With the wonders of Khao Sok fresh in our mind we headed to an altogether different type of 'paradise', Ko Phangnan. This place is paradise for the party animals - absolutely crazy! We took a boat trip a few hours long from Surat Thani to Phangnan and it was absolutely rammed with backpackers from all over the globe, all with the same intention - to go to the Full Moon Party on 10th February. Given the sheer number of people who go to Phangnan for the party (around 20,000) we knew it would be busy, and finding accommodation was proving a frustrating time. Trawling the streets with our backpacks weighing us down we eventually found a place called Anan Bungalow, a couple of minutes from the party beach and next door to a 24 hour convenience shop - ideal. We dumped our stuff and headed to the beach for a drink and something to eat. It was a quiet night as we knew we would have to save our energy for the party a couple of days later or as it turned out, for a two day beach football tournament!
After some breakfast the next day we spotted a sign for a beach football tournament taking place that day, all we had to do was turn up and sign up. So we did. We were put into a team with 3 English guys (Nick & Guy, who were travelling together and Alex) and 2 Israeli guys (one of whom was an awesome footballer…the other one definitely wasn't). The set up for the tournament was quality - it was a world cup format; group stages and then knock out and the pitch had 7-a-side goals, complete with nets and was surrounded by advertising boards…our own little Wembley on the beach! After some introductions and tactics (just hoof it up to the strikers) we had our first game, against a one of the many Swedish teams entering the tournament. With Westall playing in goal and Dunham as an attacking midfielder we prepared to take everything we had learnt on the PKMG and Power League pitches with us onto the golden white sands. What a game to start with! - having been behind at 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 down we produced a truly English undeserved comeback. At 3-3 and with just a couple of minutes remaining, Dunham chipped the ball through the sand and onto the head of Nick who powered the header home. Pandemonium. 3 points in our first game looked unlikely for 13 of the 15 minute game but we loved it - "how the hell did we manage that" we said, practically in unison. In the next match we would not be so lucky, running at 2-1 losers - with Dunham giving away a dubious penalty for handball and moment madness between the LB teammates in the first half left the game beyond our reach. With fun forming the team ethos we headed into the final game knowing that only a win would see us through. By now team spirit was high and everyone was getting on - such a chilled out atmosphere to be playing football in! Our relaxed approached paid dividends and the second lot of Swedes didn't even see it coming. It was another cracking game and at 2-1 one up Dunham scored what proved to be the winner; with the ball bouncing around the edge of the right side of the area, Dunham lashed home the ball far into the left hand corner, a cracking strike. The Swedes hit back late on but it proved only to be a consolation. 3-2 winners and into the quarter finals…all in a days work on the beach. Brilliant stuff. We celebrated our achievements with a couple of beers with the rest of the team - listening to Nick and Guys travel stories (they have been going around for the last 6 months) as the sun set on the beach behind us. With a quarter final to be played and a full moon party only a day or so away we decided to watch the Spurs v Arsenal game with a few beers and head to bed in decent time…
The day of the final stages of the tournament turned out to be our best day in Ko Phangnan. After some hilariously bad service at breakfast (Dunham waited 45minutes for a bowl of cereal), we headed to the beach to meet up with our team mates once again. We really got on well with Nick and Guy who were both our age and we chilled out with them on the beach beforehand. But before long we heard the familiar voice of the German guy running the tournament (his commentary during games was priceless, when people scored he said "good termination", in a voice sounding exactly like A. Schwarzenegger) and we headed to the hallowed sandy pitches. It became clear that we weren't exactly heading into the game with the right fitness levels…Guy and Nick had been out until 4am that morning and Alex was nowhere to be seen. Only the Israeli guys seemed fit enough. Typical really, the English players' drinking culture being shown up by the foreign t-totallers. After Alex appeared, albeit with a groin strain, we were ready to take on yet another team of Swedes (with their Aussie playmaker). Our pre-match team talk was brief and given by Guy who simply said "let's just not get embarrassed out there". With his inspirational words ringing in our ears we took to the field and incredibly it was the super hungover Guy who gave us a surprise lead, popping up with a header midway through the first half. But the Swedes really wanted to win this and with their fitness levels seemingly considerably better than ours it was no surprise when they equalized soon after. The Swedes continued to batter the goal but found Westall in resolute form, with the on-tour Sporting stopper twice denying the Swedes' striker in one on one situations. Extra time was looming when Westall sent the ball deep into the Swedish half, the good Israeli player controlled it in the sand brilliantly before sending a ball into the box where the physical Alex leapt like a salmon and crashed the ball into the top right hand corner! The celebrations had barely finished when every began to just shout "DEFEND!, DEFEND!". We didn't deserve to win, we played scrappy long ball football and we defended for our lives but with the crowd on our side we held out in true English style, with Dunham still to this day nursing a grazed knee from one last ditch tackle. Semi finals here we come.
A place in the semi finals meant we were guaranteed at least a 3rd/4th place play off game if not the final, so the team were understandably both shocked and delighted. We walked a few meters into the sea to cool off and recuperate; we'd seen our next opposition already and knew that we had a near impossible task. Perhaps we should have recuperated for longer…we went on to lose the semi final 2-0 to the eventual runners up. The dream was over but spirits were high and we barely had time to contemplate what might've been as we were thrown straight into the 3rd/4th place play off against the Swedes we had defeated in the groups stages a day earlier. With 1000baht, a t-shirt and a trophy up for grabs we were determined to make to 3rd place ours. And we did - winning the game 3-1 with Dunham capping off a fine tournament with another goal following a one two exchange with his Israeli team mate. It was good finish to an absolutely brilliant couple of days. We collected our trophy and prizes on the podium and arranged to meet Nick and Guy for a celebratory 'big one' on the beach. Having a night out until 4am the day before the Full Moon wasn't a great idea on paper but it was a quality night - raving on the beach with buckets in hand we absolutely loved it, a perfect warm up for the Full Moon the next day…
We could tell almost instantly it was the day of the full moon party when we arrived on the beach; absurdly large speakers were being put up, scaffolding for the fireworks, numerous bucket selling stalls were getting customers as early as 5pm and there was just a great sense of anticipation. At around 6pm that day it was brilliant - the sun was beginning to set and we were playing Frisbee to the sound of Michael Jackson pumping across the whole beach, awesome times. We were still absolutely knackered from the 4 hours sleep night the before but the atmosphere on the beach was getting us up for it again. It was undoubtedly touristy in Phangan, around 90% of the party goers were western but it felt a lot like a festival, nice and chilled, we at least until around 10pm. We met Guy and co on the beach, taking in the awesome fire shows/works that were on display and after a couple of hours of wondering around and drinking Chang we got the first buckets of the night in…from there it is just a haze of dancing on the sand, on tables and realizing that it was actually 6.30am all of a sudden. Raving on a beach with 20,000 other people is hard to describe so for arguments sake we will just say that it is A LOT of fun and you should do it!
Our last day in Phangan was unsuprisingly spent trying to recover and with the beds in Anan Bungalows preferring for us not to sleep we spent that afternoon/evening playing Pro Evo, watching films in chill out bars and even sampled our first traditional Thai massage. Now "traditionally" massages of any sort are supposed to be relaxing right? Well, pulling fingers and toes out of their sockets and turning your back until it clicks isn't our idea of relaxing - an interesting experience but one we probably won't be repeating.
We came up with a better way of relaxing: Ko Tao island. So we took a boat the next morning across to the 'Turtle Island'. But for your sake and ours, we'll save that bit of the story for the next blog! Phew.
Speak to you soon,
Mark & James