Punches and Parties

Friday night was another night dedicated to punching. It was my second Kobra Fight night and the day before the team has spent time getting flyers distributed, posters printed, sound systems blaring and trophies out on show. The Kobra truck and PA system was also driven around  the neighbouring Thong Sala, enticing listeners with the ‘’best in violent family entertainment’’.

Jesse was the first student to step into the ring. Having been oiled up, rubbed down, bandaged and swathed in silk, he was ready to go.And go he did. Before round 1 was over he had another knock out under his relatively green belt.

Jesse and Samea

Jesse's as pleased as punch with his third win

For the rest of the evening there was a variety of fights. Ki Wi from Austria easily took out her Thai opponent but they finished with a warm embrace.

Sadly though, Tomasz didn’t fare so well, ending up with a broken nose, a limp and a bruised ego. ” I feel pain all over” he said, “that’s good. I must be alive.”

Tomasz squares up to his opponent

Tomasz squares up to his opponent

But the one to really watch was 22 year-old Sat. He’ young, but has already had a good few wins at Bangkok’s famous Lumpini stadium. Unusually for a Thai fighter he’s got fast hands. Muay Thai isn’t normally much about boxing so  knees and elbows often are the weapon of choice and most fights are held up close to your opponent. This is something I just cannot get used to. In my book, I want to keep as far away as possible from anyone who’s trying to hit me, with ducks, moves and wide kicks.  So a farang will often be able to out-box a Thai guy, particularly when combined with extra size, weight and power.

But despite his slight physique, Sat, who has only just started working at Kobra (I was his first ever pupil) is an exception to this rule and everyone is in awe. I blinked and I missed his KO, but a cheer went up from the crowd.

And I finally took in my first proper Koh Phangan party.

I’d actually come to Koh Pangan by mistake… I’d been researching training camps for some time; trying to find one that was right on the beach (hey, it’s been a long winter of discontent), good value and where the accommodation had wifi. This combination was proving surprisingly hard to find and I’d been on the verge of booking a camp in the more touristy and seedy Phuket to ensure I had connectivity, when somewhere from deep within some search results, Kobra surfaced. And I ‘m afraid to say, I was sold by the prospect of a bungalow on the beach. Having called the gym and a few others I was impressed with the swiftness of Kobra’s response and even more so when Kob the owner/manager and trainer, roped in a fellow student to answer all my demanding questions in English.

It wasn’t actually until the day before I flew that I realised I was going to Koh Pangan and it was only as I read about it it my guidebook that I realised it was the ONE place in Thailand I had wanted to avoid.

The Lonely Planet paints Koh Pangan, the island that sits between tiny Koh Tao and domineering Koh Samui, as the left out middle child who’s still trying to find themselves, just like the dreadlocked hippies who flock here each month for the full moon trance parties that began in the 80s and now form the biggest beach party on earth. Not having done trance in the 80’s, 90’s or naughties, I didn’t really feel it was my time to start now. Too much dayglow. Too many drugs, too many people. As Jarvis Cocker so eloquently put it;

“Is this the way the future’s meant to feel?

Or just 20 000 people standing in a field …”

I spent most of my flight to Bangkok trying to work out how quickly I could leave Koh Pangan for the more isolated Koh Tao or the more upmarket Koh Samui if needs be. It’s always good to have an escape plan.

However as soon as I got here, I didn’t want to move. I guess the laid back beach bum attitude can be catching… Raffa, the stoner dreadlocked barman who was supposed to be finishing his clinical psychology degree at Kings, had come for one month and was still at the same beach 9 months later.

What I also discovered is that whilst, yes, the drop-out island is best known for its hedonism, the drugs and alcoholic indulgences are as easy to avoid as those who partake in them. I’ve always found it pretty easy to put distance between myself and those I don’t like with a well-timed scowl, so I was able to pretty much do my own thing. I was happy in my little bungalow, happy with my two minute walk to the gym twice a day and the welcoming family at Kobra, happy with the one on one training, happy with my beach (and swimming pool) and happy with the mix of people at the gym from hard-core Fins to laid back Turks. My resort did seem to have a few more younger partygoer types around but if it ever got too much I’d quietly make my way to the hammock next door where there was a slightly more restrained crowd and sit with some good-old-fashioned rock and roll. And the advantage, I discovered, of staying where the party people were, was that I could inevitably guarantee the beach and pool to myself every morning. Except of course the morning I woke up to go for my run and found they were all still there from the night before….

