Saturday, 25 April 2015

Wild Times On The Islands: Full Moon Party 1994

Mid December 1994: A week after arriving back on the Thai islands for some wild times, Koh Phangan, and the Full Moon Party, were beckoning…

full moon party 1994
Wild Times: Full Moon Party 1994
The smiling half moon, tilted at an Asian angle, had heralded our arrival to Bangkok the week before.  Now, as the moon became round, Koh Phangan was calling to us.  We were making the journey to Koh Samui's neighbouring island, as many travellers still do today, for one night only:   
To experience the wild hedonism of a Full Moon Party.

The Pleasures of Koh Phangan 

On the morning of the Full Moon Party, a gang of my travelling friends and I left Koh Samui behind.  We sailed away from Na Thon pier to Koh Phangan's main town, Thong Sala.  From there we took a taxi to Ban Kai: a friend had a bungalow outfit on the beach where we could chill out for the day.

Phangan had grabbed at my heart immediately.  The moment I saw Thong Sala's palmy shoreline, I was affected differently than anything so far.  Koh Samui had made my return to Thailand seem so normal, but now I felt like a part of me was coming home. 

On the truck to Ban Kai I sat near the back, staring at the beloved island passing me by.  Tracing the same trip in my mind two years earlier, I remembered a fiery sunset on my 22nd birthday, when I'd made my way, spellbound, from Koh Samui to Haad Rin Sunset Beach, Koh Phangan. 

I'd fallen in love with Koh Phangan on my first six week visit, back then in early 1993.  Caught up in my own little miraculous world, I felt now that Thailand was welcoming me home...  

full moon party 1994
Full Moon Party, mid 1990s
That evening, on Haad Rin beach, we experienced the phenomenon that found hundreds of people drawn together under the full moon - to dance on the beach, or lie on the sand - until the sun came up and the moon had long since set over the horizon.

The main Full Moon Party was held at Paradise Bungalows, both on the beach and in the restaurant.  Only a few stragglers made their way to Haad Rin's other beach bars.  Cactus and Drop In were practically empty right up until the late 1990s, when crowds began to swell back along the beach.

Party In Paradise

In those early days, there were only a few hundred people at the party - nowhere near the tens of thousands who'd arrive over the next decade.  Everyone was dressed eclectically in brightly coloured tie-dye tops and dresses and cheesecloth trousers. 

Down at Paradise, the Full Moon Party raved well into the early hours of the morning.  Fuelled by slow release 'pink & white' diet pills from the pharmacy, we danced like mad things until the party ended.  The party drug of choice for many back then, the 'pink & whites' had you pinging for hours.

It was a strung-out, wild-eyed, cheeks sucked in, amphetamine kind of feeling.  

There was no need to consume too much alcohol, feeling like that.  We did drink the odd half bottle of Sang Thip, but there really wasn't much alcohol at the parties - until at least the late '90s.  Not on Koh Phangan at least.  Although Koh Samui was a different story.  

I'd shared my first bucket with Richard and my new found friend, Lee, at the Bauhaus in Lamai a few nights before.  'Share' being the operative word.  We'd never have dreamed of having a bucket to ourselves, like the alcohol crazy backpackers do nowadays.  Buckets were always meant for sharing!

full moon party 2002
 Me, Lee (Nayana) and husband-to-be Meir at a Full Moon Party 2002
Seasons in the Koh Phangan Sun

The rest of our Full Moon Party crowd consisted of the Varinda gang:  five Newmarket gypsies, a mad German and a couple of Hong Kongers (we'd all end up in Hong Kong over the next few years).  We were joined by two Canadians, a double act in their own right, who we'd met on the bus from Bangkok to Surat the week before.  

We partied all night; dancing together, people watching and enjoying each other's company. Later, we returned to the Canadian's Haad Rin Sunset beach hut to pass away the hours until the ferry. 

We spent the time laughing and socialising, as Lee & I would continue to do on the same beach over the next 20 years.  Lee and Richard were full of exotic stories from Malawi, having come straight out of Africa.  We swapped stories of mine and my brother Tim's trip to Zanzibar a few years before. 

As the Canadians shared their Koh Phangan stories, my brain started ticking.  The Back Yard was still kicking...  Not as a Full Moon after party, but as a party in its own right, taking place back then every Tuesday night.  The Back Yard was the most amazing party I'd ever been to in my life! 

To quote Danny Rampling's description of the Back Yard, in an interview I did with him on his return to Koh Phangan in 2013:

"The club was a free state of hedonism that would go on from night to late the next afternoon or evening... Perched on the top of the hill overlooking the ocean; music, colourful backpackers and party people, partying hard, loving the music for hours... until the last man standing!"

I had to get back here; back to the Back Yard, back to Koh Phangan.  I just knew it!

The Koh Phangan season was calling to me... 

haad rin hills koh phangan
The Haad Rin Hills - Now and Then
This Way To Paradise

There had been changes in the last two years though.  The main road out of Thong Sala didn't finish after a quarter of the island anymore, at Ban Taai.   The dirt track to Ban Kai had been concreted, opening up once inaccessible tracts of land.  There still wasn't electricity, so widespread generators were still in use…

But horror of horrors, they'd cut through the jungle to my exotic Haad Rin, to make it accessible by road.  I knew it couldn't be helped.  That was tourism for you, even in the early days.  But I couldn't help but feel like the mystique was slowly beginning to fade.

What happened to my Asian refuge, accessible only by foot or boat, my Echo Beach at the end of the civilised world? 
Once upon a time you had to go by long tail boat when the road ran out...

Now the countryside was scarred, the road ridiculousy steep;  the rain had washed much of the sand this road was made of away.  Mama Bird's son would later break his leg on the treacherous hills.  How many more madmen on bikes had already been injured?
On Full Moon night, when we had travelled from Ban Kai to Haad Rin, two taxis loaded with party people could hardly make the ascent.  Both vehicles came to a halt, seriously threatening to go backwards down the hill.  I jumped out quick and got myself out of harm's way, vowing I would only ever go by foot or boat again!

My subconscious must have remembered this vow, because it would be twenty years later before I actually drove over the Haad Rin hills myself.   I retained the fear of those hills all those years, even though in later times the road was tarmacked over and again.

Full Moon Party December 1994
But Haad Rin would always be Haad Rin, and that night as I sat on Full Moon Party beach, with the full moon watching through a veil of clouds, another shooting star came rushing through a pocket of sky - to make my setting once again complete.

Oh lovely life.   I'd arrived where I was destined to belong...

Lovely Solitude

After a hard night's partying, Varinda was heaven to come home to.  Neil and Emma had both appreciated the total tranquility of Ban Kai - and also the uniqueness of the Full Moon Party, in utter contrast to their earlier viewing of Koh Phangan.

But it was a long mission, and when I decided to bail out and take the first Haad Rin Queen ferry back to Koh Samui, I could see they would rather be joining me.  Their bags were in Ban Kai, so they had to return via the Thong Sala ferry.

By the time they got back to Lamai and up that hill to Varinda, there were sighs of relief all round.  I had been back for hours; enjoying that lovely old sense of solitude as I sat observing my world, giving me time to think…

I was enjoying the company of my hometown folks, but it wouldn't be long before I'd be bracing out on my own - back to Haad Rin for another golden season in the Koh Phangan sun.

Bird Bungalows Birdy, Hazy Fantazie, Full Moon Party 1995
But first, festive season on Koh Samui was really about to kick in - with all its attendant hookers, hard drugs, lady boys and Wild Times... 

Mia's Diaries 1994/95
More Wild Times Diaries 1994/95 coming soon! 

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