Full Moon Parties VS Jungle Parties (Koh Phangan, Thailand)

About the Full Moon Parties

If you’re backpacking through Thailand, then chances are you’ve heard of the infamous Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan.  These parties involve dancing on Haad Rin beach until sunrise in colorful costumes, drinking liquor out of buckets, leaping over a flaming jump rope just for the hell of it (at your own risk) while meeting many amazing people from all over the world.  I was really happy I chose to spend my New Year’s Eve here (from 2018-2019), because I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the island!

The reason I decided to attend my first Moon Party is I watched Travels with My Father and loved the hilarious mixed reactions the characters had to the party, so I wanted to experience it myself!  There is one episode where the son takes his father to Koh Phangan where his father stares at his son in disbelief as he dances (quite hilariously) through the drunk hoards of people and mingles with the locals.  After drinking out of a bucket of alcohol with his son, he then proceeds to read ‘Reporting on Hitler’ with noise-reducing headphones to escape from his surroundings.

Your reaction will probably be one or the other, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life is: Try to enjoy the time you have with the people around you.  This is especially important for solo travelers.  Even if the people in your vicinity may not be your best friends or the first people you’d choose, I’ve became friends with the most unlikely people and learned a lot from them just from simply being open-minded.

How to get to Koh Phangan

The best way to get to Koh Phangan is to fly to Koh Samui (or other surrounding islands) and take a ferry.  The ferry ride takes less than 2 hours and start at only $10.

The first time I came here, I made the mistake of taking a 10 hour bus and ferry ride from Bangkok.  The ride was accommodating, but I realized I wasted a lot of time that I could have spent on the beach.

You can book buses and ferries from most destinations in Thailand from 12go.  They will also give you the total amount of time it takes so you can decide the best way to get here.

Koh Phangan has parties almost every weekend, so you can come any time of the month and have a good time!  The Halfmoon Festivals and Blackmoon Culture parties also occur during the month, along with more lowkey parties spread across the island.  I have heard from my friends that the Waterfall Party is one of the best, but I have yet to experience it for myself.  The best way to find the right one for you is to ask the locals!

Where to Stay and Pregame

Once getting off at one of the piers (I recommend Thong Sala), take a taxi or motorbike directly to Haad Rin because that is where most of the bars and people are, and you can walk to the beach party by foot.  The farther away you walk away from the pier, the cheaper the taxi will be (the first people that approach you will try to overcharge you).

Due to the popularity of these parties, a lot of guest houses and hostels require you to stay for 5 days minimum which can be expensive, so what I did was just stay for the night and took the first ferry back at 6am.

Once reaching the beach town of Haad Rin, I decided to wander around.  I found a hostel appropriately named Wild and Wandering where I met some of my best friends in Thailand.  This hostel has a nice stereo, a bar that serves buckets of alcohol, and tons of people to hang around.  I was fortunate enough to meet one of the owners at the bar while I ordered a pink bucket, and I bribed him a few hundred baht so I could store my stuff there for the night (which was a significantly cheaper option).

Inside of the hostel, they had really amazing Princess Monoke murals as well.  I danced and talked to my new friends until around 10pm, then we decided to go to the beach!  The fee to enter is only 100 baht, so it’s not really expensive.

Full Moon Party: New Year’s Edition

The first thing I realized is that most of the people that attend these parties are travelers looking to make friends.  Despite its crazy reputation, the beach is extremely safe.  I have read articles that claim you can buy joints and ecstasy pills on the beach, but that was not the case here.  I did not witness anyone selling or using illegal drugs–everyone was happily drinking out of buckets and no one acted too out of line so it was relaxing.  If you want to get things besides alcohol, you are best off not looking on the beach.

I spent the majority of my time wandering around the beach and doing a lot of people watching.  I enjoyed seeing people jump over the fire rope, dance the night away in their crazy outfits, and a few guys bought me drinks too which was really nice.  There were multiple music stages setup so you could find a genre that you liked and enjoy it with the calm sea breeze.  My favorite was the techno stage which was set up next to this bar called the Swing Bar.  It’s very easy to find–just look for the neon lasers and people sitting on swings!  They have a great menu of buckets and cocktails, as well as swings.

