Updated: 02/04/20 | February 4th, 2020
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 the Full Moon Party? How did it come about? Why is it so popular? And, how can you experience it for yourself?
I’ve been to close to a dozen Full Moon Parties over the years, and I can tell you that there’s a certain way to experience this party so you avoid overpaying for accommodation, getting injured, not spending a lot of money, and having the time of your life!
So, as you plan your party experience, here’s my in-depth guide to the Full Moon Party:
Table of Contents
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 Koh 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. It’s rare to see any of the problems (i.e., fights) you might normally associate with 30,000 young, drunk people. People here are just looking for a good time, and the energy is very positive.
When Is the Full Moon Party?
As the name would suggest, the party happens when there is a full moon. However, be aware that the dates sometimes shift around local holidays so it might not be exactly on the full-moon (check the schedule below for details). Don’t worry if you miss it as there’s always the half-moon party, quarter-moon party, and black-moon party. Really, every night is a party here on Koh Phangan. Expect anywhere from 5,000-30,000 people, depending on the time of year.
Here is a list of times for 2019 and 2020:
There’s accommodation all over the island, but you’ll want to stay in Haat Rin (where the actual party is) so you can be close to the action. If you want to find cheap 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.
Don’t be those people. Come early, get a room, enjoy the party, and say no to stress.
How much does a room cost?
Here’s what you can expect to pay for your bed per night ($1 USD = 32 THB):
- Dorm room: 200 THB (will triple during the high season)
- Regular room with A/C and hot water: 600–800 THB
- Really nice room: 1,500-2,000 THB
- Basic bungalow: 950 THB
- Really nice bungalow: 2,000–4,000 THB
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!)
To help you make the most out of the party, here are my suggested places to stay:
- The Sanctuary – The Sanctuary is a Ko Phangan institution, and guests come from all over the world specifically for its yoga and detox programs. It’s a place for you to rebalance and attend to your well-being. Even if you don’t want to do a detox, you can still rent a room or bed here and enjoy the secluded beach and view. Beds from 350 THB, cheap private bungalows from 950 THB.
- Goodtime Beach Backpackers – If you’re looking for a lively hostel with tons of social activities going on, stay here. This is the quintessential “hostel” – with pub crawls, beach volleyball, a swimming pool, a huge bar/lounge area, and events almost every night. Beds from 350 THB, rooms from 800 THB; treehouse room from 1,800 THB in a tree right on the beach.
- Na-Tub Hostel – This is a funky motel-like hostel that’s constructed out of shipping containers. Since it just opened in 2018, everything is new and clean. The major draw is the central swimming pool. Beds from 300 THB, rooms from 1,800 THB.
Should you book your room online in advance?
I wouldn’t recommend it, unless going there for New Year’s or you can’t get there early. The accommodation you’ll find online will be the most expensive and require long minimum stays (sometimes as many as 10 nights). There are a lot of accommodation options in Haat Rin, and most aren’t on online booking services like Agoda.
A good alternative to Haat Rin is Ban Tai beach. It’s the beach over from Haat Rin and is where a lot of people stay when rooms start to fill up. It’s a short and inexpensive taxi from Haat 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 to Ko Phangan
Getting to Ko Phangan is pretty straightfoward no matter where in the region you’re traveling from. Here are your main options for getting to the Full Moon Party:
If you decide to fly from Bangkok, one hour and 15 minute flights to Surat Thani’s airport (URT) cost around 900–2,500 THB on AirAsia, Nok Air, or Thai Lion Air. From the Surat Thani airport, you can take a one-hour bus to Donsak Pier and catch a ferry from there.
Flights from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) to Ko Samui (USM) are at least 4,500 THB 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 5,800 THB!
Nine-hour trains from Bangkok to Surat Thani leave three times a day and cost between 519–1,200 THB per person.
In Bangkok, you can leave from the Hua Lamphong or Thon Buri train stations and head to Chumphon on a Thai Railways (thairailways.com) route. Book a combo train and boat ticket because you’ll usually get a free transfer from the train station to the pier this way. You should plan for the whole trip to Ko Tao to take 14–15 hours (train, transfer, boat, waiting in between).
Tickets cost 500–2,000 THB depending on booking class, route and season (with discounts for children).
Trains leave daily from Hua Lamphong in Bangkok to Chumphon (and then to Surat Thani). The journey usually takes between 8-11 hours. There is only one train that leaves daily from Thon Buri in Bangkok to Chumphon and it takes around 8.5 hours.
