Buckets, burning skipping ropes, thumping chart tunes, more than 40,000 revellers, and the glow of that great big ivory orb in the sky – welcome to the infamous Full Moon Party of Koh Phangan.
Now a veritable must on the itinerary for any self-proclaimed hedonist heading to the Land of Smiles, these mega blowouts on the beach of Haad Rin are one of the top draws of LBW’s Taste of Thailand and Treasures of Thailand trips. And why not? They’re uber-fun, are one of the best places to meet and mingle with other travelers, and showcase some of the liveliest nightlife in all of Southeast Asia!
In this guide we’ll take a look at all the ins and outs of attending a Full Moon. We’ll deal with everything from accommodation options to the practicalities of partying on the sands. We’ll look at the pitfalls of the lunar shindig and the things every partier simply must do. Enjoy!
What exactly is a Full Moon Party?
Like so many of Southeast Asia’s backpacker staples, the Full Moon Party is steeped in legend. Whether true or no, it certainly makes for a good story…
It’s said that a few intrepid folk following the Banana Pancake Trail back in the mid-80s (you know, back when Thailand was still something of an off-the-beaten-track travel destination) made their way to the islands of the Gulf. After arriving, they planned a beach party on the deserted sands of little Haad Rin town; then presumably just a sleepy fishing village with a few humble street stalls and bamboo beach huts with no running water. The party happened to coincide with the full moon, drenching the sands in light and giving the whole shindig a cool, lunar vibe.
It’s said that the party was so darn good that the same people returned to little Koh Phangan the following year, only this time they brought friends. The next year, those friends brought more friends, and so the Full Moon Party was born.
Where does the Full Moon Party happen?
Full Moons take place on Thailand’s undisputed partying mecca in the Thai Gulf: Koh Phangan.
This gem-shaped isle can be found lapped over by the turquoise waters just north of picture-perfect Koh Samui (another stop we make on our long Treasures of Thailand trip!). It’s actually relatively quiet and laid-back for most of the month, when the revellers aren’t in town, and the coves on the north shore - Chaloklum Bay, shimmering Bottle Beach – are pretty, secluded and untouched.
However, when the lunar calendar lines up for the party, the action refocuses to a small peninsula and town on the southern shore: Haad Rin. This is imbued with countless rows of beachside bungalows and resorts, is fringed with groves of coconut palms and packed with restaurants and street food sellers. Welcome to the veritable home of the Full Moon Party.
How to get to the Full Moon Party
Travelers on an organised LBW trip to the Full Moon Party will simply jump aboard a boat from Koh Tao island and speed across the waters of the Thai Gulf to the bobbing jetties of southern Koh Phangan.
Other travelers have plenty of options open to them. There are regular catamaran and high-speed boat departures to the island from the mainland at Surat Thani. VIP buses will take you from the streets of central Bangkok to the island for around 600 THB (imagine fitting Khaosan Road and the Full Moon Party in a single week!), while there’s also a regular ferry from nearby Koh Samui, dropping guests on the harbour of Thong Sala close to Haad Rin.
Where to stay during a Full Moon Party
Finding accommodation is one of the hardest tasks for prospective partiers making a beeline for the Full Moon. Thankfully for folk on LBW trips, this little hiccup is already sorted, and we get classic Thai bungalows just a stone’s throw from the action.
Other travelers will have to go looking for their own accommodation on arrival. This is actually one of the best ways to find a bargain bed that’s got good access to the beach of Haad Rin itself. Why? Well, many of the beach bungalows and casual guesthouses here aren’t even advertised online. The only way to check-in is to simply turn up. That means the best thing you can do is hit the island nice and early - say, one week before the Full Moon Party - and flit between the places that take your fancy.
Pre-booking is a good option for flashpackers, those who want to add a dash of luxury (most of the options online are well-rounded resorts and hotels), or for those who know they want to spend a considerable amount of time exploring Koh Phangan before the lunar shindig hits (many of the options have minimum stays of two weeks!).
How much does a Full Moon Party cost?
The cost of a Full Moon Party will vary immensely depending on what sort of partier you are. If you’re a caution-to-the-wind bucket guzzler who likes a private butler and luxury bed to cure the hangover in, then you can expect to pay through the nose for the pleasure of getting loose on Haad Rin beach. If you’re a shoestring beer drinker who enjoys street food every night, things will be considerably cheaper.
For starters, food in Haad Rin town tends to be just a tad more expensive than the rest of Thailand. That’s not because there aren’t many places to eat. On the contrary, like Vang Vieng at its height, there are loads – just they get away with charging more from hangover-ridden folk! Still, grub isn’t going to break the bank, with street food costing around 60 THB a meal and a western dinner around 200 THB.
When it comes to booze, those looking to keep the price tag down are encouraged to steer clear of the infamous bucket cocktails and opt instead for the ubiquitous Chang or Singha from the 7-11 (you’re looking at 30 THB or a little more). If you’re a bucket lover, then expect to pay around 250 THB for one of the medium-strength mashups of whiskey and energy drink. These will be even more right at the heart of the beach party, and almost double during the mega NYE blowout!
Remember: the actual Full Moon Party itself is totally free. Travelers can simply turn up and stroll onto the sands. Trust us, you can’t miss it!
What to avoid during a Full Moon Party
The great shindigs of Koh Phangan have become infamous for good reason. Yes, they are awesome and unforgettable, but they are now also rife with tales of corrupt local police officers extorting bribes, of burned revellers fresh from fire shows, arrests and injuries. To ensure you don’t get the wrong end of the Full Moon Party stick, it’s a good idea to steer well clear of some of the less savoury aspects of the get-together.
For starters, whoever thought those petrol-doused skipping ropes were a good idea clearly hasn’t seen the countless YouTube videos of partiers with scars and scorches from the face to the legs. If you don’t want to risk spending weeks in a Thai hospital, it’s perhaps best to opt out of inebriated hopping with fire!
Then there are the drugs, which are now part and parcel to a Full Moon Party. We’d say avoid these at all costs. Not only are they hardly needed with such potent cocktails on the menu, but there have been tales of travelers being caught by undercover police, thrown in Thai jails (and we really don’t think you want to see the inside of one of those!), or forced to pay hefty bribes!
Wearing footwear is another great idea. By the end of the night (and trust us, you’ll probably be up right until the end of the night!), the beach of Haad Rin is strewn with all sorts of debris. Believe it or not, one of the most common injuries here are glass splinters in the foot, cut toes and the like - not the greatest addition to an almighty hangover we’re sure you’d agree!
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"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."
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