Thailand – Full Moon Parties, Scuba Diving and More

IMG_20141008_173651 While traveling around the world is an absolute dream, one of the tougher things about the journey is that we are constantly on the move. Every 2-3 days having to unpack and repack our suitcases and getting on the road takes its toll. While we had originally planned to use the month of October for a more comprehensive tour of South-East Asia (e.g., Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos), we ended up deciding to stick to one place, Thailand, and take it more slowly. Christian had been to Thailand a couple of times before and described it as a laid back beach paradise. I was sold! But before paradise could begin, we had to take a long journey, flying from Bhutan to Bangkok, followed by the overnight train down South to Chumphon and then finally several hours on the ferry, before we arrived at our destination: Koh Tao.

Koh Tao is a small little island off the east coast of Thailand. The reason we chose Koh Tao is to get our PADI Scuba Diving certificate. Turns out the island graduates the greatest number of scuba divers in the world. I liked the place the minute we set foot on it. Barely more than a stretch of beach, the island is laid back enough to feel you’re in a remote place but with enough beach bars and restaurants to explore for a week. Our little hut right on the beach made us feel like in paradise. Amenities were limited (no AC, simple room with cold water shower) but the direct beach access and sunset views were worth the trade-off.

Before starting our scuba diving course, however, we set out for one more adventure. The legendary “Full Moon Party” was happening the next night on the neighboring island Koh Pha Ngan. It’s a gigantic, all-night beach party with several DJs. The event attracts several thousand people every month. We were curious to check it out even though somewhat skeptical based on what we had heard. Lots of young travelers that can go a bit overboard. But, we were already in Thailand. Plus, since our wedding was on the night of a full moon, it was technically our “3-month moon wedding anniversary”. So why not give it a try. The journey there was enjoyable in itself. A nice boat trip and long stroll along the beach in Koh Pha Ngan, followed by sunset beers at a cute beach bar.

We were ready for the party! First, we got ourselves a “bucket”. Literally, a flask of alcohol mixed with a soft drink in a bucket. Admittedly, not my favorite cocktail. Second, some hula hooping on the beach. Really fun with the music, especially in this unique setting. Christian and I got to know people from around the world and danced until the morning hours. Despite our original intentions to make it through the whole night without sleeping, we couldn’t resist to get a cheap room for a 4-hour nap before taking the morning ferry back to Koh Tao. I guess we are getting old 🙂 Overall it was beautiful to dance on the beach under the full moon, however, it’s more of a college-party scene and the music was a bit too mainstream for my taste. I had secretly hoped for a sliver of Tomorrowland DJ tunes. But, all in all, a worthwhile experience.

Back on Koh Tao, we were ready to go diving! The course took 4 days. Christian and I found ourselves “back in school”: a mix of (entertaining, 80s style) videos, some theory and then the actual dives. Anita, a teacher-turned-dive instructor from the UK, was our dive teacher. Very experienced, great instructor but also really fun to spend time with. Besides getting the actual certificate, I realized how special it felt to become more integrated into Koh Tao’s dive community. Our daily schedule gave us plenty of opportunity to socialize and hear people’s life stories: early morning 5:15am wake-up calls to hit the best dive sites before others, a Tuk Tuk to the pier, boat trip to the first dive site, back to town, out on the water again for more dives in the afternoon, back to the dive shop at around 5pm, followed by evening beers with the New Way Diving crew. The dive masters/instructors all had their own, interesting stories to tell. From different countries, ages, and backgrounds they came to Koh Tao for various reasons: to escape from the stressful corporate world in “the West” in search for a more balanced life, to finally pursue a long-had passion after retiring or to just have fun for a year or two before starting a career. I was contemplating if I could see myself as a dive teacher. Having a boat as an office, spending all day long in flip-flops in the sun and teaching people a fun sport does sound tempting. Yet, I don’t think it’s my life’s calling. Although I must say that both Christian and I got a true appreciation for the sport itself and the technical capabilities needed. On our last dive, having mastered the basics, we were able to immerse ourselves more into the actual experience. The weightless floating. The serenity of the underwater world. The incredibly diverse nature with all its unique shapes and creatures. Like a wonderland. I can see why people can’t stop exploring this magical place. Christian and I are hooked! A new sport we both enjoy.

