followed, while the first round were still distant specks of light. After enjoying the spectacle for a while we decided to head for the city. Unfortuneately so did the other 10000 people there and it was a worse crowd than festival or sporting event I’ve attended. The narrow pathways become claustrophobic crushes. All the time with small fireworks exploding beside, over and even under the crowd. Finally we emerged from the chaos and jumped back on our motorbikes, only then to be stuck in the same thing only in vehicle form. We eventually returned to the city and cruised the sights, checking out the numerous lanterns and sculptures around the city, before heading to the river and taking in the crowds of lantern and firework launching Thais along the banks.

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The second night of festivities was similar, however this time everyone headed to the river. Thousands squeezed along the banks. The amount of fireworks was crazy, every local it seemed was fighting for a spot along the river or the numerous bridges to fire their cheap fireworks into the sky. It seemed somewhat dangerous and I wonder how many burns occur during the festival?

At one point we stopped and constructed one of the river bound Krathongs to float down the river. An intrigueing task of folding strips of banana leaves and attaching them to a section of banana stalk. This is then capped with flowers, a candle and some incense. I say we constructed it, but really it was Eva. Unfortuneatly somewhere that day i had picked up a case of food poisoning and spent most of the night trying to keep the contents of my stomach down.

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We managed to find a quiet patch of river to launch our Krathong. After this we decided to sit somewhere and found a bar playing some great music, one of the best cover bands I’ve ever seen, playing a huge range of covers, from classic rock to modern girly-pop to a very authentic medley of Linkin Park songs. I was stupidly convinced to consume a beer (hey, I’m Australian) and eventually lost the battle with my stomach.

Despite the food poisoning we still had a good night and a great time at Loi Krathong. Certainly one of the best light shows I’ve ever seen.

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Posted by nomadSteve 03:53 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Apocalypse Now

Surviving the full moon party

You’re senses are overwhelmed, reeling from the barrage of light and sound. The constant noise attacking your ears as the ground shakes underfoot. The acrid smell of smoke and burning fuel stings eyes. The sweat runs in rivers down your skin, saturating clothes. The wounded are all around. Someone limps past, face caked in blood and his leg wrapped in bandages. He’s young, doesn’t look a day over 18. You look down and see a body. It’s not moving. Suddenly a fireball erupts close by, rolling skywards with a muffled roar. You real from the blast of heat as it hits your face. For a moment the scene is bathed in that eerie orange glow.
Welcome to Hell.
Welcome to the Full Moon Party.

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NOTE: The following article contains descriptions of drinking, partying and general debauchery. If this offends you please keep reading for an education.

“Like Apocalypse Now just without the war,” was how the guidebook described the Full moon party on Ko Pha Ngan. And they were right.

It’s hard to know where to start about our time on Ko Pha Ngan. Pool parties, beach parties, foam parties, bar parties, pre parties, after parties and even after after parties. But these are a side show to the main debauchery on Ko Pha Ngan. That of the famous full moon party. Fifteen thousand backpackers crammed onto a small beach packed with bars, DJ stages and fire shows. Add a large dose of pumping bass, glow paint and buckets and a dash of flashing lights, stupid outfits, fire-twirling shows and dance podiums. Mix it all up and you come out with chaos.

NOTE: For those who haven’t been to SE Asia and know what a “bucket” is they are a deadly device designed to disintegrate the minds and livers of western backpackers. You take one small plastic bucket, add a bunch of straws, a small amount of mixer (coke or sprite usually) and fill the rest with booze. Oh and often with the addition of Thai energy drinks. Thai energy drinks alone pack enough punch to send a herd of elephants to the moon.

DAY 1

We arrived tired after a full day of travelling. I was looking forward to catching up with my mate Erik. AKA Fake Swedish from the Famous 10. I found where he was staying and went into his dorm to find him completely dead to the world, in true Erik fashion. He is not the most active of human beings. As he was on the top bunk I tried tickling his feet, grabbing his toes and slapping his feet, to no avail. We returned an hour later to find the hostel in full party swing, Erik was out of bed, and somehow already rather drunk. The glow paint was out and people were getting quite colourful.

By the time we arrived on Ko Pha Ngan I’d had three late nights out in a row. I was miles behind on sleep and feeling rather tired. Actually tired isn’t quite the word. Manic exhaustion is a better description. There was only one way I would stay awake and last the duration, and that was at full speed. I fitted in quite well with the drinkers bouncing around like a crazy person, eyes the size of dinner plates. I had more than one person ask if I was on drugs. We then made our way to the first real party of the week. The pool party.

This may have been the best party of the week, and was a fantastic start to the week. It was a shame Soph and Megs missed it. It was really that movie-style crazed pool party. And it wasn’t long before everyone was in the pool, whiskey buckets in hand. All around people are bombing into the pool, sending shockwaves and splashes into the aforementioned buckets. I hate to think how much chlorine we ingested that night. Erik was in fine form, and it was great to catch up with him again and throw some mad dance shapes on the impromptu dance floors surrounding the pool. At one stage I was standing by the pool with Erik when out of nowhere I was attacked by a Finnish vampire and thrown into the pool, wallet and all. Luckily my cards all worked and all I lost was a spare camera memory card I had hidden in the wallet. In fact that was all I lost all week, quite a good effort given the amount of cameras, wallets and phones that disappear during the full moon week. I remember thinking at the end of the night when I was lying in the pool, pumping beats surging through the waves as people dived and bombed into the pool, a bucket in one arm and a sexy Scandinavian girl in the other that this first night might be hard to beat...

