How to Survive the Full Moon Party

If Ko Phi Phi is Disneyland than Ko Phangan is like some sort of psychedelic war zone. Actually that’s not quite right. Only Haad Rin, the southernmost tip of the island is a wild circus party of buckets, bars, flashing lights and fire shows.

The pinnacle of the partying is the monthly Full Moon Party, when the area explodes with drunken twenty-somethings. My guidebook describes the event as “Apocalypse Now without the war,” and that’s pretty damn accurate. At night the beach is alive with thumping bass and battling dancers wearing tribal face paint. The fire dancers and flaming torches which illuminate the sand further enhance the apocalyptic feeling. It’s thrilling yes, but also slightly sinister. When the sun comes up the beach is a wasteland of abandoned flip flops and empty buckets.

And, like a war, there are serious casualties. This tiny town has over 40 medical centers- all catering to injured tourists. Some will be burned playing with fire, others will fall, fight or attempt to go swimming while seriously intoxicated. Another danger: the police, who troll the beaches arresting anyone possessing or attempting to purchase drugs. Still other people end up drugged, robbed or ripped off. It’s a treacherous place.

It’s all worth it though, if you can keep your wits about you. I was at the January 2011 Full Moon Party and had a great time. I managed to emerge relatively unscathed, by following some simple rules almost religiously. Here’s how you can too:

Rules for Surviving the Full Moon Party:

1. Always Wear Shoes– Easier said then done- I had TWO pairs of flip flops stolen during the week. Most businesses ask you to take your shoes off before entering, but once outside you must keep your shoes on at all times. Even on the beach- where broken bottles and sharp objects are scattered like hidden booby traps.

2. Leave your valuables locked up– There are a lot of people out there would would be happy to relieve you of your belongings while you are getting buzzed. Usually you won’t even notice your stuff is gone until much, much later. Every morning someone in my hostel would loudly lament their lost camera, phone or wallet. One unlucky guy was pick pocketed by an overly friendly lady boy. Seriously- take nothing but the money, and only a limited amount of that

3. Do NOT buy drugs- The number of cops- in uniform or undercover on the beach is staggering. If you have drugs on the beach you WILL be arrested. If you buy drugs from someone on the beach they are almost certainly undercover and will bust you. They have quotas to meet and the do not give a crap about your excuses. And I’m pretty sure Thai jail is the last place you ever want to be.

There’s a loophole to this one though- Certain well known bars pay off the police in advance, to be totally left alone. At these bars you can hang out, smoke some pot, or even indulge in a “magic mushroom milkshake” without fear of being arrested. The key is to only buy from the bar and to keep the drugs IN the bar. Once you walk outside you are fair game. I’m sure this is one of those things where the rules are constantly changing though so always be alert

4. Don’t go in the water– It’s tempting I know. You are partying on the beach and the ocean is just RIGHT THERE being all inviting and calm. Don’t fall for it. Ever year several drunk tourists drown giving in to that temptation. If that’s not enough of a deterrent remember that for 50% or more of the population the ocean makes a very convenient toilet. Given the amount of people I saw using it as a urinal I’m pretty sure the surf is like 75% pee. Ick.

5. Don’t play with fire– Not joking. Everywhere you go in Haad Rin you see people walking around with white square bandages neatly taped to their arms and legs. The reason? An off fascination with fire and a total disregard for personal safety. Most of them have become victims of the Fire Jump Rope. That’s right, a jump rope. Made of FIRE. For some reason this is absurdly popular and people line for a chance to try their luck. I watched this phenomena for about an hour one evening. Do you know how many people got burned? ALL of them. Every. Single. One.

6. Watch your drinks– in a place where they sell liquor by the bucketful (literally) it can be very easy to lose track of how much alcohol you are consuming. In the morning the beach is covered in vomit and I’m sure quite a few people make the trip to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. Use your common sense- eat a big meal, keep track of how much you’ve had and know when to stop. Also it pays to keep an actual eye on your drink. Druggings has been known to happen

7. Stay Hydrated– When you’re lying in the sun all day and drinking all night long- dehydration can hit you like a kick in the stomach. Preempt this by drinking lots of fluids (coconut juice is full of electrolytes) and not overexerting yourself. This one really sneaks up on you, as Mike can attest to.

8. Have a buddy– Mike can also back me up on this one. With so much going on it’s really important to have someone keeping an eye on you- safety in numbers if you will. Someone who can help you find your hostel at the end of the night, take care of you if you get sick or just make sure you don’t do anything stupid. You in turn do the same for them.

