Get painted in day-glo, drink whiskey out of buckets, try your hand at fire limbo, and dance the night away under the glow of the full moon at the monthly lunar bash on Ko Pha-Ngan.
Along the famed “Banana Pancake Trail” through Southeast Asia, there are a few legendary stops for those looking to get wild – the Pub Street in Siem Reap, in the tubing in Vang Vieng, and last but not least, the Full Moon Party on Ko Pha-Ngan. Legend has it that the lunar bash started back in the 80s with a group of backpackers, a few guitars, and a campfire. My how things have changed in a few decades! The party now regularly attracts upwards of 30,000 people who descend on the beach of Haad Rin to cover their bodies in day-glo paint, drink whiskey out of buckets, and dance in the sand. You won’t find many acoustic guitars there these days; rather, dozens of DJs set up at the countless bars across the long beach spinning a variety of electronic music. The fire is still there, but not exactly campfires – you’re more likely to see people spinning fire or taking part in fire limbo and/or jump rope. At such a massive, famous party, it’s easy for things to go wrong. Every month, there are injuries, robberies, assaults, arrests, and unfortunately, sometimes even deaths. That being said, there’s no reason you can’t go to the FMP and still have a good time. Having been to two of them – one where we didn’t really enjoy ourselves and a second time which was much more fun – I’ve decided to compile a guide of how to have a good time.
1. Don’t Stay on Haad Rin
The party goes on at Haad Rin beach, which means nearly 30,000 people – most of them heavily intoxicated – are going to be there all night. If you’d like to be able to leave the party at some point and actually sleep a little, this is not the place to stay. Plus, most of the accommodation in Haad Rin seriously inflates their price and requires long minimum stays around the FMP. Finally, break-ins are the most common in this part of the island, as local thieves know that people will be out all night and most likely returning seriously inebriated. Both times we’ve attended, we stayed at Coco Garden Bungalows up on Baan Tai beach. It’s not far from the party, tuk-tuks are readily available, the prices remain the same, and it’s nice and quiet when you get back at an ungodly hour.
2. Don’t Start too Early
You’re on a tropical island getting ready to go to one of the most famous parties in Southeast Asia. Naturally, the temptation is there to start the party early. Before you start downing piña coladas, though, keep in mind that the FMP really doesn’t get kicking until after midnight and many stay all night to watch the sun come up. If you really want to enjoy the party and be present for at least some of it, wait until the sun goes down to start partying. I recommend casually sipping a few beers and alternating with glasses of water. That way you’ll get a little pre-game buzz on but still remain hydrated. There’s plenty of drinking to be done when you get down to Haad Rin.
3. One Bucket is Enough
The drink of choice at the FMP is without a doubt the classic “beach bucket” – a little plastic bucket full of cheap Thai whiskey or vodka along with some soda or Red Bull. There’s a reason they give you 5-6 straws with each one – they’re meant to be shared with friends. If you want to try showing off by downing a whole bucket on your own, that’s great, but that’s probably all you need for the entire night. It’s easy to spot the people who had 2-3 buckets, as they’re usually lying face down in the sand before the party really even gets going.
4. Buy Neon FMP Attire
Just about every shop in Ko Pha-Ngan sells a variety of FMP attire. Before heading to the party, it’s advisable to pick up a neon singlet and/or pair of shorts. For one, they’re cheap and make for a decent souvenir. They’ll also enable you to glow in the dark at the party, which is full of black lights. Finally, should you choose to partake in the body painting, you won’t have to worry about staining your clothes. One of my favorite t-shirts and pairs of shorts will forever have neon green paint stains on them – a reminder of a poor wardrobe choice from my first FMP experience.
5. Don’t Take Valuables
With so many f’ed up people on one beach at the same time, it should come as no surprise that there are tons of pickpockets who also show up to the FMP. If you don’t want to risk getting your valuable things stolen, just don’t bring them. Leave your wallet with important cards, passport, and nice camera back at your hotel with the front desk. Also, do you really need a blurry selfie of you sloppy drunk at a party? I didn’t think so. Might be a good idea to leave that nice new smartphone behind as well. Bring enough cash to get you into the party, buy a few drinks, and get a ride home.
6. Don’t Buy Any Drugs
Now I’m not here to lecture you like Mr. Mackey from South Park (“Drugs are bad, mmmkay.”) – I’m all about personal freedom and have no qualms with people doing a bit of recreational chemistry. That being said, the FMP is definitely not the place to buy your drugs. For starters, most of the people on the beach selling those drugs are working directly with local police. You buy a bag of weed or mushrooms from one guy, and then next thing you know a cop springs out of the bushes. We’ve seen it happen to people both times we went, and it’s common knowledge that the police on Ko Pha-Ngan will extort a vast sum of money from you before letting you out. Stick to the legal drugs here, folks.