When midnight drew near, everyone gathered on the shore and watched a giant flaming countdown light up the sky as the year became 2019!  I felt extremely accomplished that I made it all the way here, and even though I originally came here alone I was surrounded by people that all shared the same passion for travel as me.

After the countdown, I went back to Wild and Wandering to wish all my friends happy new year!  The rest of the night was kind of a blur; I remember barhopping around the island with some people I had met and then going to a treehouse bar where I fell asleep with one of my friends.  Fortunately I had set multiple alarms so I was able to take a taxi back to the pier in time to make the first ferry.  I was a bit sad to leave, but also I felt like I wanted some time alone to reflect on things so I headed back to my neon pink hut in Koh Samui.  A New Year well spent!

Blackmoon Culture Party

Wanting to experience a party in the jungle, I came back to Koh Phangan in May during Japan’s Golden Week holiday.  The Blackmoon Culture parties take place on the night of the new moon in Ban Tai, away from the beach and surrounded by trees and foliage.  For that reason, they are popular for psytrance music.  Though usually that genre is not my cup of tea, I decided to try it because why not!

IMG_1635

I repeated the same steps as I did before; taking the ferry out for one night only, revisiting Wild and Wandering to store my luggage and see my friends; but this time I noticed the island was much more quiet.  My friend who lives on Koh Phangan informed me that the island is liveliest during the monthly Full Moon parties, but during the low season there’s not as many people attending the parties even though the island has that reputation.  However, this turned out to be awesome because we had the beach all to ourselves for a while.  It was great to catch up with my friends after not seeing them for 5 months.

After drinking a bucket and some mojitos, I took a taxi to Ban Tai around 1am and went to the Blackmoon Culture party.  The entrance fee is 600 baht which is 6x the price of the Full Moon Party, but it’s still affordable.  I immediately met some new friends from CA and we all shared a bucket while dancing to trance in the neon jungle.

At Blackmoon Culture, the sky is dark so you can focus more on the music and your [neon-hued] surroundings.  The music was good, but unfortunately there was only one stage.  The Full Moon Party had multiple stages so this was a bit disappointing, but I still had fun.  Though I prefer beach parties more now, I am grateful I had a psytrance experience in the jungle.  Going during off season let me see Koh Phangan how it normally is and become better friends with the locals, so it was overall worth it!

Those who are looking for a psychedelic night in Thailand: Please see my post on Koh Lanta for more information!

If you have any questions/additional details to add, please let me know in the comments.  I wrote this as a handy guide for those backpacking to Koh Phangan and wish to know more, so I hope you find it helpful.

 

Visiting Baan Teelanka – The Upside Down House & Phuket Fantasea

It was a stormy day in January when all boats were forbidden from leaving the harbor in Phuket that I decided to venture to the Upside Down House.  Having all my previously booked island tours cancelled was a real bummer, but I decided to make the most of it by exploring the the current island I was stranded on and heading to a spa.

I took a motorbike from Patong because the storm hadn’t hit Phuket yet, and made my way to this crazy wayward house in the middle of the island.  A sign greeted me with “Sorry, we’re open” and a bright pink house that looked like it tipped over was sure enough there.  I would definitely do a home stay in this house if I had the chance.

They also have a garden maze and an escape maze here adding to the weirdness of this location.  I paid 350 Baht to get in, and was immediately impressed with the artistic displays that Baan Teelanka had to offer on its three floors.  This place is ideal for silly family photos, but is also fun to just look at the amount of detail that was put into each room:

My favorite rooms were probably the kitchen and the bathroom.  It’s absolutely hilarious to take pictures of the open fridge and upside down toilet.  If you’re a good photographer, you can really get creative with angles and make it look like your model is balancing off the surfaces of some of these rooms.  This was actually the perfect way to spend a rainy day and I was happy that I came here!

Right down the road is a Thai IKEA that is worth checking out.  I decided to go in and try their pineapple smoothie, and they also had pastries available.  It was incredibly delicious!  Phuket really does have a lot of nice gems.

Another great thing to do on a rainy day is to go to Phuket Fantasea!  This theme park is essentially Thailand’s version of Disney Sea but instead of rides, they have an expansive arcade targeted at children, a famous buffet, and a Broadway-esque performance with acrobatics, dancers, and a dazzling display of lights.  Though it might not be as big as other themeparks, it’s still fun to check out.  It has both indoor and outdoors areas with live performances and a lot of fun areas to explore.  Tickets for the show start at 1,800 baht which I recommend seeing because it definitely brightened my stormy day!