If you’re there solo don’t worry- The people in my hostel all made fast friends with one another. By moving in a large group we ensured everyone was being taken care of.

9. Don’t be an asshole– Okay, this is not so much about safety as just a personal plea. Some of the people in Ko Phangan, seem to think that just because they are there to have fun they have full license to be a thoughtless western jerk. This includes one idiot of the British variety in my dorm who peed on the floor in the middle of the night. It wasn’t much of a surprise since I’d already seen him be terribly rude to the staff and a dick to just about everyone else. Don’t be that guy. Be polite, be respectful, just be a decent human being, it’s not THAT hard.

It sounds stressful- but really it’s not. Most of the time you busy making new friends, covering yourself in body paint and dancing until the sun rises. If you just keep your wits about you, then you can easily avoid most of the booby traps that take people down. It’s important to remember that just because you are having a good time doesn’t mean you can turn your brain off.


43 Responses to How to Survive the Full Moon Party

  1. John January 23, 2011 at 9:15 AM #

    Geez… why do the backpacker trail across SE Asia? For your entire trip you keep seeing other Westerners drunk or high off their butts naively thinking they are experiencing a “local culture”. It’s not even a “local” party…just a massive craze out designed for wild Western 20-somethings.

    But if someone really wants to experience something like this, more power to him or her: get high, get stupid drunk, vomit on the beach, spend a night or ten in a Thai jail cell, and get drugged in the middle of a dirty hostel. All part of he experience, I say…

    • Steph January 23, 2011 at 9:34 AM #

      You know, I think it’s very interesting, and it’s something I’ve been struggling with a lot in Thailand (where it can be kind of difficult to find anything NOT on the backpacker trail). On the one hand, places like this are very fake, and kind of dirty, and definitely don’t have anything to do with the local culture. On the other, I just refuse to judge the way other people travel (as long as they are being respectful).

      In the end I think visiting places like this does have some merit. It’s an experience- I might even say a cultural experience. Just not a THAI cultural experience. I’m glad I got to see it for myself.

  2. Skott January 23, 2011 at 9:51 AM #

    Great post Steph…I was at a Full Moon Party, “way back” in 2000. I thought it was a cool experience, something ‘to try once’, but it wasn’t nearly as busy or brutal as I believe they have become. I don’t remember a single undercover cop (or arrest incident)…I am sure they were there, but not to the degree you describe above, and additionally they didn’t need to be there in as large a quantity, because it was a lot more controlled. Most people did stay until sunrise, and when it happened, there was minimal glass on the beach, no vomit, minimal idiots recovering in the burn unit. I mean sure people peed in the ocean, but….

    Now as my wife and I are planning our own RTW, I do have my reservations about Thailand, or at least parts of it…I hate to sound like an elitist, but I don’t want to be painted with the same brush as the drunken, stoned monkeys. Thailand is so incredibly beautiful, and a great inexpensive destination (hence the draw), but part of me is trying to think of places we might venture instead…

    I sound like such a grouchy old man, eh?! HA!

    • Steph January 31, 2011 at 8:08 AM #

      Yeah I think it probably has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Trashier I’m guessing. It might be interesting to see the difference but you are right- there’s lots of other great draws in Thailand.

      • Steph January 31, 2011 at 8:08 AM #

        and outside of Thailand! Maybe Malaysia might be more up your alley.

  3. AudreyDez January 23, 2011 at 10:26 AM #

    Interesting post! Brings back the question whether to go or not to a Full Moon Party. We are going in Thailand next june and I still wonder if we will go…From your posts, it looks like something fun to try if you are careful, but on the other hand, it also seems just like a westerners party. And with the empty buckets, junk and pee going into the ocean, maybe a kind of party not so good for the environnement (maybe it’s okay too, I’m just wondering). I guess we will see when we’ll get there!

    Thanks for the survival guide, they’re all good advices! It’s nice to read about someone who just went to one Full Moon Party.

    • Steph January 31, 2011 at 8:06 AM #

      Yeah, I’m sure it’s not great for the environment at all- but it sure is booming business for the local economy. It IS just a westerners party, but there’s a kind of spectacle in seeing so MANY westerners in one place acting crazy.

  4. Dave January 23, 2011 at 11:44 AM #

    “for 50% or more of the population the ocean makes a very convenient toilet. Given the amount of people I saw using it as a urinal I’m pretty sure the surf is like 75% pee. Ick.”

    I was surprised to see the same thing, and it wasn’t just the guys! Glad you survived.

