Thailand’s infamous beach rave turned 25 this year, making it old enough to now refrain from dodgy drugs, old enough to avoid drinking buckets of vodka and vomiting it all up a few hours later, old enough to say no to drunken hook-ups with Danish backpackers, and old enough not to take its clothes off and frolic in the sea.
Of course, it will still do all of those things. And so will you. Because this isn’t a birthday marked with maturity, but with glorious debauchery. That’s what a Full Moon Party is all about.
These raucous get-togethers on the island of Koh Pha-Ngan, a name once whispered among backpackers the world over but now shouted with glee, began innocently enough. Like “tubing” in Laos, it was the idea of a few travellers who wanted a simple escape from Western reality. Twenty-five years ago a bunch of hippies decided they wanted to sit on a Thai beach on a moonlit night, smoke a bit of pot, drink a few beers, and – in their eyes at least – live the dream.
But then others got wind of it and wanted to live the dream as well, only they had slightly different dreams. Hard-partying dreams. Over the years more and more backpackers have descended on the once quiet island of Koh Pha-Ngan, in their numbers forever altering the beautiful beach and remote dreamland that the town of Haad Rin once was.
It might have started with the adventurous few, but now more than 30,000 people turn up to Haad Rin every full moon, flooding the beach with bodies and litter, raging into the morning light. There aren’t just Full Moon Parties now, but Half Moon Parties and Black Moon Parties, nights designed for those who don’t time their trip right but still want a piece of the action.
Booze is sold at these raves by the bucket – a golfer’s sand bucket filled with cheap Thai spirits and a splash of mixer. Drugs are available if you know where to look. Even, usually, if you don’t. Long rows of beachside bars blare out dance music from huge speaker stacks, each throbbing rhythm blending with or fighting against the next. It’s mental.
People get injured at Full Moon Parties. They burn themselves on skipping ropes of fire. They drink too much or swallow the wrong thing and wind up needing help. Their boat from a nearby island crashes in the darkness.
And yet still backpackers flood in ever-increasing numbers to Koh Pha-Ngan every month, ready to drink their buckets and have a good time.
Whether you think Full Moon Parties are a Good Thing or a Bad Thing probably depends on a few variables, most notably your age. If you’re any younger than the Full Moon Party itself then it will probably be considered a Good Thing, a rite of passage that you’ve been looking forward to for years.
Get drunk on a Thai beach! Go wild! Pretend you’re in The Beach! Awesome.
If you’re old and gnarly, however, it’s probably a Bad Thing, or at least something that was once Good but has been ruined by the influx of too many people like you.
I’ve been to one Full Moon Party, back in 2005. It was me and maybe 3000 or 4000 of my closest backpacker friends. (The only Thais who attend these things are those hoping to make a buck from silly tourists.)
I don’t remember a lot of the night, which as I recall is the fault of a few vodka Red Bull buckets and some over-enthusiasm. I sat in the sand chatting to people, I might have danced to some badly amplified pop music, and then I threw up next to a group of Canadians I’d been talking to and stumbled off to bed.
Pretty classy stuff, and probably par for the course at a Full Moon Party. That night was pretty tame, however, and small, compared to what the parties have become, these orgies of bodies and booze on once golden sands.
Is that what Thailand is really all about? Debauched parties for rich white people? No. Not in any other part of the country it’s not. Not even on the rest of Koh Pha-Ngan. This is a celebration confined to one minuscule slice of south-east Asia, so the inevitable complaints that Full Moon Parties are ruining the continent are pretty far-fetched.
They might have ruined Haad Rin though. What was once a sleepy little beach community with no electricity or running water is now a chaotic backpacker hub that would be unrecognisable and frankly pretty frightening to the group of hippies who first got together under a full moon to strum their guitars and smoke some weed.
There’s nothing idyllic about Haad Rin any more, which is why people who don’t want to go to the parties there do everything they can to avoid it. It’s the worst place in the world.
For those who aren’t old enough to know better, however, Haad Rin is still paradise, and Full Moon Parties are still the best. And they probably always will be.
A BIG thank you to Ben Groundwater and his article Old enough to know better: Thailand’s infamous Full Moon Party turns 25. Great stuff Ben 😉