With the exception of Mardi Gras, there is rarely a party I go to these days that has been going on longer than I have. Yet somehow, the Full Moon Party on the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand, has been trucking since 1983. As the story goes, a group of friends gathered under the full moon and started a fire, followed by an inevitable guitar and drum session. They loved the experience so much they came back the next month. And then the next month. And the month after that. And, well, you get the picture.
Now, I’m not sure what the Full Moon Party looked like in its early days, but in its current incarnation it is unlike just about any party I’ve ever seen. It’s pure debauchery, and I wouldn’t call it a music festival or event so much as a celebration of depravity. Seven stages playing all manner of music from psy-trance to drum and bass? Check. Hundreds of people passed out on the beach come sunrise amongst a proverbial sea of beer bottles and lost sandals? You’d better believe it. Flaming jump ropes? Got that too. Oh, and let’s not forget the bar that sells shakes that (supposedly) have magic mushrooms in them. Since I was going to be in Asia anyway and had friends going already, I might as well see what this shindig is all about…
With all that being said, this party is not without risks – financial, legal, and particularly, physical. So with one trip to Koh Phangan under my belt I am here to help you make sure your first or next Full Moon Party goes off without a hitch.
The Logistics Step one in this party is getting there. Koh Phangan is an island off the southeast coast of Thailand, and the most direct way to get there is a ferry from Koh Samui, another Thai island to the south of Phangan. You’ll have to fly into Koh Samui, and the odds are you’ll connect through Bangkok on the way there. This is likely to be the most expensive part of your journey here, as my flights from Hong Kong to Koh Samui ran around $700 total. To put that in perspective, my flight from Chicago to Hong Kong was only $800. Keep a lookout for booking one ways or one-off round trips to save some money. In my case, for instance, separate roundtrips connecting Hong Kongtod Bangkok and then Bangkok to Koh Samui were substantially cheaper than booking from Hong Kong to Koh Samui. There are multiple ferries but the easiest routes from Samui to Phangan is to either take the high speed catamaran from Maenam Pier, or the Haad Rin Queen Ferry which takes slightly longer but costs about half as much. Both are a short taxi from the airport and the taxis on Samui are actual cars and reliable, though I would suggest pre booking on the catamaran if traveling at peak times. The Haad Rin Queen doesn’t really do pre booking except on site. The advantage to the Queen is that it drops you off at Haad Rin, right where the action is, while the catamaran requires a 15 minute taxi ride to Haad Rin. The last ferries run around 5 pm and start again in the morning about 8 am.
The next question is going to be where to stay. The great thing about Thailand is that while the plane tickets might be pricey, once you’re there everything is incredibly cheap. Most hotels require a five day booking through the FMP but even the best resorts are very affordable. My group stayed at Tommy’s Resort, which for location I cannot recommend enough. It’s right on Haad Rin beach and three of us fit easily into a bungalow for only $600 over those five days. With an awesome party pool and a front row seat to the action you can’t go wrong. You can certainly stay elsewhere on the island or even on Koh Samui, but when you get into intoxication land figuring out transport will be the last thing you want to deal with – especially since most cabs are either the back of a scooter or a bunch of random people piled into a flatbed truck, and ferries don’t run again until daylight. Lest you forget, you’re off the beaten path here.
The Fun Stuff Don’t think that the FMP is the only night that you want to be here either. The night that precedes it usually has a jungle party that is exactly what it sounds like, and that is another experience that is hard to duplicate. I recommend arriving a night or two early to get the most out of your time here because once the FMP gets going all the other perks of being on the beach will be harder to get motivated to do and/or get your friends to do with you. You have a variety of options at your disposal, including jet skis, jungle tours, and dirt cheap Thai massages.
