Spring Holiday, Part 4: The Full Moon Party
From Wikipedia: “The Full Moon Party is an all-night beach party that takes place in Haad Rin on the island of Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand on the night before or after every full moon.
The first Full Moon Party was improvised at a wooden disco not far from the beach in 1985 for giving thanks to about 20-30 travelers. The Full Moon Party gained fame quickly through word of mouth, and the event now draws a crowd about 20,000-30,000 every full moon evening. The party carries on until the sun rises the next day. All the bars on the sunrise beach of Haad Rin town stay open and play music.”
- 20,000+ people pile onto Haad Rin beach for a night of mayhem and celebration.
- This happens once every 28 days (approx.)
- Did I mention about an All Night Party with 20,000 people?
The Full Moon Party is a huge draw for international tourists. At the January 2010 iteration, we met people from all over the world– from Brazil to Finland, Canada to South Africa, all getting together to get painted, get their drink on, get their dance on, and – oh, yes – play with fire.
Our evening started with the glo-paint. After snarfing down some delicious curry, we headed to one of the myriad hostel/bars where the glow-in-the-dark body paint was free, as long as you were okay painting it on
yourself. We got down with our bad selves, painting all sorts of funny/cool things all over ourselves and generally making a huge painty mess. One friend had a skull-and-crossbones painted across his chest; another friend got swirly lines all over her arms and legs and one got handsy with the paint and started putting neon handprints all over everyone. I got one of my artistically inclined friends to do a moonlit beach scene on my back, which I thought appropriate.
Painted up, we headed to the beach to procure buckets and begin the evening’s festivities in earnest. Let’s talk buckets for a moment. This is a phenomenon at every major tourist spot in Thailand and Cambodia, as far as I can tell – drinks served in, basically, toy sand buckets. For the Full Moon Party, buckets are sold pretty much every which way you turn, and what you buy is roughly $3 USD for a bucket with what looks like half a fifth of vodka, rum, or sangsom (Thai whiskey, ugh) and a soda mixer, mix it yourself, and drink it out of the bucket. Ko Pa-Ngan was the first place I encountered them, but after that they were pretty much everywhere we went. As I prefer my alcoholic beverages in the form of wine, microbrews, and the occasional gin & tonic, this was not my cup (bucket) of tea (liquor) but it sure is popular with the western tourists. (As are the Shroom Shakes, of which I did not partake; it’s one of those things where they are highly illegal but law enforcement doesn’t actually give a damn, so as I understand it they are sold fairly openly along the beach front.)
When you walk out onto the beach, you first notice the wall of bucket-vendors lined up in stalls all across the store fronts along the water. The different vendors have different (often totally obscene) names and catch-phrases scrawled over their stalls, and so you just sort choose whichever one speaks to you most because the buckets are all a standard price pretty much no matter where you get them. The vendors will do deals, too – buy 3 buckets, get one free etc. – so they are kept quite busy throughout the night.
The next thing you notice is all the FIRE! There are fiery signs declaring “Full Moon Party: January 2011,” Tiki torches, fire hoops and – best of all – the Fire Rope. I don’t know which evil genius decided that it was a good idea to douse a massive length of 3-inch thick rope in kerosene, light it on fire, and then use it as a jump rope, but whoever it was deserves a medal for creating pretty much the most awesome beach party activity ever. The brave souls who venture into the Fire Rope Circle (and we were not few) make their way to the front of the crowd, and when the rope starts swinging just jump on in. This can have hilariously disastrous effects, especially if two people decide to jump in from opposite sides at the same time, or if a jumper misjudges the swing of the rope. Once you’re in, the rope gets swung faster and faster in an
attempt to dislodge you; I believe there was some kind of prize (a free bucket, probably) if you managed to defeat the rope-holders and jump until they lost the rope. No-one did, as far as I know, while we were standing there. I of course had to get in, so I did probably around 3 or 4 rounds; the first time I got in okay but missed about the third jump which left a nice sooty welt on the back of my ankle and opposite calf. In another round, my friend and I got in and were doing very well and some drunken fratboy ran in and messed up the rope. That thwack left me with straight-up rope-shaped burn (not serious) across
my right foot, which I’m pretty sad has disappeared because for a little while it looked to turn into a totally badass scar. Ah, well. There was also a big slide around where the Fire Rope was happening, and I think at one point the slide even got lit on fire, which didn’t seem like such a brilliant idea to me but hey, whatever floats your boat. I did, however, do the pyro-less version of the slide.
This brings me to the last claim on your attention as you arrive at the party: the wall of people along the shore. At the beginning of the night, around 10pm or 11pm, the fray is wildly energetic, dancing and skipping and playing with fire and singing along to the VERY loud music blasting from all the stores, a few PA’s set up near the flaming signs, and the hot club at the end of the strip. On towards 3am or so, the crowd begins to diverge into a few of distinct groups: the wild partiers who are still going strong, dancing the night away; those who are starting to feel the night’s effects and have sat down in the sand with head in hands or in some similar fashion, and those who are starting to sober up and meander down the beach peering about at the destruction the night has wrought. The last two groups continue to grow as the dawn approaches, though the dancing picks up again right before sunrise when the club starts absolutely blasting “Let the Sunshine In” from the musical Hair (I found this hilarious) and the whole beach starts going nuts singing some variation of “let the sun shine” or “hail the sunshine” or something along those lines.
It’s actually pretty awesome, an entire beach of people dancing and singing and waving and greeting the dawn as it comes in gray at first and then the sun pops over the hills and suddenly the beach is awash in light, and you can REALLY see the destruction and carnage. Straws and glowsticks, beer cans and flip-flop sandals litter the beach front in stunning quantity. And as the light hits, people begin to pack it in and head back for their hostels all over the island; taxi services descend on the egressing hordes and sandwich shops open for the early onslaught of hungry and beginning-to-be-hungover hordes. We caught an open-air pickup-truck taxi back to Haad Salad at around 7am after grabbing breakfast sandwiches, and at that time in the morning the weather was gorgeous, sunny and cool; a perfect, scenic way to end our All-Night Party.
Next up: Phuket. Someday I WILL get out of Thailand with these things, I do promise.