The storm fortunately cleared up within 3 days and I was finally able to fly to Chiang Mai to see the most aesthetic temple in the world without having to change my flight.  Listening to the thunder at night alone in my business hotel on the beach, but I still felt safe.

Regardless of weather, Phuket is a great place to explore and the people are very accommodating!  Though parts of it like Patong have an excess of expats and tourists, you can find private beaches away from them to the south, and also catch a ferry from one of the piers to go to other tropical islands.

Bathing in the Mud with Elephants at the Sanctuary (Phuket, Thailand)

49261860_10216071598374153_7310570126372241408_n
Volunteers jump in the mud to wash rescued elephants in Thailand.

I never dreamed I would be swimming through the mud in a giant elephant bath during my first day in Phuket, but as soon as I heard that the elephants were in need of protection, I signed up to be a volunteer at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.  There are a total of 4 parks in Thailand you can visit to help save the elephants (Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Samui, and Phuket) that all offer an educational hands-on experience with them.

The day starts with a free pickup from your hotel (from most locations) to the sanctuary.  After listening to a presentation on why it is important to protect the elephants, you are handed a knitted shirt and are given directions on how to feed them with corn stalks, bananas, and sugar cane.  The elephants are extremely friendly and approachable, and the English-speaking guides will tell you each of their stories.  You can tell that each one has been through a lot by the marks on their bodies.  They seem much happier in their natural habitat than anywhere else!

Most of the elephants I met were rescued from a harsh lifestyle of show business.  Due to being forced to lift heavy equipment and be trained to do tricks, some of their ears were worn from leather harnesses and and straps.  Additionally, their skin was discolored from being away from the mud for so long.  It is evident that elephants used for riding and for circuses are lacking in hygiene and not taken care of properly.  This is why we must do what we can to collectively help them and spread awareness.

A very important lesson to learn is: elephants should never be ridden.  The elephant’s spine will degrade overtime from the weight on their backs and it can cause permanent damage to their bodies.  One thing that upsets me with tour companies in Thailand is that they often feature both an elephant sanctuary and and elephant riding course.  Elephant riding should be discouraged as much as possible to tourists and permanently removed from the tour companies because it is extremely harmful to them.  Even though elephants look strong, they are fragile creatures that should be treated with respect.

After our feeding session, we headed to the mud bath where we happily washed and played with them!  The mud is extremely important in nourishing elephants’ skin and you can tell that they really enjoy it.  I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous to get in, but the group of friends that I met here encouraged me to so I took the plunge!  I am so happy that I decided to do this because I feel like I understand the elephants a lot more now.

You can choose from a half day and full day course with them, and an overnight course is available as well.  I decided to try the half day course just to see what it was like for 2,500 baht.  All of the money is used for medicine and maintaining the elephants in the sanctuaries, so I felt like this experience was well worth it.

After you bathe with the elephants, you will be able to take a shower and feast on a delicious Thai buffet meal,  I enjoyed my experience here very much because I feel like I learned a lot about them, and I even got to hug one at the end of the tour!

For those looking to volunteer, please look at the volunteer page, and cherish the moments you are able to spend with these precious animals.

Exploring Koh Samui Island on New Year’s Day

On the first morning of 2019, I took the very first ferry that departed from from the Full Moon Party Island (Koh Phangan), and traveled to my neon pink hut on Koh Samui.  Koh Samui is my favorite island in Thailand because not only is it conveniently located, but it also has a myriad of activities and places to explore.  What better way to kick off the new year than on a beach!

49585664_10216062834475061_4381647071837421568_n
Sunset on Lamai Beach in Koh Samui, Thailand.

After doing some swimming and photography, I took a taxi to see the Hin Ta and Hin Yai, also known as the Grandmother and Granfather rocks.  They are extremely famous due to their uncanny resemblance to human genitalia, and are definitely worth checking out for the view of the beach as well.

Next I had my taxi driver take me to the Secret Buddha Garden on top of  Pom Mountain.  This is a relaxing outdoor sculpture park surrounded by lush jungle and waterfalls.  There are also some nearby temples and buildings you can walk to on foot.  It is one of the most relaxing places in Koh Samui due to it being away from the beaches and center of the city.

