The paradise island of Boracay. What more else can I really say?
I spent some days on this extremely beautiful island and hardly took a single picture (the ones below make up of about half the total), a photographer needs his vacation too damnit!
Once, I will have to write a nice in-depth essay delving into all the characteristics between all the famous paradise islands in south east Asia, having been to several over the past few years (Bali, Samui, etc) it certainly would be an interesting conversation to have.
But yeah, our flight out of Shanghai left just after midnight, putting us down in Manila in the wee hours of the morning, only to board a small prop-plane an hour later to Kalibo. A small “ferry” (seen in the photos) then took us to the island and by 9am I was on the beach with a Red Horse in my hand. One could say I was indeed quite sufficiently ready for the end of the world (the Mayan prophecy of December 21, 2012). Had the skies come tumbling down, I really could not think of a better place to be.
I don’t have much more to say about Boracay, friendly people, cheap prices, live music in every direction, and the fresh seafood market with restaurants located all around it that instantly cook your purchases any way you desire was a tremendous delight. Certainly my kilo of king tiger prawns BBQ’d with garlic and butter was only just short of utterly mesmerizing. Just go to your favorite travel site and buy a ticket, simple as that. Boracay. Do it. Do it now. You won’t be sorry.
Yes, monkeys are awesome.
I had a real connection to the baby seen in the last several photos, what a buddy.
We arrived very late at night in Pagudpud… it was pitch black and the sky was utterly breathtaking. Seriously beyond words (see pics!). The stars… I could not quite believe it (living in cities like New York and Shanghai you can sometimes forget how magnificent the night sky can be).
Waking up the next morning I was once again a little surprised… as I again stood standing and looking at something beyond words… a pristine white sandy beach, all to ourselves.
I could not think of a better place to drink $1 beers.
I experimented a little with super long exposures (up to an hour!), some were hit, some were miss.
I am going to keep the description short, because I think the photos speak for themselves, what a stunning place. Write it down, Pagudpud. Not the easiest spot to get to (but that is part of the reason it is so striking), as we had to fly a tiny propeller place to Laoag City, then take a local bus a couple hours to the very most northern tip of the Philippines (map). The bus dropped us off on the side of the “highway” (1 lane in each direction), pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It was COMPLETELY DARK. Pitch black. Luckily a friendly (and slightly drunk) man and his friend stopped their jeep (to our anxious waving) and then offered to drive us to our “hotel”, it was the only car we had seen since a good half hour down the highway. As I mentioned before, when we arrived I couldn’t quite take my eyes of the sky. Breathtaking.
Another hectic day… taxi to ferry to bus to another bus to plane to bus to taxi…
(Ko Samui -> Surat Thani -> Bangkok -> Pattaya!)
Pattaya, oh holy hell, what a crazy place!
Luckily the trip from KP to KS was pretty easy… we took the fast ferry too, because someone got a little sick on the 3hour slow ferry from the mainland to Koh Phangan some days before.
Koh Samui… I didn’t really know what to expect. I know that, second to Phuket, it is the tourist hot spot Thailand. That being said, we were staying in Mae Nam, slightly away from the mayhem of Chaweng (which in my opinion should be avoided). Once again, right away rented a motorbike and hit the road… which was a nice paved one, with a fair amount of traffic (although, not at all that bad), very much unlike the past couple days on Koh Phangan. KS has one major “highway” that circles in the island, doable full-circle in a couple hours, to give you a rough size of the island. But yeah, I had expected way too many tourists and that I’d be apalled by the ran-sacking thereof… but I actually fell in love with the place. As great as a Koh Phangan was (it really was), for a city-boy like me, I can’t be too remote, Samui offered a nice mixture… easily a place I could live for years. Although I wouldn’t get much done.
This first night we tried to go inland up into the mountains to take some night photos, but the roads got really bad… pretty much impossible for 2 people on a small motorbike (piles of bright red mud… and it had recently rained, a lot), so that idea was scraped. Instead, we went to the area between Mae Nam and Bo Phut, where to our great surprise there was a lively street market going on. I bought some t-shirts, stuffed myself with mystery street food and 50baht Long Island Ice Teas, after some evening photography of course… easily one of the most pleasant nights I’ve ever had.
