Saturday, July 17, 2010

Koh Phangan, Random Moment #1 (and #2!), and Nine Stitches!

I finally left Bangkok after numerous late nights with Jeroen on Khao Sarn Road in order to start my trip to the islands in southern Thailand. Since Jeroen had already left and our nights (and days) on Khao San Road had done numbers on our sleep, diets, and livers, I was in desperate need for some relaxing time on the beach to swim in the ocean, sunbathe, and sleeeeeep. Despite my plans to recoup from Bangkok on the beaches and islands in southern Thailand, I had every intention to attend one of the world's biggest parties: The Full Moon Party at Haad Rin Beach on the island of Koh Phangan.

As I packed up my stuff yet again and walked to the bus stop, I immediately felt a sense of rejuvenation because I knew that I would soon be experiencing a drastic change in scenery and atmosphere. I also looked forward to the opportunity to be completely on my own, in a foreign place I had not yet experienced, and to be moving through Thailand--making new friends at every step of the way.

I left Bangkok late that night and boarded another sleeper bus for the incredibly long ride south to the coastal town of Surat Thani (primarily a place of transit for those looking to travel to the eastern islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, and Koh Tao--"Koh" being the Thai word for "island").

On the bus ride south, I made a new friend with a girl named Augustina who was shy but very pleasant--and from Argentina! I told her of my friends I had made in Vietnam from Argentina and how I expected to see one of them (Andres) again soon. Honestly, I am not sure what it is about meeting/making friends with so many travelers from Argentina, but it has provided numerous advantages when trying to brush up on my Spanish, talk about potential places to visit when I go to South America, and to make more friends since two friendly people can make more friends than just one friendly guy like me--although it hasn't been hard on my own thus far!

After arriving in Surat Thani, we only had to wait a few hours for a ferry to pick up the hundreds of tourists looking to make their way to either Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, or Koh Tao. While waiting under some much needed shade on a very hot day in Thailand, I looked around among the numerous groups of backpackers and tourists to see if I might recognize anyone from my time in Vietnam or in Bangkok, but I really had my eyes focused and ears perked up to find Andres after his time in Cambodia. Andres and I had made tentative plans to meet on Koh Phangan before the Full Moon Party, but the last I had heard from him was that his time with his friends from England in Cambodia was going better than expected, so I might see him soon. The communication with him after leaving him in Vietnam had been quite sporadic, so I didn't know when or where I might see him again--just that I would . . .

As I scanned the groups, I did recognize someone--Amanda, from England, who I met during my last night in Bangkok. She had recently made friends with three others from England, so Augustina and I joined their group, got the introductions out of the way, and started talking about what we could expect at Koh Phangan and at the Full Moon Party since one of the girls (Alice) had attended the party four times in the past. What was even more comforting was that she and her friend had attended May 2010's Full Moon Party, and they were well-versed on the island, where to stay, and where to spend your time. It ended up working out really well for Augustina, Amber, and myself to have such friends.

Moments later, we started to see the other groups stand up to strap on their backpacks, so we figured it was finally time to make our way to the ferry bound for Koh Phangan! It was a rather biblical experience (read: Noah's Ark) boarding the ferry since everyone had huge backpacks and were walking very slowly in a single file line across a very narrow plank onto the boat. Once aboard, we dumped our bags on an ENORMOUS pile and immediately made our way to the front of the boat to lay on the open deck in order to get an early start on our tans under the sun for the three hour ride through the calm waters in the Gulf of Thailand.

Once we arrived to Koh Phangan after spending every moment of that boat ride under the sun--some of us getting wicked tans and very peculiar tan lines--we patiently waited for our backpacks to make their way onto the heaping pile of bags that was being formed by the staff who were throwing bags from the boat to make way for the passengers awaiting their depature ferry from Koh Phangan. In the days leading up to the Full Moon Party, ferries are filled with tourists and backpackers who are eager to attend the party. Honestly, the days leading up to the party were supposedly the most enjoyable because it was a bit more relaxed on the beaches and in the clubs, but I don't have much to say about them because of a little accident (a story soon to follow . . . ).

