The word “lunacy” derives directly from the Latin “Luna”- Roman goddess of the Moon.
Every Full Moon, 50,000 revelers, mostly tourists, congregate on two sandy beaches around Haad Rin beach on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand and dance until dawn. The idea is to begin the party at sunset on the aptly-named Sunset Beach, and carouse until sunrise on the equally eponymous Sunrise Beach, a short stagger away on the other side of the peninsula.
Originally a celebration to bid farewell to a large group of long-term visitors heading back home in the early eighties, the Full Moon Party has swollen into something that bears little resemblance to its origin. While it used to be the haunt of backpackers from across the globe, it’s now a little more commercial, and I’m not using the word “commercial” in the regulated, safe, “drop-the-kids-off-they’ll-be-fine” sense.
Though it could be argued that at a gathering of this magnitude, coupled with a prevalence of mind-altering substances, things are bound to kick off occasionally, but this is rarely the case on Koh Phangan. Granted, a wild party attended by tens of thousands of punters is a mightily attractive market for pickpockets, thieves and drug dealers, so competition between them and the pursuance of their trades can be fierce. The police have been paying a lot closer attention in the last couple of years, however, and they claim the criminal element has been curtailed somewhat.
For me, it’s not the criminals that make sweating shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of drunk half-naked strangers unattractive, it’s the latter. I’m of an age where I still like to tear it up, you understand, but preferably from the confines of an overstuffed armchair with a book in hand and a nearby bathroom that hasn’t yet been liberally used with scant consideration for hygiene.
If, in a fit of spurious judgment brought on by a couple of quiet cocktails while immersed in the latest Ken Follett, I do venture down to the beach, I make sure my valuables are locked in the hotel safe, and I ask for a receipt. I also don’t take anything valuable down there, including my phone, wristwatch, wallet, camera etc. Just enough cash to see me through the night and a photocopy of my ID, just in case. Not because I’m particularly scared of the opportunistic thieves that stalk the inebriated and unwary, you understand, but because I’ll probably lose everything anyway. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. Thus is the benefit of experience.
For those of you that absolutely must take your phone, then repeat this mantra: “Waterproof Bag, Velcro Pocket”. Even if you stay away from the illicit drugs at the Full Moon Party, it’s equally easy to overtax oneself due to the prevalence of the infamous drink buckets, which are sold everywhere. Each small bucket comes with a 300ml bottle of liquor, a can of soda, a bottle of M-150 (a Thai superenergy drink) and a couple of straws. I highly recommend you know your limits before engaging this little cocktail, and don’t share – only drink your own so you know how much you’ve had. The M-150 counters the drowsy effects of the alcohol, so you’re more drunk than you feel, and before you know it you’ll be doing things not only you regret, but everyone around you does too. Unless they’ve got a camera, which, if it doesn’t get stolen, broken or lost, will splash your merry little antics across Facebook for all to see.
Another tip is to wear shoes on the beach − this is a party with lots of drunk people in attendance, so broken glass is everywhere. Don’t take your moped down to the beach either, as tempting as it might seem. There’s plenty of taxis around, but my advice is to sleep on the beach with your friends. And don’t wander off by yourself looking for a cozy spot, because that’s just asking for trouble. Stalking thieves are waiting for this kind of thing. They do this every month. They know where to look and what to look out for. And they get lucky all the time because people like you didn’t listen to people like me.
If you’ve taken a speedboat over from Koh Samui, plan on staying for the whole party and heading back on the 7AM ferry. The speedboats that try to pick up early leavers are notoriously unregulated, and the drivers have usually been partying just as hard as everyone on the beach. When the lightweights start heading home at 3 or 4AM, the pack waiting at the shoreline for a boat can get quite unwieldy, and the stampede to get aboard belies the motivation they lacked to see the night through.
My best advice for Full Moon virgins is to take the precautions I mention above and hole up with your buddies in a bar overlooking the beach. Stick to beer and watch the wacky world unfurl. It’s a lot funnier to watch people make the mistakes we all made when we similarly couldn’t care a jot. The Germans hit the nail on the head when they came up with “Schadenfreude”. Cheers!
When the party’s over, here are 5 other great ways to enjoy Koh Phangan.
- Diving: The popular dive sites of the Southwest Pinnacle or Sail Rock offer some of the most intriguing underwater scenery in the Gulf of Thailand, and are situated just off the coast of Koh Phangnan, half way to Koh Tao.
- Snorkeling: Right off the Northwest shores of Koh Phangnan, fish and coral await snorkelers to float past. Try Koh Mah, Hadd Salad, or Haad Khom.
- Kayaking: Sea kayaking is a great way to spend a day out on the waters. The waters around Koh Phangnan offer a calming paddle, or head out to Angthong Marine Park to explore the archipelago’s 42 islands.
- Trekking: For a reprieve from the sun, go inland. Trekkers hiking through the forested interiors of the island will be rewarded with lesser visited waterfalls and fantastic views.
- Wellness: Have a Thai massage on the beach, or book a pampering session at the handful of 5 star spa resorts on the island. For a deeper balancing, try a short meditation course.