Ko Phangan

There is no way this motorbike can jump the three-foot concrete abutment, but it has to. The sun is setting, I'm about 20 klicks from civilization, and the bike rental expires in 45 minutes. So it's come to this - assembling a ramp from rotten boards and flat rocks found in a dry creek bed, battling swarms of mosquitoes as the dinner bell of dusk rings, and attempting to make sense of the brochure map now ruined by sweat and rain. Over dramatic? Absolutely. But that's the way this shit goes down, you know what I'm sayin'?

Over the past two days I rented a Honda POS moped and circumnavigated the island on this baby. Me and Ol' White Lightnin' tore through the red volcanic mud of the highland dirt roads and got bogged down on the fine white coral sand of the Haad Rin beaches. It's a good thing I sprung for the 50 baht insurance policy - I broke off a kickstand, scuffed up the flimsy plastic fenders, and probably tweaked the forks on at least eight potholes taken at speed. I got lost a half-dozen times, almost collided with a few pickup trucks, and found a handful of remote vistas untouched by tourism. It was a blast.

Together, me and Lightnin' dominated the inconsistent roads of this island. We hit an ancient Chinese temple, an elephant trekking camp, a coconut plantation, some kind of bizarre ecotourist-trap zipline enterprise, a dozen coves and beaches, and countless Indiana Jones-style deep jungle locales. This place belongs in a museum, if you catch my reference. The roads would go from Southern California superhighway to medieval dirt with no warning. I got stuck on the wrong side of one of these transitions, coming up from a washed out dirt trail to a steel-reinforced concrete freeway. The Thai government either ran out of money halfway through building this road, or they gave up and hit the beach instead.

Everywhere I go gets progressively sleepier, from the madness and confusion of Bangkok, to the lively small island life of Ko Tao, to the deserted beaches and jungles of Ko Phangan. The island's huge resorts, bars, and restaurants are empty. It's a ghost town populated by well-weathered locals and quiet couples searching for a storybook island getaway. They have the facilities to host what seems like thousands of visitors, but they sit maybe 5 to 10% full. The island is dead.

This might have something to do with the ongoing floods in Bangkok and northern Thailand. The outlook of that city gets worse and worse with every storm, and the locals here are riveted to the Thai news channels showing geysers of brown water drowning the crowded streets.

Once a month, Ko Phangan is bombarded with partiers on a pilgrimage to a fabled boozefest on the island's southern peninsula. The infamous Full Moon Party is a study in irresponsibility, intoxication, and the types who prey on these weaknesses. They've written novels and based films around this event, that's how ridiculous it is.

But for now, the bucket stands are left to become driftwood. The resorts operate with skeleton crews. And the restaurants are content to let you wait until a commercial break to pass out menus.

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