Once a month on Koh Pangan it’s almost impossible to book accommodation and that’s due to the Full Moon parties. These take place on the Southern most peninsula that is ‘sunrise beach’, where hundreds of thousands party goers, cover themselves with fluorescent paint each month and dance to trance and techno until the sun replaces the moon…Staying there though I got the feeling that not going would be like going to Rio during carnival and staying in. So, I finally bit the bullet and headed to one of these parties.

To give you an idea, the Lonely Planet has dedicated a section to the full moon parties. Here’s what it says;

The Ten Commandments of Full Moon Fun

No one knows exactly when or how these crazy parties got started – many believe it began in 1987 or 1988 as someone’s ‘going away party’, but none of that is relevant now. Today, thousands of bodies converge monthly on the kerosene-soaked sands of Sunrise Beach for an epic trance-a-thon fuelled by adrenaline and a couple of other substances.

Some critics claim that the party is starting to lose its carefree flavour, especially since the islands’ government is trying [now charging a 500B (ten pound) entrance fee to the partygoers. [However the night of the Full Moon] is still the ultimate partying experience, so long as one follows the unofficial Ten Commandments of Full Moon fun;

  1. Thou shalt arrive in Hat Rin at least three days early to nail down accommodation during the pre-Full Moon rush of backpackers.
  2. Thou shalt double-check the party dates as sometimes they coincide with Bhuddisht holidays and are rescheduled.
  3. Thou shalt secure all valuables.
  4. Thou shalt savour some delicious fried fare in chicken Corner before the revelry begins.
  5. Thou shalt wear protectives shoes during the sandy celebration, unless ye want a tetanus shot.
  6. Thou shalt cover thyself with swirling patterns of neon body paint.
  7. Thou shalt visit Magic Mountain for killer views of the heathens below.
  8. Thou shalt not sample the drug buffet, nor shalt thou swim in the ocean under the influence of alcohol.
  9. Though shalt stay in a group of two or more people.
  10. Thou shalt party until the sun comes up and have a great time.

And so, bolstered by Carina and Dian, a lovely Swedish couple also staying at Holiday beach , I headed off the Half Moon party on Saturday night assuming it would be half as awful as the Full Moon party. I was wrong.

 

partygoers

Dian, Carina and I

Well, I may have been right but it wasn’t at all awful (though I did have to move out of the way of a girl being sick at one point). Whilst Full Moon is held at the infamous Had Rin– known for it’s motorbike accidents as drunken tourists try to tackle the steep hill in the dark – Half Moon is held at the quieter Ban Tai, where I was staying and unlike Full Moon (or ‘Black Moon’ or Shiva moon,  or any other moon-time when someone decides to set up a sound system and charge exorbitant amounts for watered down alcohol), it is in the jungle rather than on the beach.

decoration

Canopy lights in the jungle

The approach to the party area is lit with strobe and twinkling lights. It reminded me of the pathway to the Wayne Hemmingway-curated ‘Vintage’ I went to last year, as the lighting leads you into a welcoming secretive enclave. Neon artworks line the pathway and the canopy of the jungle contrasting with the dark lushness around. You’ll hear the beat of the sound system and smell the food on sale.

Bucket

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

It was welcoming and fun and with people being painted and decorated all sorts of fluorescent colours under trees along the way. It’s pretty exciting..

And so, much to my surprise, bowled over by the giant altar of a sound system, and the godlike DJ, I danced the night away, chatting with my new friends, gawping at the amazing fire shows where performers’s acrobatic skills work in time to the music to give a dazzling display of light and fearlessness. I even went as far as to share an ‘bucket’ of gin and tonic. My initial horror at this was swiftly dismissed as I realised that drinking out of a small bucket  meant that you could keep adding ice thus keeping it cool whilst sharing it with your friends. After all; If you can’t beat em…

I didn’t quite take the first taxi home, but nor did I take the last. If…  no… when I come back to Koh Pangan, I’m not sure I’ll make it to the full moon party but I’ll definitely do it by halves again.

What I’ve learned today;

  1. I do enjoy a good party.
  2. My elbows are useless. Which makes more of a ‘6 limbed’ practitioner of the Art of Eight Limbs.
  3. Make sure you go to the loo before you get on the bus.
  4. Always write down the full address in Thai to give to the taxi driver.
  5. I think I’ve found the best hotel in Bangkok, but I’m not going to tell you where it is.. Mind you, if you get my taxi driver you wouldn’t find it anyway…
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