*******As you may or not be aware, we’re a bit behind on this blog. This one doesn’t follow chronological order but we felt it was relevant and important to post it now. We’ll be back in Cambodia shortly! *******
Unlike Tim’s similarly titled post, this one is not about poo. It is about Thailand’s famous southern islands. Crystal clear seas, white sands, tropical palm trees and a few thousand gangsters – paradise.
On New Year’s Eve a British boy got shot in cross fire in Koh Phangang. A few days previously we’d been to a full moon party on the island.
My story starts four years ago. I first arrived on Koh Phangang ready for a rest and stayed on bottle beach. It was only accessible by boat and was tropically tranquil. I couldn’t wait to get back. We arrived to shouts of taxi, extortionate taxis. We payed £8 to get to the place where the boats left from… And then payed the same back when we realised that the sea was too stormy for boats. To make it worse all the guesthouses on Koh Phangnang charge £8 for pick up. Damn.
Whilst that might not seem like a lot in England or America for a taxi, at least there you’d get the comfort of a proper seat, a roof and being able to go as and when you please. On Koh Phangang you wait until the benches on the pick up truck are full. Each person pays the same. Each person pays a lot. And there’s no point negotiating because this is Thailand and it is run by the mafia.
This is something I’d heard before but never really thought about until that fateful night in Haad Rin. At the end of the night the owner of restuarant pushed Tim to the ground for not paying the right amount (he’d payed how much was on the first menu we were given). Whilst he was still on the ground the man went towards him so, heroically, I stepped in to distract the man, giving Tim time to get up. I got a bloomin nasty kick to the knee for my troubles. After this we headed to the police station (as that is where we were getting our taxi from). Whilst we were there we thought we might as well tell them what had happened. At the same time another couple arrived, the girl had been punched in the face by a Thai man and robbed. They were separate incidents and she was much less bothered by the former.
When the policeman heard which restaurant owner it was, he became panicky. This increased further when Tim told him he was English police and so the officer tried to bribe us. This fuelled our suspicions – is Koh Phangang ran by gangsters afterall?
I should take a few moments to describe the police station, there was water (I stocked up on bottles of it, ha, that’ll show them!), a phone and a scared western man in a cell. He’d climbed on a statue and was now paying the price, funny how violence is ok but childish pranks are not. As we sat there a girl from New Zealand came in, she’d been robbed too. Following her in was a western man and his Thai girlfriend. They didn’t say much and we barely noticed they were there. Until…
There was a loud smash. We all turned to see the large (too large for four of us to take on) man hitting his Thai girlfriend repeatedly in the face! We got her to our side of the desk and stood our ground, all hoping he’d stay safely at the other side of the table he’d just broken.
This was enough to get the attention of the police finally (they’d been sat outside ignoring us). One particularly viscious officer came in with a truncheon and got the guy in handcuffs. By this point western-in-a-cell guy was petrified and he begged Tim not to let that man in his cell.
He didn’t need to worry, as I said violence is fine in Thailand.
The man was handcuffed and the police interrogated him. The police man hit him in the face a few times before telling him he had to pay for the table. The girl was telling us that her ‘boyfriend’ was fine when he was sober, he was so good to her and her kid. But when drunk he is like this. Tim sympathetically offered advice, but it was hopeless. This man knew where she lived and more than that she needed/wanted his money.
Our double price taxi arrived two hours late just as the police man was planning to let the man go. He’d offered to pay money and that was good enough for the Thai police. As we left Tim asked a taxi driver ‘is koh phangang ran by the mafia.’ The taxi driver’s response was ‘best I not say.’
Then we had to wait another hour before we could go back – ‘no full yet, no full’.
Whilst it sounds like a terrible night out, we did actually have fun there. We met up with some friends from The Elephant Nature Park and danced… a lot. But we couldn’t help but feel we got off lightly. it could have been so much worse… amd has been for many people.
If you’ve been to a nightclub and a beach, you’ve pretty much been to a full moon party. They’re no match for a festival, not a patch on a regular beach party and much the same as a nightclub. Although at a night club you’re almost definitely safer. Even in Forest Gate – Plan B, we’ve lived in D’ends, they’re not so bad. So why bother taking the risk?
As for new years eve, we enjoyed it on Sairee beach in koh Tao. And didn’t have any terrifying encounters… Except for Tim nearly getting hit in the head with fire poi by two Thai showmen who thought it was a great idea to throw balls of fire over the crowd. Geniuses.
I couldn’t have dissuaded the British boy from heading to koh Phangnang for New Years. He was more than likely there before me. But maybe I can help a few of you..
Head to Koh Tao but give Phangnang a miss. Koh Tao isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t feel like a dangerous place to be. And I had an amazing New Year there, plenty of buckets available for those who want them but with minimal fuss and little to no violence. Plus when it’s all over, you can see bucketloads of fish all with the help of a snorkel and mask for just £2 – bargain!
I wanted to write this blog even before the events on New Year’s Eve. I wanted to tell people that it’s not safe for westerners and if something does go wrong, it will be covered up. The police are more afraid of the gangsters than we are. I also wanted to tell people that it’s just a party, it’s no better than a nightclub.
That boy didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, it could have been any person there. Same as the girl in the police station didn’t do anything to warrant getting punched in the face, same as I didn’t and same as Tim didn’t. We aren’t people who get caught up in violence often… Or ever. I’ve witnessed it outside and inside nightclubs, but I’ve never before been caught up in it. We don’t go looking for trouble at the end of the night, we go looking for cups of tea and beans on toast. So if you go, be careful. Millions of people (or at least some) have an event-free night there, but there’s no guarantee that will be you.
Since I began writing this a friend got in touch after seeing a status on Facebook. She wanted to know if we’d come to the same conclusions as her about Koh Phangang being ran by gangsters and incredibly dangerous. Her story is far worse than ours.
A gang of Thai men worked together to separate her from her friends. She was then violently raped. After the ordeal she was too shocked to tell her friends about it, but one of them noticed she was covered in bruises. The next day she recognised her attacker and her male friends went to confront him. As they approached the thai man signalled to some other Thai men and all of a sudden they were surrounded. This is a culture that gets away with mudrder. As a person who spent a few hours in that police station, I know that there was nothing she could have done to get justice. At the police station she would have been met with a few terrified expressions before being left to sit alone in the station. There have been murders on koh phangang and even more western deaths. These usually get passed off as an accident or as being misadventure due to drugs or drink and whilst I can’t say for sure, I would not be surprised if this was a coverup.