When my friends began planning their trip to Thailand, they had one requirement: that we attend a Full Moon Party. They didn’t know a lot about the party, but they’d heard so much about it over the years, they knew they had to go. After all, the Full Moon Party is infamous. The mere mention of it conjures up images of a wild, alcohol-fueled beach party where people from around the world have a great time and dance until sunrise.
But what is this party? How did it come about? Why is it so popular? And most importantly—how can you get there yourself? I’ve been to seven Full Moon Parties over the years, and I can tell you that there’s a certain way to experience this party. You want to avoid overpaying or getting injured, find good accommodation, and make sure you’re still up at sunrise.
What is the Full Moon Party?
Legend has it that in 1987 (or maybe ‘86? or ‘88?) a group of backpackers threw a birthday party for their friend on the night of the full moon. They had such a good time that they came back the following year to do it again and then the following month and then the month after that. Word got out, and more people started coming each month.
At first, it was like a small house party on the beach—a few hippies and backpackers playing guitars, smoking weed, and having a few beers. But as word spread and more people showed up, it changed. The 1990s brought the rave scene and all the drugs that went along with it. By 2000, this party was squarely on the travel map, and hordes of young people inspired by the movie The Beach flocked to Ko Phangan, where the party is held. The Full Moon Party has only gotten bigger since then.
Now the Full Moon Party is a giant festival-like party with a lot of drinking, dancing, drugs, and sex. Each bar has its own sound system, so you’ll hear different music loudly blasting onto the beach every few feet. The beach itself is lined with people selling alcohol, fire dancers putting on shows, and little booths selling glow-in-the-dark face paint. By the end of the night, you’ll see people passed out on the beach, the odd couple having sex, and lost flip-flops littering the beach looking for new owners.
Despite the party’s obvious commercialization, it’s still a lot of fun. People come here looking for nothing but a good time. It’s rare to see any of the problems (i.e., fights) you might normally associate with 40,000 young, drunk people. People here are just looking for a good time, and the energy is very positive.
When is it?
As the name would suggest, the party is on the night of the full moon. It you miss it, there’s always the half-moon party, quarter-moon party, and black-moon party. Really, every night is a party here on Ko Phangan.
There’s accommodation all over the island, but you’ll want to stay in Haad Rin (where the actual party is) so you can be close to the action. If you want to find accommodation, you’ll need to come here at least FOUR days before the party in order to find a cheap (and nice) place to stay. The closer you get to the actual night of the party, the more you’ll need a miracle to find something—at any price range. I’ll never understand the travelers who just show up the day of or the night before and think they’ll find a place. They never do. I’ve sat at restaurants and watched the same people wander up and down the street many times in fruitless attempts to find something.
How much does a room cost?
Here’s what you can expect to pay for your bed:
Dorm room (there are now a lot of dorms here, which wasn’t the case a few years ago): 300 baht per night
Regular room with A/C and hot water: 500–800 baht per night
Really nice room: 1,000–1,500 baht
Basic bungalow: 800 baht per night
Really nice bungalow: 2,000–3,800 baht per night
$1 USD = 30 Baht
The closer you get to the full moon, the more the prices go up. The day of or the day before the party, any accommodation left is going to be double the price listed. And if you come here for New Year’s, you can expect the price to triple, with many places also including an expensive, mandatory holiday dinner. (Just another way to get more money from you!)
My friends and I arrived five days before the full moon and found a lot of cheap accommodation still available. We settled on a room we would all share for 1,500 baht. A few days later, the cheap accommodation was gone, and only the high-end rooms that cost more than the Hilton (minus Hilton quality) were left.
Lesson: come early, get a room, enjoy the party, and say no to stress.
Should you book online in advance?
No, not even if you’re going there for New Year’s. The accommodation you’ll find online will be the most expensive on the island and require long minimum stays (sometimes as many as 10 nights). There are a lot of accommodation options in Haad Rin and most aren’t on online booking services like Hotels.com or Agoda. You’ll only find them by showing up. Just come early, and you’ll have no problem finding a room.
A good alternative to Haad Rin is Ban Tai beach. It’s the beach over from Haad Rin and is where a lot of people stay when rooms start to fill up. It’s a short and inexpensive taxi from Haad Rin. If you stay on the northern part of the island, you’ll be very, very far away from the party. Though boat taxis and normal taxis run frequently, they are expensive.
How to Get There
There’s no airport on the island, so everyone comes by ferry. You can come via Surat Thani on the mainland or from the nearby island of Ko Samui. From Surat Thani, roundtrip tickets cost 600 baht and drop you off at the main pier in Thong Sala. From there, it’s a 100-baht taxi ride to Haad Rin. From Ko Samui, boat tickets cost 200 baht and leave from Big Buddha Pier or Maenam beach. The Samui ferry will drop you off at the main dock of Thong Sala or Haad Rin, depending on time of day and ferry company. During the Full Moon Party, boats go from Ko Samui to Haad Rin every hour.
A lot of companies run overnight buses from Bangkok to Ko Phangan for 450–600 baht. This price also includes the ferry. You’ll take an overnight bus to Surat Thani, sit at the ferry terminal for a few hours, and then take the ferry to the island. It’s a long, long night/day, but it’s much cheaper than flying. (Note: Some bus companies go to Chumphon and put you on a ferry from there. Either route is still a lot of travel, but the ferry from Chumphon is usually nicer.)
