On my first trip to Thailand, I didn’t make it to a Full Moon party…but from all the other travelers I talked to, this seemed to be a can’t-miss-once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wasn’t going to miss out on that during my second trip to Southeast Asia. It may be an 18-year-old infested party of animalistic and hedonistic activity, but it still felt like something I had to try at least once. And since my trip overlapped with New Years Eve, I got to experience not one, but two parties within a 7 day period – I believe this is the only time of year that two parties occur back to back like this. Although if you count the plethora of Full Moon spin-off parties (Half Moon, Black Moon, etc), I suppose one could argue my point.
The parties take place on the island of Koh Phangan – on sunrise beach, which has basically been destroyed by the parties. It’s pretty gross and I wouldn’t recommend staying near there for more than a day or two as there really isn’t much to do besides massages, getting tattoos, and buying full moon gear. We were set to stay there for 7 nights, but ended up whisking ourselves away to the much more picturesque and peaceful Koh Tao. If I was doing it over, I would have just stayed on Koh Tao and come in for the party. You stay up all night anyways, so it would have been easy to just get a ferry back to the island the next morning.
From the moment you step foot on the beach, it’s like you’ve entered another world. Everyone is holding the signature “bucket” of alcohol (a trend I am surprised hasn’t become more prevalent elsewhere as it is debaucherous and a lot of fun) – a mix of ice, a bottle of alcohol, a can of soda or juice, and usually a can of Thai redbull (with ingredients that aren’t legal in the US). The parties tend to have a higher number of dudes, which is both good and bad for us ladies. On the downside, the party tends to make everyone turn wild….so it’s a good idea to have some dudes you trust around to protect you from sleazy wasted characters. On the plus side, you have your pick of many lads from all over the world – everyone horny and anxious to get some action after (and at) the party.
As you traipse the beach, you’ll find lots of venues with different varieties of music playing. If you find one with tunes you like, you stop and dance for a few minutes (or hours…you tend to lose all track of time and space in this environment so sometimes hard to tell exactly). As your bladder starts to fill from the bucket, you may make your way to the giant toilet that is the ocean. It’s pretty gross when you think about it after the fact, but when after a mushroom shake and a bucket or two, the oceanic bathroom doesn’t sound so bad. Boys line the shoreline, doing their business…girls wade into the water holding hands with their friends – embarrassed at first until they finally decide to just do it. After all, everyone else is.
It’s crazy how you just lose all sense of self at the parties. The fact that you are 27-years-old with a career and life back home all seems to slip away, and you just live in the moment. I think I must have yelled to my friend “is this real life?!” a dozen times. You feel like you’re in a dream because everything is surreal…the flashing lights, the fireworks (on New Years Eve), the deep thumping music, the sand packed with dancing sweaty bodies. You want to make out and dance with everyone and anyone regardless of age or if they speak English or have a job and are a respectable human being because you aren’t really yourself. You’re a different version of yourself in an alternate reality.
Then of course there are the endless supply of activities with questionable safety standards. The best and most well documented of course is the flaming kerosene soaked jump rope. When they bring out the rope, large crowds gather to stare in awe as brave (and dumb) individuals jump through the burning rope. It’s dangerous but completely mesmerizing at the same time. I couldn’t be pulled away, eyes wide with excitement as someone managed several jumps unharmed and then sadistically hollering and cheering when the fire rope hit them in the head. The thing about the rope is, you have to be mental to try it and yet you desperately want to. With all the eyes on you and the intensity, it feels like the ultimate adventurous undertaking. Thankfully, I let a small piece of my everyday sensibility slip through during the night of wildness and held back. Mainly because even if I trusted myself to conquer the rope and succeed – there is always a drunk idiot who jumps in and ruins the moment, causing a rope burn to the head or leg. I wasn’t willing to chance it with the crazies out.
However, I did take part dozens of times with the fire limbo stick (that felt much safer as I could be in greater control). The kerosene doused rod was absolutely addicting…the heat of the fire just centimeters from your face was an adrenaline rush and drove hundreds to slip beneath it, slithering through the sand. There is also a slip n slide, which my group of friends stared at for a few minutes – debating it’s danger level, until we realized two from our group were missing and looked up to see them about to make the leap. Once they went and emerged unscathed, we all of course decided to go. They’ll let you do whatever you want (one of the great and terrible things about SE Asia), so three of us sat on each other’s laps and slid down at the same time.
Amusingly, there is also a sleeping section of the party for those who are too tired to make their way home and too exhausted to remain upright. It is the source of many hashtags as people snap photos and videos of the sleeping when they pass by.
There are endless opportunities for drunk munchies along the beach – meat kebobs, pizza, donuts, and my personal favorite – banana pancake carts. Don’t leave Thailand without trying the delicious Thai style roti pancake filled with bananas. It’s absolutely mouth-watering and in my opinion, the best way to end a full moon party and get some carbs in your system.
We generally stayed out all night during the parties, as did most of the island. As you start to stray away from the beach, there are chill reggae bars to retreat to or my personal favorite option, wandering down to Sunset Beach (the beach on the opposite end of Haad Rin and just a few minute walk away from the party). It’s surprisingly quiet there and my friend and I had a blast swinging on one of the rope tied beach swings and then wading out to a tethered row boat and lying in it while staring up at the stars…wondering how we could possibly go back to real life the next day.
I tried my hardest not to go to sleep, knowing that it would bring about a return to reality as soon as I shut my eyes. And yet despite my efforts, I eventually did doze off. It’s funny because it’s almost as if the universe doesn’t want video and photos of the party to exist. Everyone will strongly urge you not to bring cameras or phones since everything tends to get stolen at the parties. And even though I ignore the advice (and somehow managed to hold on to my phone) – it was impossible to get good video and photos. As soon as I’d make the effort to take a video, my phone would be full or I couldn’t get the photo button to work – as if the full moon party gods had cursed the device. So I left Koh Phangan with pre-game photos, but very little to show from the actual parties. It exists now only in my memory. And though I have done my best to share with others the excitement and wildness of the nights, without being there, I’m not sure it’s possible to comprehend.
After all is said and done, I’m thoroughly glad I extended my trip and got to experience the Full Moon beach rager. The events – that draw nearly thirty thousand guests – are a site to be seen and an experience that won’t quickly be forgotten.