The Focus on Haad Rin

I was having a clear out the other day and I came across the December 2011 to January 2012 edition of Haad Rin Focus – The Official Haad Rin Guide. This is issue number 11. I don’t know if many more were published after this point.

The magazine is typical for a free mag – heavy on ads and very short on new content. The events have to be updated but the other material such as the FMP survival guide is ‘evergreen’ and gets recycled. Such a magazine is a tried and tested business in Thai tourism. Perhaps the ever increasing move to online information will make these productions redundant.

Anyway, here are 3 scans from the magazine grabbed before I ditch it. 2 images are the maps they made. One is a map of Haad Rin centre and the Sunrise Beach. The other is split in two showing Sunset Beach and Leela Beach. The third scan is perhaps the only ‘gold’ in the magazine. It is a directory of telephone numbers for businesses in Haad Rin. Although some of the businesses will have folded most of the numbers will still work. It is hard to get a 077 number. I suspect you will get someone pick up the phone.

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Tips for Saving Money when staying in Haad Rin

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The most common mistake first timers make when visiting Thailand and especially Haad Rin is to convert prices in their head. They go this is only $4 or this is just £3! Wow! My money will last forever! It is this mindset that leads to frivolous and excessive spending and before you know it you have to go home or scratch around for some more money.

If you are a backpacker armed with a visa to stay in Thailand for a few months or even a year then you will need to be careful with your money. Spend your time visiting the shops to find out how much things really cost, especially for local Thais. Stop converting Baht into your home currency because what is cheap in Australia, the UK etc. is actually expensive in Thailand. There is the famous dual pricing scam going on in Haad Rin as elsewhere in Thailand. I always carefully watch the change Thais are given to figure out if I am paying over the odds. Be alert, remember prices and you soon make your money go further.

Here are 10 tips for saving money in Haad Rin

  1. As it is Haad Rin, the first thing to consider is alcohol. It is marked up 2 or 3 times in bars. Buckets are the most expensive at Full Moon Party venues, cheaper at the bucket stalls on the beach, and cheaper still in the town shops.
  2. If you are staying in Haad Rin then there is not much need for a motorbike. The town has everything you could need – food, drink, sundries, travel agents, money changing places, ATM machines, medical centres. Virtually all the daily needs can be catered for by the numerous businesses in Haad Rin. If you need to go to Thongsala on the odd occasion it is cheaper to get a shared taxi for 100 or 150 Thai Baht than to hire a motorbike every day.
  3. Food is a major expense. Many hotels and resorts make more money from their restaurants than they do from their rooms. Don’t feel obliged to eat at the resort; rather hunt around for bargains. There is a lot of competition among the food outlets in Haad Rin so spend your time looking for bargains. Generally speaking Thai dishes are cheaper. Small mom and pops restaurants often do decent curry and rice dishes for 50 Thai Baht. The cheapest eateries are the local Thai restaurants in Thongsala and the night market in Thongsala but you can find cheaper Thai food in Haad Rin.
  4. There is a small scope for self catering. You can get cheap pot noodles at the 7-11. They provide free hot water. You can also find fruit stalls where you can buy cheap but exotic fruit. Fruit is much healthier than a fried breakfast and eating it can save you money.

    In Koh Samui Tesco Lotus you can find electric hotplates for about 1,000 Baht. With this you can cook some of your own food and save money. Although check with the accommodation provider whether this is OK. Often the ‘kitchenettes’ in Haad Rin rooms only have a microwave and this really limits what you can do in terms of self-catering.

  5. Nothing saves money like doing it yourself. Although a resort should provide free clean sheets and towels they don’t do laundry for free. Do your own laundry. You can find washing powder in small packs in local shops. You can usually find an odd bucket knocking around or use your sink. I often bring a couple of items into the shower with me and give them a wash at the same time as having a shower. It is not brilliant cleaning but mostly I just have to wash the sweat out of my garments.
  6. Accommodation keeps getting more expensive in Haad Rin. The trend over the last 10 years has to been to knock down all the cheap fan bungalows and replace with air-con concrete units with TV. Search out no frills bungalows and politely inquire about weekly or monthly rates. Don’t book online as then the Thai owners cannot offer discounts as the online booking company will want their cut. The further you go back from the beach and into the hills, the cheaper the room prices will be.