If you decide to fly, flights from Surat Thani generally cost around 2,000 baht (with taxes and fees) from Bangkok on Air Asia. Flights from Ko Samui are at least 3,200 baht, since Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways keep a monopoly on the airport and see no reason to lower prices with demand so high. During the high season and around New Year’s Eve, ticket prices can get as high as 5,000 baht.
The Full Moon Party Itself
The party begins days before as people trickle onto the island. On the day of the party, you see people from the neighboring Ko Samui and Koh Tao and from other parts of the island adding to the crowd. You’ll see people start drinking in the afternoon, and most people start heading to the beach around 9pm. The crowd peaks around midnight to 2am. On New Year’s Eve, the beach will be full by 8pm.
Here’s what stuff costs on Haad Rin:
Average Thai meal: 120 baht
Average Western meal: 200 baht
Banana pancakes: 30 baht
Cheap food sold on the beach: 40–50 baht
Beer: 80–100 Baht (30 in 7-11)
Cigarettes: 80 Baht
Buckets: 200–300 baht, depending on what kind of alcohol. They can be up to 400 baht on New Year’s Eve.
Toilets: 5–10 Baht
Alcohol – Buy your beer at the 7-11 or buy buckets away from the beach, where they are as cheap as 180 baht.
Food – Food is expensive in Haad Rin, but there are some good budget choices. Paprika, the Israeli restaurant, offers a falafel sandwich and fruit shake combo for 100 baht. In the center of town is a parking lot, and if you walk down the street behind it, you’ll find small Thai restaurants that offer 50–60 baht meals, about half the price of most other restaurants. Across from “Planet Hollywood” (just a restaurant that ripped off the name) is another good and inexpensive Thai place.
What the F$%^$ is a bucket?
Remember when you were a kid and you built a sand castle using a little pail? Picture that pail filled with a can of Coke, Thai Red Bull, and 375 ml of alcohol. Now you have a Thai bucket. A few of these, and you’ll be having a really interesting night.
Party Survival Tips
Drugs: There are a lot of drugs here, especially during the full moon. All drugs are illegal in Thailand and punishable by time in some pretty bad prisons. Undercover police will try to sell you drugs only to arrest you. Locals will rat you out for a reward. Thais love to crack down on foreigners who are dumb enough to be doing drugs in the open. However, most cops have no real desire to lock you away for smoking a joint or doing a pill. It’s too much hassle and paperwork. They do have a real desire to take a bribe, though. Expect to pay upwards of $1,000 USD for your get-out-of-jail-free card. (Actual bribe varies depending on the cop and your ability to bargain down the bribe.)
Skip the jump rope: Picture this. We’re at bar. I turn to you and say, “Hey friend, let’s go outside. I’m going to soak a rope in gasoline, light it on fire, and then you and some drunk strangers are going to skip rope.” You’d look at me like I was crazy and tell me to get lost. But people on this island do exactly that—they jump over a rope of fire. It’s stupid. You may be the world’s best jump roper, but the drunk guy who decides to join you might not be. At my last full moon party, I saw a lot of people get burned. The rope wrapped around one guy’s arm burned all the skin off. He had to be rushed to the hospital. It was not a pretty scene. It’s not how you want to remember your holiday. Here’s a tiny example:
Buckets: They’re deadly! One, two, three, passed out on the beach! Every full moon while I eat dinner, I see newbies drinking buckets before the sun has even gone down. They’re the same people I see passed out on the beach by midnight. A few buckets will get you very, very drunk, so I have a hard-and-fast rule that I and other experienced full mooners follow: no buckets before midnight. If you want to actually see the sunrise, I’d follow it too. (Note: The Red Bull sold in Asia contains ephedra. This substance is like speed. It also negates the effect of the alcohol quickly, keeping you from feeling drunk. Be careful, and watch your consumption of both liquids.)
Hydrate: You’re going to be drinking a lot, and even though it’s night time, the weather is still hot and humid. Drink a lot of water before and during the event! It will also help your hangover the next day.
Stay out of the ocean: It may seem like a good idea to play in the ocean. It’s not. Not only do you risk drowning (there can be strong waves), but everyone uses the ocean as their personal toilet during the party. There’s a reason the water is warm, and it’s not because you’re in Thailand. Stay sanitary. Don’t go in.
Wear footwear: Partying on the beach without footwear may seem fun, but as the night goes on, broken beer bottles and other sharp objects litter the beach. I’ve had many friends slice open their feet after stepping on a bottle. You’re drunk, it’s dark, and you aren’t always looking where you are going. Avoid a foot injury and just wear something on your feet!
Personal belongings: Theft is rife during the party. Bring as little as possible. Bring enough money for drinks and your room key. You don’t really need anything else.
The Full Moon Party is one of the biggest and best-known parties in the world. The vast majority of travelers in Southeast Asia attend at some point, and I have seen people of all ages and nationalities (as well as a few families) here. The party is definitely a unique and interesting time, but if not done right, it can also be expensive and dangerous.
So party—but party smart.