To the surprise of nobody in particular, Thailand’s infamous Full Moon Party was not a domestic invention. It was apparently a group of upstart backpackers in the mid to late 1980s who threw the inaugural party to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The fact that the moon was full was merely a coincidence and a pretext to take the party to the next level, month after month after month.
Because in essence, this is precisely what has happened. The initial get-together was such a success, even at a time when Ko Pha Ngan was relatively quiet, (the Gulf of Thailand island where the party was and is still held), the word spread like wildfire.
Fast-forward a few decades and the Full Moon Party is as much a part of Thailand’s tourism scene, as much as the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Chiang Mai or the UNESCO World Heritage Historic City of Ayutthaya.
The nature of the party has of course evolved quite a bit. What was once an exclusive rite of passage for hippies in the post-“turn on, tune in, drop out” world has become a requisite “must-do” for backpackers, well-heeled holidaymakers and indeed, even mums and dads with kids in tow.
From Hippies to Hipsters
What’s changed? Well, the glowstick-MDMA-rave scene of the 1990s, though not quite dead yet, has been overtaken by a quasi-commercialisation effort by locals and tourists alike. The Full Moon Party has been co-opted, in other words, to suit different purposes. For the provincial and national governments, it’s an opportunity for international tourism. For locals, the prospect of a bumper crop of travellers is too juicy to pass up – as a result, all of Ko Pha Ngan gets in on the act.
But if the Full Moon Party no longer resonates with the kind of heady romanticism depicted in Alex Garland’s 1996 novel The Beach, it’s still mad fun. And it must be mentioned – it hasn’t totally gone Disney either. There’s still plenty of, ahem, extracurricular fun to be had, if you party with the right people.
The monthly party is so massive that come daybreak it’s often hard to find a strip of bare sand on Haad Rin Beach. Some estimates put the number of revellers at 10,000 plus. This convergence of party-minded humanity can be the experience of a lifetime but does require a little bit of caution. No more than you’d exercise anywhere else where large crowds of people amass in a strange, foreign place, far from home.
Pro tip: stash your important papers in a safe place back at your hotel. Pickpockets have been known to thoroughly patrol the beach. So forget that purse and satchel, if you do feel the need to carry some ID, tuck it with your money inside the front of your shorts or inside your bra – not your pockets. Anywhere out of easy reach!
Other nuggets of advice: never accept drinks from strangers. Stay away from street drugs (the Thai authorities are not known for their leniency in this department). Also, watch your feet on the beach; seriously, wear a pair sensible shoes and you’ll avoid nasty gashes from broken glass.
Bottom line: keep your wits about you, hang with mates you trust and good times, no doubt, will follow
The monthly Full Moon Party starts at dusk at Ko Pha Ngan’s Haad Rin. The beach transforms quickly: area restaurants and clubs set up tables, chairs and small oil lamps; DJs get on the 1s and 2s to set the mood, and food carts multiply out of thin air.
Best of all: there’s no cover charge and the atmosphere is charged with excitement… even after all these years.