It happens only almost once every month, as thousands of young and energetic partygoers throng the beach at Haad Rin in Koh Phangan. On any other day, the island is a picturesque and tranquil island paradise in the Gulf of Thailand. But under a full moon, the beach turns into a thumping, sweaty display of wild youthful abandon, fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol.
Koh Phangan isn’t your average idyllic beach retreat. You’ll be spoilt for choice at nearby Koh Samui (30-40 minutes ferry away), or Phuket on the other side of the Thai peninsula. If you’re looking way down south, Koh Lipe has great beaches too. (Tara Lets Anywhere has a detailed guide to Koh Lipe, if you’re interested).
But if you’re planning a trip to Koh Phangan, it’s almost always for the massive party atmosphere and laid-back backpacker vibes.
Getting to Koh Phangan
There’s no airport on Koh Phangan, so most visitors come in from Koh Samui. Flights to Koh Samui are generally more expensive than the average domestic flight in Thailand, so more savvy visitors (like yourself!) will know to fly in to Surat Thani airport. From there, take a ferry from the nearby coastal town of Donsak. Ferry Samui offers a hassle free shuttle service from the Surat Thani airport to Koh Phangan by bus and ferry.
A bus will first take you from the airport to the Donsak pier, which is at least an hour’s drive away. From Donsak pier, the ferry ride to Koh Samui takes about 3 hours, and it might get very bumpy in the middle. If you get seasick easily, it’s a good idea to stock up on those seasickness pills beforehand.
From Koh Samui, it’s just another 30 minutes to Koh Phangan, and you’ll disembark at the Thong Sala pier. Waiting songthaews (converted pickups with seating at the back) will take you to various destinations around the island. During the full moon festival, expect super-inflated prices starting from 150 Baht for a quick 5 minute drive to your accommodation in town.
Getting around Koh Phangan (and to Haad Rin beach)
Songthaews are the easiest way to travel around Koh Phangan, and especially to the Haad Rin beach. On the night of the full moon party, a makeshift boarding point is set up opposite the entrance to the local night market. Here, drivers will take turns packing as many partygoers as possible into the back of the truck. As at Dec 2017, it costs 150 Baht per person.
Once the driver is satisfied that he cannot physically jam another body in for fear of igniting a nuclear fission chain reaction, he’ll speed off towards Haad Rin at breakneck speed. This party comes literally once every full moon, and he has no time to waste in making as much money as he can.
You might be tempted to rent a scooter and try to get to Haad Rin yourself. Even if you don’t intend to drink, fatigue from dancing and maniacal Songthaew drivers pose a huge risk to your safety. It’s advisable to just stick to the local drivers for this night.
Where to stay in Koh Phangan
A week before the party, hotels and hostels get filled up quickly. Capitalising on this influx of visitors, many places require a minimum of 2-3 days stay during this period. Those that do not have a minimum stay duration will price their rooms accordingly, anyway.
The best place to base yourself during the full moon party is near Haad Rin beach. You’ll save on expensive transportation to and fro, plus you can conveniently stumble back to your room anytime during the night/early morning once you’re done. Of course, the accommodation near Haad Rin beach is the priciest.
If you’re on a budget, consider basing yourself on Koh Samui, leaving your luggage there and going to Koh Phangan with just some cash for food, drinks and transport. 500 to 1,000 Baht should suffice, unless you’re looking for a really good time. Since you’re all prepped to party all night, you can sleep on the beach at Haad Rin till sunrise and take the first ferry back to Koh Samui.
What to expect during the full moon party
To get into the beach itself, foreigners need to fork out 100 Baht in exchange for a fancy red wristband. Ostensibly a fee imposed for the post-party cleanup, this is a small fee in exchange for letting foreigners come in and thrash the place every few weeks.
Along the way from the Songthaew terminal to the beach, vendors line the streets with carts selling buckets of alcohol and mixers (see safety tips below). The listed price for a bucket is 250 Baht onwards, and you can even bring in your own alcohol from the convenience stores outside.
What to do
The main activity at the party is to dance. From small head bobbing to outlandish full body wobbling, you’ll see them all on the beach. The full moon party is not a mega-huge rave centered around a DJ. Instead, it’s a bunch of beachfront clubs that thump out all sorts of music across different parts of the beach. Each will have a theme, and you’re free to stand in front of any and start dancing. There’s no barriers, no boundaries, and no bouncers. Dance till you’re bored, and take a few steps left or right to the next place, and repeat.
