Stepping back in time: Koh Phangan, 1993

Our featured blogger, 'Mia' Escobud, recalls the day she arrived on Thailand's legendary island... and how it changed her life

7 mins


I checked out of my Khao San Road guest house, and awaited the 6pm night bus to Koh Samui. Island of so many dreams! I was finally going to get there. Strange, after all these years of dreaming of this paradise isle, I wouldn't stay for long: I was only stopping to pick up my mail before heading to Koh Phangan – to meet my friends from home.

My Bangkok travel agents told me there were no buses heading south that evening – the Southern Thai farmers were protesting with a road block, and no traffic was getting through at all. Not to worry, I was told, the government should have it under control by tomorrow, and I could leave then. Recent recollections of being stuck for five days during riots in Bombay triggered sirens in my head, and I was left wondering how much more time I'd be stranded in Bangkok. But this was Thailand now, not India, and the next day the government did have everything under control, and I left as planned.

So after a long day stranded – one night in Bangkok too many! – I waited for the bus on Khao San Road, watching the fiery sky of a Thai sunset for the first time, brilliant red above me as I crouched on the street kerb, looking up in awe. The bus arrived late, and it would be a rough journey south: I hardly got any sleep. By the time the sun had started to rise I had just managed to drop off, only the amazingly red sky of my first Thai sunrise defied somehow my sleeping through it. I tried to open my eyes in justification to it, but sleep won, and when I regained consciousness it was already light.

I climbed on the ferry in Surat Thani exhausted, and for two hours I watched the Gulf of Thailand pass by me, the Gulf that leads into the South China Sea. Finally looking out onto this group of islands, the Samui Archipelago, 'paradise four times'. Finally in the seas that my brother had ploughed before me, with the prospect of arriving on the island which had sparked so much imagination in all of us – Koh Samui. (My brother Tim had arrived here with his friend Richard on their way to Australia in 1990, intending to stay two weeks – and getting caught for three months! They'd ended up running a bar and had had the wildest time any of us could imagine...)

My body was a wreck by now. It wasn't just all night on a coach and two hours on a boat: This time I felt like I had five months of travelling that had finally caught up with me and weren't going to be forgotten. I felt like the endless energy had finally given up, and now I would have no option but to lose myself on these islands until I went home – I wouldn't be taking the journey back up to Bangkok before!

So I caught sight of Koh Samui with dubious eyes. Surely now it would be better to get straight to Koh Phangan, find a beach hut and collapse until the next day. But no, I couldn't come this far just to 'pass on by' – The Waterboys in my head again, and more words from that same song soon persuaded me I had to stop:

'Well, here we are in a special place, what will you do here?

We're standing in this fabulous place, what are you going to dream here?

It could be deliverance, or history, under these skies so blue,

Could be something true...

Well here we stand on a rocky shore!

Your father (brother!) stood here before you

I can feel the SEA implore you... Not to pass on by!'

'Don't Bang The Drum' – The Waterboys

The moment didn't fail me either – the moment I stepped on the quayside I found myself wide awake, and within minutes I was touching foot on the hallowed ground of travellers' dreams...

Timing worked perfectly – two hours until the next ferry to Koh Phangan, time enough to lap up the wonder of visualising for myself this SE Asian coastline, to feel the thrill of where I was... to pick up my mail. I had three letters awaiting me in Koh Samui poste restante, and I spent the next couple of hours in a state of elation, reading my mail from home on a long dreamed of tropical island, as ecstatic with life as I'd ever been.

And then I carried on to Koh Phangan, where I could find no message on the board in the main town of Thong Sala (this was before the days of Facebook and mobile phones and email; we had to rely on message boards, post restante – and intuition and luck! – in those days) to send me in the right direction – I didn't even know which beach my friends were on! So instead I left them a message and took my chances, and headed to Haad Rin. Here that neat web of things took over again. After a night in a beach hut, I awoke the next morning to take a walk along the beach: Which way shall I walk?

And there, after a five minute walk – no it couldn't be could it? – were my friends playing frisbee right in front of me. I'd landed on the same small strip of beach as they had – Haad Rin Sunset. Laughing at each other, we hugged each other and they brought me in to Bird Bungalows. And then I was happily installed in paradise, with my buddies from home.

In the set of beach bungalows which would, over the next 20 years and counting, become my second family home...

Koh Phangan Tales | Mia Escobud

Mia EscobudMy name is Mel but my husband Pablo calls me 'Mia', for wife! I'm from the UK originally, but I've always been a wandering soul. Travelling and discovering new cultures have always been my passion, and I've been exploring Asia for the last 20 years! Married to DJ Pablo Escobud, I've been spending the winter seasons in Koh Phangan, pretty much uninterrupted, since 1993.

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