Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Koh Phangan to Nowhere To Goa in the 1990s

Novelist and screen writer, Doug E. Jones, fell in love with Koh Phangan when he arrived on the 1990's hippy trail, which also took him to Goa...
'Unless, of course, my brief time in Thailand was all an illusion, an elaborate fantasy...'  

Five chapters of Doug's new novel Nowhere To Goa are set in Thailand. Here author Doug reminisces about the old days on Koh Phangan.

I first set foot on Koh Phangan when I was quite young. This was 1989. My first trip abroad without my parents. Some friends and I that I’d gone to high school with bought open-ended airplane tickets good for a year. We went to Fiji for two weeks, New Zealand for a month, and then got an apartment in Sydney, where we got odd jobs and hung out for the whole summer. 

Australia was where we really picked up on the whole backpacker vibe, that there was a string of kids moving in the same direction, from town to town, beach to beach, word-of-mouth, a tropical hippy trail. . .

We hit Byron Bay, Fraser Island, and Cape Tribulation, exiting Oz from the north - and on to Bali for a bit before blowing through Singapore and Malaysia - to get to Thailand, and our next stop, the one everyone at the hostels had been talking about, Koh Samui. 

For me, Koh Phangan is where the possibilities of life began to flower. It's where I met people from all walks of life; sharing knowledge, love, and a good dance groove.

We spent a few days on Chaweng Beach, which was very chill in those days; the Reggae Bar was just a roped-off sand pit beside a dirt road. However, it was there that we caught wind of another island. One supposedly even more beautiful than Samui. So the following morning we hopped aboard a long-tail boat to Haad Rin Nai. Sunset Beach. Koh Phangan.

Where did you stay on Koh Phangan?

That’s the funny party. We stayed on Sunset Beach the whole time. The Full Moon Party scene was still evolving and we never made it to the other side, to Sunrise Beach. Besides, it wasn't a full moon. And though we didn't have any electricity, we did have our own beach huts, some weed, and Singhas on Sunset. That was enough for us.

Doug in his beach hut on Haad Rin sunset beach, early 1990s
When we did set out to explore it was mostly by boat. The roads, if you could call them that, were rough back then. Some locals took us to an island, one of the national parks, where we camped. Loads of fun. Wandering an uninhabited island. Fishing for dinner. That kind of thing. But I still hadn’t been to my first Full Moon Party.

As happens when bit by the travel bug, I never made it home. Ended up in Tokyo teaching English. Then, when it came time to renew my Japanese visa (by leaving the country), my employer suggested a week in South Korea or Thailand. I chose Thailand and a return to Koh Phangan. And this time, probably 1992, Sunrise Beach was going off. 

Fool moon fever had set in and the backpacker tribes were gathering. On the night of the full moon, we drank mushroom tea, painted our bodies in day-glo, and raved to trippy trance music with a few hundred other party people from all around the world, until the sun the came up. "Bloody brilliant" was how my British friends described it. I was hooked! 

Viewpoint above Haad Rin Sunrise, Full Moon Party beach, Koh Phangan
I went back several more times in the '90s, and even once a few years ago just to make sure it wasn’t all a dream. I love the Phangan lifestyle. Laid back but going for it. . . Frisbee. Hacky-Sack. Bodysurfing. Napping. Card games. Giant prawns. Beautiful girls. A movie with dinner. A hike through the jungle. Dancing the night away. And a good book! 

Koh Phangan is still there. Backpacker nirvana. 
Waiting for the next open soul to show up on its seductive shores.
Back in the States, I got a job writing for a TV show called Charmed. Great gig. But when the series ran its course I knew what I wanted to do. I wrote a story that I'd want to read, one that took place in all these magical places I'd discovered during my years on the road. Nowhere To Goa was the result, and I couldn’t be happier. 

'The most awesome beach... all palm trees and white sand and clear, tranquil blue waters'
I was able to weave Koh Phangan and my time in Thailand into a coming of age story that also takes the reader to Nepal and India. There’s that Hippy Trail again. The novel is purely fiction though. However, I did travel throughout those countries and certainly took anecdotes from all of them to ground the tale in some sense of the truth.

For me, Koh Phangan is where the possibilities of life began to flower. It's where I met people from all walks of life; sharing knowledge, love, and a good dance groove. And Koh Phangan is still there. Backpacker nirvana. Waiting for the next open soul to show up on its seductive shores. Bigger? Yes. Better? I don’t know. But thanks to people like Mia Escobud flaming the fires, I know one day I shall return! Doug E. Jones, Nowhere To Goa

Nowhere To Goa takes off when Scott, a studious sophomore at Northwestern University, flies halfway around the world to bring home his troublesome twin brother - who has just been released from jail in India after a run-in with the law; something to do with a bhang lassi, a rickshaw, and a holy cow! 
You can get it, paperback or kindle on Amazon. And you can go to Doug's website to see some vintage rave videos from Goa @ nowheretogoa.com. The book is for anyone who has travelled or wants to travel or just loves to lose themselves in a story of self-discovery - that only the open road can provide. 

Thanks to Doug for sharing his stories. It's always good to hear the old Koh Phangan tales! Treat yourself and grab a copy of his book for a riveting daydream, influenced by the Goa to Koh Phangan hippy trail.

Photos courtesy of Doug E. Jones
Mia Escobud 2014 

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