This day was spent cruising around the northern bits of the island… checking out a couple waterfalls and heading down a treacherous little path to Bottle Beach. It was however meant to be a day spent chillin’ on the beach, but as you can see in the photos, the weather wasn’t very much in our favor. Added to this treachery were of the storms that had passed the days before we arrived, the currents were treacherous and it was strongly advised not to head into the water (and when the nearest hospital is several hours away on another island, you tend to listen).
I had read about Bottle Beach prior coming to the island, and that it was only reachable via a 3hr hike… but I saw a sign pointing in its direction and went for it. Of course the ”road” was rather unpaved and filled with mean gullies up and down the steep slopes and even had to traverse some streams (hey, the motorbike was a rental after all!) into the tiny cove that protected the small and serene beach.
“Bottle Beach” got its name as prior to the path we took, the only way to find it was a rocky hike with bottles on sticks as markers that pointed the way down to its shore. On the last stretch coming near the beach I even had to blaze my own trail, as the road had been swept out by flooding… 2 other tourists left their bikes there, waddled across and walked the last stretch… not me! Where there is a will, there is a way… so I blazed my own path through the swampy land and luckily made it to the beach (the 2 others asked how the hell we had managed, haha!).
What an amazing little beach. I could easily spend 2 weeks here with a couple good books, a couple cases of beer and a tub of sun screen.
The first couple waterfalls weren’t all too spectacular, but the last one I thought was out of this world. Not the falls themselves (“Phu Dang”), but the vegetation and remoteness of it was amazing. I found that the tree in that last image was something straight out of a Hobbit novel.
Chaos. Mayhem. Craziness.
I’m slightly at a loss of words to describe the scenes of the full moon party on Haad Rin beach on the island of Koh Phangan. I will attempt to tell me story as short as possible, because I could easily write volumes.
First of all, we were staying on the north-east side of the island (“A” on the map below), and we, rather adventurously, decided to drive the +60min trip with a 125cc motorbike (!) to the south-west beach where the full moon party was being held (“B” on the map). I consider myself a pretty decent driver, even on 2 wheels… and this proved to be quite the test. There is only one “road” from the village we were spending our nights, to the southern, more inhabited area of the island. 25% of the road is not paved… mix that with up to 15% slopes, some rain earlier in the day and the fact that you are in the middle of the jungle… so it’s kinda dark. Then add in the fact that these motorbikes aren’t quite in the best shape (the headlight decided for itself when it wanted to work, while the back one didn’t work at all), also rather obviously is that because this island is so remote, there are no gas stations, so you have to fill up with fuel that is sold via plastic soda bottles and glass liquor bottles, which is surely watered down (so you’re not getting full power).
Did I also mention that in Thailand they drive on the left?
What actually proved more difficult were the roads that led up and down (up and down, up and down!) into Haad Rin, although all paved, these carried slopes of over 30%!!! The 125cc motorbike coudln’t even handle some of them full-throttle, just to give you an idea of how steep they were. Even going down, the brakes fully pressed-in, could not bring the bike to a halt… so yeah, it was a little scary. As we got closer the jeep taxis filled with party-goers also proved interesting, especially those driven by the goers themselves.
On the way back I dodged 3 bottles that were thrown out the sides and back of these jeeps (not aimed at us, but just discarded), and those were the only 3 I noticed because they landed right on the street. Well done, bastards.
Fun fact: the island of Koh Phangan has a population of around 14,000, and the average full-moon crowd is between 10,000-30,000!
The party itself was situated around several clubs spinning all kinds of music right on the beach…while behind the clubs countless back streets with more noise, liquor, and paraphernalia in every direction.
Applying body paint and wearing fluorescent colors were a must, which made for quite the [more] surreal experience. Also, drinks didn’t come in cups or bottles, but rather you bought a bucket that consisted of a half bottle of liquor accompanied with some mixers, ice and a garnish, and severed in a…… well, in that very bucket of course.
I opted for the vodka + sprite + red bull + lime.
So there ya go… what an experience! I’m not aware of any list of the top party places in the world, but I’ve definitely marked another one off the list. I’m also happy to report that we arrived back safely without any injuries or damages… well, besides my feet, which took a mean battering due to sandals + dancing + fine sand.
More information (schedules, tips, etc) about the full moon parties can be found here: http://fullmoonparty-thailand.com/, also keep in mind that in between these monthly parties the island hosts an array of other supposedly crazy party experiences… black moon parties, half moon, blue moon…. the list is endless, but the full moon party is the place to be.
I will most certainly be back… and this time I won’t be driving, or wearing sandals.