I had originally planned to see the pink dolphins on this trip, but due to a severe storm that hit Thailand, I had to come back and do this on my 2nd trip.  Instead, Koh Samui Tours rescheduled me to a Samui Aquarium & Tiger Zoo where I got to meet tigers, see birds race on bicycles, and get kissed on the cheek by an otter! 

Though I’ve been to more zoos than I can count in Asia, I had fun seeing the wildlife here that is unique to this island.  The double-beaked bird and the long-necked turtles were animals that I had never seen before.  The otters were some of the friendliest I had ever met and could do a lot of neat tricks!

You could easily spend a week on Koh Samui Island relaxing and enjoying the scenery, but I recommend staying for at least 3 days.  You can book ferries to other surrounding areas through 12go like Krabi, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao.  Each hotel usually has their own restaurant, and the island food is always fresh and delicious!  Be sure to try the mangos and any fruit that you can find.  My favorite dish was the glass noodles with shrimp.

49436035_10216062835555088_5205459560562688000_n
Delicious seafood glass noodles made at New Hut Bungalows.

Be sure to be outside during the sunset you so can look at the beautiful magenta sky!

I loved swimming under it every day!  Though the weather during this trip was a bit stormy, I fortunately was able to a lot of fun things.  Please come here if you get the chance.

Meeting Totoro at May’s Garden House Restaurant (Bangkok)

49203723_10216040890846484_2468685203887882240_n
A creamy Totoro cake takes cover from the rainfall!

Escaping to a secret garden and meeting Totoro was not something I had in my original trip itinerary, but when traveling abroad many unexpected things can happen! As someone who is both a avid anime fan and loves themed restaurants, I was thrilled to discover a Totoro restaurant in central Bangkok.  I decided to go there my 2nd day in Thailand as soon as it opened!

May’s Garden Cafe is a lovely dining experience with its artistically crafted stained glass windows, portraits of Miyazaki characters hanging on the wall, and also its outdoor garden where you are free to leisurely roam.  With an expansive menu featuring mostly Thai food and Asian cuisine, there are a large variety of dishes to choose from.  I decided to order the Pad Thai Omelette and the Totoro cake pictured above, and was amazed at how delicious the cooking was!  Unlike other themed restaurants, this food is extremely authentic and uses a lot of fresh ingredients, vegetables, and spices to create culinary delights.

This restaurant was officially opened by Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki after he visited Thailand and met a vendor named May selling the best chicken wings he had ever tasted on the street (according to Coconuts Bangkok).  Inspired by how hard she worked to feed her family, he hired her as a chef and her wings are on the menu!

I’ve been to the Hayao Miyazaki Museum and Cafe in Tokyo, but this restaurant in Thailand has a bigger menu and much more of an atmosphere to it.  I did not make a reservation here because I walked in as soon as it opened, but it is recommended to do so in advance because it is quite popular.

If you get the chance, please visit this cafe to meet a life-sized Totoro and dine on some authentic Thai cuisine!  The garden awaits you~

49264325_10216040893366547_8477023346351931392_n.jpg
A life-sized Totoro is here to be your neighbor!

A Somewhat Magical Time at the Unicorn Cafe in Bangkok

48983839_10216035653395551_3991907527351599104_n
A magical land where all dreams come true, serving up rainbow food and more!

Bangkok is a bustling city riddled with markets, temples, food stalls, clubs, red light districts, and many more curious things, so picking exactly where to start your trip here can be challenging.  After doing some thorough research, I finally decided on the perfect place–one that stood out like a gem from the other places in the city.  A magical land in a not-so-faraway place with rainbow food and dangling stuffed unicorns overhead in the pastel sky.  Yes, you guessed it, the very first restaurant I went to in Thailand was the Unicorn Cafe!

Though some of my friends may shun me for not trying something more authentic as my first meal here, my idea was to try the themed cafes first and then go for the authentic food for the best tasting experience.  Additionally, this cafe has mixed reviews that appear with a quick Google search; some stating it’s the most magical place on earth and others refuting it’s most certainly not.  The controversy surrounding this cafe made me even more curious about it, so I decided to come here and witness firsthand exactly how magical it was for myself.

lol
The great debate on the Unicorn Cafe: Is it the most magical place on earth or not?                        My answer: It’s somewhat magical.

