Full Moon Party (1)
Hat Rin, Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand
Every month, on the night of the full moon (though it’s sometimes moved forward or backward by one day if the full moon coincides with a Buddhist holiday)
The tourist party season in Southeast Asia traditionally gets underway at the end of the year with huge, head-thumping parties at Hat Rin beach on Thailand’s Ko Pha Ngan island. Hat Rin has firmly established itself as Southeast Asia’s premier rave venue, especially in the high season around December and January, but every month of the year travellers flock in for the Full Moon Party – something like Apocalypse Now without the war. Tens of thousands of party fiends from all corners of the world kick up the largely good-natured, booze- and drug-fuelled mayhem, dancing the night away on the squeaky white sand.
The origins of the full-moon parties are lost in the swirling, herbal mists of time. What is clear is that foreign travellers have been coming to Hat Rin at least since the 1970s, attracted by its remoteness on the southeastern headland of Ko Pha Ngan (until the road was paved a few years ago, the only regular way to get there was by boat), the beauty of its main beach, and the brain-warming teas containing the local fungus, hed khi kwai (literally, buffalo-shit mushrooms). Some time in the late 1980s the hippie, prog-rock sensibilities of the full-moon “happenings” were displaced by techno-driven Acid House parties, and dance music has prevailed ever since. Dismayed by the levels of drug taking, the authorities have sporadically tried to ban the parties – only to be shouted down by the locals who make a living from techno tourism. As well as run-of-the-mill drug excesses, police are also concerned about dodgy Ecstasy and diet pills, spiked drinks, occasional accidental deaths, assaults and psychiatric admissions. Accordingly, they have started clamping down in earnest, setting up a permanent police box at Hat Rin, instigating roadblocks and sometimes even bungalow searches around full-moon night, and drafting in scores of uniformed and plain-clothes officers for the parties. It doesn’t seem to have dampened the fun, though, only making travellers a lot more circumspect (the going rate for escaping a minor possession charge is a 50,000 baht “fine”). Fortunately, recent, risible plans by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to turn the parties into family affairs, complete with beauty contests and sporting events, seem to have died a death. Despite Hat Rin’s elevated profile, you won’t find any megaclubs here, only half a dozen beach bars with outdoor tables and beach mats, and banks of hastily erected sound systems. Instead of fancy laser shows, the lighting effects are provided by flimsy fireworks, fire-throwing jugglers and day-glo body paint – and, of course, the fat moon herself. This DIY approach carries over to the music, too: although big names such as Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling often fly in to check out Hat Rin, you’re quite likely to find yourself dancing to a have-a-go DJ, who’s registered interest on the Full Moon Party website, playing anything from psychedelic trance to drum ‘n bass, from handbag house to garage.
To make the most of a Full Moon Party, get yourself to Hat Rin at least a couple of days in advance. That way, you’ll be able to maximize the stunning beach location, soak up the growing buzz as the crowds pour in and, more importantly, snag yourself somewhere to stay – Hat Rin only has beds for around two thousand people, so the numbers just don’t add up on party night.
You have three basic choices for accommodation: full-on ravers will try for a bungalow on the main beach, Sunrise, or Hat Rin Nok (Outer Hat Rin), to have their own chillout zone on the big night; the less committed, and anyone contemplating at least a wink of sleep, will head for the much less attractive Sunset beach, or Hat Rin Nai (Inner Hat Rin), a few minutes’ walk away across the neck of the peninsula; others head up the slopes towards the sourthern tip of the headland, where the bungalows are quieter still and the sunset views even better. If this race for space sounds like too much hassle, it’s worth knowing that on party nights frequent speedboats make the trip over to Hat Rin from the larger island of Ko Samui just to the south, while boats and shared vans (songthaews) ferry ravers in from other beaches on Ko Pha Ngan.
First up on the night of the party, it’s advisable to eat as it’s going to be a long haul (and a lot of beachfront) restaurants stay closed the following morning to let their workers get some kip). Once you’re fuelled up, there’s nothing for it but to plunge in. The main action happens on the southern end of Sunrise, spreading out from Parasise Bungalows, which styles itself as the original party host, to places like Drop In and the Cactus Club. Each had a small concrete dance floor inside if rain stops your play, but you’re more likely to be making a grab for one of the lamp-it tables on the foreshore.
The party’s unofficial chillout zone is Mellow Mountain Bar, perched high in the rocks at the northern end of Sunrise, with the chaos on the perfect crescent of a beach arrayed like a movie set below, to an electic backing track of ambient sounds. Most partygoers make it through t o the dawn, and some can still be seen splashing in the shallow surf towards noon, when the last of the beach DJs pull the plug. Some ravers will then trudge up the hill to the Backyard Bar for morning-after, and a hardcore few will manage to roll back down to Harmony for evening after.