Ko Pha Ngan – birthplace of the original ‘full moon party’ – a party lasting all night long and held on the beach of Haad Rin, every full moon. Originally beginning in the 80’s amongst a small group of travellers, news of the all-night rave began to spread by word of mouth and these days up to 30 000 partygoers make the journey to Ko Pha Ngan to dance the night away.
In 2012, Mike and I were on a 39 day trip with Intrepid Travel through South East Asia, travelling through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, and finishing up in Chiang Mai. It was the 28th December, and we still had a bit of time left before we had to return to work. We had heard about full moon parties, and as we were in the country with New Years approaching, we thought we’d go to Ko Pha Ngan and check it out – and ‘tick it off the bucket list’.
Looking back now, I really don’t know what possessed us to go. We are not party-goers by any means, much preferring the company of each other or a few close friends, having a night in with good food, a few drinks and great conversation. Occasionally we’ve gone out on our travels for a bit of a dance and drink, and they’ve been some awesome nights – but a beach party with 30 000 drunken tourists? What on earth were we thinking?!
Here’s how the night went down – and what you can actually expect…
Un-aware of the popularity of the event, our first mistake was our accommodation location. As we only booked two months out, we struggled to find anywhere to stay near the action – eventually having to settle for a small resort on the opposite end of the island. All accommodation on the island imposes minimum stays over the new year period – we had to stay five nights at our resort. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, as other than the full moon party itself, we didn’t actually leave the resort – enjoying the down time after six weeks of non-stop travel. Travelling to and from Haad Rin was a different story though…
The festivities kick off from late afternoon through to the following morning. We knew we didn’t want to be out all night, so we decided to leave later in the evening. After being held up by a torrential downpour, we jumped on a free shuttle bus from our hotel with about 10 others at 10PM to take the 15 minute journey to the beach.
Except it took an hour and a half… with only one road to the beach, and every single tuk tuk on the island ferrying guests to the festivities, the road was chaotic. We also found ourselves acquiring more and more passengers during the journey (final count was 27!) – many partygoers who were walking to the beach hitched a ride, hanging off the sides of the tuk tuk, sitting on the roof as it would hurl down the roads at 70km/hr and then come to an abrupt stop as it came across traffic – it was the most insane, cramped tuk tuk ride we have ever taken.
Finally arriving at 11.30PM and paying our 200 baht entrance fee, we made our way through the cramped, bustling side streets to the beach of Haad Rin.
HOLY SMOKES. The normally pristine, golden crescent of sand was bustling with 30 000 bodies, covered head to toe in neon. Music – reggae, house, trance – was pumping loudly through sound systems at every single one of the hundreds of bars that lined the beach. Everywhere you looked – Thai men were shouting at you to buy buckets from them, offering special prices and ‘special mixes’ and claiming that they were ‘cheap cheap!’ and ‘not a *insert expletive*’. Next to the bucket stall owner, was a tattoo parlour, the queue of customers spilling outside the door. Bucket stall, bucket stall, bar, bar, bar, tattoo parlour, bucket stall – medical centre – one after another, after another.
Mike and I made our way through the throngs of people to try and find a quieter part of the beach – ha, joke – there was no such thing – literally every square metre was full of people, lost in their own world, dancing to the music. Trudging across the beach was no easy task – the tide would keep coming in, and bringing with it rubbish, straws, buckets, lost clothing and shoes, swirling around your ankles. Gazing out towards the ocean, the light from the full moon illuminated hundreds of men using the sea as their ‘toilet’.
It was truly an eye opening experience. Weed was offered to you by every one. Magic Mushroom shakes were the most popular item on the menus offered by bars. Looking upwards, multi-level bars and clubs had clearly exceeded their patron capacity, with hundreds of people jumping up and down so hard on the top storey, I thought the building would collapse. The crowds varied, both in age and nationality – it seemed that every one who was travelling in South East Asia had descended upon Haad Rin that night.
We counted down to midnight, with the crowds erupting, the music blasting and the fireworks set off as the clocked ticked over to a new year. I love fireworks, and the display was probably my favourite part of the night. Clearly others love fireworks also, as many people had gotten their hands on their own, and were setting them off from within the crowds, including our immediate vicinity – the noise was deafening. We did our best to enjoy ourselves, dancing with the friends we’d made from our hotel, but in the end it just wasn’t our scene.
We left the full moon party at 1AM, having lasted a grand total of 1.5 hours on the beach. Making our way to the tuk tuk rank, we waited 45 minutes before others jumped in and the driver was happy to depart. Like the journey there, the trip home was interrupted by others jumping on, off their heads, making demands and taking drugs – right there, in front of us. Mike and I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally trudged through the door of our room at nearly 3AM.
We survived our first (and last) new years full moon party. It was an experience like no other, but one that was perhaps a little wasted on us. If you love to party, to dance, enjoy that style of music, knock back a bucket or four and making new friends – then you’d probably have the time of your life at a full moon party. We’re glad we did it, even if just to see what it’s really like – but it’s just not our scene, and we don’t mind admitting that – some experiences aren’t for everyone!
- Getting to Haad Rin
At the time of writing, an airport is being constructed on Ko Pha Ngan. Otherwise, take a ferry to the island like we did. You can fly to Surat Thani on the mainland, take a bus to Don Sak pier and a ferry to Koh Pha Ngan, or fly to Koh Samui and take a ferry from here – these are the two closest departure points for the island.
- Where to stay
If the focus of your visit is to experience all that the full moon party offers, stay as near as you can to the beach of Haad Rin – this alleviates transport issues on the night of the party as you can walk. However, many places book out well in advance so keep this in mind when planning. They also enforce minimum night stays – usually 3 nights and some places up to a week.
- Staying safe
I wouldn’t suggest to ever attend a full moon party alone – if you have a travelling companion, great, or try and buddy up with some others staying at the same accommodation as you.
I made Mike promise to hold my hand the entire night and not let go so that we wouldn’t get separated as we didn’t have a phone to call each other – a little extreme, but make sure you have a plan in place if you become separated from your group – decide on a meet up point if you become separated for a certain amount of time.
Thailand is not a place you want to take drugs. Even if this is your thing, there are super strict laws in place for anyone found in possession of drugs. Whilst there is ample opportunity to buy them – which makes you think that its ok – the majority of the time these are undercover police or drug dealers working for the cops, who will turn you in. Keep your wits about you.
Carry as little on you as possible – just what cash you need, tucked into your bra or deep inside a pocket.
We chose not to drink at the actual beach itself, instead having a few drinks at our resort prior to leaving. Again, perhaps a little extreme but be aware when buying buckets – firstly, that you are buying genuine, sealed bottles of spirits (sold with buckets along with a mixer) and secondly, how much you’re drinking. The number of medical centres along the beach is testament to the likely fact that a lot of people get in trouble whilst drinking – the nearby ocean, the pyrotechnics, and the other patrons all presenting dangers – especially whilst intoxicated.
Enjoy yourself, but don’t let your guard down – a full moon party could be the best night of your life, or your worst – be responsible.
What do you think – do you want to go to a Full Moon Party, or has our experience put you off? If you’ve been, share your experience in the comments below!