    If you are travelling alone you might want to check into a dorm and then try and find someone to rent a bungalow with. Dorms are fairly bad value for what you get and often halving the price of a bungalow is cheaper than the price of a bunk bed for the night.

  7. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. The shops selling clothes, sarongs, jewellery and souvenirs in Haad Rin are comparatively expensive. You can find the same stuff cheaper in Bangkok. Buy your souvenirs in Bangkok just before you fly to your next destination. Also stock up on essential supplies in Bangkok before you head down to the islands.
  8. Use the supermarkets in Thongsala. You can go to the Tesco Lotus in Thongsala and buy a slab of beers or bottles of spirits much cheaper per unit than anywhere in Haad Rin. The same is true of most items you will need. It can be prudent to do a shopping trip occasionally to Thongsala to stock up on stuff.
  9. Don’t be generous with the drinks. Nothing wastes money quicker than buying rounds of drinks for people, especially if they don’t reciprocate. If you buy a bucket and share it with a group then make sure they get a bucket and share it with you. Being fair and straight with people makes a better impression then being a fool who throws his or her money at fair weather friends.
  10. Water is an essential item. It is cheaper to buy packs of 6 or 12 water bottles from a shop. Sometimes you can get large plastic kegs of water for just a few Baht if you are in the know where to go. Transfer your water into a water bottle and bring it with you when you go out. Restaurants and bars don’t let you consume food and drink from other outlets in their establishment but they invariably turn a blind eye to someone drinking their own water.
  11. A Thai mate can be useful. They can sometimes go to the bar and get cheaper drinks. This, however, is a double-edged sword as more often than not they won’t have any of their own money and you might feel obliged to buy their drinks too!

So there you have it. There are no doubt numerous other money saving tips for Haad Rin. You can discover these by talking to people. The important thing is the mind set.

This is the Real Secret Tantra

After teasing us with the mention of sex, the Swami moves on to tell us about the higher levels of Tantra known to grammarians, philosophers and other intellectuals. Few know these things, even in India. This is the real secret Tantra. What is it?

We don’t know but it is connected to a tradition of Shiva worship in Kashmir. They ‘attune’ to ‘this force that goes from material to spiritual’. It is the ‘top form’ of tantric yoga. Yes, but what is it? What does it do?

Ah ha. It works on the crown chakra.

‘It is strictly spiritual and it is very spiritual’. What’s the difference? It is a purely tantric path. Which means it is ‘not a path for a hermit’. ‘A spirituality with fun’. This means you can have nice clothes and drive a car. Wearing clothes and driving doesn’t stop it being spiritual. Huh.

And what that’s? It is philosophical and intellectual.

Stop the mind from thinking ‘crap’ and ‘keep it busy with high spiritual things.’ I’m guessing that this is not clothes and cars.

Here is something. Kashmiri Shaivism is monistic. ‘If you one step higher above the two you have the one.’ This might sound like a revelation but commentators on the Vedanta, and especially the Advaita Vedanta of Shankar mined this philosophical vein in the 8th Century.

This is not hidden knowledge that the Kashmiris have been harnessing. It is Hinduism 101 spoken in a 101 type of way. And why does this man have such a flabby tubby? All that yoga should surely have tightened him up. He does look comfortable pontificating on his throne in a tent. And why does he check the time? Has he got a limited slot?

And here comes the revelation: ‘You are God’.

Any hippy in the 60s could have told you that. The thing is it means virtually nothing because without the notion of separateness the concept of god has no value for people. The Buddhists say all is nothing. It is the same as saying all is god.

The video when I watched it had 69 likes and 7 thumbs down.

The 69 seems appropriate because Tantra espouses the same morality as Nietzsche, namely beyond good or evil. One sect of Sadhus live naked, covered in human ash in cemeteries. Some also drink and sleep with women. They are processing karma to speed up enlightenment. The goal is wisdom and morality comes second to this pursuit. The body rather than being shunned can be used as a vehicle to spiritual progress.

It is this line of thinking that ends up with a student being convinced that the highly realized can indulge in sexual activities. And hence Sexy Sadie. Let’s have this video as well.

This is Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, the founder of Agama Yoga. They have a branch, possibly headquarters in Sri Thanu (which might mean Lord Shiva). Agama does yoga but also teaches Kashmiri Shaivism.