Random Moment #1:

As we waited for our bags in the swarm of people and disarray of unloading the boat, I stood waiting and picked up on another backpacker with an American accent. He first commented on the ridiculousness of trying to find your backpack--let alone having enough room to grab it once you see it unloaded from the boat--and so I couldn't help but ask him where he was from since an American accent has been a rarity during my travels. Below is literally how our conversation unfolded . . .

Me: Hey man, I overheard you talking and recognized your accent. Where are you from?
Him: From the States.
Me: Oh really? Me too. Which state?
Him: Indiana. What about you?
Me: I also grew up in Indiana! I lived in the Indianapolis area, but I also lived close to South Bend during high school.
Him: Really? I grew up in Elkhart (a smaller city just east of South Bend)!
Me: Crazy! I went to Northridge High School in Middlebury (an even SMALLER city east of Elkhart).
Him: Wait, what's your last name?
Me: Sparks . . .
Him: Trevor??? I'm Sam Bullard--Morgan's younger brother (I knew his sister when I first started high school there in Middlebury). I graduated from Northridge a year behind you!
Me: Holy sh*t! SAM! Ha ha!! Now I recognize you! What a small world, etc, etc, etc . . .

Needless to say, we talked for a bit about our travels, what we had been up to in the past eight years since high school, and what our plans were for Koh Phangan and Southeast Asia. Sam was traveling alone on a long break from his job teaching English in South Korea, so he was going to various places in Southeast Asia for a month--visiting Thailand, Vietnam, and others. It was absolutely needle-in-the-haystack-random to run into him--especially since it was one of three ferries that leave from Surat Thani, and with it being that day, on that ferry, and on that chance occasion that I would overhear his accent a few feet away! It still blows me away that I would meet someone from Northridge High School in Middlebury, Indiana--a school of just barely 900 students in a town of maybe 2,500 people. Whooooooa.

After I introduced Sam to the group I was traveling with to Koh Phangan (Augustina, Amber, Alice, and Laura), we all decided to find a hotel and split the costs of our rooms by dividing two to a room. Once we got settled in, we left our things behind to explore some of the island around where we were staying, check out the beach (Haad Rin) where the Full Moon Party was going to be held, and eat a hearty dinner. Although we were very excited for our first night on the island, we needed some time to rest after dinner in order to recoup from our time on the boat under the blazing sun (many of us resting with aloe vera spread all over our legs, shoulders, and/or faces!).

After a long nap late into the evening, we awoke in time to enjoy our first night there. It was almost overwhelming because hundreds--maybe thousands--of tourists had already flocked to the island for an early start on their tans, relaxation, and dancing. As well, the first round of FIFA World Cup games were still in full effect, and with nearly 95% of the tourists on that island coming from England, there was a LOT of anticipation for the following night's games (USA v. Algeria and England v. Slovenia). Koh Phangan turned out to be an excellent place to watch the World Cup matches every night we were there because they had set up HUGE screens at different places along the beach and projected the games with the English commentaries, and each night, hundreds of tourists would gather under the screens and sit on the beach to watch the entire match.

Unfortunately, the following night--after a long day on the beach, in the water, and sunbathing--Sam and I were hard pressed to find a place airing the USA v. Algeria game. After walking through every road in the little beach town of Haad Rin, we slowly started collecting others from USA who were also in search for a TV--any TV--that was broadcasting the USA game. We eventually found a small restaurant where a crowd of maybe 15 others (probably close to the entire population of Americans on the island) were gathered around a big screen LCD TV for the game. Sam and I found a table, introduced ourselves to the other Americans, and got situated for the match.

(Sam is far right in white long-sleeve shirt.)

