“It’s not that I have a problem licking your cheek, it’s that I don’t want paint on my tongue ” my friend while body painting a hostel-mate
What is the Full Moon Party?
Koh Phangan, one of the larger islands off the east coast of Thailand, is brimming with beautiful beaches, forested mountains, hidden waterfalls, and ancient(ish) temples. Each month the island attracts tens of thousands of tourists. Almost none of them come for the scenery (primarily at least).
Over the course of my first two weeks in Thailand I discovered that almost 50% of the other travelers that I encountered would be on Koh Phangan at the same time as I would be.
As of 30+ years ago the island’s beauty would have been the main reason for their visit. These days, almost all of the younger tourists are drawn in by the promise of something totally different: the Full Moon Party.
With roots in ancient celtic rituals, kiddush levana, or 1985 tourists (depending on who you ask), these days the Full Moon Party draws upwards of 30,000 tourists each month to the sunrise beach of Haad Rin on the southeastern tip of the island. With each beachside bar competing to draw the largest crowds via music, dance floors, crazy lighting, and outrageous performers, party-goers have a plethora of options to choose from for a party that doesn’t stop until morning. At which point the after party begins. Followed by the after-after-party (but actually- there are even fliers for it).
But how to best enjoy the experience?
You have to treat it as something different, not just as a larger-than-average party that happens to take place on a beach.
Everyone has their own way that they like to party, but here are some guidelines that should help give anyone an idea of how to do the Full Moon Party right:
1. Don’t go at the start of your trip
The Lone Ranger never had as much fun at parties as Peter Pan. Why? Because a crazy game of flip cup with the Lost Boys beats 1v1’ing Tonto any day of the week.
The Full Moon Party took place two weeks into my trip. And as I said before, almost 50% of the other travelers that I encountered in those two weeks had told me that they were planning on being in Koh Phangan come party-time. This meant that by the time I got there I already had a bunch of people to pregame with (emphasis on “game”), paint with, and dance with. This really was the single biggest contributing factor towards my having an amazing time.
2. Get to Koh Phangan Early
Once again, it’s all about maximizing your chances of having a great group to party with. The best source of like-minded people to easily party with are those that are staying at your hostel. I arrived on Sunday when the party didn’t start until Tuesday night. This gave me a few days to really make friends with my hostel-mates (not everyone got there early but we added people to the group as they showed up). It also let me explore the aforementioned beautiful parts of the island during the day and enjoy the lead-up parties in the evenings (including one mega-jungle-party).
This one is less important if you think that you already know enough people, but even then it can be difficult to coordinate logistics. Trying to coordinate meet-ups in crowds of tens of thousands of people can be a nightmare. It helps when you start off in the same place (and have a home base, but I’ll get to that).
3. Pick a Hostel on Haad Rin
You might be tempted to try to avoid the high prices and crowds that go along with staying right where the party is. Don’t.
If you really want to explore Koh Phangan, switch hostels right after the party and stay for another few days. But for enjoying the party itself, having a place to stay right off the beach is amazingly useful.
It gives you a place to:
- Use the bathroom without paying 20 Baht. (This is the go-to price for all places off the beach. It really can add up over the course of a long night of drinking)
- Safely leave supplies that you need for portions of the night but don’t want to bring to the beach, e.g. bottles of alcohol, paints, nicer cameras, wallet, etc.
- Use as a home base to both invite others to and just to go back and forth from over the course of the evening
I stayed at the Pirate Hostel. The facilities weren’t all that great, but that’s not the point. The hostel was also a bar focused on games. Every night at 9PM they had a happy hour with 100 Baht buckets (the best price I saw anywhere in Thailand) and a free drink for anyone staying there. They have a table / supplies for beer pong-type games and rules posted for card-based drinking game such as Kings, Spoons, and others. They even host bar-crawls for non-full-moon nights. The night of the Full Moon Party they offer free body painting.
The games + happy hour made it that everyone staying there stuck around, participated, and became friends. This made for loads of fun each evening and served as perfect preparation for the big night.
