Full Moon parties on Koh Pha Ngan

Fire dance

If there’s one experience you should witness as a free-spirited traveller in Thailand, it’s the amazing Full Moon parties of Koh Phan Ngan. Nothing beats the sensation of raving away all night under a warm, tropical night sky, along with thousands of others on a fantastic sandy beach. The energy is hard to describe and the island has a special atmosphere about it, setting it apart from the rest.

For more than a decade now, travellers the world over have been beating a path to Thailand’s famous Koh Pha Ngan Full Moon parties. Each month, during the lunar zenith, thousands flock to the island like pilgrims to experience the massive Full Moon beach parties at Haad Rin.

For one week leading up to and after the party, ravers of all nationalities descend on Koh Phan Ngan, near Koh Samui, off Thailand’s east coast, to join in one of the world’s longest running and most attended beach parties. Sometimes as many as 10,000 people crowd onto the island, often arriving more than a week in advance to get the best digs and warm up! More on the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party.

The original Full Moon parties on Koh Phan Ngan began more than a decade ago, when the island was still a well-kept secret and a sleepy hideaway from the bedlam of nearby Samui. Paradise Bungalows, on Haad Rin’s sunrise beach, began throwing small beachfront parties and the rest, as they say, is history.

Within a few years the entire mile-long sweeping beach had become one massive party site, with bars and bungalows sprouting up all along its length.

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At today’s full moon parties you can expect to choose from half a dozen massive sound systems along the beach, playing everything from deep trance to drum ‘n bass and trip-hop.

The phenomenon of the Full Moon parties on Koh Phan Ngan has changed the island enormously and although it’s still Thailand’s most bohemian island destination, some people complain that Koh Phan Ngan is not quite the same as it once was. But after the partygoers have all left, it reverts to a brilliant tropical paradise for the other three weeks of the month, boasting a lush, hilly and unspoilt interior, secluded beaches populated by a few rustic bungalows, and a laid back charm.

Haad Rin, a small peninsula on the south-eastern tip of the island, is the site of the monthly parties and is densely packed with bungalows, bars, internet cafes, shops and other commercial activity. It’s sandwiched between two beaches, but it’s the east-facing ‘sunrise’ beach that hosts the actual party and is best for chilling on. Although it’s the most convenient place to be for the party, there are much better value places elsewhere on the island with an equally fun atmosphere. Transport to and from these other beaches to the party on the full moon night is well provided, too, with the exception of traffic jams on the roller coaster road that enters Haad Rin.

The Full Moon parties on Koh Phan Ngan are free (although a 100 baht ‘clean up’ fee applies) and well organised by the locals, attracting top DJs from Bangkok and abroad. The beach is decked out in luminous colours and a whole troupe of performers, fire-eaters, dancers, nutters and drunken, or stoned, people add to the atmosphere. There is also a strong police presence, and they actively search people randomly and prosecute drug offenders. Thai officials take a hard line on illegal drugs (including marijuana) and regularly target Koh Phan Ngan.

However, magic mushroom milkshakes are available at some of the bars, though they tend to be poor value and ineffective. Most people simple get ‘off their faces’ on the infamous ‘buckets’; small plastic buckets filled with 500mls of Thai ‘moonshine’ – Sangsom rum, coke, and redbull. They can be lethal and leave you with a hangover from hell, but it’s all part of the Full Moon experience. If you’re a seasoned raver used to clubbing on pills, you will have to do without for this one.

In between Full Moon parties, some places on the island host ‘Half Moon’ (or ‘Black Moon’) parties, but during the off-season (April to October), these can be pretty low-key. At the height of the season (December and January) you should arrive at least three days before, otherwise you can expect to be sleeping on the beaches as everything will be full. An alternative is to stay on Samui’s Buddha Beach (Bophut Beach) and catch the one-hour ferry just for the party. Unfortunately, overcrowding on these has lead to some tragic accidents in the past, so rather wait for the post-party exodus to finish before you leave.