Once the actual FMP party gets going, all bets are off (except for the Thai local who schooled my group in Connect Four. Seriously, how is anyone that good at Connect Four? Oh, the person who does this for a living and preys on tourists like us. Right). There are roughly seven stages arranged on the beach and all the pools will be roped off for safety. The beach itself then becomes a madhouse of people in all manner of intoxication. Beer bottles are strewn everywhere, along with lost sandals and as the night progresses to dawn, passed out people as well.
The music itself isn’t filled with big names at all, but the variety and ease of access was a nice touch. I for one like styles like psy-trance and drum and bass but find it hard to access them in the states, at least good quality and with minimal hassle. Here you can pop in and out of those, house, funk, or hip-hop easily and at your leisure. Just try not to step on any passed out people while you’re bouncing around between these stages. The day after isn’t on the same level when it comes to organization and music, but with so many people having booked five days on the island it was just as fun as the Full Moon Party itself, if not more since many people leave Haad Rin for their respective hotels on or off the island. The pool at Tommy’s Resort pictured previously was going crazy and we met some extremely cool people from all over the world. Kiwis, Aussies, Americans, Irishmen, it was really a melting pot of adventurous party goers. With beers running less than $3 USD you can imagine how much fun this group was having.
The Risks Here’s the part that I have to caution everyone on – this is Thailand, medical assistance is not great or easy to come by, and there are a LOT of potential risks to your health going on here. From car accidents to burns I saw far more injuries than I expected. Be careful on any scooter you hop onto to get around, particularly if you’ve been drinking and you’re the driver. Three of four of our bungalow neighbors had been in a scooter accident and had the bandages and limps to show it, and that was before the FMP even actually started. You’ll also see lots of fire entertainment in the form of jump ropes. It amazed me how many people got into the flaming jump ropes considering the abundance of people going before them that had been struck by these blazing hazards. I at one point saw five people in a row try and fail to navigate them. I can only imagine the mental conversation went something like “I know I’m wasted here and those people all hurt themselves, but THIS time will be different!” Uh, no thank you. There was also word from some veterans that the Thais operating the jump ropes have a deal with the hospitals to intentionally send them patients, so really I would suggest avoiding this entirely.
The other major risk is how much glass and other sharp objects are floating around on the beach as the party progresses. There’s no such thing as glass prohibition on the beach or pools and more than one person we talked to had a bad foot injury by the time the party was over. I highly recommend wearing real shoes as opposed to sandals the night of the Full Moon Party to avoid that risk.
Aside from just generally getting injured, be aware that drug laws in Thailand are incredibly strict. You definitely don’t want to end up in Thai prison so be careful with what and from whom you procure your intoxicants, and remember that customs and undercover police are on the lookout for exactly that activity. Added to that is that many of the locals, while friendly and helpful, are there specifically to take your money. From bogus upcharges on your hotel bill to fake or harmful drugs, you’re just another tourist to them. There have even been reports that locals will sell tourists drugs and then report them to police (who are looking for their kickback to get a cut of that drug trade), so you can’t even fully trust the guy breaking the law to not turn you in.
While I have heard from many people that mushroom mountain had high quality shakes in previous months and years, this time around they at best had a chemical downer in them. When confronted about it, the bartender literally just walked away. They don’t care about you, so you had better care about yourself. The final risk I will mention is really one of personal preference, but you must be aware that there is a very real culture of “lady boys” in Thailand. I personally have no judgments on anyone’s preferences with sexuality, but if you think you might not enjoy realizing the Thai girl you were making out with is actually a man, be sure to look out for the signs and even ask politely if you’re unsure. Of course if that’s your thing, you’re in the right place.
The Verdict If you live in the States as I do, this is not an easy place to get to. It took me 32 hours of travel and a couple thousand dollars to get there from Chicago. It’s fraught with risks, but the payoff can be tremendous if you do it right. I had an amazing time with friends I already had and we made a dozen others in our time there. If you like to travel, like to party, and most importantly, can handle yourself in crazy situations like that, I highly recommend it. Just don’t be the guy we saw having a bulldozer rake the beach around him two mornings after the Full Moon Party. Nobody wants to be that guy.