Whether you're sporting a new Koh Phangan t-shirt or concealing a new rash that needs 3 weeks of antibiotics, everyone leaves the famous/notorious Full Moon Party a little different than when they arrived. This event, after all, is the stuff of backpacker legend, with numbers averaging 10,000 and a fun-loving crowd from all corners of the world. Everyone arrives to Koh Phangan prepped with some expectations of the Full Moon Party, through travel guides or word of mouth. When I set forth to May's Full Moon Party, my head full of other people's stories and cautions, I still found a few surprises in this dance-til-dawn affair. So rather than outlining the importance of sunscreen, drug safety, and secure bungalows, below are some tips you may not hear, but which helped me enjoy the sweet debauchery of Hat Rin under a full moon.
Lessons Learned on a Full Moon
1) Don't Pull Rank
We all know that travel takes many forms, and the Full Moon Party certainly draws a mixed crowd. Indeed, on the crowded beach, sweaty bars, or confusing ferry terminal, sooner or later you'll get annoyed by fellow travellers. You might be on a gap-year trip and out of your parents home for the first time, or you might be an expat who went Buddhist long before Richard Gere made it trendy. Whatever your background, it may be tempting to roll your eyes at other SangSom-swilling beachgoers. In a group of ten thousand, you're not going to like everyone. By the same token, in a group so big, you're bound to get along with a lot of them. Don't be dissuaded by disagreement, just move on.
2) Find a Guesthouse away from it All
Because Hat Rin beach is the centre of the party, a travel agent will hype the Hat Rin bungalows for their prime location, and indeed that's true. However, while they may not be found on some Koh Phangan maps, there are some nicer, cheaper, neighbouring beaches an easy 10-minute walk (stumble....crawl....) away. Nearby Leela Beach and Sunset Beach boast cute, clean beach bungalows over beautiful turquoise beaches. Both have plenty of restaurant/bars and space galore to park your beach towel for the afternoon. If you fancy a rowdy place to party and a calmer place to recover, these beaches are a perfect fit.
3) Don't Sweat a Solo Night
Nothing is worse than the one guy in the noisy bar yelling into his cellphone because he split up from his friends. If you're with a group bigger than two, you'll likely find yourself solo at some point during the evening. The crowd is so big, if you haven't arranged a meeting point in advance, you can waste hours scanning the sea of faces in the dark, looking for your travelmates. My suggestion? The beach and the clubs are full or friendly, fun-loving peers who are delighted at the randomness of meeting new people. If you lose your friends, make new ones. It's only for one night, and for better or worse, it will make for a more colourful evening.
4) Keep your Shoes On
Every morning, stray beach dogs take their pick of abandoned sandals to adopt as chew toys. Footwear is an easy thing to misplace when it's dark, crowded, and everything is semi-covered in sand. As cheap as rubber flip-flops may be, they're absolutely crucial when walking the concrete streets, using a public toilet, or sidestepping broken glass. Let my own cut-up soles be a lesson to you, while Hat Rin is lovely by day, a big party turns the soft white sand jagged and messy, fast.
5) Remember, you're still in Thailand
You may be surrounded by goodlooking Westerners under 25, but gang, this 'aint Daytona Beach. Yes, Koh Phangan tourism caters readily to rowdy, fun-loving, hard-partying travellers. Even so, some smaller gestures can avoid offense to Thai people and keep your travel experience peachy. Though the area is littered in stray dogs, this Buddhist country believes strongly in treating animals with decency. Also, while you won't catch many Thai people correcting your behaviour, it's best to practice some discretion on the beach. Bikinis and flirting are fine, though topless female sunbathers and VERY public displays of affection might cause discomfort. The women mixing your bucket cocktail or the men painting UV-light tattoos on your arm will be nothing but friendly, but remember that there are still Eastern/Western differences, even on a raucous beach.
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.