Koh Phangan, Thailand Full Moon Party (Alex Wilks' Photo)

Koh Phangan, Thailand, Full Moon Party (Alex Wilks’ Photo)

Not all who wander are lost. These six words have rung in my head, like the sound of a gong reverberating across the monastery, since the moment I saw them painted vividly across my hostel walls. Travelling has always been something much more for me, something much deeper in my soul.

Maybe it’s because traveling allows me to become so many versions of myself. I would often find myself in strange, unfamiliar situations, meeting amazing new people, of various cultural and religious backgrounds. There was always a story to be shared or a life lesson to pass on. Travelling allowed me to venture far and wide and be around others who possessed the same positive energy and good vibes. It really came down to the fact that travelling gave me this extreme thrill that nothing else really could. It was the thrill of the unknown and an addiction to change. What is going to happen tomorrow? No one really knows. That’s the exciting part.

I am a backpacker, not a vacationer. A backpacker will shove their entire life into a single backpack. I not only physically but also metaphorically carry my life on my shoulders. I would roll all my clothing tightly together like z Mexican burrito and place it systematically into my backpack. Whatever I packed, I had to be committed to carry long distances.

My wrists are weighed down by colourfully, hand-made bracelet, about 15 on each hand, at least one from every city, town or mountain village. As for my feet, my anklets would jingle like sleigh bells on Christmas.

Carrying my life on my shoulders became exhausting and my legs, covered with swollen mosquito bites and bruises black as ravens, were symbols of how long I had been on the road. I enjoyed telling the stories of my battle scars.

There was this one wicked scar: It extended all across my kneecap, reminding me of my motorcycle accident back in Vietnam every time I caught a glance. As for my backpack, it had battle scars of its own: Threaded patches of countries I had traveled to were scattered all across the pockets and along every seam. I too wanted to display my achievements, like a mom putting her child’s artwork on the fridge. I wanted everyone to see where life had taken me.

Backpacker life was always a constant struggle between wanting to buy new things and not wanting to carry them. I know this sounds like “a first world problem”, but the struggle is real. That flashy, bronze Buddha statue would look so cute on my desk at home is what I thought to myself. It’s so small and I could tuck it gently under my sweater at the bottom of my bag. (I don’t know why I brought a sweater to Southeast Asia. It’s extremely hot every day, but I just can’t bring myself to throw it out.) I would find myself rationalizing how much heavier my backpack would become if kept all of my impulse souvenirs that at the time I just had to have.

When I say travelling, I don’t mean lazily drinking on a beach in Cuba or being cooped up inside resort walls in Mexico. I mean venturing off the beaten path and taking the road less travelled. This is why vacationers are so easy to pick out of a crowd: They refuse to trade in their rolling, Prada suitcases for rugged, heavy backpacks, their five-star hotels for sandy, beach huts and their vanilla-scented bubble baths for Mother Nature’s monsoon.

It is these experiences that have left me dreaming of nothing more travelling the world, as far and as wide as possible. Every green, rolling hill, every bluish-teal-hued water mass and all ancient dilapidated temples. I hope to one day see them all.

Vacationers have never really seen the beauty of Koh Phangan. Most travellers bypassed the white sandy beaches located on the west side of the island. Bottle Beach is a deserted tourist attraction. The sandy shores have been forgotten since waterfront resorts sprang up like groundhogs on Haad Rin beach. The stretch of shoreline bares little evidence of human existence and footprints have long since been washed away.

A whole afternoon can be wasted away basking in the sun, whiskey bucket in hand, watching the waves collide against the shore banks. Off in the distance, I would often see other beaches, located on other islands and think to myself, “Are the beaches whiter in the next bay?”

The most amazing part about this island has got to be the sudden change in weather. One minute it is 37 degrees, sun beating down, hot and humid, and the next it is pissing down rain and flooding the streets. I am no stranger to precipitation, but Thailand has truly given me a new appreciation for rain. Even when the storm has passed, I would see lightning flickering in the distance, streaks of bolts that light up the night sky, like some supernatural being has drawn them with some sort of lightning pen. And the moon, that’s the most breathtaking part. It is always big and full with an orange hue. The night of full moon party is an exception to this rule: that night the moon is as white as the snow on a mountain peak. The night sky in Thailand leaves me in awe.

Over the years, Koh Phangan has gotten the reputation as the island that never sleeps. It is the monthly site of the Full Moon Party, a rave so popular that it draws in backpackers and vacationers from across the globe. It is a night of psychedelic neon colour, trance music reverberating inside my chest and fire dancing that was so mesmerizing that all travellers fall under this pyromaniac spell, all while being hypnotized by the vibrant glow of an amazingly large, white full moon.

At night, the beach is crowded with intoxicated 20-somethings stumbling back and forth to the sound of thumping bass music. All who walk the beach this evening have some sort of tribal neon paint across their bodies, streaks of blue, green, red and yellow. This neon paint ritual usually starts back at the hostel during the pre-drinking phase of the night. Roommates and friends paint one another like artistic canvasses. Most do not look at their technicolour masterpieces until arriving at Haad Rin beach later that evening. People scatter along the sandy shores, dancing like vivid, neon-coloured fairies under the vibrant moon light.

Large, thickly woven ropes are doused in gasoline and struck with a match to create a fire jump rope; some refer to it as the ring of fire. The survivors who do not severely burn themselves, or by now who are not too intoxicated to walk, move onto the next challenge, the fire limbo. Watching the fire games is almost as intoxicating as the people who competed in them. Fire is a symbolic element of the full moon party. Once the fire is out, the party is over.

The Full Moon party is an all-night commitment. The locals insist “thou shall party until the sun comes up.” And when that sun does come up and sits high in the sky, around noon the next day, the beach is a barren wasteland of deserted whiskey buckets and broken flip-flops.

I would gladly live out of a backpack if it meant that I could see more of the world, because I am in love with these places and the places I’ve never been too and the people I’ve never met.

Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan, Thailand (Alex Wilks' Photo)

Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan, Thailand (Alex Wilks’ Photo)


Alex Wilks is a fourth year journalism student attending Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She is an avid traveler and world explorer and focuses her writing on human interest pieces. She is currently working as a contributor to Peace Arch News, a community paper residing in South-Surrey, White Rock.

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