On my bedroom wall at home, some 7602 miles (roughly) away, there is a bucket list I wrote when I was 21. On it there was a mix of things, some of which may forever be pipe dreams (like owning a home… England sort it out!), and others – like seeing the Orangutans in Borneo and scuba diving round the Great Barrier Reef I may even get to write about later in this blog. Close to the top of this list is a Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan. I’d seen the pictures, heard the stories and was sold on this once in a life time blowout on an idyllic beach in beautiful Thailand.
However, after hopping off the back of the rickety van that had driven at break neck speed round blind corners onto a street to join a group of (unfortunately English) lads loudly harassing girls as they passed by, a couple screaming at each other and one girl crying by the road, I began to feel the evening wouldn’t be quite what I built it up to be…
This is one of those extremely rare occasions where Alex and I are actually in total agreement, so we decided to join forces in composing this shamelessly “Click Bait” titled post (Buzzfeed eat your heart out). So as promised, here is our take on the Full Moon Party, and why you might be better off saving yourself the bother of elaborate neon face paint.
- Organised fun! – whilst its billed as an impromptu hedonistic beach party, in reality past problems have forced the Full Moon Parties to become more ‘organised’, with strict inflexible pick up times in hostels through to wrist band entry just to get on the beach. While there are very sensible reasons for this, it does somewhat take away from the spontaneity of the occasion, making it feel a bit contrived. Not unlike NYE, there is a lot of pressure to have the best night ever. If it was just a little more chill, it would be much more fun.
- Cover your feet – now this was a warning we heard time and time again before attending, and what wise words they were, for Koh Phangan as a whole. While the beach hosting the main event did have a small clean up team who were doing the best they could, the bins were overflowing and in fairness to people as the night progressed they had little option but to drop their half eaten food and bottles wherever they stood. Not a good mix with the ‘At One With Nature’ drunkards toddling around in bare feet, but there you are.However, at least the beach had something of a clean up crew. What with every bar on the island jumping on the bandwagon the muck wasn’t just localised to Haad Rin. Day old leftovers and buckets littered the road, again because most of the bins were already full to overflowing. We felt it was a real shame what had happened to this otherwise beautiful island, and the smell wasn’t too clever either.
- Fight fire with alcohol – really, though. You’ve just chugged back two buckets worth of vodka, verrrry questionable Thai Red Bull (ephedrine, anyone?) and are feeling a bit fuzzy and un-coordinated. What’s missing in this picture? Fire, obviously. Limbo-ing under a stick doused with gas and set alight, diving through a flaming hoop or my personal favourite, the skipping rope. Fun fact for you to take home, it doesn’t matter how good you think you are at jump rope, the person next to you is awful, and is about to perform some Kamikaze skipping action that will leave you both with burn marks round your ankles, as evidenced below.
A disproportionate number of people were stumbling round the following day with fresh bandages, looking miffed and more than a little uncomfortable. No sympathy from our end!
- The music – hold tight folks, I’m about to sound like a bit of a Pitchfork review snob, but bear with me. One of the many pieces of research we consumed prior to arriving in Thailand spoke about how Full Moon on Haad Rin seeks to cater for every taste in music. Whether your thing is Chart, House, R’n’B, Reggae, Old-skool Classics, Rock, allegedly this party has you covered. The reality – scrub out all but the first couple of genres from that list. Oh, and take yourself back seven years.
Now, I was under no illusion that we’d be able to find a bar pumping out an eclectic mix of Muse, Toto, Foo’s, Jamie T and Steel Panther (to name but a few from our travel playlist), but I did hope that we’d be able to sample good DJs mixing the latest and greatest in generic night-out music. Instead we were treated to bar after bar full of revellers pretending that they still love “Riverside”, “Party Rock Anthem” and “I Gotta Feeling”. It is a well-known fact that I have absolutely nothing against a good trip down memory lane, but I can do that on Spotify or any night out in the UK.
