The ground vibrating, chaotic noise and confusion, bodies scattered on the sand, fire everywhere...
A geological disaster? The apocalypse? Not quite. Travelers voluntarily come in the thousands to witness the famous Koh Phangan Full Moon Party. Simultaneously, other people go out of their way to avoid the mayhem. Love it or hate it, the monthly party 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. If you aren't interested in the Full Moon Party, you should probably avoid the island during the week leading up to the full moon.
What Is the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party?
Perhaps one of the largest and most notorious parties on the planet, the monthly Full Moon Party on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand ranks high in hedonism. More than 30,000 party goers — some wearing nothing 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 in the afternoon, leaving a scene of carnage behind on the beach. Many revelers literally sleep where they fall.
Some travelers call the Full Moon Party scene cliché, 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 on the Banana Pancake Trail.
Fact: Although Koh Phangan has become synonymous with the party scene in Thailand, that's not all Koh Phangan has to offer. It's a large island with many beautiful beaches! The party is largely contained to 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.
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 night of the actual full moon.
- Unless you book something or arrive days in advance, finding accommodation during the busy season is nearly impossible. Not surprisingly, 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. Travelers share rooms, sleep on floors, or don't sleep at all!
- Unless your plan is to party all night, find accommodation away from Sunrise Beach.
- 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, one which some travelers leave on in pride for months to come. Paying the fee is optional; you'll find many paths to the beach.
Staying Safe at the Full Moon Party
Although the Full Moon Party is generally good natured, 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 drownings. The moon affects tides; don't swim while intoxicated. Clinics fill up during the party with people who have broken bones jumping off of things or drank too much. 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 druggings are not uncommon.
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 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. Once in Surat Thani, you can book a four-hour ferry to the island. On the island, numerous 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 the two beaches. Don't expect to get much sleep if you stay near Sunrise Beach!
Some people opt to stay on nearby Koh Tao and then come over the night of the party.
Other Places in Koh Phangan
Although most people barely recover enough to explore the rest of the island, 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.
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.
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 hits a peak attendance for New Year's Eve.
Because many important Buddhist holidays occur on a full moon, sometimes the actual Full Moon Party is a day before or after the full moon.