It was a great game with numerous close calls for both teams, but in the final minutes of the game (during the extended time, actually), USA scored a single goal to capture a win and put themselves in first place for the group! It was a great game, and Sam and I were excited to celebrate the win, so we made our way back to the beach to find the others in our group who--quite understandably--stayed on the beach under one of big screens to watch England's match.

Sam and I brought a few of our new American friends with us to celebrate the recent win over a round of drinks at one of the numerous places for music and dancing. The night before, Sam and I had had too much fun--taking part in some of the fire games (jump rope, a fire circle to jump through, and limbo), so we decided to take it easy, dance a little bit, and spend our night chatting up our new friends from San Diego (Hannah and Jackie). Over a late dinner before going out to the beach, Sam shared with us an interesting fact about himself and his time in South Korea.

Random Moment #2:

During Sam's previous year teaching English in South Korea, he developed a blog that he later turned into a website about something quite peculiar in South Korea . . . At dinner, there was another American (Simonds) with us who was also an English teacher in South Korea but had just met Sam for the first time that night. Once Sam shared the news about his website, Simonds immediately knew about it and told Sam how big it is among his friends and where he lives/teaches. Sam then shared with us how, in a course of two months, his sight had 40,000-50,000 hits and was blowing up right under his fingertips! Sam also said how his idea, website, and its pictures come with much controversy but that it is--unfortunately--very common in South Korea. I guess you'll just have to check it out and decide for yourself . . .

Anyway, he was flattered our new friends were so excited to hear about his website and its notoriety from Simonds that they couldn't resist taking a chance to be part of it, so quite fittingly, there was an opportunity for them to get in a picture with a nearby patron. When/If you visit the site, you'll see Simonds in one by himself and our friends from San Diego in a picture a few down from there.

Once we finished our Thai food, we made our way to the beach for a bucket and dancing, and here's where my time on Koh Phangan took a turn for the worst . . . As we made our way to a small piece of open sand next to the dancing, we started busting the moves, laughing, and singing along to some of the over-played songs. As a rule of thumb (a rule commonly posted on signs, the Full Moon Party website [see tip #6], and in the travelers' books), party attendees should not go barefoot on the beach where the Full Moon Party is held--not the day of the party or in the days/nights leading up to the party.

Of course, I follow tips and rules, but I needed to get my feet wet that night for some reason, and upon returning from the water a few feet from where our group was dancing, I found everyone jumping and dancing to one of the great (yet wildly over-played) songs. As I danced with them, I jumped around, jumped around, and without really taking close notice to what was nearby, I accidentally jumped and then landed on a trash bag full of empty beer bottles. CRUNCH! Next thing I knew, pain was shooting from my left foot to my brain, and I immediately realized I had just cut the bottom of my foot and needed to sit down for a look at the damage from breaking an entire bottle of beer while dancing barefoot.

Once I was able to sit down and examine it, I realized it was pretty bad (and quite deep), so I alerted Sam and the others that I needed to go into the water to rinse it off and get some of the sand out of the cut for a better look. After getting ankle deep into the water, blood from my foot started pouring like a stream into the ocean with the under current.

I have to admit, I am not a wimp when it comes to pain or injuries, but with the amount of blood that was escaping my body that night, I started to get light-headed and decided it was an injury worthy of a visit to a nearby clinic on the beach.

As I wobbled on Sam's shoulder across the beach to the first clinic in sight, the nurses immediately guided us to an open bed and and started preparing my foot for the doctor. Sam was rather ecstatic to see it the cut up close and clean, and I told him to take a few good pictures, so when I was in a better mindset, I would also be able to see the severity of the cut.