7. Watch Your Drinks
This is especially true for ladies, but goes for everyone. Throughout the years there have ben numerous cases of party-goers getting their drinks spiked. This leads to robberies, hospitalizations, and rapes. Keep an eye on your drink at all times, and don’t let anybody take it out of your sight.
8. Don’t Go Swimming
You’re at a huge party on a beach, feeling good, and the ocean is right there in front of you, tempting you to jump in and go for a swim. Bad idea. Strong currents plus severe intoxication can never lead to anything good. People have drowned at the FMP far too many times over the years, so it’s best to follow Shark Lady’s advice and “watch the ocean from a distance!” If you must go into the water, just get your feet wet. The ocean will still be there tomorrow for you to soak in when you’re painfully hungover.
9. If You Play With Fire…
You know how the rest of the saying goes. There are plenty of places along the beach where you can partake in fire limbo or jumprope, which might look like a lot of fun after consuming a bucket full of cheap booze. If you’re too drunk to stand up straight, however, it might not be a wise decision to jump over a burning rope. It’s probably better to take home a singlet as a souvenir rather than a 3rd-degree burn.
10. Make New Friends and Have Fun
At the end of the day, the Full Moon Party is exactly that – a freakin’ party. People from all over the world converge on a beach once a month to drink, dance, and have a good time. Assuming you follow the nine tips above, you should be able to do just the same. While you’re there, strike up conversations with strangers, give high-fives, and share your bucket with someone (just please don’t put any GHB in it). One day, you can use your FMP experience to prove to your kids that you were, at some point in time, remotely cool.
Have you ever been to a FMP? What was your experience like? Do you have any other tips you’d like to add? Leave a comment below!
The Thai islands are famous for their party atmosphere – perhaps none more so than Ko Pha-Ngan. Home to the legendary Full Moon bash every month, this island has been a mainstay on the well-beaten Banana Pancake Trail for many years. Let’s take a look at partying on Ko Pha-Ngan, beginning with the one that started it all:
Full Moon Party
Legend has it that the Full Moon Party began with a couple of backpackers gathered around a fire with a few acoustic guitars and beers back in the 80s. Word spread about the monthly lunar gatherings, and they continued to attract more and more revelers. These days, upwards of 30,000 people descend upon the beach of Haad Rin every month to cover themselves in day-glo paint, drink cocktails out of buckets, and dance the night away under the glow of the full moon. With such a big crowd and a wide variety of intoxicants, it’s not surprising that the party has developed a bad reputation. There have been plenty of assaults and robberies throughout the years, as well as injuries and even fatalities. Should you attend Full Moon, be sure to stay with a group, wear some kind of shoes to avoid stepping on glass, don’t buy any drugs (the dealers are often undercover police officers), and keep your valuables at your hotel’s front desk, as break-ins are very common during the party. With a bit of common sense and a good group of friends, the Full Moon Party can be tons of fun. Don’t burn all your energy, though, because there’s lots more going on after dark on Ko Pha-Ngan.
Black and Half Moon Parties
Ko Pha-Ngan loves lunar-themed parties so much that the island had to go ahead and add two on top of Full Moon. The Black Moon Culture event takes place on Baan Tai once a month when the moon cannot be seen. Whereas Full Moon is actually a bunch of smaller parties packed in together on the same beach, Black Moon is just one big party. Fueled by psy-trance and tons of UV decorations, it’s quite the psychedelic scene.
In between these two, there’s also the Half Moon Festival. These parties go on one week before and one week after Full Moon in the decked out jungle of Baan Tai. The set-up of this party is quite impressive, and there are usually 2-3 different stages going on so you can choose which music you’d rather dance to.
Twice a month (one and ten days before Full Moon), you can head deep into the jungle for a wild night out. Much smaller and tamer than the lunar parties, the Jungle Experience features what just might be the coolest stage ever – a neon-lit cheetah head. If you’re not feeling the music here, you can always watch the Muay Thai fights as there’s a ring set up right in the middle of the party. As per usual, you’ll find the professional body painting, buckets, and fire twirling that seem to be present at every island party in Thailand.
Two days before and one day after Full Moon, you can party at a waterfall in the Baan Khai jungle. Starting around 10 PM and going all night long, there are two different stages pumping out a variety of electronic music to keep you grooving. There’s also an all-night BBQ, in case you need something other than Chang or Sangsom in your stomach.
Should you find yourself on Ko Pha-Ngan during Songkran (the Thai New Year celebration), get ready for a massive water fight and party. Pick up a water gun, a bucket, some balloons, or whatever you can get your hands on, and hit the streets to get soaking wet. There’s a very colorful parade, and even a stage with a dance floor set up next to a 7-11. The Songkran celebration here isn’t quite as famous as the ones in Chiang Mai or Bangkok, but it’s a great time nevertheless.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of options for a wild night out on Ko Pha-Ngan. There’s more to this island than just partying, though, including some epic scuba diving. Stay in and lay off the sauce at least one night so you can get out there to dive places like Sail Rock. We’ll have a video from this great dive site soon, so be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss it.