It’s a widely known fact that Koh Phangan is famed for its full moon parties. The island is relatively quiet in the day, but if you arrive on shore from 6PM onwards, the loud, in-your-face, eurotrash playing from the clothing stores on the pier will hit you like a ton of bricks.
Take a drive through the island on a taxi or a tuktuk and you’ll see signs lining the sides of the roads, notifying tourists of the dates of the parties, which usually happen on three consecutive days. There are even half-moon parties for those who can’t make it to the full moon one.
You can’t go to Koh Phangan without experiencing one of those parties for yourself; it’s a rite of passage for any tourist passing through, or so they say. Some even make it a point to come here just for the parties, and of course I have to see it for myself.
The biggest party happens on Haad Rin Beach every month. Throngs of rowdy Westerners descend upon the beach like a pack of wolves, donning neon singlets emblazoned with the words ‘Full Moon Party’. And as if that’s not eye-catching enough, some of them cover themselves in neon body paint.
A THB100 ($3) entry fee gives you access to the party. The party is separated into five areas, each one catered to fans of a certain genre of music: Drum ‘n’ bass, reggae, EDM, hip-hop and R&B, and progressive house. There are a couple of elevated wooden podiums on the beach, built on stilts, where hundreds of sweaty men and women pogo to commercial dance music.
In 2013, Time published an article, stating that the full moon parties have “become a trashy disgrace”. Is there any truth to that? Definitely.
Here’s why: No one’s there for the music. They’re there to get smashed on tiny buckets of cheap booze. Yup, booze is sold in those buckets that you make sandcastles out of. At THB120 ($3.30) per bucket, it’s a steal.
The full moon party is a neon-lit spectacle of drunken debauchery. There is a fine line between hedonism and animalistic behaviour. At the full moon party, the latter is on full display, and while amusing, it’s frankly not a pretty sight; you’ll also see people running around like headless chickens, knocking into passers-by. The beach is littered with trash; you’ll also see men peeing into the sea, because who knows where the toilets are?
There’s an abundance of food in the area. No one knows how long it’s been sitting on the tables, underneath the warm glow of the orange lightbulbs that mask how disgusting the food actually looks. But hey, anything tastes good when you’re having the munchies, amirite?
I’m not sure if the full moon has an effect on human behaviour. The Lunar Effect may well be an urban myth, but at the full moon party, you almost want to believe that it’s real. After all, the word “lunacy” originates from Luna, the Roman moon goddess. And that’s what people are like at the full moon party––lunatic.
As the night wears on, ambulances start arriving to transport injured revellers to the nearest A&E clinic. I see a man with a bloodied face walking around looking for a tuktuk.
I start questioning my life choices and leave the party a mere hour after I arrived, in search of a smaller space, hopefully with better music. Is the Full Moon Party an essential experience in Koh Phangan? It depends on what you’re looking for. If you purely want to get smashed, then you’ll probably enjoy yourself there. Otherwise, it’s a royal waste of time. If the half-moon parties are half as bad as the full moon one, you’re better off partying elsewhere.
Where to go instead
1. Sandcastle Club, an intimate beach club along Haad Rin Beach with lesser-known guest DJs from underground dance music capitals like Berlin and London.
2. Loi Lay Floating Bar & Lounge. It’s a non-descript shack on Baan Tai Beach that has played host to the best underground Thai DJs such as Sunju Hargun, Dan Buri, and Nakadia. And most recently, international guest DJs Andre Crom and Daniel Sanchez have graced the club’s decks.