Haad Rin – home to hedonistic Full Moon parties where drugs, sex and alcohol abound. The haunt of the young party crowd, where beach bars blast music late into the night and performers spin fire in the dark.
I stayed here on my first visit to Thailand in 2000. I was with my sister, we were two 20 year olds and we loved it. I visited again in 2003 with a good friend. It was a few years later, some things had changed but most hadn’t. We loved it. I was back on the island again in 2005, and while I stayed elsewhere, I still ventured into Haad Rin for the occasional night out. My 25-year-old self still had the stamina to party, and Haad Rin didn’t disappoint. Still, things were changing year by year. The town was growing, the vibe felt like it was changing too; the aim no longer being to relax on the beach with friends and indulge in a few buckets to unwind enough to dance without feeling too self-conscious, but instead to Party, with a capital P. To get wasted in paradise. It had become a fun-for-a-night-but-I-wouldn’t-want-to-stay-there kind of place.
Twelve years on, I decided to drive over one morning to see what changes time has wrought.
Driving along the road I noticed the jungle has grown over the years, and Haad Rin isn’t easily seen in the distance as it used to be. A lack of views at least allows you to concentrate on the road, which while well paved, is quite steep in places. The scale of some of the resort developments along this stretch really surprised me. I turned a corner and was confronted with a view that literally made me say “What the Fuck is that?” out loud. To no one.
I mean, it’s not everyday you see Ankor-style Khmer temple architecture halfway up a hillside on a small island in the Gulf of Thailand. I had a poke around and this is one resort that has had some serious money thrown at it. I was torn between being hugely impressed at the details of its aesthetics, and at the same time feeling it really didn’t belong there.
I continued along the road, passing a few more upscale resorts before coming into Haad Rin proper. Haad Rin feels a curious place now. A place that doesn’t really know what it is – a hangout for budget travellers, or a luxury resort?
I walked around, a proverbial Backpacker Ghetto filling the streets and alleyways behind the beach; while on the beachfront itself, poolside air-conditioned bungalows and glass-fronted resorts reside. Good luck finding a beachfront room for less than 1000B, and this is the low season – hardly backpacker prices. I guess the people who come here to party have more cash to splash around than in my day! Holiday-makers rather than Travellers. Gone are the 300B beachfront & hillside fan bungalows of old.
There’s no denying that Haad Rin is a gorgeous stretch of soft, white sand. It’s obvious why travellers started visiting in the ’80’s and have been flocking here in ever larger numbers since. This beautiful beach is quiet and empty during the day, most of its denizens sleeping off the party of the night before. So if you want a wide stretch of soft, sandy beach there are worse places you could visit.
I left Haad Rin feeling sad at the seediness I saw, which perhaps looks even worse in the cold light of day than under neon lights, and a bit sad to feel that a place I’ve enjoyed so much in the past has changed. Same same, but just a bit too different.