Coming here directly from the Bangkok airport with my luggage in tow, I took a short taxi ride and reached the so-called magical unicorn haven an hour before they closed.  This was actually a really good time, because it wasn’t as crowded as during the rush hour and I could admire all of the unicorns overhead in peace.  It nostalgically reminded me of the old room I had in America growing up in the 90s, except with 10x the unicorns!

Featuring rainbow spaghetti, waffle cones, cupcakes, burgers, and more, the menu is quite dazzling with a lot of different options!  The downside is the price is a bit expensive–you could get a larger quantity of food at the markets just a few streets down from here and at most restaurants in Bangkok.  However, I came here for the novelty of eating rainbow food, and I wasn’t about to back down after coming this far.  After some more debate, I decided on the rainbow unicorn cupcake:

48914085_10216035649835462_1033726236473425920_n
A unicorn in cupcake form.

My stance on this magical debate is that if you are looking for something different, you will definitely find it here.  This place has a bright and welcoming interior with an English-friendly menu, extremely unique desserts, and unicorns as far as the eye can see.  However, some may be disappointed by the price and lack of healthier options here, not to mention the cafe is normally overly touristy.  Some reviews have questioned the quality of food here, but it’s pretty much the same for all themed restaurants I’ve been to.  I enjoyed my time here, but I agree there are even more magical places to be discovered despite my love for unicorns!

I will be detailing a lot of unique destinations in Bangkok and Phuket in my next series of blogs, so please stay tuned for more.

 

Climbing the 1,237 steps of the Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi (Thailand)

IMG_1789
An unforgettable journey in Thailand with my old best friend from college.

On my last full day in Thailand during Golden Week, I made plans to meet my best friend from college in Krabi and take on the Tiger Cave Temple challenge.  This involves climbing 1,237 steps up a mountain to a somewhat remote Buddhist temple with arguably one of the best views in Thailand.  It was quite a steep hike, not to mention we encountered some very hungry monkeys on the way up (one even stole my ice cream cone), but going on this journey together after being away from one another so long definitely proved our friendship to be worthy!

To reach this temple, it is recommended to fly to Krabi airport (which is relatively inexpensive and reachable from most airports because this is a popular beach destination), or take a ferry from surrounding islands.  We stayed in the Ao Nang area because it is extremely affordable and Ao Nang beach is within walking distance from most hotels.  Additionally, this area has a relaxed beach town vibe with tropical weather, a downtown market, and bars and restaurants galore!  There are also palm trees decorated with neon lights which give it somewhat of a retro/vaporwave aesthetic.

I stayed at Ao Nang Garden Home Resort which consisted of huts placed in a forested area but were still very close to the beach.  Starting at prices less than $20 per night, they were ideal for solo backpackers and those traveling in a small group.  I enjoyed looking outside my window and feeling like I was in a jungle when I woke up, plus civilization was just around the corner from here!

One of our favorite bars here was called Dr. Cat Cafe, which had a large menu of everything from pina coladas to happy shakes, and surrounding bars each had their own happy hour during different times of the week.  Essentially every hour is happy hour–you just need to find the right bar!  I also ate some delicious pineapple fried rice at a restaurant called “Cheap Cheap” near my hotel.  Not only was it cheap, but the flavor was also phenomenal!

To reach the Tiger Cave Temple (or Wat Tham Suea), we took a Grab taxi from central Ao Nang and split it, but you can also go by bus or choose this destination from tour packages.  The temple was rumored to have had a large tiger living inside one of its caves that was discovered by the meditating monk who founded it.  Evidence of tiger paw prints is said to have been discovered as well.  Now no tigers live here anymore and the place is overrun by rabid monkeys.  However, it still is a beautiful and sacred place you should check out if you have interest in Thai culture!  Please see the official website (Thai) for more information.

The hike was a bit challenging due to the heat, but fortunately it went by pretty fast and you can always take a break when you feel like it.  Bringing water is recommended, and there is a faucet where you can refill your bottle at the top.  The view is extremely rewarding and you’ll likely never forget your journey out here if you make it up all the way!  Though I was sad to be leaving Thailand the next day, I felt like I had spent my time extremely well by doing these exhilarating things that made me feel alive!