Samui Wining & Dining
Koh Pha-Ngan’s Full Moon Party shows no signs of flagging.

Koh Pha-Ngan’s Full Moon Party shows no signs of flagging.Imagine a party that’s so good that its hosts decide to hold exactly the same party again and again. You can’t repeat a good thing, right? Wrong! The same party’s just as good the following month. The process continues not just over months but years, getting bigger and bigger and more and more famous, until eventually it plateaus - but still keeps going. Turn up at one of today’s Full Moon Parties and you’ll probably not see anyone who was at the first, but like a relay race, the fun is handed on ... and on. The party’s now so big that it probably couldn’t stop even if it wanted to – people would still turn up. It’s the party version of a runaway train, and one where there’s no shortage of people who want to climb aboard for one of the world’s most deranged, giddy rides.


You might wonder how this steamroller of hedonism ever got going in the first place. After all, Koh Pha-Ngan is basically a small, quiet jungly island with beautiful beaches. It seems an unlikely venue for an on-going party. You’d think it’d be more suitable for a placid beachside barbecue for a small group of friends. Low key is indeed the way it started out. A few friends gathering together by the sea, according to legend. The original party is said to have started in 1985, or thereabouts. Oddly, nobody seems to remember exactly when. I once met a rather elderly hippy on Koh Tao, who claimed that the very first party was fuelled by drugs brought in by air by someone who’d gone to London expressly to fuel up that first occasion. But who really knows anymore? What’s certain is that the same party was held again just a while later. People heard about it and the demand grew for a monthly get-together that very quickly became the very opposite of genteel. Over the years it became ever more famous (or rather, infamous) until it became the veritable institution that it is today.


All partygoers know that drugs are forbidden in Thailand, but it still doesn’t deter some people. Not only are there searches going on at the party itself, but there are undercover police. And, of course, drug dealers themselves may be playing both ends and informing the police about who’s buying. Walk along the beach and you’ll have plenty of people offering illicit substances. Although the party has a reputation for drugs,Koh Pha-Ngan’s Full  Moon Party shows no signs of flagging. it’s safe to say that a good deal of the inebriation you’ll see is due to alcohol. There are the awesomely powerful ‘buckets’ – pails filled with alcohol and Red Bull (but not necessarily limited to these). When the buckets kick in, then it’s cliché time: one minute you’re quite in control of yourself, then the next it’s like being hit over the head with a frying pan.


There’s definitely something orgiastic about the event. While a small low-season Full Moon Party might only have 5,000 partygoers, 20,000 is more like the average, with the largest being 30,000. But as anyone knows who’s ever tried, it’s hard to count a crowd, especially when it’s dark. The beach is packed. Not packed as in sardines in a can, because sardines remain utterly still. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder packed. And most of those shoulders are in motion. If you arrive in the afternoon, when the beach is still setting up, then you might think it’s no big deal, and it’ll just be a small event: everything looks too laid-back and well, there’s not a lot that seems to be happening. It’s only after 10:00 pm that the party really starts. By then you’ll be revising all your expectations upwards, and you’ll know beyond a doubt that the party is going to be huge! Twenty thousand people? That’s a small town. And those townsfolk are all standing on the beach. And they’re off their heads. It can be a daunting feeling to be in that crowd.


Most people manage to have a good time. Like any party, some will enjoy it more than others; some will think it’s absolutely wonderful while others just want to go home early. There’s music and dancing all night and the party only comes to an end after dawn. There are impressive fire shows and an atmosphere that’s hectic, buzzy and raucous in the extreme. But many come back over and over again, and never tire of it. And for many, a holiday on Koh Pha-Ngan is synonymous with going to the Full Moon Party. It’s one and the same thing.


If you’re travelling to Koh Pha-Ngan for the party and want to stay in its epicentre, Haad Rin on the island’s south coast, then you’ll need to book in advance. You’ll also need to be aware that burglaries can take place during the party and that you’re also advised not to carry valuables with you in bags, which can get lost or stolen. If you’re coming over from Samui you can avoid any and all accommodation problems as there’s a flotilla of boats that make their way across to and from the party. Koh Pha-Ngan’s Full Moon Party  shows no signs of flagging.Other dangers to watch out for are broken glass on the beach, motorbike accidents, swimming while inebriated and rip tides. This list isn’t exhaustive, either.


What’s certainly true is that the Full Moon Party is so big an event, that much like New Year’s Eve, it has its own aftermath: a day in which few people seem to have the inclination to do much. After a particularly big party the whole island can have a feel of being worn out; partygoers and islanders alike appear jaded. Massive hangovers are common, and there’s the chance not just to hear a solitary drinker, but entire crowds of friends declare, hand on heart, that cheap old resolution: “I’m never going to drink again!” Some of those who’ve taken illicit substances may take a lot longer to get over the effects and experience lasting paranoia and panicky feelings. You’ll see some very blanched faces over the next couple of days following a party, as well as trembling hands. Some people end up in psychiatric care and are even taken to a local centre on the mainland, which translates cheerfully from the Thai as ‘The Garden of Joy’. It’s also not unknown for people to go physically rather than mentally missing, until the effects of the night have worn off and they find their way back to their accommodation. If you’re on Koh Pha-Ngan and don’t want to participate in the Full Moon Party, or its lingering after-effects, then it’s best to stay as far from Haad Rin, as possible and head for the quieter north. But even there, the day after a party, you’ll be bound to hear stories about the night before and how good it was. Or not!


The Full Moon Party however rises above such differences. It defies them. Even if it sounds like a single party, it just isn’t, and you can’t ever lament that you missed it, for just a month later it’ll repeat itself, as it has done well over 300 times so far. Some half a million people have attended, and any teenagers who went to the first ever party are now about to turn 50 years old. Even those who wag their fingers at all the hedonism tend to fall silent at the sheer staying power of the Full Moon Party. For the true hedonist nothing succeeds like excess and, love it or hate it, the Full Moon Party is certainly one of the most successful parties on the planet.


Dimitri Waring


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