As a postscript – monism and going beyond the dualism of morality might also be a good reason to go to the Full Moon Party and behaving thoroughly badly and indulgently.

Currently you can do yoga in Haad Rin, but the real heavy stuff is all over on the west coast.

If I Like Haad Rin Would I like Pattaya?

Travel in Thailand is fairly straight forward. You can book in advance, often online or through a travel agent, or you can often turn up at a bus station or train station and get a ticket for same day travel. There are lots of private companies providing an extensive travel network joining up all the major tourist destinations in Thailand. Thus you could well plan a tour of Thailand that included both Pattaya and Haad Rin. But would you want to?

On the surface, the answer seems to be ‘no’ since the two tourist destinations are very different. Pattaya is a big city. It has 3 main beaches stretching around its headland. On an average day the sands are 3 deep in deck chairs and sun loungers. The city has big shopping areas, 5 star hotels, boutique stores and an infamous red-light district called Walking Street.

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The type of tourist to visit Pattaya falls into 2 categories – those who go to Pattaya for the whores and those who don’t. Even the shy Chinese tour groups (in the latter camp) visit Walking Street to take in the prurient atmosphere and take photos.

Those who visit Haad Rin are primarily drawn by the party scene, in particular the Full Moon Party. It is the biggest outdoor beach party in Thailand and probably the world. The party takes over Haad Rin Sunrise Beach (Haad Rin Nok) as well the town. It is a messy, booze and drug fuelled carnival that goes on for nearly 48 hours (if you include the after parties). While some people come for the music and the DJs, most attend the party because it is a bucket list item; it is a right-of-passage for backpackers in South East Asia. If you tell your mates at home that you went to Koh Phangan they will expect you to have been to the Full Moon Party.

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Whereas, your mates will be more circumspect about asking if you had a blowie or a short stay in Pattaya (especially if you are a woman).

While budget travellers are drawn to Koh Phangan’s cheap wooden bungalows and laissez faire island attitude, they are less visible in Pattaya. You see lots of Russians and Europeans spending plenty of money on food and drink as well as female entertainment. Hence you will see big brand hotel chains in Pattaya. In contrast the only chain in Haad Rin is Best Western.

If you like experiencing different things on holiday and like encountering different types of holiday-makers then you may well get quite a kick out of going to Haad Rin for a party and to Pattaya for sun, sand and optional extras. You might argue that Haad Rin and Pattaya both cater for hedonists but perhaps hedonists chasing different pleasures in different ways.

Fusion Fashion

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Fusion Fashon is a shop near Haad Rin Pier (see map below). It sells a selection of clothing items and accessories aimed at young people and the party crowd. The fashion style is described as ‘vintage bohemian’.

Fusion Fashion has been running since 2002. It has been doing a decent trade supplying the party crowd with clothing and accessories that will create a splash at the Full Moon Party and the other parties in Baan Tai.

The fashion is for men and women. Much of the clothing is sourced from Indonesia and Hong Kong. Many of the accessories – beads, jewellery, crystals etc. – comes from India.

If there is a fusion of styles present in the clothing it would be a combination of hippy style with ravers’ party style. The accessories include attractive belts and crystals. Just as the Full Moon Party was a small affair with hippies around a fire on the beach, so the modern mooners adapt their style to reflect the hippy roots to the party scene while introducing more recent fashion elements.

It is a semantic point as to whether the clothing style can be called ‘vintage bohemian’ as the clothing is new rather than second-hand. The light fabrics and designs are reminiscent of 60s flower power but the clothes weren’t made 50 years ago.

Anyway, Fusion Fashion is very much part of the arts and retail culture in Haad Rin. Nina at Fusion combined with a few other ex-pats are attempting to create a creative enclave of DJs, designers, writers and photographers. Koh Phangan with its easy-going atmosphere and non-stop sunshine and parties has attracted a semi-permanent group of Bohemians living out the 60s dream.

Fusion Fashion shop is open daily from 11am to 10pm. The owner, Nina, is often on the floor behind the counter, with her head stuck in her laptop. So don’t give up if you enter the shop and appear to find no one there.

Contact: 08 9868 1938

Hostels in Haad Rin

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In the mind of many, many backpackers on a tight budget is the firm conviction that hostels are the way to go. They seem to ignore the fact that until a few years ago there were no hostels in Koh Phangan; and to ignore the fact that a cheap and basic bungalow set back from the beach costs virtually the same as a dorm bed.

