Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A 36 hour birthday

It's been a while since my last post; since, I spent a lazy two days in Bangkok, whiling away my time lazing about my hostel with friends, and shopping for pirated DVDs at MBK center, Bankok's budget mall of choice. From Bangkok, we made our way down to Ko Phan Ngan, the country's most famous backpacker island. A once quiet paradise, KPN has been transformed into a crazed party island, infamous for its monthly full moon parties, essentially beach front raves that draw anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 travelers and Thais to the island. With my 23rd year imminent, I felt the need to get stupid, and headed for the epicenter of the party Hat Rin beach. After an uncomfortable night on a train seat (virtually spooning an oversized 6'6 Canadian man who took up his entire seat and half of mine; needless to say, I was little spoon), and a day's passage through the faceless coastal town of Surat Thani, I joined my cousin Naj on Hat Rin beach (he'd chosen to take a flight). Hat Rin was reckoned to once be the most beautiful beach on the island, but it has been transformed into a theme parkey ghetto of burger joints and bars sprawling up and out from the water. It's still attractive by any measure, but is anything but tranquil.

I took a nap shortly after arriving, and woke up at 9 PM, a few hours before I turned 23. I had intended to take it easy, perhaps having a drink before turning in, but little did I know that it would be a good 12 hours before I got back to my beach hut. Naj and I headed to the beach where we met up with, Sebastian, a gregarious Swiss traveler he had met the day before. At night, the beach lights up with dozens of little drink stalls crammed between numerous waterfronts clubs and bars; local Thais peddlers with the crowds of tourists sipping from Sansom buckets (a bucket with a heady, cheap, and decidedly unhealthy mix of Red Bull, Sansom whisky and Coke). The evening was quiet, until a taxi pulled up, offering free rides to a pool party on another beach. Our trio hopped on, and minutes later, we were in the midst of a frattish orgy of drunk Canadians. 6 Sansom buckets, and 5 hours later, I was still there, chatting on the beach with an eccentric woman from Tennessee; it was strictly platonic, and I was mainly interested in her life story (grew up in a racist hick town, but had set out to see the world, saw India over 6 months, and now doing Thailand). It was a fun conversation, punctuated only by the moans of a stark naked couple making love a few feet over (no joke...after a while, such scenes are common place on Ko Phangan). It was now 4 AM, and Tennessee was ready to turn in, so we parted ways. No sooner did she walk off, I realized I had no idea where the hell I was. My thinking still hazy from the night's libations, I began to aimlessly wander dark streets littered with Thai prostitutes; I passed a man haggling with TWO prostitutes, an absurd scene that I could do little more than drunkenly knit my eyebrows at. 15 minutes later, only more lost, I found a prostitute of my own, but only to ask for directions (they were the only people still awake on that part of the island). Sheepishly I was led by the hand some ways before realizing she fully intended to do business, at which point I politely disentangled myself and walked the other way. It did little good. She started chasing me, with her pimp approaching from behind in a pickup truck heavy with his ward. Paranoid from the alcohol, I broke into a full run, and hid behind a resort bungalow, my labored breathing masked by the sounds of yet another couple fornicating in their hammock. Peaking out past the couple, I made sure my assailant had disappeared, and continued in the direction she had initially pointed to Hat Rin beach. I was shocked to find out she was right, and made my way their. I had assumed the night was over, but upon reaching the beach, I found the occupants of the hut next to mine, two friendly Germans and a New Zealander, amidst a haze of Thai prostitutes (I was to learn that the rejects of the night's trade make their way to Hat Rin beach to cruise the few remaining drunks). With my newfound friends I spent the final hours of nights trying to dance while harangued by the local sex workers. Eventually, we found ourselves sitting on the beach, watching the sun come up, having made two more friends, a pair of Brits who were sitting off the tail end of a mushroom trip. A swim, breakfast with the New Zealander, and a stumble back to the hut concluded the night at 9 AM.

But the first day of my 23rd year wasn't quite over. 3 hours later, I was awake again, swimming and playing soccer on the beach; as day turned to night, I found my hut neighbors, and from 7 PM onwards, the party was on again, this time beginning at our huts, with a small ensemble of guitarists, a maracca, and the New Zealander playing a didgeridoo. Later, we headed to the beach en masse, where we celebrated till I passed out from sheer exhaustion at one in the morning.

The next day, the hedonistic charm that had characterized my Hat Rin experience till then quickly dissolved. An uneventful gave way to another night, but this time, I chose to stay sober, and quickly discovered Hat Rin for what it is, a vapid orgy of self-indulgence. It wasn't simply being sober either; the full moon partyers had just begun to show up, and instead of a relatively sedate beach front crowd, there was a rowdy group of approximately one thousand people on the beach. I saw disgusting things that night; my German friends, who had been very charming till then, spent the night in a stupor induced by a mix of valium and alcohol. One was so wasted, he spent most of the night pursuing a lady-boy (I warned him repeatedly, but he was convinced she was a woman, and spent most of the night trying to sweet talk him). I found the other German the next morning, blindly being led by a sex worker, in spite of having a girlfriend of three years waiting for him at home. My English friends sat about the beach, flagging down drug peddlers, and snorting MDMA out of their cupped palms. Worst of all, as morning arrived to reveal drunken slobs passed out on the beach, I spotted a Thai prostitute with her eyes rolled back in her head, tottering about, head rolling lazily on her neck. She turned to me, and snarled, emitting a guttural, rabid gurgle, as blood from a undressed wound poured down her leg. Deflecting her hellish aspect, I returned to my hut and packed my things. It was a good birthday, but KPN, and Hat Rin beach in particular, turned out be a truly revolting destination. It was populated by the worst kind of travelers, those who care little about the customs, and culture of the country they are in.

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