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The International Writers Magazine: Thailand

Full Moon Party on Ko Samet
John M Edwards
John M. Edwards survives a psychedelic breakdown on a backpacker’s mecca off the coast of Thailand

full moon

In Thailand, it is not necessary to have an actual full moon shining down on you in order to throw together a “Full Moon Party”—just loads of magic mushrooms.
       The decidedly pagan, almost “Glastonberry” atmosphere of the event with a bunch of fragrant hippies—proud of their piercings, dreadlocks, and tattoos--dancing around like scuttling sand crabs and following their dire delusional druthers is almost like a Phish concert exploded. (I was in a high-school garage band with Phish keyboardist Page McConnell; I also turned down a job as bassist for The Stone Temple Pilots before they were big.)
       But abusing drugs abroad is not all fun and games—as I discovered when I literally freaked out on the paradise island of Ko Samet, somewhere off the coast of Thailand.
       Ko Samet, unlike more popular islands like Ko Samui and Phuket, is strictly for the budget backpacking cognoscenti. These “green” eco-tourists flock here in droves to sunbathe topless (without aggressive local Romeos trying to pick them up) and abuse mind-altering substances (without being hassled by the police).
       There is a giant magical mermaid statue right on the beach, suggesting there might be some real ones wallowing out in the warm waves. Pot is plentiful and easily available from the restaurateurs, as long as you know the code word (“no-name”). There, I just snitched!
       A semi-permanent settlement of dropouts and castaways practicing extreme unemployment known euphemistically as “Import-Export” live in apocalyptic “Mad Max” tent cities on the beach, resembling Barbary Coast-inspired Keith Richards and Johnny Depp wannabees—or, Fleetwood Mac.
       Too much sunlight, man, too few phonecalls home.
       Even on my first day, after leaping off at the island’s small jetty, I came across a burned-out casualty: a balding Belgian (in fact, a Walloon) wandering the beach and frenetically fighting some phantom with a stick. According to the locals, the mad Belgian had arrived with two Thai bargirls from Bangkok in tow, and then had been drugged and robbed by them. No one knew what to do with him other than leave him alone and hope he recovered.
       Now I’m not big on controlled substances: I hadn’t even really sparked up a doober since college. Yet here I was on an island brimming with Buddhist magic, unaware that soon I would have the “bad trip” of my life. Whether it was caused by the antimalarial Larium (known now to cause psychosis in some people) or some psilocybin slipped into the “Special” Jungle Curry I’d recently scarfed down, I just don’t know to this day.
       It all began with a premonition: Someday I’m going to die. But what’s after that? Heaven or Hell? Or just sweet oblivion? Sitting on the porch of my cheap beachside hut, I stared up into the sky, noticing the whirling cloud formations solidifying into shadow-puppet gods drifting imperiously through the void. Hey now, what’s this?
       “I don’t feel so good,” I mentioned casually to the Swedish babe, a veritable prow of a Viking  vessel, I’d met out in the ocean. The subject of the Larium I’d recently swallowed came up.
       “Don’t take it!” the Swede warned. “I read in a Stockholm newspaper that it can make you crazy!”
       I decided it was probably better to get malaria than lose my marbles.

beach Zigzagging to the beach, I perceived my mind playing tricks on me. I watched a smiling man with fiery blue-and-red sunglasses repetitively spinning a Frisbee in the air and catching it, a perfect execution every time.

All the otherworldly sunbathers sweating on the sand seemed to be from another planet, morphing into outlandish shapes.

Under the comic-book-colored sun, I looked out at all the glowing demonic swimmers, ears growing pointed, waving at me in the waves. Surely, this must be the entrance to Hell? I voiced with vague alarm.
       Jeez, I’m losing it.
       Later as I hiked the entire length of the island on a whim, trying to sweat out the drugs—maybe I was “dosed” by some freak!—I found myself face to face with a real monkey, barring my path and baring its teeth. Not now.
       Motionless as a mannequin, I stood. The monkey, sensing my discomfort, snatched the water bottle out of my hand and then bounded back into the jungle.
       At last I reached the farthermost point on the island (name: I forget), which featured a gorgeous beach with a small hotel and restaurant. Some unhealthy-looking Brits with (yes) fangs plopped down and began talking to me. Vampires! The Thai waitress, wearing a crucifix around her neck, came over, but with no effect.
       I stayed put until nightfall colorized the air as if fiddling with a bluish black crayon, betraying muted stars, some of which (yes) moved! The aliens have landed! I fancied. Out in the ocean scores of fishing boats were illuminated with a weird glow, while at water’s edge strange blue lights (phosphorescent plankton) washed ashore and disturbed my dream.
       Looking up from my Singha beer, I then saw a steady stream of irreverent revelers making their way onto the beach, controlled by Circadian rhythms and sheer instinct, with their Mag Lites. Although the moon was only a sliver, resembling pie or an Islamic insignia, my first real “Full Moon Party” was about to commence. . . .

© John M. Edwards October 2011

Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam to being stuck in a military coup in Fiji. After graduating from Tulane University, he worked as an editor at Pocket Books and as a copyeditor at Emerging Markets, covering IMF/World Bank annual meetings abroad.

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