If you are travelling with another person then sharing the cost of a bungalow makes a lot of sense. Having your own privacy is not an expensive luxury in Haad Rin or elsewhere on Koh Phangan.

Rather there is a hostel fad. People want to be with like-minded people and the hostel is the solution. All young, fluorescent decorated, sexually active and up for binge drinking folk need to congregate in a hostel in Haad Rin during the Full Moon Party.

This is perfect for Haad Rin shop and bar owners. All that wasted space on the second floor above their businesses can now be filled with bunk beds. Plumb in a toilet; add some lockers; put garden furniture on the street (smoking area); promise ‘free wifi in all areas’ and you have a hostel. It is a sure-fire winner of a business idea. And as such is being copied all over Haad Rin as well as Baan Tai.

Very few of the hostels in Haad Rin have their own websites. Instead they rely on companies like Agoda and Hostelworld to promote their hostel. The free and lazy digital solution to promotion is the Facebook page.

Here is a list of hostels in Haad Rin.

From this list most of the hostels have Facebook pages. What stands out with these pages is that they contain hundreds of pictures of the aforementioned young full mooners. Page after page, album after album of drunken fun with little to no pictures of beds, lockers, restaurant or other facilities. It says to me that these hostels have nothing to recommend themselves except that they sometimes host cheap booze revels. It obviously works as there is no end of selfies and group hugs to be seen on Haad Rin hostel Facebook pages.

I wonder if permission has been sought to publish these pictures. Are people tagged by name and later discriminated against by future potential employers? And finally, why do people place so much importance on free wifi when it is the cheapest facility for a hostel to provide?

The one notable exception that I have found is Mickey Hostel Facebook page. It has plenty of pictures of bunk beds.

Welcome to Haad Rin

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This is the sign that greets people arriving by boat in Haad Rin. The sign is big and prominently located on Haad Rin Pier. It is hard to miss. What is perhaps harder to understand is what the sign exactly means. It is a great example of how Thai can get lost in translation.

The sign made me laugh. The two points of curiosity are ‘Kancha’ and ‘fine imprisonment’.

In Thai a ‘k’ sound is often pronounced as ‘g’. Thus, ‘Koh Phangan’ is pronounced ‘Go Phangan’. One has to presume that the official charged with coming up with the text for this warning sign got his ‘k’ and ‘g’s confused. It should be ‘ganja’. I love the word ‘ganja’ – it conjures up images of getting stoned by the river Ganges. It is a Hindu word tinged with religious implications. It is the type of word Bob Marley would use. For those fans of weed, it is a great word and often the word of preference to designate the plant. Officialdom in the UK and the USA would never use such a word. They would write ‘marijuana’ (Spanish origin) or cannabis (Latin origin).

The sign suggests that ganja is widely available in Haad Rin. New arrivals might find this good news, and may take less heed of the warning.

So on to the warning. Getting caught with marijuana or magic mushrooms is ‘punishable by fine imprisonment’. The conflation of two different punishments: namely a fine and incarceration is done deliberately. Taking drugs in Thailand is illegal. Those caught should be processed by the law and appear before a court.

However, the reality is that those caught with illegal substances in Haad Rin are threatened with prison time and then allowed to go once a fine has been paid. It is very unlikely that the 99.9% of victims caught and made to pay 25,000 Thai Baht or more in fines are ever given legitimate receipts. You can also be certain that Thais caught in possession don’t pay anything as much and are highly unlikely to appear before a judge.

There is no general moral condemnation against marijuana or magic mushrooms in Thailand as there is in say the USA. Back in the day, it was the old mamas in the cheap guest houses who were often the dealers. It is just a sad reality that the Full Moon Party has made it huge business to sell the stuff and catch a few unlucky souls taking it.

If you are paranoid about getting caught, but fancy a try then head to Mellow Mountain on the Full Moon party night. They sell magic mushroom shakes. Everyone knows about it and the police seem to tolerate it. If they were raided you could just deny the drink was yours.

For those hardened international tokers the real worry is the piss tests that police in Bangkok and Chiang Mai / Pai force tourists and expats to take. Even if you don’t have anything illegal on you, if the tests come back positive you will be treated as a criminal.

