The ground vibrating, chaotic noise and confusion, bodies scattered on the sand, fire everywhere...
No, the apocalypse isn't unfolding; it's just another Full Moon Party in Thailand. Thousands of travelers come to Haad Rin on the island of Koh Phangan to dance, celebrate, and witness the Full Moon Party. The monthly gathering is arguably the biggest party in Southeast Asia and one of the wildest beach parties in the world!
Dancing with tens of thousands of travelers (sometimes more than 30,000) on a beach under a full moon is an unforgettable experience. But not everyone enjoys the hedonism and debauchery. Drugs, theft, and injuries are commonplace. Many travelers avoid the mayhem deliberately, choosing to head to Northern Thailand where things are noticeably quieter the week of the party.
Love it or hate it, the monthly Full Moon Party on the island of Koh Phangan is so popular it literally changes the flow of backpacking travelers in Thailand! Whether you choose to attend or avoid, understand that traveling in the Samui Archipelago will be affected around the time of the party.
A Little About the Party
Yes, the FMP sounds like some pagan gathering under a full moon on a tropical island. Fire and body paint are a part of the experience, adding to the exotic appeal.
The Full Moon Party began as a small gathering of friends in the 1980s but unexpectedly grew into one of the largest and most notorious parties on the planet. Now, more than 30,000 attendees, some wearing little more than body paint, hit the beach in Haad Rin to share sweat and bucket drinks with people from all over the world.
Don't expect to sleep! The party doesn't peak until sunrise and eventually tapers off late the next afternoon, leaving a scene of carnage and trash behind on the beach. Many revelers literally sleep where they fall, still clutching their buckets.
Critics call the Full Moon Party scene a done deal, claiming that the party has turned too commercialized since its meager origins in 1985. Regardless, experiencing one of Thailand's Full Moon Parties in all of their chaotic, primal glory under a hot moon is considered a rite of passage for backpackers on Southeast Asia's Banana Pancake Trail.
Getting to the Full Moon Party
The Full Moon Party takes place on the island of Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand. Transportation can be booked in bus-boat and train-boat combination packages from all travel agents. Grabbing one of these deals is often cheaper and easier than making your own way to the island. Be aware that theft on the overnight buses from Khao San Road to the islands is common. Don't put valuables in the luggage hold!
To get there yourself, begin by taking an overnight bus or train from Bangkok to the town of Surat Thani. Flights from Bangkok take less than two hours, and getting to Koh Phangan from Chiang Mai is just as easy. Surat Thani (airport code: URT) is the best jump-off point for the island.
Once in Surat Thani, you can book an inexpensive, four-hour ferry or faster, pricier speedboat to the island. On Koh Phangan, numerous songthaew (red pickup truck taxis) drivers will be waiting for the arrival of the ferry. Catch a ride to Haad Rin, a peninsula on the southern tip of the island where most new arrivals will be going.
The Full Moon Party is strewn along the full length of Haad Rin Nok (Sunrise Beach) on the eastern side of the peninsula. Haad Rin is narrow enough to walk between Sunrise Beach and Sunset Beach (Haad Rin Nai).
Although the beach and sand are better at Sunrise Beach, don't expect to get much sleep if you stay nearby. The noise continues all night and through the next morning! Even the buildup to the night of the party is loud and rowdy.
If you want to stay in Haad Rin for the party, you need to book in advance during high season months in Thailand. Affordable accommodation on the island fills to capacity. Unsurprisingly, prices increase significantly. Some people opt to stay on nearby Koh Tao or on Koh Samui and then take a boat over on the night of the party. Budget travelers often share rooms with people they just met. Some sleep on floors, balconies, the beach, or not at all!
Tips for Attending the Full Moon Party at Koh Phangan
- Full Moon Party dates are adjusted around Buddhist holidays which often coincide with the full moon. Don't assume the party is on the actual night of the full moon; it may be a day or two before or after.
- Koh Phangan is awash with "mafias." Fixed, inflated prices for transportation, particularly longtail taxi boats, is unfortunately inescapable.
