Our Thai New Year’s Eve itself is typically anti-climatic. Fortified on ephedrine we down enough Chang to make an elephant tipsy, and lurch around on the sand with the rest of the singleted, shifting to the pulsing music. It is hectic, and we are soon divided.
Brother Fox and I dig a hole just back off the beach and bury our jandels with a small bottle of rum before heading into the mêlée in search of our brethren. We tell some Australian girls that the fireworks above are just a warm-up, and that the countdown will be soon. Obviously we are wrong.
We continue on, the sharp smell of gunpowder signalling the arbitrary switchover that we have gathered to celebrate. Finally, we find Brother Tijo. He is unapologetically hammered, caught up on a nihilistic bender. His stamina betters that of Fox, and we return to our sand cairn to reclaim our treasure.
Towards the end of Haadrin a number of bars straddle the rock face that rises out of the sea. The psychedelic art that covers the rock is bleached of much of its colour by the sun and sea, but hints at the magic of this modern temple. We begin our climb up Mushroom Mountain, and stop at the first bar. A gloriously fat Thai lady sits behind a basic wooden bar with a blender. She smiles toothlessly and for 500 baht doles out plastic cups of mushroom shake, strangely blatant in a country known for its intolerance towards the illicit.
We sit on the low cushions with the other backpackers, and look down the beach at the drunken crowds. The shake is a strange mix of sweet and sour, the psilocybin laced mushrooms producing a tart earthy flavour that washes your tastebuds from front to back. Naturally, Redbeard has two.
The New Year’s holiday is usually a fairly loose time, and the days we spent on Koh Pha-ngan were no exception.
The island itself fulfils any expectation you might have had of the verdant beauty said to reside on the outcrops scattered amongst the gulf of Thailand, but sustained tourist trade has stripped it of much of its charm. The winding roads that hug the coast are lined with resort after resort, and the main beaches are crowded with a miscellany of revellers and ravers. You’re more likely to find Singapore slings and g-strings than you are a quiet place from which to appreciate the beauty; but therein lies the attraction. For the backpackers that come to experience the hedonism of the legendary full moon parties the island is paradise, and they are not often disappointed.