Monday 29 November 2010

No bucket, no boom-boom!

It used to be that Samui was on the hippie trail and the backpacker circuit, but then the great unwashed gradually got more dissatisfied with the development, progress and cost of ‘their’ island paradise and moved on to Panghan.

Panghan was where the Full Moon Parties started, firstly with boats landing a few hundred people from Samui on a remote beach called Haad Rin. Magic mushrooms were consumed in quantities that would leave Cordon Bleu chefs scratching their heads (and perhaps other body parts) in wonder.

They danced and writhed and raved all night. I mean all night, man. And it was good.

A new paradise was declared. A nascent nirvana.

Word got around. Numbers increased. More shacks sprung up to accommodate the curious and the curfew-less. Hundreds grew into thousands. And numbers peaked at 40,000 with the Millenium party which reportedly raged on for endless nights and days.

Others tried to capitalize. Even Singapore tried to get Full Moon parties off the ground but failed (not enough mushrooms perhaps?). And even Samui offers Full Moon, Half Moon, Black Moon parties. And, not to be left out, the United Nations have a Ban Ki Moon ...

But there’s only one authentic Full Moon party. And even in the low season it draws around 6000 party-heads of, well, just about all ages. (At 48 I reckon I was the third oldest person there.)

The recipe is simple. Hop a song taew van from your resort or the jetty to Haad Rin. Hop off when you see the streets lined with stalls selling sand buckets. That’s right, that’ll be your fine crystal glassware for the night … a plastic bucket, sold along with your choice of spirits and mixers, ie, a small bottle of vodka with two cans of soda and a can of red bull for around 250 baht. Then get your wrist band to go in; that’s 100 baht.

Face and body painting. Tatoos. Day-glo fluorescent wear. Everything you need for a complete night out is there.

Then it’s down onto the magnificent beach – a sea of love and lights – where the music is pumping from any number of pubs, bars, restaurants. Just stroll along until you hear the flavour that’s right for you. Cactus and Drop In seemed about the most popular. Any vantage points, such as chairs and tables are taken early, and party-goers will be standing atop these, shirtless (only the guys, sadly, from what I saw), hip-shaking and fist-pumping all night.

Generous gulps from the sand bucket becomes too much for some. As the night draws on, it’s like a scene from the Somme. Comrades are fallen everywhere, and lie where they fell. An official ‘sleep area’ with plastic sheeting and cordoned off is available for those who need a little power nap. But, hell, I’ll sleep when I’m dead and live while I’m alive, as Bon Jovi used to sing …

If an economist or marketing guru wanted to study the free market system and competition they could do no better than watch the bucket stalls along the beach. Handpainted signs appeal to national patriotism (especially signs for Brits, Scandinavians, etc), popular names, the downright cheeky (‘Love you long time’) and the out-and-out sex appeal of ‘No Bucket No Boom-Boom’, jing jing.

 Fire-dancers and fire-swallowers wow the crowd with throat-burning antics. Burnt-out try-hards litter the beach, having peaked too early.

But the hard-core are now fired up and can be seen sliding down a makeshift slide, three stories high onto (but sometimes over or beside!) a rubber dinghy. A chiropractors’ delight! It’s like a bad  car crash – you have to stop and watch it.

Around 3am, the party was in full swing. But we’ve had enough fun and call it quits. I am pleased (and somewhat amazed) to have witnessed nothing untoward all evening -- just a crowd of fun-loving people partying with much bon-homie.

‘You mean you didn’t see people making out on the beach?’ asks my friend Shana. ‘Oh …’ she seems disappointed. ‘You didn’t see people making out in the water?’ Negative again. ‘Oh …’ she seems more disappointed. ‘You mean you didn’t see people throwing up everywhere?’ No, sorry. Her brow furrows like the absence of any of this is a cause for concern.

But clearly all was not well. Her husband Pong, who runs the Blue Lotus Resort where we stayed, tells me of an Irish girl who had hurriedly checked out at 4:30am without the girlfriend whom she’d checked in with. ‘Oh, getting the first boat out,’ nods Shana knowingly, as though she’s heard it all and seen it all before. In a way she has – after all the American has lived on Panghan for 20 years.

That’s clearly the Dark Side of the Moon. But I prefer to look on the bright side. As a party venue, Panghan is hard to eclipse.

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