Thailand’s famous Full Moon Party, where thousands of people splashed in fluorescent paint rave to pumping music on the beach, has inspired thousands of gap year travelers and backpackers to come to Koh Phangan. You’ll hear whisperings of magical mushrooms, buckets of colorful alcohol, and fire dancers — enough action to strike a serious case of FOMO in the heart of the true party animal. When done correctly, Thailand’s Full Moon Party is a life experience that you’ll talk about until well after the age where it’s appropriate to talk about such things. But you need to know how to get there, where to stay, and, most importantly, how to prevent the night from going wrong in order to do it right. Here are the practicalities of attending this legendary beach festival so you can rave like a pro.
What (and where) is the Full Moon Party?
The Full Moon Party is located at Haad Rin beach on the Thai island of Koh Phangan. The tradition was supposedly started as a small birthday party by a group of backpackers and was popularized by the movie The Beach in 2000 (Leo’s best film, bar none). In the ensuing years, the event has since turned into a full-scale rave where you can definitely find plenty of booze, drugs, and probably even sex if that’s what you’re looking for, though you should certainly exercise caution on that front.
As the name suggests, the event takes place on the full moon, roughly once per month. The annual schedule is posted up to two years in advance on a website that looks as though it otherwise hasn’t been updated since the original throwdown. Still, this gives you plenty of time to plan your trip.
The party is attended by over 40,000 revelers from around the globe. Before the party starts, everyone dresses up in neon Full Moon party gear and unleashes their artistic talents by dabbing each other in fluorescent paint. If you think you are the next Picasso, this is your time to shine. As you make your way down to the beach in the evening, there will be vendors selling bright buckets filled with a mixture of alcoholic drinks.
At this point, your FOMO crashes head on with YOLO. You’re then greeted by an eclectic mix of EDM, rock, and reggae music pulsating throughout the assembling crowd. Said crowd will likely be dancing on any sand, tables, and chairs available — basically, any platform that won’t throw them off. Out of the corner of your eye, you will see fire dancers and ropes of fire, which some brave people elect to jump over. This wild, crazy event goes on until sunrise. Whether or not you approach with caution or full-on rowdiness, the energy is overwhelmingly positive and infectious.
How to get there
It’s important to note that there are no direct flights to Koh Phangan. The only way to arrive at the island is by ferry, and that ferry will be ridiculously crowded if you’re arriving right in time for the party. Your flight options are to fly into Surat Thani or the neighboring island, Koh Samui. From Surat Thani you take a bus to Don Sak pier, then a ferry to Thong Sala Pier on Koh Phangan. Joint tickets are 600 THB (about $19) for both. Then, take a taxi to Haad Rin beach, about 100 THB ($3). If coming from Koh Samui, you can take a taxi to Big Buddha Pier/Maenam Beach for $3, then a ferry to Haad Rin beach for 200 THB ($6). In short, your excursion to the party will look like this:
- Surat Thani airport — bus to Don Sak Pier — ferry to Thong Sala Pier — taxi to Haad Rin Beach
- Koh Samui airport — taxi to Big Buddha Pier/Maenam Beach — ferry to Haad Rin Beach
You can also take the train from Hualamphong Station in Bangkok, which arrives at Surat Thani. Then take a bus and the ferry, following the steps above. The train is actually quite comfortable — you get your own bed, a pillow and blanket, and the chance to see different parts of the Thai countryside. Expect to pay around 2,100 THB ($67) for a first-class ticket along with the bus and ferry or 1,500 THB ($48) for a second-class ticket.
The cheapest but least comfortable method of getting to Haad Rin beach is to take the bus. Buses leave at 6:00 PM from the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok and arrive around midday the following day. The buses will drop you off at Thong Sala Pier where you will need to catch a taxi to Haad Rin Beach. Tickets cost around 800 THB ($25) for the bus ride and ferry transfer to the pier. In Bangkok, you can buy joint tickets covering the bus, ferry, and taxi from the many travel agents on Khao San Road — you can’t miss them. This will save you the hassle of buying tickets at each leg of the journey. You also know the price you are paying upfront. Two of the most well-known travel agents are Songserm Travel Centre and Lomprayah.
Where to stay near Haad Rin beach
Accommodation on Koh Phangan ranges from a creaky dorm bed in a 12-person dorm room costing $6 to a luxury resort priced at $150 per night. It really depends on your budget, but there are two bits of advice to bear in mind. First, it is advisable to stay on Haad Rin beach as this is where the action takes place, and you can really throw yourself into the party atmosphere. Also, the last thing you want after a night of alcohol and dancing is to try and negotiate taxi or ferry prices and traipse halfway across the island.
Equally important is to arrive a few days before the event. Accommodations will be fully booked on the day of and while on the lucky occasion you might find a spare bed, you can also expect to pay through the nose for it. Arriving early not only allows you to secure accommodation but to do so at a reasonable price. You can book online, but normally the most expensive accommodation is advertised online and you will have to book a stay of at least five nights.
The best hostel options for the #budgetlife are:
- The Wild and Wandering Backpacker and Bar: Formerly known as Moonstone Hostel, this place is BRIGHT pink. This is a good thing because it’s hard to miss if you get lost. It is on the main street leading up to the Full Moon Party and throws excellent parties.
