[Koh Phangan, Thailand] How I Ended Up Here & Recap of Volunteering
I wanted to go to the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, Thailand on June 9th. When I got into Thailand, I had about 3 weeks to kill before then. I didn't see the point of heading up north then back down so I decided to spent the 3 weeks in the south and hitting all the main islands. To my surprise, the south is pretty expensive and spending money on the basics just to kill time was going to kill my budget. So I decided to email a few places in Koh Tao and Koh Phangan to see if I could volunteer for a bit while waiting for full moon. A hostel in Koh Phangan (opted to not mention the name of the hostel) replied and said that I could come volunteer through Half Moon and Full Moon for free accommodation and food plus discounts on alcohol, but it was more like free if you are working. Pretty good perks, in my opinion. I picked it because I met a few kids who volunteered there while I was in Penang, Malaysia. They were doing a visa run and they told me stay there. It seemed like a pretty cool place so I said why not.
This meant that I had to rush through Koh Phi Phi and Koh Tao to get to Koh Phangan as soon as possible, which in turned worked out pretty well because I got to see a Whale Shark in Koh Tao and also got to Koh Phangan while it was still dead. I arrived there on May 31st, 2 days before half moon, and the hostel was closed. They were doing a lot of renovations to prepare to the upcoming Full Moon. This was a pretty good thing for me because I got to get more acclimated to the island, met the other volunteers and went out together. If there were a ton of guests there on my first day, I would have been pretty overwhelmed since I didn't get any sort of training. I was just thrown in and expected to learn as I went, which I think was really unproductive and inefficient. Anyway, a rant about the hostel will be a bit later in the post
The other volunteers and I plus a few guests all become a little family aka having daily "office meetings" which was really codeword for going to the staff room and hanging out in an AC room and taking shots. Man, those guys were alcoholics! I became them the more I hung out with them, as in I was the one going out to buy the bottles or initiating the shot taking. Yeah, it got pretty bad... I didn't help that we knew where the hostel bought their alcohol bottles so we went there and got them for ourselves. A fifth of the cheapest stuff was around 150-180BHT = $4-5 USD... yeah it became a bit of a slippery slope. Of the almost 2 weeks I was there, I only stayed in 1 night. So you can tell being in the south islands for 3 weeks completely wrecked me. I was broken when I left the south. But it was such good fun! Like I said, we all became a bit of a family through those 2 weeks and it made my time there really amazing. It also helped that Joe and Elliott had been working there for months so they knew the island inside out. That helped with telling us the best places to go, eat, see, etc. They were our tour guide during our time there. But more on all that in another post about Phangan.
Okay, ranting time...
Maybe because I have a business background and I'm worked/interned in a lot of different places and/or that I'm just an overall very organized person, but volunteering there stressed me out and gave me a bit of anxiety, which I normally don't have. It was so poor managed and run. There wasn't any sort of system to keep order or keep people accountable. The manager (sorry if you ever read this... but maybe it's for your own good) spent most of his time playing Dragonball Z. I mean, I don't expect him to be on top of the whole hostel 24/7 because I know during full moon time period he does have to work a lot but he wouldn't have to work so much if he managed the place better. But hey, I'm not the one getting paid to run that place so I didn't do much to help the situation but here are a few things I would definitely change or implement:
1. Have a guideline for new volunteer training. Everyone working there should know how to check people in, call for a motorbike rental, book buses/ferries, work the bar, etc. It shouldn't be learn as someone needs it so you have to find someone who actually knows. It's unprofessional and looks bad on the hostel. It doesn't take very long to run over everything for each new volunteer. Even if they don't get it all at once, at least they have a general idea of how things work. Better yet, type up a guideline for them to reference each time they have a question about something.
2. Stop making such inappropriate comments to all the female guests. When I was at reception and he was checking in female guests he would make comments such as "I want the three of you in my room tonight for an orgy." You just don't say stuff like that! Even though he didn't direct the comments to me, I was really uncomfortable by it. I mean, some of the guests laugh but what can you do in those situation but laugh? I'm all for some good fun and comments here and there but the way he was saying them and how often, I was not okay with it.
3. There needs to be a schedule of people checking out and beds to be cleaned. We never know when people need to check out. They are really lenient on the time people need to check out, which is find during the slow season, but during the high times, that isn't going to work. Some people have checked out and their beds weren't even clean or made a day or two later because no one was checking in. Even though no one was sleeping in their bed, they still need to be cleaned and made up right away. It looks bad to the other guests in that room. When we need a bed made, we have to go find the cleaner and have them do it. But it would be a lot more efficient if there was a list of people who are supposed to check in and check out everyday and which room/bed they are in so the cleaners can just do everything as they are doing their morning cleaning routine.
4. There seems to always be a change issue. As in, they never had enough change or any money in the register to give to the guests. We would have to tell them that they need to pay later or run around looking for the owner to get the change. This isn't so bad when people are checking in but it's the worse at the bar. They NEVER have change at the bar. It's really frustrating when we're busy. If they don't want to keep money there then they should consider doing a tab system and have them pay before they leave.
5. The hostel also doesn't have any sort of theme or color scheme to it. Everything is just put there. Nothing matches with anything. I guess it's alright but I usually like hostels that have put a little bit more thought into the layout of the place and the decorations. So this isn't the worse thing in the world.
6. The volunteer shifts are also not set out properly. Yes they told us when we should be starting work but it was more of we whenever we woke up and felt like working. They weren't at all strict with the time schedule, which in turn makes the volunteers really laxed and not really doing what they should to help out. I wouldn't really know when I was working. If I was awake and at the hostel, I would work. I then just left whenever I saw that it was slowing down to do my own stuff.
Anyway, this was just what I noticed when I was there. I wasn't there for very long so I can't say if there are worse/better things. I heard that the place used to be better run and it is now going downhill a bit. I guess it also didn't help that the other workers weren't super engaged in the volunteer work either. It was a domino effect so everyone got influenced by the other people not super motivated to work. I was originally supposed to stay to work through full moon but because the other volunteers decided to go elsewhere, I followed suit. I ended up only working there for like a little over a week and left a few days before Full Moon. I did feel really bad for leaving them hanging right before their busiest time of the month but it was really necessary. I don't think i would have liked working during Full Moon. This was my first and probably only Full Moon, so I wanted to have fun and enjoy it more than save a few bucks here and there.
Since I spent so much time on this island, I have a lot more to write about. There will be a series of posts for Koh Phangan and making me fall behind even more (currently in Vang Vieng, Laos so I still need to write about the north of Thailand, and other parts of Laos).