I went to my first full moon party on Ko Phangan way back in 1992. Over the Moon I was, and so I'd like to tell you a little bit about doing the Koh Phangan Fool Moon Party properly...
Things were a little more homegrown then: Beachfront restaurants prominently advertised menu items like "special mushroom omelette" and "amphetamine tea" and even the distinctively blunt "one big plate of ganja."
A mere two thousand people showed up each month, though many stayed. Within days you felt you knew everyone on the beach, or had at least wiggled next to them at some all night dance party. It was like a big family - albeit a drug-addled, body-painted and sunburnt family in which everyone was having sex with each other.
(to read more about the Fool Moon Party, including schedule, click here)
That paradise may be lost forever. But a shinier new one has sprung up to replace it. It's no longer a family - over ten thousand tourists show up with each lunar waxing, and largely disappear after it's waned. And forget about ordering drugs à la carte - the authorities have long-since cracked down, forcing the "menus" under the table. Mild dance-music fiestas have morphed into gigantic international rave-a-thons with superstar DJs and huge corporate sponsorships.
And death rates continue to mount as Red-Bulled lunatics commandeer motorcycles off mountaintops or unwisely choose to take a snooze in the sea. But as novelist Douglas Coupland put it "Adventure without risk is [only] Disneyland." The trick is how to get off your face without falling on it. The key is moderation in all things. Including, one should add, moderation.
Roll out the Psychedelic Carpet
First off, make sure you've got your accommodation sorted. Showing up the day of the full moon expecting to find a room at Haad Rin beach is like showing up at a singles bar expecting to find a wife: Unless you're loaded with cash, the odds are crap. Show up at least four days prior, or stay somewhere else on Koh Phangan.
There are many great beaches around this small island and you can easily get public transportation (at inflated prices) to and from the party. If you're daring, you can even rent a motorcycle for about 200 baht (5 $US).
But the precipitous road that leads to Haad Rin is deadly treacherous. After so many tourists have perished in accidents the government has decided to install a straighter, less-ludicrous roller coaster of a thoroughfare - it may even be open by the time you read this.
An alternative is to stay in Koh Samui, a bigger island just an half an hour to an hour (depending on type of boat) from Koh Phangan. Digs are posher, but prices are higher and the vibe is definitely more "touristy." On the plus side, hippies are pleasantly thin-on-the ground in Samui. Yet, if you hate hippies, you shouldn't go anywhere near a full moon party; they are quite literally its warp and woof.
Get Your Groove On
A perfect full moon party evening is spent on the sand at one of the myriad low tables provided by bars and restaurants. It is upon these that droves of eager revelers begin to systematically destroy their inhibitions, grey matter and clothing with the drink of choice - a simple "bucket."
Buckets are to Haad Rin ravers what peace pipes were to the American Indians. A flask of rum is poured into it, along with cola, ice and Red Bull and a handful of straws.
Everyone is consequently obliged to share the alcohol, the love, and each others' microorganisms. Make sure to pace yourself and order food or you might pass out at ten p.m., as I did once, and miss the entire party. Thai rum sneaks up on you like a serial killer in fluffy socks.
Stark Raving Mad
When you're finally good and ready to show off your patented ass-wiggle to the opposite sex, you'll want to visit one (or all) of the top beachfront establishments - Cactus, Paradise, Zoom, Vinyl, Harmony, etc. They are all utterly similar and draw the same sorts of people, but there is a sort of serendipity inherent in rave culture - some unnamed spark that suddenly makes one place the "place to be."
You know it when you get there - the girls are all flipping their hair in a frenzy and tugging at their clothes. The guys are hooting and pumping their fists in the air. Even the beach dogs get into the act, humping every leg in sight. It's a moment of pure bliss. But then everything dies down and you're forced to search for another "magic moment" at another bar. Just like you do in your normal life.
Make sure, once again, to pace yourself. You probably don't have a place to stay, or you're too wasted to drive back and you'd need to sell your watch to pay the taxi drivers' extortionate rates. Drink lots of water, eat banana pancakes or chicken baguettes at the "chicken corner" - a nearby nexus of small shops that sell delicious snacks, drinks and much-needed medical supplies.
Everyone gets a second wind when the sun comes up, accelerating their mad gyrations and prostrating paganistically to the glowing orb on the horizon. If you haven't hooked up with someone by now, you probably won't, because not only do you look worn out in the light of day, but so do they.
Fluorescent body paint looks cool under a black light, utterly idiotic in harsh sunlight. Still, most people aren't here for sex, they're here to dance and be merry, and most of those who came to get laid either ended up too wasted to do anything about it, or went home with a hooker by mistake (or by design).
You'd think things would end there, but you'd be wrong. Parties continue until midday, sometimes longer, at smaller places away from the beach. Unless you're chemically enhanced or have the party conditioning of Paris Hilton, you might want to go to bed now. After which, you should go and see the rest of Koh Phangan.
Though most of the people who come here only do so for the full-moon party, Koh Phangan has so much more to offer - it is surely one of the loveliest little islands in the world, boasting waterfalls, jungle trails, scores of stunning beaches, and, if you must - some milder, more intimate rave parties.
To paraphrase Robert Frost "I took the road less trolleyed, and it made all the difference." Grab a cheap little slice of paradise, quit your job, and wait around for the next full moon to come. Like many other long-term lunatics, you may well never leave.
Photos: O. Begemann
Oliver Benjamin is a talented writer and artist living in Thailand, and his gifted articles literally fell in our lap. To check out more works of this talented man, go to www.oliverbenjamin.net.