4. Get Your Paint On!
Maximizing your enjoyment of the evening is all about really getting into the spirit of things and embracing those bits that make it different from your standard house party or night out. A large component of this is the body painting.
The standard dress code for the evening is shorts / bathing suit + neon tank top, then body painting to-taste. I’m not a fan of tank tops in general, but with the body painting I say go all out! Why show skin when you can show paint??
There are always tons of booths set up in the streets by the beach where you can pay to get fancy designs painted, but why spend the money?. The point is to have fun! Make it a group activity. Get your own paints and paint each other (please excuse the mirror selfie- it’s hard to get good quality full-body shots at night).
5. Don’t Drink Too Much
I know, I know. “But this is a kraaaazzzzy party!” you whine. “How can I not get hammered??”
Well, do you want to make it a night to remember? Then best not to black out. And while vomiting is certainly memorable, I don’t think that’s the type of memories we’re going for here.
The key thing to remember is that this party goes ALL NIGHT. If you start pregaming at 7PM (the time when things typically start to kick off there), that leaves you with ~11 hours of partying to plan for. Pacing is key. As is water. LOTS of water.
I actually ended up having less than 5 drinks over the course of the evening, and none after midnight. This was perfect for having fun with the pregaming, but once I get started dancing I really have no need of alcohol to enjoy myself.
Thailand Drinking Tip #1 – Save money and buy a bottle of hard liquor at a 7-11 or other local mart. Split it a few ways and you’ll be set for the night at a fraction of the cost of drinking at the bars.
Thailand Drinking Tip #2: BEWARE OF BUCKETS – Buckets can be a lot of fun. I like them way better than beer because they taste better and are more monetarily efficient. The problem is that you never really know just how much you’re getting, which makes pacing difficult. Three buckets going down might necessitate a fourth bucket as a receptacle.
You don’t want to become the Drunken Rooster.
What’s a Drunken Rooster you ask?
That should teach you to ask questions.
6. Thou Art Not a Witch
Do not be burned like one.
Lots of bars have people outside performing with fire. Watching a professional do their thing is really cool.
You are not a professional (unless you are, in which case as long as you’re accustomed to drunk performances then go for it).
They often offer fire-limbo or fire-jump rope. Stay as far away from the jump rope as possible, and only do the limbo if you are really confident in your abilities. I was extremely tempted to give it a try, but seeing a girl burn her chest in a most painful fashion was thankfully enough to deter me.
7. Stay Safe
Pick-pockets are a thing in Thailand. In an atmosphere as packed and chaotic as the Full Moon Party, it’s best not to take risks.
I would recommend bringing only your room-key, phone, and a couple hundred baht out to the beach (yes the phone is a risk, but let’s face it- I think most of us would rather leave behind our pants). As I mentioned earlier, this is way easier when you have a hostel right by the beach.
Finally, make sure to wear shoes.
Over the course of the night the beach slowly fills up with broken bottles and cigarette butts. There are usually people going through and cleaning even while people are dancing, but it still accumulates. Before the party people were telling me to wear closed-toe shoes for fear of glass. I didn’t want to deal with those on the beach and so decided to risk wearing just flip-flops, which ended up being totally fine. But going barefoot would have been a mistake.
Bonus – Be Crazy!
Let loose a little bit! Talk to some strangers! Go up on stage! Dance!!
This type of environment was designed for crazy. Even if you’re not normally the type to really let yourself go in a party, I suggest giving it a try. I don’t mean that you should do anything stupid, just that you should have fun and use the anonymity and energy of the crowd to propel you a little bit out of your comfort zone. Nobody is judging because all 247 million other people on there are doing the same thing!
It’s actually pretty funny to walk through the beach during the party, observe all of the craziness going on, and imagine what those people would be like if you sat next to them on a bus during the week. Most backpackers are pretty chilled out. But sometimes the crazy must let loose.
Oh, and don’t get your hopes up for the sunrise. Apparently they’re not always so spectacular (or sometimes, even visible):
Overall I had a great time at the party- I met some really cool people, got painted like a pirate, and danced until my feet were floppy cantaloupes.
Have any of you ever been to something like this? If so, what were the secrets to your success?