Now, please brace yourselves because below is the picture he captured of my foot about 15 minutes after it happened. It was taken while it was getting rinsed and cleaned at the clinic:

A gruesome sight, huh? Well I have to say, there wasn't much pain, but the first shock came when the doctor inspected it and informed me that it required stitches but there wasn't a specialist able to stitch a cut that deep on the island and that I needed to go to Koh Samui (a different island about an hour away)!!! What had been an accident was turning into a completely crappy situation altogether. Here I was, in the first few nights on the island, and now I had a cut in my FOOT that was too deep to be stitched on the island where all of my things and friends were. As well, I now needed to figure out a form of payment for transportation to Koh Samui and make arrangements for a night at a hospital on a completely different island. Crappy is an understatement; I think sh*tty is more fitting!

I hate to say this, but I seriously contemplated not going to the hospital--leaving my friends and quite possibly missing out on the Full Moon Party--but after much discussion and some serious venting of my frustrations with the sh*tty circumstances, I took the doctors orders and kindly asked Sam to go back to our room, grab my messenger bag with my laptop, passport, travel documents, wallet, and bring them back to the clinic so I could pay for transportation to the hospital. Fifteen minutes and 10,000 Baht ($300 USD) later, I was in an ambulance by myself accompanied by a nurse to the pier, then on the speedboat (a REALLY fast boat I might add), and finally to the Koh Samui hospital for the night.

Once I arrived to the hospital, the nurses immediately re-cleaned and reinspected the cut. They also informed me that they had called the specialist and that he would be in within an hour. Only 35 minutes passed, and I was greeted by a very nice doctor who told me that he was ready to inject me with numbing shots and then stitch up my cut.

The most painful part of the night then commenced as he injected me six different times around and inside the cut, but as he did, he moved the needle all around while it was inside my foot. The pain from this made me cringe and contort my body in ways that exorcists would be amazed by. I wish I had a biting stick for that experience.

After the shots, my foot and ankle went completely numb, and the stitching commenced quite smoothly. As for the final shock, I was then informed that I needed to keep the stitches in for at least two weeks, that I could not get it wet or go into the ocean, and that I would be required to stay in the hospital for a "few" nights so they could monitor the cut and foot for possible infection. At this point in the whole ordeal, I was not in a place to complain or argue, so I obliged and was then taken to a very nice room with A/C, free Wi-Fi, a mini-fridge, great food from the hospital's restaurant for every meal, strong pain meds, and constant check-ups from nurses and doctors.

All in all, the THREE nights I stayed in that hospital ended up being the much needed break from the late nights, drinking, and malnutrition that my body desperately needed--something I doubt I would have gotten had I stayed on Koh Phangan. Also, I got incredible sleep each night, watched every World Cup match, and wrote a lot of emails to family and friends as well as frequented FB chat to send hellos and catch up with friends back home.

As Saturday soon approached, I was eager to leave the hospital, return to my friends (and clothes), but most importantly, I was eager to make it back in time for the Full Moon Party that began later that night. I was finally released from the Koh Samui hospital around 4pm on Saturday and had successfully arranged for my travel insurance ($60 insurance I had purchased with my round-trip ticket to Thailand) to pay for my entire hotel stay and expenses (160,000 Baht or roughly $5,000 USD!!!). Needless to say, I got a pair of crutches and some great antibiotics/pain meds out of the deal and was sent in good spirits to attend Full Moon Party--sans hospital gown . . . !

Next up on The Dandygram: The Full Moon Party (albeit on crutches), Body Painting, and Impromptu Limbo on Haad Rin Beach!


  1. Holy Guacamole, this was a LONNNNNNNGGGG post! Trevor, it made me laugh and cry. Laugh out loud at the references to Noah's Ark, the biting stick, and Sam's ecstacy at seeing and photographing your cut, tears at the pain of your cut and the disappointment in being at the hospital for 3 nights. Seriously, it was probably a good thing to force you to slow down for a bit!
    Continue to have fun, BE CAREFUL, and I can't wait to see you in August. I miss you!!
    xox Mom

  2. Hahaha, just saw this post. Awesome one! Had a great time, nice to meet you and we should defo meet up again! Hope your foot is doing Okay!