In spite of the showers sweeping across the Thai island of Koh Phangan, I'd arranged to meet up with a couple of guys I'd initially met on a bus between Bangkok and Surat Thani.
Having bumped into each other again whilst frantically searching for budget accommodation on the island earlier in the day, I was due to catch up with British
backpacker Christopher Jackson and his Swedish pal Johan Ericson at the Same Same bar, a little way back from Sunrise Beach upon which the island's
Full Moon Party was scheduled to rage all night, and long into the morning.
As I showered and shaved, a power-cut plunged my isolated bungalow into darkness. I'd had my phone stolen, so I had no source
of artificial light to aid my progress. Hanging back in the rustic bathroom in the hope that power would be restored within a few minutes,
I was still stooped beneath the shower thirty minutes later, quite literally standing starkers for the good of my health.
If only I'd had a candle to hand. And a match, of course.
Unsure of the time, I eventually dared to make a move, tentatively edging towards the bathroom door with my arms swung in front of me, taking
extra care not to come a cropper by tripping over or slipping on the step. I'd already spread the clothes I intended to wear on my bed, so
I didn't have too much of a problem locating them and flinging them on.
Just as I was about to head down into the town, the heavens opened. 'Just my luck,' I tutted, wrestling with the front door's
padlock as a dog howled from the woods behind. In light of the rain, the track leading down to the bar had been transformed into a mud bath which
threatened to steal my flip-flops at every turn.
Approaching the Same Same establishment was a surreal experience.
I could hear voices, but no light whatsoever pervaded the joint's
periphery. It seemed that power was in short supply right across Had Rin; only the luckiest eateries, shops and guesthouses equipped with back-up
generators were capable of casting a little light into the enveloping darkness.
I waited outside the bar as pre-arranged. Chris and Johan soon appeared, their ill-defined faces adopting ghostly traits as they lopsidedly trudged in my direction.
The bar was open for business as usual. A multitude of candles enabled customers to eat and drink without them risking missing their mouths.
Ravenous and dehydrated, we fell in with the masses in order to get warmed-up before the party down on the beach really got started.
An hour later we followed the hordes of revellers onto Had Rin Nok, dashing into the conveniently located Cactus Bar just as a particularly
unforgiving rainstorm unleashed its fury. In spite of the depressing state of the weather, the world-famous party went ahead as normal, with thousands of
hardcore dancers braving the elements from dusk until dawn.
Aspiring to stay as dry as we could for as long as possible, we hung around in Cactus Bar for a couple of hours, bulk-buying straw-equipped buckets of
whisky and Red Bull as we slowly but surely got into the spirit of the party.
Come 11 p.m. I felt like a wander. Chris and Johan decided to stay put, so I headed out on my own, staggering
south along the beach to where the Paradise Bungalows struck the sand with a vengeance. It was here that
The Full Moon Party was born at some point in the late eighties.
Nobody knows for sure in which year the first party occurred, but legend has it that it was inspired by somebody's birthday.
Astoundingly, it has since gone on to become one of the biggest and best-known parties in the world, taking place every month
on the night of the full moon. In the interim, when the moon wanes to what resembles a shadow of its normal self, Half Moon Parties coolly plug the void.
When I returned to the bar, Chris and Johan were nowhere to be seen. By this time the entire beach was heaving with party-goers.
Ducking past a couple of fire-jugglers, I proceeded to walk north up the beach, the sounds pumped out from the huge stereo systems
becoming progressively harder and louder as I casually cut a course through the crowds.
Over the course of the following six hours I bumped into Chris and Johan on a few occasions. I also had the good fortune to see a
few other friends as I traipsed back and forth, my sandal-strapped feet following my ears.
Encouragingly, a wide variety of music is on offer at the parties in order to tempt as many people as possible to show their
faces and shed their inhibitions. Although most of the music is Dance-based, there are a number of different sound systems spread along the length of the crescent-shaped beach, with the distinctive beats and rhythms of Techno, Drum & Bass, Reggae and Trance rarely far from earshot.
I slogged my way through four buckets of whisky and Red Bull before my stomach began to protest. Giving it the benefit of the doubt,
I resisted the temptation to buy more. Instead, I climbed the headland at the northern extremity of the beach in order to witness sunrise.
As the sun reared its head, I was in awe as I surveyed the scene of carnage below on the body and bottle-strewn sand.
Some people were fast asleep, a safe distance from the lapping waves. The most energetic folk simply danced on, oblivious to the ocean of litter at their feet.
