There are few larger rights of passage on the Southeast Asian backpacker circuit than the full moon party on the island of Koh Phangnan.
A tropical version of Ibiza on psychedelics, the pull of this legendary debauch is so strong that nary a backpacker within a 1000-mile radius has the chance of escaping its hedonistic spell.
From the highlands of Chiang Mai to the the back alleys of Bangkok, the week leading up to the night of the full moon becomes a spiral of buses, ferries, trains and tuk-tuks all headed for the sands of Haad Rin.
During the party, in the same way that the full moon acts upon the tides, so too will it elevate the young, the promiscuous, the inebriated and the curious to levels exceeding their monthly average.
Imagine 30,000 revelers with their toes in the sand, gyrating en masse to visiting DJ’s, executing brain cells with whiskey and Red Bull, and losing themselves in the glow of the moon. While liquor is guzzled and consumed by the bucket, most in attendance are drunk on freedom, and the intoxicating possibilities that accompany the unknown.
It’s a big, hot, beautiful mess, and it’s one which every traveler needs to experience at least once.
%Slideshow-777%Started in the 1980s by a handful of Western backpackers, the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party has gradually morphed into one of Asia’s largest parties. Drug use is common, despite the harsh penalties, and the party continues to well beyond sunrise.
For a better idea of the level of debauchery, take a look at some of the “party tips” on a website devoted to the party.
-Don’t bring your passport
-Don’t bring any valuables
-Don’t bring a bag, because you’ll get drunk and lose it
-Wear shoes to protect your feet against broken bottles
-Don’t eat anything offered by strangers
-If you actually plan to sleep, get accommodations far, far away from the party.
Or, for a more visual approach, step inside of the party with this video from lbwtravel.
Having just endured an all-night party on the neighboring island of Koh Tao, I was actually among the select few who decided to get some sleep. Not without staying out until 3 a.m., however, which was more than enough time to revel in the scene.
Body paint replaced clothing the further the night wore on, and fire-twirling locals illuminated the dark sky. Dreadlocks twirled in rhythm with the House tunes, and the sand became littered with eventual one-night stands.
Since I enjoy people watching as much as the actual party, I opted to squeeze in a few hours of sleep and return for the scene during sunrise. On the walk back to my bungalow far, far away, a light breeze began to rustle the trees and was punctuated by stronger gusts. A storm, it seemed, was brewing on the horizon.
Three hours of sleep, two ibuprofen and one bottle of water later, the orange light of the rising sun revealed a scene of social warfare. For every two bodies, which continued to gyrate, a fallen soldier lay collapsed on the sand. For every bucket, which continued to hold liquid, four others were discarded on the beach. The clouds thickened, the beat continued and a scrap of white linen, which was once someone’s pants flapped in the breeze as it dangled from a tree.
By 9 a.m. a few hundred remained; by 11 a.m., perhaps 30. Finally, by 3 p.m., as dozens of Thai workers cleaned up the detritus, the number of party-goers had dropped to one.
With trance music on the iPod and booze in the veins, the party continued on his own personal planet.
My attention meanwhile, had shifted from the party to what was suddenly brewing offshore. Mutterings of a monsoon had been percolating through the community, and the wind-driven waves had been increasing by the hour. By no means were they good waves, but they were big enough to ride.
As we mentioned in our article “6 Surf Destinations You’d Never Think Of,” Thailand can actually get decent surf during times of a passing monsoon. The problem, however, is finding a board, as none are offered on the small Thai island.
Gulping down a banana pancake and slurping on a fruit smoothie, that’s when I spotted it leaning against a house:
A haggard, blue, obviously used longboard, which had been hand-carried in by a backpacking Argentinian. With the sea salt on the breeze and a pounding in my head, I approached the fellow traveler about renting out his board.
As it turns out, he and his friends were on a 12-month tour of Thailand and had rented the beach house for an entire three months. Nursing a hangover from the previous night’s party – his third in a row – he loaned me the board completely free of charge.
With board in hand I jogged to the beach, my bare feet dodging the curbside debris. The wind intensified to the point of destruction, and plastic chairs were sent scurrying down the beach.
At the scene of the party, the lone dancer remained.
Paddling out into the wind-driven slop, the hopes for waves were novelty at best. With gusts approaching 40 mph and onshore winds crumbling the surf, I largely questioned the point of the endeavor.
That was, until, I caught the first wave. And the next, then the next, and the next after that. Ugly, short, onshore, and mushy, it revitalized a feeling, which had been shelved for too long.
Yes, I was surfing in the middle of a Thai monsoon, on a stretch of beach covered in beer bottles and backpackers, but even in this outpost on the other side of the world, there was a sense of familiarity, which made it feel just like home.