- US! – all these issues, while contributing factors, pale in comparison to the biggest issue of the Full Moon Party – the tourists. From fights, tears and tantrums and the classy relieving yourself in the sea trick the tourists seem to be so fond of, the entire spectacle does give an uncomfortable glimpse of us at our worst. In our tuk tuk home alone there were 2 people out of the 10 revisiting the contents of their buckets, one of whom still managing to shout and swear at the rest of the unlucky passengers whenever he paused for air. If we take this random sample and extrapolate (which I know probably isn’t entirely accurate but work with me) that gives us a 20% idiot percentage, which across 15,000 people is not the kind of ratio you want. You could pigeon-hole people into one of three groups:
-The trashed and shameless – these are the ones tripping over their own feet as they give it way too hard to a terrible remix, falling onto a poor unsuspecting victim then using their body to lever themselves back up and keep going. Buying a bucket and throwing the contents over all their neighbours (which is probably for the best), these are definitely people to avoid.
-The men down – either taking a quick power nap or sucking face in the sand, these people are trip hazards. Despite the skeleton crew of poor long-suffering Thai’s who will come and give the ones who are clearly passed out a sharp prod, they take up the majority of the space that isn’t a makeshift dance floor.
-The quiet majority – not being overly enamoured with the whole escapade ourselves, it gave us a lot of time to people watch. For every person genuinely looking like they were enjoying themselves and still aware of their surroundings, there were four or five staring bored out to sea, checking their watches, or rolling their eyes at other’s stupidity. These people gave us hope that maybe we aren’t old before our time or boring as we feared, and maybe the issue really was that it just wasn’t that fun. That’s the real unspoken truth.
- The shame of it all. One of the over-riding disappointments about Full Moon, and Koh Phangan in general, was that it could be so much more. Our hostel (Coco Garden Resort) near Thong Sala was lovely, Haad Rin itself comprises of a gorgeous sandy cove, and the topography of the Island means that this is one of many great beaches abutting sweeping tree-lined cliffs that lead into the wilderness at the Island’s core.
However, despite all the natural potential, combined with the enterprising Thai spirit that we’ve seen time and again during our trip, the whole place seems completely geared to a single point in time every month. One that is self-destructive at that. As noted in Alex’s Lonely Planet, party-goers are a fickle bunch, and as soon as something becomes ‘mainstream’ all anyone will talk about is how it was better back in the day, and now you should go to X instead (in the case of Koh Phangan, we have it on good authority that Half Moon’s are now much more enjoyable).
Sadly, this over-reliance on a fad means that the whole microcosm surrounding Full Moon is destined for a fall. If you head to Koh Phangan tomorrow, good luck finding anything to see and do that isn’t completely geared towards getting smashed on cheap Voddy in different locations which, after a couple of buckets, could be the local ‘spoons as far as you’re aware. Your options for food are limited, transportation will rip you off (taxi’s seemed to be a flat 100b per person fare irregardless of distance) or kill you (best of luck if you opt to rent a bike), so travelling any great distance from your base is tough. The various towns themselves are ramshackle and bare-bones, with Haad Rin sporting a number of large concrete shells that may have been intended to form hotels or other amenities, but are now just used to UV-up in preparation for the main event.
All in all, Koh Phangan is entirely reliant on the impression left on individuals by the Full Moon Party to form a halo effect for the rest of the island. Unfortunately, this plan fails on both counts.
So really, in our humble opinion, the whole affair has been destroyed by its own reputation and constrained by it’s own success. Don’t get us wrong, some elements of the night like the UV paint, range of food and beachfront setting are enjoyable when taken at face value, but the cost of the experience is difficult to justify on a budget. Ultimately, hearsay and rumour have created an almost uncontrollable illusion that the reality just can’t quite live up to, and the regulations now in place mean that no matter how hard they try, it’s almost impossible to meet such lofty expectations.
But then again, it’s all a case of personal preference, right?
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