The Full Moon Party at Koh Phangan, Thailand is on most backpackers' 'bucket' list. But you'll need some expert help to make sure you have the time of your life. Our SE Asia correspondent Cat McGloin joins the party.
Full Moon Party: you may have heard about it. It's a must-do for any self-respecting gap yearer or young (and not-so-young) traveller on the SE Asian tour. While there are many such parties held throughout Thailand, usually in the second week of each month, the biggest is at Haad Rin beach in Koh Phangan.
Legend has it that it was started by a group of backpackers in the 1980s as a small birthday get-together. The idea caught on, and these days more than 10,000 revellers attend each month, decked out in neon, daubed with flourescent paint and loaded up on the infamous drinks buckets. Many have the night of their lives, dancing, skipping fire ropes and partying until morning.
Big nights like this one do, however, come with a few potential pitfalls. Here are 10 tips to help you avoid being a Full Moon casualty, and have a great time.
1. Book accommodation in advance
Hostels and hotels on Koh Phangan fill up pretty fast, especially in Haad Rin nearby to all the action, and the closer it gets to Full Moon the pricier any type of accomodation becomes. So avoid being ripped off by arriving at least four days early to book yourself a bed at a reasonable price. Most places require a four-night minimum stay during the Full Moon party period. If you're not a forward planner then you can get a ferry to Koh Phangan, party for the night and then get a ferry back the next day. But this involves a notoroiusly choppy boat ride, something best avoided when nursing the mother of all hangovers.
2. Stay away from the party as long as possible
There's no rush to get to Haad Rin and start partying. In fact, if you do you're more likely to be one of the unfortunate souls who pass out from over-excitment by 10pm and spend the rest of the night curled up in the sand, missing the party all together. There are some pretty beaches on which to chill out on on the west side of the island and a few rooftop bars to watch the sunset from. You'll also find plenty of 'warm-up parties' going on in bars away from the beach where the music and atmosphere is just as good but the drinks are much cheaper. Aim to get to Haad Rin no earlier than 11pm we say!
3. Buy your own paint
Fluorescent t-shirts and UV body paint is the uniform for any serious Full Moon reveller. Stalls offering to adorn your body with crazy patterns and not-so-witty slogans line the street leading up to the beach, charging between 50 and 250 Baht depending on the design. A few drinks later and this will seem like money well spent. But do it yourself and buy six tubs of paint from a local supermarket for a fraction of the cost. This way you can cover yourself in UV tats all night long, and you might find that you make yourself a few new friends who want to get in on the action and save a few pennies for that next bucket!
4. Buy drinks away from the beach
Like any festival, drinks past the gates are going to be three or four times more expensive than outside. The same rule applies at Full Moon. Buy a bucket on the beach and you could pay anything up to 500 Baht, but take a few steps away from the beach and you'll get a better, stronger (!) deal for about 150 Baht. Another option includes stocking up at the local 7-Eleven, but again, supermarkets closer to the beach will crank up their prices so grab your Chang beers early and from somewhere a bit further away.
5. Stay away from fire
At some point in the night you will start to think that fire rope skipping with a bunch of strangers is the best idea ever. It's not. There are plenty of fireshows all along the beach offering you the opportunity to jump through rings of fire, limbo under a fire pole or jump fire rope. None of these activities are wise and you'll see plenty of burns victims by the end of the evening.
6. Save some baht for the bathroom
All those crazy cocktails are bound to take their toll on your bladder. Most guys choose to relieve themselves straight in to the ocean, so another piece of advice would be not to go frolicking in the waves. But if you're in desperate need of the bathroom and would prefer a little privacy then expect to pay up to 15 Baht for the privilege. The bars and restaurants along the beach will charge this small fee, so it's a good idea to keep some change handy for when nature calls.
It seems obvious, but water will be your best friend if you plan to make it to sunrise. Buy a six pack of water for about 50 Baht and take it to the beach, or at the very least buy a 2 litre bottle to nurse throughout the evening. You'll have tons more energy to dance all night and the hangover the next morning will feel considerably better.
8. Share the (bucket) love
The infamous bucket (think child's sand castle pale filled to the brim with a potent concotion of alcohol, soda and energy drinks) is available for purchase along the beach. The cost varies so haggling is a must. Some stalls will offer 2-for-1 or buy-two-get-one-free deals. These can be good value but two buckets is way more than one person needs, so share the bucket love with your friends and pass the party on.
9. Secure your shoes
The beach is littered with all sorts of debris, from beer bottle caps to shards of broken glass, so do not go barefoot, as tempting as it might be. By the end of the night you'll find orphaned flip-flops and discarded sandals all over the place. To avoid losing yours, either stick your feet through your flip-flop straps so they wrap around your ankles, or invest in decent duck tape. You might look silly, but it's better than having to bow out early with a nasty injury.
10. Leave valuables locked up
Whilst the majority of party-goers experience a fun, crime-free Full Moon, an unfortunate few lose their valuables or are the victims of petty thieves. Our advice would be to only take with you the bare essentials: money, phone, room key. Consider leaving the camera and designer handbag at home and enjoy a party that you'll remember for all the right reasons.
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