The sight was extraordinarily beautiful and undeniably ugly in equal measure. There we all were: blissed-out, peace-loving, footloose and fancy-free.
Returning to the ranks, I was moved to tears for two reasons. First and foremost, I felt elated, overjoyed to have witnessed such a large-scale party
where everybody had evidently got on with each other so well. The second reason I was moved to tears? Well... I'd blown a small fortune.
Even though there had been a staggering volume of alcohol consumed, there had been no hint of violence or malice anywhere along the beach.
Total strangers had become firm friends, and for those who aspired to party on, 'The After Full Moon Party' up at The Backyard was only just beginning.
After indulging in a Full English breakfast with Chris, Johan, and an apparently nameless Swedish girl, we headed on up to The Backyard ,
the never-ending party being the most unforgivable excuse to continue drinking.
It seemed churlish to not head up there since The Backyard was on the route back to where I was staying.
It was there that I met a girl called Anna from Frankfurt. She made no bones about the fact she was taking a 'vacation' from a vacation between bouts of
travelling around India. Mutually entranced by the travellers' tales we relayed, our knees knocked against each other's as we sat down and sobered up.
A short while later my eyes panned across the dancefloor in search of Chris and Johan. There was no sign of them anywhere, and I never saw them again.
Come midday, I stumbled back through the forest and along the slippery slope leading up to The Secret Garden bungalows with just one priority pulsating through my mind: sleep. Anna, on the other hand, dared to declare that she had enough energy to dance for forty-eight hours solid and then some, intent as she was on making waves across to a supposedly 'secret island' for an 'After After Full Moon Party' later that day.
As for me, it was 'lights out' the second my booze-addled body assumed the horizontal position. It was only later, when I finally came around, that I realised just how much of a lightweight I really was.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 28: Full Moon Fever By Steve Rudd
'Four thousand baht! You must be joking!'
I'd just been told how much it was set to cost me to rent a beachfront bungalow for the night on Had Rin Nok, the home of Thailand's infamous Full Moon Parties on the tropical island of Koh Phangan. I was frankly astonished. Four thousand baht roughly equated to eighty pounds: a blatant rip-off by anyone's standards, however desperate they might have been
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 27: A Wasted Day at the Embassy By Steve Rudd
Having reported the theft of my backpack to the police, I thought it might be beneficial to report the incident at The British Embassy, too.
Before making tracks across Bangkok to the embassy, I sat outside the police station near the end of Khao San Road for a few minutes to collect my thoughts and get organised. As I rifled through my documents,
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 26: Signing My Life Away By Steve Rudd
I could just about deal with the fallout of the theft. The thing I struggled with most was the betrayal of trust. I have always trusted everybody, regardless of whether they are a close friend or a complete stranger. I don't judge. To do so is unnatural.
Even though I'd had my backpack stolen, I doggedly refused to let such a fact affect the way I acted
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 25: A Temporary Loss of Faith By Steve Rudd
In my absence, somebody had broken into my room and stolen my backpack from where I'd rested it against the wall beside my bed. I hadn't unpacked anything since checking back into the guesthouse. I'd had neither the need nor the motivation to do so.
Fortunately, I still had my passport, my bankcard and my camera; they went everywhere with me
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 24: Spontaneous Combustion By Steve Rudd
I'd returned to Bangkok in anticipation of heading south to Ko Samui, one of Thailand's most-visited islands, on which two friends were due to be married. However, they weren't going to tie the proverbial knot for another two weeks, a fact which awarded me plenty of spare time to gad about at my leisure.
It was a scorching hot Friday morning, and I'd just met an English girl called Abi on Soi Rambuttri in Bangkok. We both had something in common: money - or rather 'lack of.'
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 23: A Cashflow Crisis By Steve Rudd
Twelve ATMs down, and not all that many to go. It was fair to say that I was in a quandary, with no cash to my name other than a few dollar notes I had left over from my recent trip to the US.
It wouldn't have been so bad if I'd had a clutch of British pounds, or a sizeable wad of notes in any currency for that matter; a staggering number of currency exchange offices line both sides of Khao San Road in Bangkok,
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 22: Trios Amigos! By Steve Rudd
OK. So what do you get if you cross a well-to-do Frenchman, a freethinking Englishman, and a mad-as-hell Spaniard? Adventure by default.