There’s also a club that offers partygoers a chance to play with fire. Alternating between jumping through a flaming hoop and skipping over a flaming rope, this one draws a constant stream of macho partygoers out to prove… something.
Likewise, there is a club that encourages partygoers to do chin ups for free alcohol. As with the flaming rope jumping, there is a never-ending line of participants eager to flex their triceps.
At certain intervals, tall vertical pole structures will be set ablaze, revealing messages like Full Moon Festival 2017 and the advertiser that is sponsoring it. This always gets the crowds excited for some reason.
And somewhere in the middle, a quiet zone exists without any beachfront clubs. Here, tired revellers take a break and sit on the beach, people watching, socialising or simply staring out into space in a drunken stupor.
Visiting the toilet
As selling alcohol is a competitive business, enterprising locals have found a lucrative side business – toilet entry fees. You’ll be hard pressed to find a free toilet during the party, so set aside 20 Baht each time you need to answer the call of nature. You’ll notice lots of men standing on the surf with their backs facing the party. They’re not admiring the seascape – they’re just saving themselves 20 Baht, and contributing a bit more water to the Gulf of Thailand.
As the party heats up, some brave ladies will also take up the challenge of the open toilet. Lots of sheepish smiles, hysterical shrieks and awkward postures will follow.
There’s a lot of ways to screw up your holiday (and your life) after a night of insane partying. The guiding principle is to use your common sense even when everyone around is going wild, and have some control over what you drink and do.
Here are some tips to stay safe during the full moon party.
Before the party
- Bring some cash, and leave the rest in a locker or safe back in the hotel/hostel. 500 to 1,000 Baht should be enough for a fun night out.
- Don’t bring your passport out, for heaven’s sake. But still, there’ll be people crying over their missing passports after midnight, every time.
- As mentioned earlier, don’t ride a scooter to the beach. You’ll need to ride back afterwards, and drunk riding on dark hilly roads is a bad idea.
During the party
- Don’t accept any drinks from strangers. There are reports of drinks spiked with date rape drugs.
- Don’t accept or purchase drugs. Many of these dealers are undercover police, and Thailand has strict anti-drug laws.
- Buy alcohol from shops, and check that the seal is unbroken. Some street vendors are known to refill bottles with homemade whiskey, which runs the risk of methanol poisoning.
- Wear shoes, slippers, flip flops or sandals at all time. By 10pm, the beach will be strewn with broken bottles and shards of glass, so tread carefully and watch where you step.
- Jumping into the sea while drunk, in the middle of pitch darkness and surrounded by piss-mixed seawater, is a bad idea. But you’ll see, there’ll always be some who find pleasure in doing so.
- If you’re a female, find a group to tag along from your hostel. Judge their character and personality before going partying with them, as there are lot of ill-intentioned people going to party as well.
- Exercise some control while partying. Jumping through flaming hoops and climbing flimsy metal pole structures are downright dangerous.
- Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings at all times. If you feel uneasy, head back to your hostel and rest.
After the party
- Drink lots of water during and after the party. Between the alcohol and the partying, you’ll probably be dehydrated. It’s probably a shitty feeling to nurse a hangover for the next few days.
There’s no restriction in bringing your own alcohol into the beach. Buy buckets, bottles of whiskey, soda or beer at the convenience stores on the island at the usual listed price. You can probably find a lot of partygoers forming a long line at the cashier too.
You can easily find partygoers looking for a Songthaew to get to Haad Rin from everywhere on the island. Share a ride, and save on the cost of renting one by yourself.
For accommodation, stay as close to the Haad Rin beach if you intend to return to your room after partying. Staying far from the beach means spending more time travelling there, as well as a more expensive ride. You will also find less people to share a ride if you stay further away.
Lastly, head over to the end of the southern end of the beach for cheap-ish beer. The going rate for a small bottle of Chang beer is 60 to 70 Baht. But if you turn right (when facing the sea) and walk straight to the end, you’ll come across signs that scream 50 Baht for a bottle of beer. That’s probably a good deal along this stretch of prime party-town real estate.
Partying in Koh Phangan on a full moon is an eye-opening experience for most people. While this is definitely an exciting event, you’ll need to budget a bit for the night. Take care of your own safety as well, since alcohol, youthful abandon and the mad partying crowds are a potent mix.
But for most part, use your common sense and just enjoy the music and the crowds. You might find yourself having the time of your life, with an epic story to brag about for the rest of your life. From here, check out this 16-day Thailand travel itinerary to see what else you can do on an epic whirlwind trip around the country!