Tag Archive for parties

The YouTube Effect

YouTube

Whenever I have a DIY or computer problem I look for a YouTube video on the topic. It is much better than a written ‘how to’ guide as you can see how something is done, step by step.

Similarly when I am thinking about visiting a place, staying at a hotel or even hiring an entertainer for my child’s birthday party I look first for a YouTube video showing me the place or person in question. The video camera lies in the sense it frames an event, and that it is edited but it gives me vital hints about a place. YouTube doesn’t make a lot of money for Google because it is a massive repository of information. It has been described as ‘the attic of the internet’.

If you do a YouTube search of Koh Phangan you get a distorted view of the Thai island. Out of the 10 non-sponsored clips listed on the front page there are two clips about the Full Moon Party; there is one clip of street food in Thongsala; there is one clip of Haad Rin; there is ‘3 months in 3 minutes’ that shows random clips of Bangkok and the island not giving any captions naming places; there is a promo for diving; and 4 videos showing various beaches on the island. The more you look through videos the more you see it is dominated by young people on the beach splashing, riding bikes and getting out of their faces at a party.

The videos misrepresent what Koh Phangan is, as well as define the island in the popular imagination. Yes, Koh Phangan is a backpacker destination. Yes many people visiting the island are young and in swim wear and covered in tattoos and yes the FMP, Baan Tai and the white sand beaches are massive selling points for the island; but Koh Phangan is so much more.

90% of the Koh Phangan is untouched jungle. The main economic activities (other than tourism) are coconut cultivation and fishing. These are absent from the YouTube mosaic of the island. There is a documentary about drug culture in Thailand, but not enough about the history of the island; about the dangers of the Baan Tai and Haad Rin parties. There are interviews with DJs and restauranteurs but not from indigenous Thai people. Koh Phanganers don’t have a voice on YouTube. They have environmental, educational and economic concerns that are not being heard through the popular forum.

This is part of the commercialisation and superficiality of internet searches using Google. If you type in the name of any place you get a list of hotel sites and booking engines such as hotel.com. The Wikipedia article that is usually there in the top 10 listings stands out for being the exception. Do people want to know about a place or do they just want to read reviews and book a hotel room?

Perhaps we should consign YouTube to the attic and don’t bother going back to the space under the roof. The same might be said of Google search. It is a free service that uses data of people’s search habits to offer targeted ads to commercial entities. These entities then take over 50% of the first page of results. It is self-serving; not descriptive.

Koh Phangan is so much more than you will find on the internet. Go there without booking in advance, without being obsessed about attending a FMP, without following the crowds, without adding to the stereotypes that are obscuring the beauty of the place.

Koh Phangan 2015

Koh Phangan tourist numbers continue to be healthy despite the recent coup d’état, the falling rouble and negative news stories about Thailand in the international press. It is an island that offers something for everyone – the raver, the high-end (and often older) tourist, the backpacker, the xtreme sports enthusiast, the diver and the long-termer all are flocking to Koh Phangan.

It is possible that the tragic story of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller murdered in 2014 has driven people who would usually head for Koh Tao to Koh Phangan. Koh Phangan has plenty of dive shops and often the classes have smaller numbers. Another advantage of diving in Koh Phangan is that it is closer to Ang Thong Marine Park. It also has a number of good local dive spots such as Haad Salad, Koh Ma and Haad Yao.

Thong Nai Pan Noi Village is now filling up with businesses looking to cater for the hundreds of ‘5 star’ tourists staying at Panviman, Santhiya, Buri Rasa and Rasananda. It is looking busy, and like a cooler version of a Koh Samui beach. Indeed, those put off by the crass commercialism and excessive numbers of prostitutes on many of the beaches in Samui would find Thong Nai Pan Noi the ideal alternative. The fully concreted road between Baan Tai and Thong Nai Pan has removed a big psychological barrier for many who wanted to visit the famous beaches of TNP.

The on-going construction of Koh Phangan Airport is another impetus to high-end tourism. Although the airport is far from completion and Kan Air is avoiding committing to a completion date.

After the double murder in Koh Tao the military government made noises about shutting down parties in both Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. It turned out to be no more than noise. Interestingly many of the moon parties have failed to publish their future party dates. It looks on the net like the parties have stopped; but, actually they are still going on. The island is still full of DJs and their ilk bringing the beats to the insatiable crowds of party-goers. The Full Moon Party has become a world-renowned tourist attraction, and while dance music aficionados may turn their nose up at the event, thousands still gather in Haad Rin for what has become a backpacker rite of passage.

To make the parties affordable and to promote lots of social interaction 2014 saw numerous hostels open. They pack them in and throw pre-party bashes.

While the present government made a big deal of kicking out foreigners working in Thailand on tourist visas they have not achieved the desired result. There has never been as many foreigners working and living in Koh Phangan as now. While some have married Thais, many more continue to get education visas and non-im B visas to remain in the Kingdom. Not just in the diving sector but also in the restaurant and bar business you will encounter non-Thais working. Koh Phangan has always had a laissez faire attitude and this is an example of this attitude. Moreover, the thriving tourist industry means there is more money to be made, and to support a growing ex-pat scene.

All is not lost for the backpackers and hippies. There are still cheap wooden bungalows for rent on the nearly deserted eastern coast and Haad Khom. Smokables are still available for purchase and of course the beaches are just as stunning as ever. While many believe that Koh Phangan is no longer a hippy island, it is not necessarily true. The yoga and colonic irrigation places are doing fine. There’s still the odd foreigner living in an obscure bungalow making jewellery and eating vegetarian food.

Finally, kiteboarding has caught on in Koh Phangan. Places like KBA in Baan Tai are attracting lots of xtreme sports fans. There is also a fledgling mountain bike scene in Koh Phangan. Koh Phangan has wind, diving and virgin jungle to provide sporting opportunities. There are also a couple of zipline / canopy adventure businesses set up.

All this means Koh Phangan tourism has never been better. The challenge is to not pull down the wrath of Bangkok government on the island, and to manage the environment to prevent the degradation experienced in Koh Samui.