Ahh the Full Moon Party… What began in the mid 80’s with a bunch of washed up Hippies drinking on the beach, has become a full blown spectacle. With enough cash and a plane ticket, any young person can indulge in one of the craziest parties there is. There are no lists, no bottle service, or famous DJ’s. There is the beach, buckets, and lots of bass. There is also more than enough criticism to go around.
Every Full moon (and now half-moon, lunar eclipse etc. etc.) thousands of young foreigners converge on Haad Rin beach on the Thai Island of Koh Phangan to party the night away. It is a decadent, loud, and over the top. On the day of the party, piles of people unload from incredibly dangerous speedboats from nearby Samui or Koh Tao. They are greeted with windy back alleys full of stalls selling neon body paint, cheap food on a stick, and endless buckets. The buckets of course are they universal drink of the party. They are literally the sand castle buckets you played with as a kid and they usually come with everything you need for a Full Moon Drink; Thai liquor, soda mixer, and a real Thai Red Bull.
The party actually starts early in the evening, but anyone with sense knows to not really get going until after 10pm. Before they head to the beach, most fill up on food and decorate themselves in whatever crazy patterns of neon paint they can think of. There is also some of the best people watching you can find. Eventually though, the migration to the beach begins.
The beach itself is a long white strip of sand lined with restaurants and bars. Looking back inland you realize that most of the island is thick jungle. Each bar has its own version of a deck or veranda with huge speakers for blasting music towards the ocean. The music gets louder as more bars compete to have the biggest crowd. The music is your classic modern party music with heavy beats emphasizing the electronica and pop hits at that time.
As the night goes on, the party gets wilder and the crowds seem to only get bigger. There are of course the infamous fire rings and flaming jump ropes which usually drunk Aussies or Brits get enough liquid courage to try out. Naturally, these are the people with bandages on their legs at the airport the next day. The vast majority of people though dance and drink. Most roam from bar to bar buying buckets and partying. They get drunk, some pass out, some leave early, and some stay until sunrise.
Sodom and Gomorrah? I don’t think so…
For the past few decades, the Full Moon Party has been on the top of the ‘Must Do’ events for any western backpacker. However, the party has gotten an increasingly bad reputation over the last few years. Article after article has claimed it is just a bunch of crazy Millennial’s losing their mind, getting drunk, and partying. Interestingly enough, the Full Moon bashing has come from all over the travel writer spectrum. There are the conservative travel writers (generally older) who see it as modern Sodom and Gomorrah with its debauchery and history of drugs. There are also the ‘back to the way things were’ backpackers that lament about the old times and how the party has changed since its inception, which of course it has, making these detractors sounds cliché.
The final group of critics are the ‘travel blog snobs’ or the ‘there are way cooler parties on ABC island in XYZ random country”. There have always been people who will tell you where you should have gone because it is more authentic or more hip. Sometimes though, going where everyone else goes is just more fun. Don’t listen to these people. I could write another 3 blogs about traveling where you want to travel, not where people tell you it’s ‘cool’ to travel, but this concept definitely applies to the Full Moon party.
No matter what people say, the party is still a key stop in any young person’s tour of SE Asia and I am happy to have experienced it in all it’s glory. I won’t argue it is a rite of passage for a world traveler any more than a Mexican Spring Break is for an American College Kid (although this is up for debate) I also don’t want to claim it is a cultural event either. Even though one of my favorite things about the whole night was laughing and joking with the locals as we painted ourselves and ordered buckets.
More than anything, the Full Moon Party is just a really good time. Everyone who is there is on vacation from their normal lives, tan from the days spent in the sun, and simply wanting to party on the beach. If you accept it for that and acknowledge that everyone there is a grown up who can make there own decisions, most negativity should melt away.
It is, what it is
Don’t get me wrong they should work to limit the violence and try and figure out how to better manage the garbage the day after (although, anyone who has been in SE Asia knows, whoever can figure this out would help the entire region) I also don’t want to excuse any of the terrible decisions made by a tiny percentage of the party goers in the past.
Overall though, I would recommend the party to anyone that asked. It is a once in a lifetime experience and as long as you are safe and look out for your friends and others, you should have a great time. More than anything, the Full Moon Party is what it is… and I loved it!