After three weeks traveling around the north of Thailand on a scooter (read all about that HERE) we headed south overland:
– Overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok
– A few hours in Bangkok
– Overnight train from Bangkok to Surat Thani (a ‘transition’ town that, according to the internet, was full of thieves, scams and pirates. It was an ugly riverfront city, but was redeemed by lovely locals, an incredible night market, and fantastic food. The only way to get scammed would have been to go through an agency, but instead we chose the cheap, painless option of catching public buses and buying our ferry ticket from the ferry itself, cutting out the squawking middle men, who have only their own interests at heart.)
– Overnight ferry from Surat Thani to Ko Pha Ngan – home of Thailand’s biggest Full Moon Party.
But we did not spend three nights on public transport to find a party. Oh no, we went to Ko Pha Ngan to WWOOF for a couple (Guillaume and Freddy – French and German respectively), who were in the process of building a luxury eco hotel on the southern face of the island.
The ferry berthed at 6am. We had agreed to meet our hosts late in the afternoon, and before that we were told to ‘relax at our friend’s place.’ That place turned out to be the 5-star Angkana Resort, and so we obligingly luxuriated. “Please,” said the owner Mathias, “Make use of the facilities. If you require food or beverages, just let us know.”
The ocean lapping at the private, white sandy beach was a little shallow for a fully enveloping swim, but the pool allowed us to rejuvenate and revitalise (resort buzz-words). The beach was dotted with various items to assist in fully comforting us: hammocks, bean bags, deck chairs, and 2-person bamboo canopies. From our perches of inactivity we watched honeymooning couples who had probably spent a small fortune to be there, and a Thai man raking the sand to perfection. In the several hours that we idled he never once stopped raking the sand. Eventually it became a wavy sea of its own – one I felt mildly guilty about traipsing footprints through.
“We’ll be there soon,” promised Guillaume over the phone. “Tonight we are having a barbecue with friends, if you want to join?”
We did, and the barbecue happened to be at the very resort that we were already taking advantage of. Our hosts showed up, and we found them to be lovely people. They too, were relieved that we appeared ‘normal’, unlike some of their previous volunteers.
“We’ve had people who are escaping their lives. They’ve left their family and are searching for a new life, depressed and without direction. Lots of volunteers come here for the parties, and we lose track of them for days at a time. Some are just weird. Or crazy.”
“How many volunteers have you had?”
“You’re our 22nd group. That’s why we have slowly developed a lot of rules about who we’ll take on, because 80 percent of the people who come here don’t seem to be living on the same planet.”
And it was true – there were a few criteria that we had to adhere to before we were accepted: be over 25-years-old, not take drugs, not be crazy into parties, have full travel insurance, be fit enough to ascend the 300 steps that led from the road to the property, like dogs, be able to ride a scooter etc. Happily, we fit the bill.
Another French person arrived at our temporary resort for the barbecue. Then another French person. And then more French people. And all of them seemed to live on Ko Pha Ngan permanently.
“How many French people live here?” I asked.
“Hmmm…” pondered one, “There’s a community of about 800.”
On an island of 11,000 residents, that was just over 7 percent – a surprising number to find on a tropical paradise halfway across the world in a place where getting a permanent visa can be extremely difficult. The owner of the resort, by the way, was from France.
And so besides having barbecues at fancy resorts, what did the French like to do on Ko Pha Ngan? Drink lime Schweppes and play Pétanque, of course.
Finally, after dark, we drove to the place that we’d be staying in for the next three weeks. After parking the jeep, and clambering down wet rocks and dirt, we arrived at a little shack by the ocean. Through the darkness the sound of the waves lapping against the beach was clearly audible. A basic mattress on the wooden floor was laid out with fresh sheets, and we were shown the kitchen and bathroom.
Work would begin the following day.