    • Steph January 31, 2011 at 8:05 AM #

      seriously- ladies have some dignity!

  5. Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World January 23, 2011 at 11:48 AM #

    Oh gosh… I don’t think I’ll make it there. It does sound a tad like a war zone.

  6. Nick Laborde January 23, 2011 at 12:19 PM #

    Lady boys, buckets of booze, peeing in the ocean, jail, fire… sound like a typical saturday night to me.

  7. Amanda January 23, 2011 at 2:03 PM #

    I’ve heard a lot about these crazy parties! And while it definitely does sound like an experience that lends itself to all kinds of stories, I’m not sure if I’d want to go to one in Thailand. Sure, it might be fascinating to watch drunkies try to jump rope with fire. But, as a mostly non-drinker, I feel like most of the draw would be completely lost on me.

    • Steph January 31, 2011 at 8:04 AM #

      Yeah, it’s definitely one of those places where taking it all in sober is probably more annoying than anything else.

  8. Alouise January 23, 2011 at 9:44 PM #

    Sounds like a pretty crazy night. It’s easy when traveling to focus on the good times, and forget about your safety/health. The drug loophole is interesting, I think Thailand and drugs and picture Broke Down Palace. Don’t think I’d be brave enough to try and risk anything, but I guess things are different when you’re in the middle of them.

    • Steph January 31, 2011 at 8:03 AM #

      Yeah Broke Down Palace had a profound effect on me too- but when you consider the corruptness of the cops here it makes a weird kind of sense for certain places to be “okay.”

    • Steph January 31, 2011 at 8:03 AM #

      Yeah Broke Down Palace had a profound effect on me too- but when you consider the corruptness of the cops here it makes a weird kind of sense for certain places to be “okay.”

  9. Annie Bettis January 24, 2011 at 4:24 AM #

    I think that everyone has made a pretty good point that these Full Moon Parties seem pretty touristy and a little bit disgusting but I have to say that I’d still like to go to one for the experience. I’ll definitely be following your advice though!

    I can’t say I’ve ever been tempted to jump rope with fire but maybe it’s something in the air in Thailand. I’ll do my best to stay away from that and the ocean… ew!

    • Steph January 31, 2011 at 8:02 AM #

      I think it’s the whiskey buckets- they make people crazy.

      It’s definitely the kind of thing you want to look at with a critical eye- but definitely worth looking for yourself.

  10. Slice from iBackpacker travel January 24, 2011 at 12:28 PM #

    Stephanie, I couldn’t help peeing in the hostel, I just had to go!

    All joke aside, some good tips there for full moon party goers, glad you added the last paragraph though, because it made the FMP sound terrible up to there, I’ve been to a few and loved it every time. I’m glad you enjoy it too!

    There’s a a high level of travel snob complex bloggers who write it off completely, as a non-cultural or non-Thai experience. Well if they can show me an experience like the Koh Phangan Full moon Party anywhere else in the world, I’d like to hear about it.

    Goof stuff! (I found you on twitter a couple of weeks ago is how I’ve ended up here)

    • Slice from iBackpacker travel January 24, 2011 at 12:29 PM #

      *good stuff, not goof stuff!

    • Steph January 31, 2011 at 7:59 AM #

      Yeah, I get annoyed when people are snobby about these things too. I mean if it’s not for you that’s fine, but at least appreciate it for the unique even that it is!

  11. Andrea January 24, 2011 at 2:47 PM #

    Great post steph!! I am glad you were able to enjoy your time there and able to do it safely (for the most part). Can’t wait to hear about your other adventures. PS it is 13 degrees here in NYC….I want to go to where you are.

    • Steph January 31, 2011 at 7:58 AM #

      Haha, well YOU get to hear all the uncensored bits…

  12. Andrew Murray January 24, 2011 at 6:56 PM #

    Nice one Steph.
    Some great ideas to keep me out of harms way!
    I’d quite like to visit for the experience.

  13. Rease January 24, 2011 at 7:47 PM #

    This sounds both exhilarating and horrifying. Excellent tips, these are really good things to know. The pictures are awesome too!

  14. Dee January 25, 2011 at 1:28 PM #

    Went to a New Years party here that was actually a full moon as well. End of 2009. We love giant music festivals and parties but this one was not our style. Glad we went as we did have fun bringing in the New Year until a friend in our group camera was stolen at the chill Reggae bar from from the beach of all places…. Great tips! Have posted much the same a year ago on my own blog.

