The ground vibrating, chaotic noise and confusion, bodies scattered on the sand, fire everywhere...
A geological disaster? The apocalypse? Not quite. Thousands of travelers voluntarily come to witness the famous Full Moon Party in Thailand, arguably one of the wildest beach parties in the world!
Dancing with 10 – 30,000 travelers on a beach under a full moon is quite the experience. But not everyone enjoys the hedonism and debauchery. Drugs, theft, and injuries are commonplace. Many travelers avoid the mayhem deliberately. Love it or hate it, the monthly beach party on the island of Koh Phangan is so big that it literally affects the flow of backpacking travelers in Thailand!
Don't get caught unaware; transportation and accommodation become very busy in the islands. Take moon phases into consideration when planning your Thailand vacation. If you aren't interested in the Full Moon Party, consider avoiding Haad Rin—or the islands around Koh Samui—during the week leading up to the full moon.
What Is the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party?
Yes, it sounds like some pagan gathering on a tropical island. The epic event began as a small gathering of friends in the 80s and grew into one of the largest and most notorious parties on the planet. Now more than 30,000 partygoers—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. The party peaks at 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!
Some travelers 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 the Banana Pancake Trail.
Tips for Attending the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party
- Full Moon Party dates are adjusted around Buddhist holidays; do not just assume that the party is on the actual night of the full moon.
- Unless you book something or arrive days in advance, finding accommodation during the busy season is difficult. Unsurprisingly, accommodation prices triple in time for the Full Moon Party. Many people opt to stay on Koh Samui, then take a ferry to the party. During the busy season, travelers often share rooms, sleep on floors, sleep on the beach, or don't sleep at all!
- Unless your plan is to party all night, find accommodation away from Sunrise Beach and the main road for any hope of sleep.
- Some enterprising locals have blocked the main access paths to the beach to charge an entrance fee. You're basically asked to buy an overpriced bracelet that serves as your "ticket." Paying the unofficial fee is optional; you'll find many paths to the beach. Some travelers want the bracelet to wear as a keepsake for months afterward.
- The Danish-run Same-Same Guesthouse near the beach is popular for epic warm-up parties and free body paint before the Full Moon Party.
Safety Tips for the Full Moon Party
The Full Moon Party is and should be a fun experience. Don't get the wrong impression: It is generally a good-natured event. But putting tens of thousands of intoxicated people into one place is bound to generate some bad situations.
Sadly, Koh Phangan's Full Moon Party claims a few lives every year—mostly due to drownings and overdoses. The moon affects tides and creates strong currents; don't swim while intoxicated.
Drugs of all kinds are ubiquitous. Quality and labels cannot be trusted. 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.
Clinics fill up during the party with revelers who have broken bones from jumping off of things. Others drank too much or mixed alcohol and prescription pills. Burns are common. The fire jump rope is a popular attraction during the party, and inevitably a few people end up with serious burns when it wraps around their legs.
Fortunately, staying out of trouble is easy with a little vigilance.
- Do not take anything to the party that you care about. 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 problem during the Full Moon Party.
- Although easily available, drugs are illegal in Thailand. The police have cracked down on Full Moon Parties; plain-clothed undercover officers patrol the party.
- Stay out of the water! Most of the deaths that have occurred during Full Moon Parties are due to drowning.
- The drink of choice at Full Moon Parties is the famous Thai bucket. Keep an eye on your drink as bucket druggings are not uncommon. Buying them from reputable places is safer than from the many 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 with tape around them.
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 combo packages, or you can make your own way to the island.
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 easy enough. Surat Thani (airport code: URT) is the jump-off point for the island.
Once in Surat Thani, you can book a four-hour ferry or faster 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—where most people will be going—a peninsula on the southern tip of the island.
The party is strewn along Haad Rin Nok—“Sunrise Beach.” Haad Rin is narrow enough to walk between Sunrise Beach and Sunset Beach (Haad Rin Nai). Don't expect to get much sleep if you stay near Sunrise Beach or the eastern side of the peninsula! The noise continues all night and through the next morning.
Affordable accommodation on the island fills to capacity. Some people opt to stay on nearby Koh Tao or on Koh Samui and then come over the night of the party.
Other Places in 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 bays and beaches. The north of the island is covered with private bays accessible only by boat or rough jungle trails.
The Full Moon Party hits the peninsula of Haad Rin on the southern end of the island. Don't avoid Koh Phangan entirely for fear someone will paint your face and hand you a bucket of rum and Redbull!
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.
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.
The Future of the Full Moon Party in Thailand
Thailand's ruling military government has made it clear they aren't a fan of the boisterous event on Koh Phangan. Numerous efforts to quell the many other moon-phase parties on the island (Half Moon, New Moon, Shiva Moon, etc) have been partly successful. The Full Moon party lives on only because the livelihood of numerous island residents depend upon the event.
As the government tries to get a handle on the chaos, and commercialization continues to creep in, the future of the Full Moon Party in Thailand is uncertain at best.