After our lovely stay on Koh Tao, we opted for a change of scenery (mainly to evade the starting monsoon season on the east coast). Off we were, first to Khao Lak and then to Phuket on the west coast where the monsoon was just trailing off. We settled into a daily routine of meditation practice (more on that in a later post), lots of reading (also mainly on meditation), language learning (Christian is continuing his German practice; I started to learn Spanish), wedding blog writing and video editing, and some exercise. All of that with nice beach breaks, new activities (elephant riding & bathing!) and lots of tasty Thai food in between 🙂

It’s been really pleasant to “settle down” in Thailand for three weeks after having been on the move for three months. A great way to explore Thailand’s culture while carving out time for our personal projects. More details to come on the latter soon! Stay tuned, C&C

5 thoughts on “Thailand – Full Moon Parties, Scuba Diving and More

  1. Koh Tao was probably my favourite place in Thailand. The water is so peaceful, warm and clean, and the vibe so laid back, especially when compared to Samui and Pha Ngan. It’s been quite a while since I have been there but I remember the biggest form of nightlife being watching movies on the big screen at the bar…and that was enough.

  2. Hi!
    We are headed to Koh Tao next summer for our four year wedding anniversary. I cannot wait, it looks like the most gorgeous island!
    I have a few questions I’m hoping you will answer. 🙂
    1) The picture third picture above, is that on the overnight train from Bangkok to Chumphon? So you had an actual bed to sleep on for the journey? I can’t decide if we will do the overnight option or take the 6am bus… what do you think?
    2) The Full Moon party will be going on when we get to Koh Tao. Do you know if Koh Tao gets “busy” after the full moon party? I’ve read online that Koh Tao can get pretty busy as visitors to the Full Moon party make their way over to Koh Tao to “unwind’. What are you thoughts? We are looking at Koh Tao because it’s so laid back and has awesome diving. The last thing we really want is to have a giant party scene following up from the Full Moon party (not that I’m opposed to the party scene) we just want to be able to relax away from the crowds. 🙂
    Sorry for the book! Have a great day!

    • Hi Krystle!
      How lovely. I think you’ll really enjoy Koh Tao given what you are looking for. To your questions:

      1) I’d opt for the overnight train. It worked really well. Not all of them are sleepers however. We took train # 85 because it connects to the ferry from Chumphon to Koh Tao. We boarded they train in Bangkok around 7:30pm. First you sit in proper seats. They come through at around 10pm to make the beds (actually quite comfortable for being on a train). The train typically arrives at around 4am but runs late quite often. We arrived at around 6am, perfect timing to catch the ferry. Btw, you can buy the whole journey including train and ferry tickets at the station in Bangkok.

      A couple of additional tips: book the tickets in advance (can be sold out quickly), bring ear plugs and something warm to wear (the AC is freezing!). I slept surprisingly well. Also, we did second class which was around USD20 pp. You could also do first class for USD35 pp to get your own cabin (for 2 people). We wanted to do 1st class but it was sold out already when we purchased our tickets.

      2) we also heard that there are more people on koh tao after the party. But we were there I low season so didn’t really feel it. Also, I don’t think it will get crazy busy. Some people come to koh tao before the party and then stay on Koh Pha Ngan (where the party is) afterwards. So would say there is a good coming and going that balances each other.

      I’m sure you’ll have a great time! Enjoy 🙂

  3. Liebe Christine ,
    da seid ihr wirklich im Paradies gelandet. Ein Garten Eden! Großartig, was ihr dort erleben könnt. Speziell das Tauchen ist ein Highlight. Da werden Erinnerungen an meine Jugend
    wach, wo das Schnorcheln eine große Leidenschaft von mir war. Die Sehnsucht ist groß auch dort mit dabei zu sein 🙂
    Weiterhin viel Spass und alles Gute
    Papa und Mama

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