    Only I gotta add is watch out for the flying plastic cups/buckets. Not only because they might hurt if you get hit by them but also because we found out the chances of it being full of piss is pretty high!

    • Steph January 31, 2011 at 7:53 AM #

      Oh man, I didn’t see any flying buckets but that is a GREAT tip!

  15. Kirsty January 29, 2011 at 10:20 AM #

    We’ve always been in two minds about these parties, we want to go for the expirence and it sounds like a hell of a good time but then on the other hand sooooooo many people are screwed over/injured etc.
    Great tips in here though especially about the rope fire thing… can’t believe every single person got burnt!

    • Steph January 31, 2011 at 6:44 AM #

      Yeah it was so weird- i kept watching people get burnt and then MORE people lining up to do it. True insanity.

  16. Andy February 5, 2011 at 6:32 PM #

    I watched the Fire jump rope for a little while I was there way back in February 2010 and I witnessed a few people actually make it through unscathed. The key is to get a few good jumps in and then get the hell out.

    The guys swinging the jump-rope are evil and speed up their swings each time the longer you stay in.

    There has been a fair amount of Full Moon bashing on here so I would just like to point out that this really is a blast and it should be experienced. I met people from dozens of countries while I was at the full moon party. To say it’s just a bunch of drunk-stoned westerners is a serious misjudgment.

    I love the idea of 10k people from different countries and cultures all surrendering to those things that bind us all together despite nationality or creed. Alcohol and Music you can dance to.

    • Steph February 5, 2011 at 11:49 PM #

      The problem was that even when people were good at jumping, some other idiots would try to jump in and throw everything off- resulting in everyone getting stung.

      The Full Moon Party was a lot of fun and a great way to meet some cool people- I agree.

  17. Kim May 6, 2012 at 3:54 PM #

    Yo Steph!
    Great advice there. My wife and I are planning to attend the full moon party at 3.rd juli ’12 for the very time. Being in Our start – 30’ies We might be a bit older than average, and usually remember to use common sense when out partying.
    About that loophole thing, are those “ok to smoke a j and drink a mushroom smoothie” – bars easy to spot/find for a newcomer to Haad Rin/Phangan?
    Can U remember any names of good bars in that category?

    • Steph May 6, 2012 at 4:07 PM #

      The majority of their clientele is visiting tourists so they are very accesible. One was called Mountain Bar and one was called Tree house I think, although this was two years ago so things may have changed. I would ask around. Our hostel owner was able to point people in the right direction.

  18. JadeRachel May 26, 2012 at 11:05 AM #

    Ahh! Kim! Haha I will be at the Full Moon Party in July 2012 as wel as my birthday falls on the 3rd! So excited 😀 😀

  19. Danny B October 9, 2012 at 12:31 PM #

    I’m going to the full Moon party at the end of this month… and I hope it’s everything you say it is! I’m doing some of the cultural things, but also want to enjoy a massive huge crazy party whilst I’m there.

    I’ll be honest… this is the thing I’m looking forward to most on my trip to thailand!

  20. Anna November 27, 2012 at 12:35 PM #

    Hmmm lot to think about.
    I am traveling round Southeast Asia for 3 months, arrive in Bangkok on the 20th of Jan 2013. Timed it so I could make the full moon party on the 26th. Thought it would be a great fun way to start my travels off. However, reading more and more scary articles which make the party out to sound like a complete war zone! As a 21 year old girl going on my own I am starting to think maybe it isn’t such a good idea… shame as I thought it would be a fun experience.

    • Steph November 27, 2012 at 2:59 PM #

      I met a couple of cool girls who traveled solo to the full moon party. I think as long as you have your wits about you and manage to stay in your right mind you ought to be fine.

  21. AVES December 16, 2012 at 10:39 PM #

    Steph – Trying to read the “Wise Advice for the Thailand Travel Virgin | Journals Abroad” under the trackback/pingback header. Can’t open it. Is this a different article or from an external site? help!

    • Steph December 17, 2012 at 7:26 AM #

      Hmm, I’m not sure why that is- pingbacks are automatic. You may want to google it.

  22. ady January 8, 2013 at 10:32 AM #

    hey steph, thnks for the details you have given…i was there for fullmoon last dec 2012 and as said above it was awesome exciting and nice experienceand ya i agree the oceans full of pee its disgusting..but as said there were’nt any cops no arrests i saw many drug peddlers following ppl selling there stuff openely…im planning to go next month in feb just wanted to know hows the crowd in feb and hows the weather in feb end??? what can be the average population that night…????

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