When Kirsten and I planned our trip in her parents’ kitchen just before Christmas, we each had one must-do item in Asia; hers was the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. Neither of us had been to the islands on the eastern side of Thailand, so when we left Bangkok, we headed south.
We were already exhausted when we left Bangkok, and It took us about eight hours by train to get from Bangkok to Chumphon Railway Station, an hour on a bus riding into the sunrise to the coast, and then a few hours on a ferry to get to Koh Nangyaun, Koh Tao and finally, Koh Phangan. We had showered the day this photo was taken, but it was a REALLY long day. We were at Hua Lamphong in Bangkok, and had already been yelled at for lying on the floor, which was surprisingly comfortable but full of stray cats.
While planning isn’t entirely necessary while backpacking in Southeast Asia, I will say that it was nice to have an idea of what to look for and what to expect to pay to get around. I wish I had the travel experience to make a site like this one! If you’re traveling in Southeast Asia, (or anywhere in the world) check out seat61.com.
I’m not sure how much sleep we actually got on the train since we had reclining seats, but not beds. By the time we got to the ferry, we threw our backpacks in the pile with everyone else’s, and went to the top deck for some sun. You could hardly tell how tired we were through our sunglasses!
By this point, we were covered in layers of Bangkok dirt, sunscreen, sweat, and whatever was on the floor at Hua Lamphong, and just generally really gross. We were so grateful to Kirsten’s mom for sending us tiny travel sized hand soap and camping towels!
I had already spent three days in Bangkok before leaving for Koh Phangan, but Kirsten had only had one busy day, carried her backpack all day, and hadn’t stopped traveling since she left Asheville! We were both ready to get there… and eat some fresh seafood from these adorably colorful fishing boats.
We made it to Koh Phangan late in the morning, found our backpacks on the pier, successfully ignored the taxi drivers pestering us to ride on the back of their motorbikes with two backpacks, and found the songthaews waiting for us just a few meters up the road. The only reservations we had made in advance were for this week, and only because it was busy around the Full Moon Party. We were booked at Shiralea Backpackers Resort, because pretty much every place that wasn’t on Haad Riin Beach was a backpackers resort. The songthaew driver took us to Shiralea, and we found ourselves at our home-for-the-week, complete with a full bar and a restaurant… after we climbed the hill. Finally, food that wasn’t from a 7-Eleven.
We started with piña coladas, had our first meal, met our doormmates, and said hello to Koh Phangan. I think we planned to take a nap, but the dorms had air conditioning and privacy curtains… we ended up just going to sleep around 4:00 in the afternoon… and waking up before anyone else the next morning. I guess jet lag, heavy backpacks and lots of traveling will do that.
The next morning, it was only us and the Thai people sweeping the streets and cleaning up before anything opened. We went for a long walk along Haad Yao beach just as the sun came over the horizon from the other side of the island.
Unfortunately, we figured out later that Haad Yao beach was no more than knee deep as far as we could go, which was limited due to the sea urchins, coral and sea cucumbers that completely covered the sand more than four meters out.
We gave ourselves a much better introduction to Shiralea once the sun rose. The pool was open 24/7, but the bar/restaurant didn’t open until 8:00.
So, while we waited to order breakfast, we relaxed some more… I love this candid shot of Kirsten.
I couldn’t tell you what we had for breakfast that morning but I do know that it was delicious. If you are looking for a place to stay on Koh Phangan away from Haad Rin (to get some distance from the Full Moon Party), Shiralea is great – but ask the employees where to rent a motorbike, (the guys by the beach suck) and explore other beaches if you plan to swim.
While I can’t remember what we ate, I do know that we started drinking Tequila Sunrises with breakfast, and then made our way to the pool. The bartender was hilariously entertained that we started so early… the photo below was taken mid-laugh at 8:53 in the morning (and may have been number two).
This was the first day we were both fully rested, relaxing, and had nothing to worry about. Before this trip, I had seen Kirsten for one night – when we planned our trip – just before Christmas in Michigan, and before that it had been since we’d visited her sister in Portland in September. We finally got to sit and chat about traveling, about what our parents had been like at our age, about growing up, about friends and siblings and boys and dreams and jobs… and about how lucky we were to have been friends for so long.
We took turns buying drinks all morning until the rest of the people in our dorm woke up and came to say hello. 🙂 The eight bed dorm had six in it, so our four new friends were all single travelers: Francisco from Chile, Lisa from Germany, Ben from the UK, and Jeremy from Texas. It’s always the people I meet and the ones I travel with that make a trip – no matter what I do, where I go, or what sites I get to see. 🙂
Check back in a few days for a continuation of our adventure in Southeast Asia…
Miss you Kirsten!