Ko Phan-gan: The “Dark Side”

This wonderful little island off the Eastern Coast of Thailand is famous for its Lunar Night Parties, and a general festive attitude, but we’re going to leave that all for the kiddies still wet behind their ears and look at the lesser known attractions on this isle of pleasure, hence the “Dark Side” in the title. See what I did there?

To get to the island, assuming you’re on a budget, like us, you fly into Bangkok, find your way to the right bus station–good luck!–ride a twelve-hour but very comfortable bus down South to Surat Thani, get on a smaller bus that takes you to the ferry, then hop on the ferry that takes you to the island in a mere two and a half hours. If you’ve got a lot of baggage, like us, this is all stressful and exhausting, so pack wisely!

Did I mention that you’re not, technically, “there” yet? You’re on the pier in Thong Sala, most likely nowhere near your accomadations. Which means, just bear with this here, these are professionals and they know what they’re doing, you’re going to be herded to the left where a parking lot where pickups with (cattle?) cages on the back and loading “space” on the roof await. You and the hundreds of others you came over with are about to be prodded, divided up, and allotted places in any of these rickety modes of transport, inside these cages, which will most definitely be overloaded and the luggage on the roof, not tied down in any way, might arrive at your resort with you but if not hey! they or it are or is still definitely on the island so hang loose!

Getting there is half the fun!

Let’s suppose you’ve got all of that behind you; you’re next step, if you’re not really interested in getting effed up, is to get to the ocean, drink a delicious fruit beverage or shake, catch your breath, make your plan. We’re up here on the Northern side of the island, which is a little quieter, and has two very special hiking trails out the front door just waiting to be navigated.

Let’s hit it!

Before you go on either one of these hikes make sure you’ve got plenty of water and a sturdy pair of shoes. Good sneakers will do, just remember the going can get a little rough on some of the trails. And don’t forget your mosquito spray, your umbrella, your face-net, a good pair of UV resistant sunglasses, compression socks, eye black, wrist bands, breathable outerwear, sexy underwear, a butterfly net, a flare gun, a harpoon, shark repellant, and a satellite dish. But half of that crap will do, too.

Bottle Beach

From us, which is like East of that town that starts with “C” –GOOGLE BREAK: Chaloklum–we head East and follow the lone road around the Northern side of the island until the road ends in a dirt parking lot with usually fifty-two motor bikes that tell you that you should have came earlier. There’s a handsomely carved stump there if you like that sort of thing–it really is impressively carved, and you want to follow the path behind it. The path bends immediately to the right, you’ll know it because you’ll ask yourself “How am I supposed to get up there?”

After that the path will head up over the mountain, down the other side and to a beautiful, remote beach that was well worth the trip. The way there will be lined by dense undergrowth, beautiful tropical trees, the wonderful songs of dozens of tropical songbirds performing at an ear-splitting level (11 on your dial), very motivated crickets who refuse to be drowned out, if you’re lucky a few monkeys who won’t be impressed by much, and hopefully no poisonous snakes.

See, technically I didn’t take the path I should have tooken, er, taked, and wound up clambering rocks seaside until I realized I was getting nowhere and decided to head back. But I did find the correct path, and I know this is so because it was lined with beautifully crafted, handsomely adorned, environmentally friendly plastic bottles every 8 – 21 feet, hence the name: Bottle Beach. The path is also crossed in several places by clear mountain streams, the sound of each being so relaxing you won’t want to leave.

It is a truly majestic coastline with the Gulf of Thailand on one side and the mountains on the other, with everything in between draped in luxurious jungle green. Gonna try and make this trip once more and finally make it to that hidden beach. Wish me luck..

Khao Ra

This hiking trip was special. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I found my way there and back. From Chaloklum you head back down South on the main road, first you’ll see a sign for the Paradise Waterfall, then, after an incline, you’ll see a map on the right of the entire island. The road heads downhill to the South for a kilometer or two, then arrives at an intersection, where you’ll head to the left.

Before this intersection you might have noticed two dogs resting at the entrance to a road on your left, these are important later. After taking your left follow the road for I don’t think too much longer, where you’ll promptly see a sign for the Khao Ra Bungalows, and you’re practically there. Follow this dirt road all the way to the bungalows, but if you’ve come across those two dogs again you’ve gone about two or three hundred meters too far, so if you do see the dogs go down that street cuz it’s shorter. But only before.

Once you reach the bungalows, you’re not really at the bungalows, because you’ve got to follow this other dirt road up to the finally correct bungalows, where you park your camel or motorbike or whatever and pay your twenty Baht entrance fee, if someone happens to be there; there was no one there for us six, so we missed out on our complimentary bottles of water.

Follow this “adventuresome” path up the hill to the water basin, where you’ll cross the bridge and head uphill on the main path. Shortly after you’ll see your first sign for “Khao Ra” that tells you you’re going the right way, and you can relax…

…your mind. Because around here that path gets challenging. The forest grows in on you and the roots and rocks provide for some uneven footing. After you get to the sign that says “1,5 Km”, things will get really interesting, the footing is treacherous and you’ll have to use the roots to help navigate your way up, and the trees to help pull you up, like some crazy Jedi Obstacle Course, so use the force. I find it helps if you keep your eyes closed. But only if you don’t move.

The joy you’ll feel at seeing the sign for one more Kilometer will only be topped by the joy you’ll feel when you get to the 500 meter sign. It is a true accomplishment to make it up to the top – it is a mountain after all. And once you’re there it will all be worth it, because the view is incredible, unless it’s cloudy, like when I was there. But I was there to train and run up and down the mountain, and not look at stuff, so…

Khao Ra is the largest mountain on the island, over six hundred meters high, and it commands a beautiful view to the North and to the West. There are also apes in the trees but you’ll be too tuckered out to raise your head to look at them so just listen to them screech. There is also a path somewhere that leads South to the very famous Phaeng Waterfall, which is definitely worth a trip, but if I’d have gone looking for it I’d still be looking and I might not be on the right island.

The way down is best taken very carefully, but if you’re feeling courageous you can try to bounce down like a mountain goat. I must warn you, however, I’m very super-fit and I stumbled two or three times. Maybe you’ll have better luck with your normal human-sized feet, my size twelve and halfs got stuck on all kinds of roots.

Once down I recommend you find somewhere to get some coconut water–in a real coconut!–and maybe some mangoes to replenish those electrolytes. FAST! The climate tends to be really humid so you really need to think responsibly when it comes to exerting yourself, you just won’t be able to breathe as well as you’re used to, and it’s definitely advisable to always have enough to drink nearby. No, not that kind of drink, that comes later..

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