- Some enterprising locals have blocked the main access paths to the beach so they can charge an entrance fee. You're basically asked to buy an overpriced bracelet that serves as your "ticket." Paying this unofficial entrance fee is up to you. You'll can find many paths to the beach. Some travelers want the convenience of using the main paths and are happy to wear the bracelet as a keepsake for months afterward.
- The Danish-run Same-Same Guesthouse near the beach is a popular place for epic warm-up parties and free body paint before the Full Moon Party. If you're a solo traveler, this is the place to meet a fun group for some backup while at the party.
Safety at the Full Moon Party
The Full Moon Party in Thailand can be a fun experience and perfectly safe assuming you follow some basic common sense. Don't get the wrong impression or believe all that you've heard: The FMP is generally a good-natured event. That said, putting tens of thousands of intoxicated people into one place is obviously bound to generate some bad situations.
Sadly, the Full Moon Parties claim a few lives every year. Most fatalities are due to drownings and drug overdoses. The moon affects tides and creates strong currents; don't swim while intoxicated!
The dark side of the Full Moon Party can be seen by visiting one of the clinics in Haad Rin around 2 a.m. There will probably be a queue of casualties. Clinics become backlogged with revelers with broken bones who climbed or jumped off of the temporary structures. Others drank too much or mixed alcohol and prescription pills.
Serious burns are common. The fire jump rope is a popular attraction during the party, and inevitably a few people end up with nasty burns when it wraps around their legs.
More Safety Tips
- The #1 rule of the Full Moon Party: Do not take anything to the party that you care about. No exceptions. This rule applies to money, phones, cameras, sunglasses, and footwear.
- Before leaving your bungalow or guest house, secure your valuables at reception. Guesthouse and hostel theft is a common problem during the Full Moon Party.
- Stay out of the water! Most of the deaths that have occurred during Full Moon Parties are due to drowning. You won't want to swim anyway after seeing how many people use the sea to avoid long queues at the pay toilets.
- The drink of choice at Full Moon Parties is the famous Thai bucket. Keep an eye on your drink as bucket druggings happen. Buying them from reputable places (established bars) is safer than from the many temporary shacks with funny names on the beach.
- If you think you have to crash on the beach, do so inside of the of the designated sleeping areas marked with safety tape.
- Whether drinking or not, don't drive a scooter the night of the Full Moon Party. Thailand has one of the highest vehicle fatality rates in the world, and many are attributed to alcohol. Public transportation will be available everywhere.
Drugs at the Full Moon Party
Drugs of all kinds are easily available. All are illegal in Thailand and will result in serious jail time if you're caught. Plain-clothed policemen are rumored to patrol the party. They partner with people who sell drugs to travelers.
Some bars openly sell shakes made from magic mushrooms. Nefarious individuals offer pills for sale at the entrances to the beach. You obviously shouldn't accept a mystery pill from anyone, regardless of the source or claims. Even the island pharmacies sell fake and untrustworthy prescription medications to travelers who are willing to pay.
When to Go
The Koh Phangan Full Moon Party maxes out during Thailand's busy season between November and April. December, January, and February are often the biggest months. The party usually experiences peak attendance for New Year's Eve.
Because many important Buddhist holidays are based on lunar events and occur during a full moon, sometimes the Full Moon Party is a day before or after the actual full moon.
The buildup to the Full Moon Party is just as wild and enjoyable as the party. People gather in larger and larger numbers for a week leading up to the full moon.
After the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan
Although many travelers don't stray far from the party scene in Haad Rin, Koh Phangan is actually a large, beautiful island with plenty of quieter bays and beaches. The northern side of the island is covered with private bays accessible only by boat or rough jungle trails.
Located in Haad Tien Bay, the Sanctuary is a beautiful health retreat only 15 minutes by taxi boat from Haad Rin. You can get away from the party scene for a few days, detox, and meet some interesting people in the many workshops there. Neighboring Haad Yuan Beach is another good alternative for getting away from Haad Rin for a few days.