The sign’s meaning is obscure; this in a way mirrors the far from transparent way in which those caught breaking the kancha and magic mushroom laws are handled. Beware; heed the sign; and be cautious. If not abstemious.

Infinity Tattoo Haad Rin

Looking to get a tattoo? Then you have come to the right place. Thailand has lots of great tattoo artists, and Koh Phangan is no exception. There are perhaps half a dozen tattoo parlours in Haad Rin. One of the better ones is Infinity Tattoo.

Infinity Tattoo doesn’t have a website but it does have a Facebook Page. This page is excellent for seeing the quality of work done at the parlour. There are pictures of Buddha and animal tattoos. There examples of sleeves and long leg tattoos. There is also a tattoo around someone’s belly button.

The shop on its Facebook page claims to be open 24 hours a day. That must be a little exaggeration. He must have to pop out occasionally to get more ink, buy food etc. But it does mean that you can always knock on the door and see if anyone is at home. The Facebook page also gives a telephone number that you can find at the bottom of this article. It doesn’t bother with directions or even with an ‘about’ introduction.

The parlour is on one of the small sois in Haad Rin. If you wander around for a little bit you will find it. You will stumble upon other very similar tattoo parlours. Infinity tattoo does the traditional bamboo tattoo as well tats with a machine. The choice is yours; and pain is involved with either method.

The studio itself has a tiled floor and comfortable sofa as well as ‘the chair’ where the customer sits. It also has air-con. This can be a godsend while manly grimacing.

Contact
Telephone: 0812716503
Facebook Page

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Haad Khontee

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As you head up the east coast of Koh Phangan from the Haad Rin Peninsula the first beach you come across is Haad Khontee. It is a small picturesque beach that is usually deserted. It is a rare beach in Koh Phangan as it is empty. Theoretically you could camp out for free at Haad Khontee.

The beach is only about 500 meters from the north end of Haad Rin Nai. However, it is not straight forward to get to. The most direct route is over the rocks, following the coast. It is also the most dangerous route.

Another option is to follow the path to Haad Yuan. After about 40 minutes you come across a river running south-east to the sea. Find the path that follows the river and it will lead you down to Haad Khontee.

The final option is to hire a longtail taxi to get you there. You might want him to stick around as your chances of just flagging a longtail boat down that is passing by are small.

Haad Khontee Beach

The beach is small; about 100 meters long. At both ends the curved beach is flanked by boulders. Since this is an empty beach you will find a full tree line. If you explore you will find the remains of Haad Khontee Resort; long ago abandoned.

The beach has slightly coarse sand mixed in with fine coral. This is because there is a small coral reef just off the coast. It is a nice spot to do some snorkelling as you are unlikely to be disturbed.

Haad Khontee might not be the best beach on the island but it is remarkably quiet and peaceful, and yet so close to the mayhem of Haad Rin. When I see Haad Khontee I wistfully imagine spending a month or so on the beach with my wife and daughter just fishing, swimming and exploring far (but not really) from the madding crowd.

For more about the small and remote beaches of the east coast check out http://kohphanganeastcoast.blogspot.com/

Haad Rin Stadium

Here is a YouTube video clip that shows a Muay Thai fight between a Westerner and a Thai. While the fight might not be a classic, the video does give you an idea about what the stadium looks like from the inside.

It is not a massive space, but it is covered. As you can see there are plastic garden chairs around the ring to watch the fight. This is probably not the headline fight so the crowd is sparse and the cheering subdued. The final bout usually pulls in a bigger crowd who get to their feet and cheer as the fight reaches its climax.

This fight features a ‘farang’ up against a Thai. He is handy as we can see in the warm up in the gym. The fight lasts less than 2 rounds. The hipster bearded foreigner never looks under pressure. He eventually gets off a flurry of telling punches to floor the Thai.

Haad Rin Stadium has fight nights in the two consecutive nights before the FMP. If you are in Haad Rin you can’t help but know the details as cars go around with odd recorded announcements promoting the fight nights. Prices to enter the fight nights start at 150 Thai Baht.

The gym is also open during the day. It is a big gym with weights, Muay Thai training and Yoga.

If you fancy working out or learning Thai boxing just pop your head around the door. The stadium is opposite Coral Bungalows.