- Culture Club Backpackers: This budget spot is a five-minute walk from the Full Moon Party, and the dorms have AC — something certainly not a guarantee in most Thai hostels.
At $45-60 per night, the following hotels are a bit pricier but offer the benefit of a private space (and in some cases a private beach) to recover in:
- Palita Lodge: With a private pool and plenty of wide-open beach space, this hotel is ideal for couples who may want to sneak away from the masses.
- Cocohut Beach Resort & Spa: Here you can tan away your hangover on a private beach a five-minute walk from the Full Moon Party.
- Sarikantang Resort and Spa: This is the boujee high-end hotel near the party, offering free transfers from Haad Rin pier, as well as traditional Thai massage therapies. It is also a five-minute walk from the Full Moon Party.
Is the Full Moon Party safe?
In general, the Full Moon Party is safe from physical violence and a fun, easy-going affair. That said, it’s important to keep yourself together and not get wrapped up in a stream of booze-fueled debauchery that prevents you from being aware of your surroundings. Follow these tips:
- Regarding alcohol: Keep an eye on those buckets of alcohol, as they can be as toxic as they are intoxicating. They are filled with M150 — a Thai version of Red Bull — along with ice and whatever liquor you choose. At 200-300 THB ($6-10), a drink is extremely cheap, but a few will make you feel quite drunk. It is normal to see people passed out on the beach before midnight. As such, try and keep an eye on how many you drink. Another thing to bear in mind is that the M150 mixer sold in Asia has ephedrine, a chemical that can have adverse effects such as nausea, hallucinations, headaches, and heart tremors.
- Regarding the beach and surrounding ocean: If the idea of splashing around in the sea under the gentle light of the full moon appeals to you, please think again, as you won’t just be swimming in sea water. During the party, the surrounding water is nicknamed the “Sea of Pee.” There is a severe lack of toilets available near the Full Moon Party and the ones available will charge you for use. If you look behind the colorful lights and music, you will see partygoers relieving their bladders in and around the water.
- Regarding attire: If you want to keep your toes from being cut up by debris, definitely wear footwear and refrain from walking barefoot at any point, even on the beach. There will be broken glass, bottle caps, and all sorts of items littered in the sand just waiting to slice your foot open. You may find that dancing in flip flops could get in the way of your MC Hammer groove, so a pair of slip-ons can come in handy.
- Regarding theft: Theft is rampant throughout the Full Moon Party. Only carry enough money for your drinks, and if you must bring your phone, place it in a waterproof case and hang it around your neck. Do not carry bank or credit cards. Alternatively, you can also buy a funky, glow-in-the-dark “bum bag” from a vendor at the beach, which can be used as a party accessory while also storing your belongings safely. But in general, don’t bring anything you don’t need for the event itself.
- Regarding drugs: Drugs will be prevalent during the Full Moon Party. However, you don’t want to end up on the wrong side of the law. Thailand carries strict penalties on drug consumption. Sometimes undercover police will sell you drugs, and once caught, you will have to pay a hefty bribe to secure your freedom. It’s not unheard of for locals to tip the police off in order to cash in on the bribe themselves. Again, don’t let FOMO or YOLO dominate your line of thinking. Be smart, present, and aware of what’s happening around you. Don’t make a dumb decision — if something seems sketch, it’s sketch.
- One final note on safety: The fire rope is less exciting than it looks. Expectation: A glimmering rope of fire beckons you to jump over it as the crowd erupts in cheers. Reality: You are skipping carefully and another drunk guy stumbles in and next thing you know, a rope covered in gasoline-fueled flames wraps itself around you and burns your skin off. Who is cheering now? Stay clear of the fire rope.
What else should I know?
As sunrise approaches, you will want to find a nice quiet spot to take it in and recount the crazy night you just had. As you stand on the beach facing the sea, walk right until you reach some small rocks. Climb up, ignore the couples tongue wrestling, and you will arrive at a nice calm spot where you can park yourself and listen to the waves crashing down as the sun bids you good morning. If you need something different to help cure your hangover the following day, there is a water park called SlipnFly, which has 40-meter-long slides, pools, and music. The day often turns into another party as there are DJs and a decent drink menu.
For a bit of peace and quiet after the party, settle in at Bottle Beach, a secluded beach with white sand and pure turquoise water just off Koh Phangan. It takes no more than an hour to get there by taxi and boat. The taxi leaves from Thongsala Pier and will arrive at Chaloklum. Here you will take a longtail boat that drops you off at Bottle Beach. You will find others trying to make their way there, and a shared taxi costs around 150 THB ($5). A shared boat trip should cost no more than $3. There are other ways to arrive at the beach, but this is the most scenic one.
If you’d rather keep the juices flowing, there’s also what’s called a Half Moon Party. A tuk-tuk will make its way down windy dirt roads through the jungle off the beach until you reach a point where you can see flashing lights and music pumping through the trees.This event is more low-key than it’s full moon counterpart, but the vibe is still fun. You can get tickets online but can also pick one up for much cheaper at Haad Rin beach. While you’re on Koh Phangang, be sure to eat at the Thong Sala night market. You’ll find an array of local Thai delicacies at decent prices, including staples like pad thai, mango sticky rice, and Morning Glory.