I was in Sukhothai, Thailand, all psyched up to savour the unassailable beauty of one of the most dazzling jewels in the country's crown. Long before Ayuttaya and Bangkok succeeded the city as Thailand's capital, Sukhothai flourished as the naval of the nation.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 21: The One Hundred Baht Experience By Steve Rudd
I was searching for 'The London Hotel', having had the place recommended to me by a friend. Paying close attention to the road signs, I was definitely heading in the right direction as I made tracks away from Phitsanulok's train station.
Confusingly though, the hotel that I presumed to be 'The London' had no exterior hoarding in English proclaiming it to be the place I desired. Its sign was in Thai script, and thus beyond my comprehension.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Twenty: Stray Dogs and Cheeky Monkeys By Steve Rudd
I'd barely made myself at home in Lopburi, and I was already on the verge of being chased out of town. From the off, as I ambled out of the train station after catching an early morning train north from Bangkok, the town's myriad stray dogs were on my tail, as though they genuinely resented backpackers snooping around their patch.
Making more haste than usual to find
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Nineteen: Going West for Eastern Inspiration By Steve Rudd
'Tuk-Tuk!' came the shout across the concourse. In the same beat I was offered a taxi, before a middle-aged lady rushed up offering me a cut-price massage. And this was all out front of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, into which I'd just flown from LA.
My writing work in the US finished, I had decided to head over to Southeast Asia in order to attend the wedding of a couple of friends who I'd first met on my first visit to
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Eighteen: A Mile Of Miracles, And Then Some By Steve Rudd
Taking the bus was too easy, despite the fact that my film making pal Dave Kebo had dropped me off at the Shell gas station at the Wilshire and Vermont intersection in Koreatown which was conveniently situated right beside a bus-stop.
Looking due west along Wilshire Boulevard, my feet felt the twitch before my heart. A bus bound for Santa Monica had just pulled up, and for the meagre fee of a buck and a quarter ($1.25)
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Seventeen: On Foot Across LA By Steve Rudd
I don't like not knowing what's out there. I prefer to be informed rather than ignorant. I hate living in the knowledge that there are sections of certain towns and cities in the world that I know next-to-nothing about.
That's why, given the chance, I always walk whenever and wherever I can. I walk and I walk and I walk until my feet begin to announce their grievances.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Sixteen: When in Venice ... By Steve Rudd
No visit to LA is complete without a saunter along Venice Beach, south of Santa Monica.
The actual beach is beautiful, yet it is the mad parade of stalls and performers which are set back from the beach on Ocean Front Walk that are the real attraction to this part of the city.
It's like the sixties never ended, a slew of tarot card readers, tattoo artists, dubiously talented musicians and all manner of folk on the scrounge for marijuana making
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Fifteen: A Run-In With Gordon Ramsay By Steve Rudd
Having touched back down in LA on what had been a sensationally overcast day, I was glad to see the sun the following morning as I ventured out into Santa Monica, aspiring to hit the beach. I was back in the city to catch up with a friend and to do some writing, but I still intended to make some time to see exactly why people get so excited about the smattering of beaches gracing The Pacific Coast at LA.
It's certainly easy to understand why
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Fourteen: St. Patrick's Day With A Difference By Steve Rudd
In the wake of an exhilarating hike into Runyon Canyon, one of Hollywood's best-kept secrets, I was all buoyed-up to sample a prime slice of LA nightlife. It was St. Patrick's Day, and I was keen to see how Americans celebrate it. Rest assured, I wasn't disappointed. They celebrate the day with just as much gusto as stout-addled folk back in Ireland.
Opting to head downtown in order to appreciate the wide variety of bars in the district, I was accompanied by Dave Kebo, a movie-making friend who I'd first met in Istanbul back in November 2008.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Thirteen: The Green Side of Hollywood By Steve Rudd
Keen to see a side of LA that the majority of visitors to the city never get to appreciate, I couldn't have been more pleased when my friend Dave Kebo, a movie-maker who was raised in LA and knows much of it like the back of his hand, offered to show me around.
It was St. Patrick's Day, and our first port of call was a cafe in the Silver Lake district, east of Hollywood. Neither of us had so far indulged in breakfast, so we ordered up and sat back, sitting out on the busy sidewalk in order to increase our chances of spotting a celeb.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Ten: Sun, Sand, Sea ... and a Man on a Mission. By Steve Rudd
In terms of beaches, visitors to Mexico genuinely are spoilt for choice. World-class stretches of sand are to be found on both The Pacific Coast and The Gulf of Mexico, with old favourites in the ridiculously commercialised forms of Acapulco and Cancun still managing to draw in huge crowds with ease.
However, some of the country's lesser-known beaches are