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DAY 2

I woke, feeling surprisingly good; given this was day 4. My body had adjusted to the constant partying.

We were feeling active this morning so decided to hire a couple of motorbikes and see what the rest of Ko Pha Ngan has to offer. Somehow we managed to convince Erik to rise from bed and join us for the day, so we made a good group of four. Ko Pha Ngan was surprisingly beautiful and some of the Northern beaches were really quite impressive. It was on this trip I added another injury to my right foot. The poor thing had been hammered in the preceding weeks, and most of time on Ko Pha Ngan I was wielding three separate bandages on my foot, from three separate incidents on three different tropical islands. One on the Perenthians from some coral, one puncture injury from a small piece of rebar sticking out of Some Concrete on Ko Phi Phi and the bike injury on Ko Pha Ngan. What happened was I was pulling up and put my foot on the ground at about 1km an hour. Unfortunately my crappy flip-flops bent in the middle and sent my toe jabbing into the asphalt. At the time it looked like just a small injury and I ignored it, but five minutes later I looked down and my foot was covered in blood with a beautiful deep red pool of blood shimmering on my flip-flop. Being covered in bandages on Ko Pha Ngan everyone assumes you’ve done something stupid whilst drunk and I got quite sick of explaining the injuries.
Again a pre-party at the Dancing Elephant hostel. By now we had quite a crew and another good night ensued, ending up partying down on the beach. A good warm up to the full moon antics themselves.

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DAY 3

The day of days had arrived. The sense of anticipation was brewing, but was also somewhat tempered by the fact most people had just had two massive parties in a row (my count was at 5 by that stage.) The day was subdued and relaxed. Again I split from the girls and relaxed with the crew at a cruisy bar overlooking the beach, spending the afternoon sleeping on the axe pillows, being jealous of the Finnish girl on the lone hammock and watching the spectacular sunset.

The question everyone was still asking was after the last couple of nights was “how crazy can it be?” We would find the answer soon enough. Erik and I eased into the night with a street side jam session which turned into a good sing-along. The glow paint was flowing again and everyone was again getting colourful. With a couple of days practice (and starting the painting a little more sober) the artwork was better that the previous efforts.

That is except for Erik... He started with some somewhat artistic self-finger painting but as he drank more (and he did drink quite a bit) the paint got thicker and thicker. By the end it looked like the aftermath of an explosion in a paint factory. He was covered, and quite frankly looked a little scary. He frightened off more than one person that night.

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We eventually made our way down to the beach. The beats floated up through the night air and the closer we joined the tides of painted bodies making the pilgrimage. The beach access paths, clear a few hours ago were packed with sellers, bucket stalls, food stalls, clothing stalls and “glowing stalls,” selling all manner of fluorescent devices. We emerged onto the beach into the crowded throng of heaving 20-somethings and the wall of beats that pummeled ear drums. Just in front of the beach access was a small space in the crowd, which consisted of a stream that flowed from a storm water drain. Lying in the water was the first casualty of the night, a guy passed out cold in the water. That didn’t bode well for the rest of the night. We were just arriving after all.

We soon got into the spirit and were throwing some crazy dance shapes. Erik in particular was on fire. Greeting everyone we passed with an exaggerated “Herrrrooo!!!” Like I said, a few people were scared of our Fake Swedish. There was one person however who wasn’t scared, and one of the ladyboys on the beach took a great interest in him. Of course, Erik being the friendly sort he is (and the alcohol talking) stopped for a conversation and a few photos. We dragged him away, but strangely shortly after this encounter our boy Erik disappeared for the night. Coincidence? Hmm....

We were moving further down the beach, and after a few stalls waiting for Erik and his conversations with everyone we passed, we lost him. We ended watching fire-twirlers and fire-breathers whilst dancing like crazy bastards at the drum and bass stage. At this point Soph and Stella put on a nice show for the roving video camera. I wonder if they are famous?

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The night continued with a mix of different bars, stages, buckets, music and podium dancing. With a small amount of fire-jumping, the cause of many of the wounds carried by the walking wounded. Of course it all got more drunken and debaucherous with pass outs, sickness and couples getting busy on the beach being a common occurrence.

Really though, whilst still being a lot of fun, the full moon night was just a little too busy and crazy. Not enough space to dance and insanity everywhere. This was typified by the scene at sunrise. I’d been off the main beach for a couple of hours and returned just as the sun was breaking over the horizon, bathing the beach in a bright crimson glow. The light bounced off the water, silhouetting the couples who were shagging in the water. Just a short distance away was the usual line-up of guys who couldn’t be bothered making the way to the toilet and were turning the shallows yellow.

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During the week I learnt a new word, “Morkkis”. It’s Finnish slang word loosely meaning “moral hangover.” Usually related to drinking and/or partying it’s a word to describe that feeling when you wake up the next day and think “oh shit...” Whilst I managed to escape Ko Pha Ngan with a surprising lack of morkkis, I’m sure there were thousands who thought otherwise.

The next couple of days were again spent relaxing in one of the cruisy bars or on the beach. One afternoon that will stick in my memory was sitting on the beach and jamming with Erik. There were a few jugglers and twirlers practicing as well, it was a pretty good scene. I was surprised when everyone else who was on the beach that day also called it a highlight.

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After a final night of dancing and beach fun we left Ko Pha Ngan and made our way northwards. I just remember thinking one thing.

“We Survived!”

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Posted by nomadSteve 03:35 Archived in Thailand Tagged river drinking ko_pha_ngan full_moon_party Comments (0)

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