There was no time for recovery between Songkran and Scuba diving. The next day, I would embark upon my open water diving qualification. The first day was mainly spent in the classroom with an instructor and some cheesy 10-year old training videos (even with some homework to take back to the hostel!) Once all the technical learning was completed, it was straight into the water to learn the fundamentals of diving alongside relevant safety procedures. The following few days were spent in the water at some of the most famous Thai dive sites. The sea was warm enough to not wear a wetsuit, even at our maximum diving depth 18m. Wrapped in turquoise water, we learnt to rise and fall into the depths beneath us. Multicoloured fish floated carefree between the jagged reef, punctuated only by the dynamic mix of coral.
Although I had spent plenty of time snorkelling, the sensation of diving isn’t like anything I’ve experienced before. Once you can control your buoyancy, you can drift effortlessly through the water in a weightless environment. A single breath to inflate your lungs can carry you over obstacle, and inversely exhaling will drop you to a greater depth.
It’s an addictive place beneath the surface and around the reef. With only the sound of bubbles passing by and your own breath being filled from your oxygen tank, it’s an extremely tranquil environment; inducing you into an almost meditative state.
Sometimes you would be completely absorbed in the smallest detail, only to then look up to see hundreds of fish circling above you. The Sun stops being a poignant spot in the sky, and instead becomes a soft blanket of light spread across the whole reef. There were more species that I can name, and I doubt that I saw more than a minority of what was on to offer. It was an unforgettable few days, and a sport I was determined to continue on my travels around the continent.
Once the course was completed, a few days relaxing on the shores of Koh Tao was due. I had met a group of backpackers on my first night in Koh Tao, all of whom were travelling individually and looking to explore the islands. Together, we were 3 Brits, 2 Canadians, an American and a Swede. After 8 nights on Koh Tao we moved onto Koh Phangan, ready for the infamous Full Moon party. The event used to be an old backpacker tradition where a few hippies would meet on the main beach of Ko Phangan and sit around campfires under the full moon. Now it has transformed into a fully blown rave on the beach, where thousands of backpackers descend for a few nights of hedonistic excitement. I arrived at the ferry port to find hundreds of other travellers buzzing with excitement at the thought of the coming days.
I landed the night before full moon, which was the home to the Jungle party. Rather than at the beach, the Jungle party was located inland where they had built a mini village of stages and stalls within the forests. There was even a Thai boxing ring with fights staged throughout the night. Electro and trance filled the air, and painted ravers crowded around the main stage, where a DJ perched inside a giant tiger head overlooking the hoards. The night continued into a blurry morning, until we packed ourselves into taxis for the ride home.
Then, dawn emerged on the big day. Every month, the whole island prepares itself for one messy night before returning to it’s normal blissful state. Taxis shuttle back and forth along the coast to transport individuals to and from the party, and plenty of police patrol the roads searching taxis and bikes at random. You could be drunk as hell, riding your bike completely naked and they would wave you by. However, any sniff of drugs would get you in serious trouble (or in need of a good bribe).
Coated in glow-in-the-dark paint and fluorescent clothes, ravers flock to the beach and surrounding streets to start the party. Booze is sold in buckets on every corner, mixing up deadly concoctions to fuel the madness. Normally I pride myself on my ability to put up with cheap alcohol, but even “Thai vodka” made me wince at every sip. There was even a local woman walking through the crowds holding up a game of Connect-4, stating 200 Baht would go to anyone who could beat her. Unfortunately, I had to pass on the offer; I don’t think I was in the best state of mind to put forward a good challenge.
Music pumped out onto the sandy beaches, and strobe lights illuminated the incoming waves. Flip flops, bottles and buckets were strewn across the beach, and at dawn the suns first rays were greeted by hundreds of party people still enjoying the festivities.
Unfortunately, Songkran, scuba diving and the Full Moon parties had taken their toll on my motorbike injury. Despite taking the necessary precautions, my foot had not healed and had recently become increasingly painful. It was a great night, but I had to return home early that night and I knew it was time to take a break. The next day I was put on a course of anti-biotics, and extended my stay in Koh Phagnan to recover. Fortunately, my hostel was next door to a local restaurant and shop, so I could keep my movement as limited as possible.
The next day, the group of friends I had met on the islands and spent much of my time with dispersed as many continued onward on their travels. Some went down South to the other side of Thailand, others further afield towards Vietnam. Out of the original squad, only Henry and I remained. Both of us nursing our motorbike injuries (achieved on separate occasions), we settled into our hostel for an extra 3 nights.