Travel agencies from Khao San Road in Bangkok offer bus and ferry combinations to the island. They will usually offer a bus and boat combo ticket. I recommend getting one of these for convenience (the one that includes the Songserm ferry is usually the cheapest).
In Bangkok, you’ll leave from the Southern (Sai Tai Mai) Bus Terminal and Morchit (Northern) Terminal (VIP buses only), it’ll take around 14 hours to get to Ko Phangan (8 hours on the bus) and cost about 700–1,000 THB (350–720 THB for the bus ticket only). Buses leave daily.
There are a few ferry companies that operate routes to Ko Phangan: Lomprayah High Speed Ferries Co., Ltd (the fastest and most expensive), Seatran Discovery, and Songserm, Raja, and Phantip (the slowest and cheapest). Here are some popular ways to get to Ko Phangan:
Boat from Chumphon (mainland):
- Matapon Pier: Leaves daily, takes 5 hours, and is operated by Songserm. 850 THB.
- Tung Makham: Leaves daily, takes 3–4 hours, and is operated by Lomprayah. 1,000 THB.
Boat from Surat Thani (mainland):
- Tapee Pier Lomprayah: Leaves daily , takes 2.5 hours, and is operated by Lomprayah. 700 THB.
- Surat Thani Seatran (van+boat): Leaves daily, takes 4.5 hours, and is operated by Seatran Discovery. 550 THB.
- Surat Thani train station (van+boat): Leaves daily, takes 4 hours and 45 minutes, and is operated by Songserm. And a Lomprayah boat leaves daily, and takes 3 hours and 45 minutes. 400–700 THB.
- Surat Thani airport (van+boat): Leaves multiple times an hour daily, takes between 3.5 hours to 6 hours. This route is operated by every ferry company in the area. 500–800 THB.
- Donsak Pier: Leaves multiple times daily, takes about 2.5 hours, and is operated by either Songserm, Seatran Discovery, or Raja. 210–450 THB.
Boat from Ko Tao:
- Mae Haad Pier: Leaves daily. This route is operated by Lomprayah (takes 1 hour and 10 minutes), Seatran Discovery (takes 1.5 hours), and Songserm (takes 2 hours). 450–850 THB.
Boat from Ko Samui
- Bangrak Seatran Pier: Leaves daily, takes 30 minutes, and is operated by Seatran Discovery. 300 THB.
- Lipa Noi: Leaves daily, takes 1.5 hours, and is operated by Raja Ferry. 150 THB.
- Na Thon Ko Samui: Leaves daily, takes 30 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes, and is operated by either Lomprayah or Songserm. 200–300 THB.
- Samui Airport (van+boat): Leaves daily, takes 1 hour, and is operated by Seatran Discovery. 450 THB.
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 Koh 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 usually peaks around midnight to 2am. On New Year’s Eve, the beach will be full by 8pm.
Here’s what stuff costs on Haat Rin:
- Average Thai meal: 100-200 THB
- Average Western meal: 200 THB
- Banana pancakes: 30-40 THB
- Cheap food sold on the beach: 50 THB
- Beer: 80–100 THB (50% less in a 7-11 store)
- Cigarettes: 80 THB
- Buckets: 200–300 THB, depending on what kind of alcohol. They can be up to 400 THB on New Year’s Eve.
- Toilets: 10–15 THB
Party Survival Tips
Don’t do 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 $1,000 USD for your get-out-of-jail-free card. (Actual bribe varies depending on the cop and your ability to bargain down the bribe.)
Skip the jump rope: Picture this. We’re at the bar. I turn to you and say, “Hey friend, let’s go outside. I’m going to soak a rope in gasoline, light it on fire, and then you and some drunk strangers are going to skip rope.” You’d look at me like I was crazy and tell me to get lost.
But people on this island do exactly that — they jump over a rope of fire.
You may be the world’s best jump roper, but the drunk guy who decides to join you might not be. At my last Full Moon Party, I saw a lot of people get burned. The rope wrapped around one guy’s arm and burned all the skin off. He had to be rushed to the hospital. It was not a pretty scene. It’s not how you want to remember your holiday. Here’s a tiny example:
Watch out for buckets – What the F$%^$ is a bucket? Remember when you were a kid and you built a sandcastle 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.
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 nighttime, 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.
Drink cheap – Buy your beer at the 7-11 or buy buckets away from the beach, where they are as cheap as 200 THB.
Eat cheap – Food is expensive in Haat Rin, but there are some good budget choices. Paprika, the Israeli restaurant, offers a falafel sandwich and fruit shake combo for 100 THB. 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 THB 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.
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 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.
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