Samui Wining & Dining
A look at how Koh Pha-Ngan’s Full Moon Party has evolved over the last 25 years!

A look at how Koh Pha-Ngan’s Full Moon Party has evolved over the last 25 years!This party has become a legend the world over. And like all legends, its origins are shrouded in something of a mystery. A couple of minutes on Google will come up with all sorts of stuff - it began with a bunch of hippies wanting a quiet smoke and some music to crash to; it was someone’s birthday party; someone’s going away party; it was triggered by parties happening on Samui; some French people started it; some Israelis started it – it’s anybody’s guess how it really began.


But if you talk to people who actually live there, in the region of Haad Rin Beach on Koh Pha-Ngan, they’ll tell a different tale, and it’s more about what didn’t happen. It wasn’t any sort of organised event. And it didn’t emerge from a series of small parties that slowly got bigger – not at that time anyway. In 1988, there was nothing on the grapevine about parties, no mention of them on the regular boat, no buzz in the restaurants or on the beach, no signs or notices anywhere, nothing written in travellers comment books or on guesthouse notice boards anywhere on Samui or Pha-Ngan.


The hundreds of people inputting to Lonely Planet made no reference to any kind of beach parties in 1990. But two years later, in 1992, the first mentions of parties at the height of the full moon had already begun to appear. Initially two (still existing) small bungalow resorts competed with each other, drawing a regular crowd to Haad Rin at the full moon. Other beachside bungalows joined in, keen to cash-in on the sudden influx of all-night customers. And when this event reached some kind of critical mass, it morphed into one big party, sometime in 1993.


Another crucial aspect was at the hub of all this: in the mid-1990s, Koh Pha-Ngan suddenly acquired a stable electricity supply, due to a second and larger underwater power cable being run from the mainland to Koh Samui, with a spur that also fed Pha-Ngan. But by that time the Full Moon Parties had already become notorious enough to attract mainstream attention: not only had the local police begin regular raids by 1994,A look at how Koh Pha-Ngan’s Full Moon Party has evolved over the last 25 years! but all of this was also described in the Bangkok Post of that year. And then, the following year, Lonely Planet started to include the event as a regular feature.


You’ve got to keep a couple of things in mind, though, as in those days it was a vastly different set-up from the now-commercialised, well-organised and well-policed event that happens today. In those days there was just one small boat that acted as a daytime ferry, running back and forth between Samui and Haad Rin. There were no boats after dark. But it was a big event, and the Samui speedboats and tour agents were quick to supply their services. As a result all manner of overcrowded small vessels, mostly with no lifejackets, went back and forth until the last boats at midnight. There was no way of getting back to Samui until more boats appeared the next morning.


And then there was the out-of-control drug-scene, compounded sometimes by rogue police officers who were happy to plant substances on stoned partygoers, in order to extract a spot fine. Turf wars between rival Thai gangs sprang up, with violence and gunshots being woven into the scene. The death toll of gangsters and young people grew alarmingly, with rarely a month going by without the news of someone drowning, being accidentally shot, or wandering off into the jungle in a haze, not to be found for a couple of days.A look at how Koh Pha-Ngan’s Full Moon Party has evolved over the last 25 years! And then there were the overcrowded speedboats: at least once a year there was another bad accident. And yet young people from all over the world continued to flock there in their growing thousands every month.

Happily today the story is quite different. It’s now widely-known that drugs are not to be tolerated, the police and rescue services are stationed with bases on the beach at regular intervals, and there are medical teams on standby should they be needed. The shuttle speedboats not only run throughout the night, but need to be licenced and are regularly inspected for safety.


The cash-fuelled feeding-frenzy of 20 years ago has gone, to be replaced by all the machinery of a very slick commercial venture. It’s not only the beach and the restaurants that benefit, but the whole island in one way or another. The majority of the 30,000 partygoers stay for several nights (mostly where prices are lower, away from Haad Rin), often for a lot longer, renting accommodation and transport, using taxis, shopping locally for clothes, jewellery, souvenirs and mementos and making the most of the convenience stores, bars and restaurants across the island.


And what’s it all really about? Well it all depends on what age you are. If you’re younger than the Full Moon Party itself, then it’s something of a rite of passage; a thing that just has to be done before you become dull, straight and adult. If you’re old and gnarly, though, at worst you’ll curse the debauchery of it all, and at best you’ll smile tolerantly, remembering the crazy things that you got up to when the world was still new, and next year was a lifetime away.


And then you’ll ponder on what once was a quiet little Thai beach with nothing idyllic about it anymore – the devastating litter and mess and the thousands of aching bones and crashing headaches that the next day will bring, along with the millions of dollars being gleefully banked every year. But if you’re not old enough to know better, then the Full Moon Party is the best – and it probably always will be!


 Rob De Wet


Copyright 2019 Samui Holiday Magazine. All rights reserved Siam Map Company Ltd.