May 14 2008

Tales We Never Told: Full Moon Party

Published by at 10:05 am under Ko Pha-Ngan,Thailand

The first in a series of stories we never got around to telling while on the road…

Where: Ko Pha-Ngan. What: the BIG one. Why: Not sure?

ben with ollie and kevin, arriving via longboat at the full moon partyI’m talking, of course, about the Full Moon Party on the Thai island of Ko Pha-Ngan. The party occurs every night of the full moon (that’s once a month, for the astronomically challenged) and has achieved legendary status around the world. What started as a small effort by local bar owners to lure backpackers over to Hat Rin beach has exploded over the years to become one of the biggest parties in the world. During Thailand’s high tourism season (December – February) this all-night rave draws more than 30,000 people to one small island beach. And not ALL of them are rolling on more drugs than I’ve even heard of. OK, they probably are.

We arrived on Ko Pha-Ngan a few days before the Full Moon Party, and settled ourselves far far away from Hat Rin beach. We came to the island looking for peace, quiet, and everything the Full Moon Party had pledged to purge from this world. During our first few days of beach lounging and hammock naps, the possibility of attending the Full Moon Party did come up in a couple of conversations. But it always sounded something like this:

Brittany: Hey, do you want to go to the Full Moon Party?
Ben: (asleep)

I’m not a betting man, but in those lazy days before Full Moon, I would have advised a betting man to bet against the chance that I’d ever see the party.

Scratch that last paragraph. The truth is that I’m very much a betting man, but it’s hard to make many bets when you’re asleep and out of money. And in the interest of holding onto my girlfriend, I wanted to avoid depicting myself as lazy, destitute, AND dangerously drawn to gambling. But there, I’ve said it. And see, Brittany? I may be a bankrupt, slothful gambler but I’m so HONEST. And wouldn’t you agree that HONESTY is a veritable PILLAR of any strong relationship? Wouldn’t you? Brittany?

Anyway, it’s a good thing I was out of money, because what I didn’t count on was meeting a group of four Irish travelers there on our beach one afternoon, who had every intention of attending the Full Moon Party. I don’t know if it was their merry accents or their inspirational ability to down fourteen pints of Guiness in one night (each) but within five minutes of meeting them, Brittany and I had decided to accompany these wee, green people to Hat Rin. Also, it wasn’t lost on me that the Full Moon Party goes on past sunrise, and this might well be my best chance yet of fulfulling my lifelong ambition to receive an authentic “Top o’ the morning to ye!”

Our bargaining powers combined, the six of us hired a boat to motor us to Hat Rin at aroud 6:00pm the night of the party, and then to bring us back to our peaceful/secluded/all-around-better beach the next morning.

After hearing so many stories over the years about the Full Moon Party, I have to say that my first impression of Hat Rin beach is that it was much smaller than I had pictured it. We attended the party in April, when an estimated 8,000 people attend, and that beach was PACKED. Where do the extra 22,000 people even FIT in the high season?

full moon partySo that you can picture it yourself, the beach consists of a short string of virtually identical bars, with stools and/or bamboo mats in the sand in front of every one. At one end of the beach is a giant wooden sign saying “THE ORIGINAL FULL MOON PARTY” or something to that effect. You don’t really notice that sign until after the sun sets, which is when people set it on fire. Then you spend a few minutes strangely mesmerized by the sight of it, until some twirling raver in a trance accidentally knocks you in the face with a glo-stick. Don’t bother confronting him about it. If you succeed in waking him from his trance, he’ll just start begging you to touch his skin because “it feels so WEIRD…”

Yeah, it’s pretty much just like that. If you’re picturing any open space in the beach area, fill it with half-naked people. Oh, and BUCKETS.

bucket vendorsBuckets is one Full Moon phenomenon that I can really get behind. They are the preferred method of imbibery at this party. For three or four bucks, you can buy a plastic bucket (think beach pail) outfitted with a flask of liquor, a can of soda, a can of red bull, and as many straws as you can carry. Once you make your liquid choices, the seller opens all the containers, skillfully pours them all into the bucket at the same time, and hands the concotion over for you to take away.

Depending on what you want to spend, your liquor options are pretty boundless when it comes to buckets. When I said three or four bucks, I was referring to OUR spirit of choice: Thai rice whiskey. Thai rice whiskey isn’t really the smartest choice, but it IS the cheapest. And it’s not SO bad… there’s even a recognized national brand of rice whiskey, whose prosperity leads me to believe that it must have some semblance of quality control. That’s what we were GOING to pick, until we found a shady bucket seller with generic Thai whiskey. We chose… poorly.

But enough about the next morning. The bucket sellers set up small stands all along the streets that run between the bars, away from the beach. Additionally, they have laid claim to one stretch of beach in between two bars. Here, bucket stands are all tightly squashed together end to end. And since they’re all selling the exact same product at the exact same price, they’ve tried to get creative when it comes to distinguishing themselves. Toward this goal of capturing market share, there are two preferred methods…

1. Yelling. Walking by the beach lineup of bucket stands is a gauntlet-like experience. Every bucket seller leans way over their countertop, arm extended, shouting anything and everything they know (or don’t know) in English. “Hey you!”, “Bucket bucket!” and “You buy someting!” are favorites. The most perplexing part of this phenomenon is that despite the fact that the guy in the very last stand just watched you blatantly ignore the cries of the previous 29 bucket sellers, you can count on being greeted by his outstretched arm and cries of “Bucket bucket!” Of course, you’re really only able to make out the individual sales pitches by getting pretty close to the stands. From any reasonable distance, the whole affair sounds exactly like: “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!”

2. Signs. Every bucket stand’s got a big one painted on the front. The vast majority, I’m sorry to report, are far too lewd to repeat without heavy censoring. Either way, here is a small sampling…

  • Same Same But BETTER Bucket
  • F%*$ Bucket: Make You F%*$ Long Time!
  • Bethlehem Bucket: Jesus’ Favorite!

You get the idea. I think we did try Same Same But BETTER Bucket, and were disappointed to find its product to be, you guessed it, exactly the same as everyone else’s. But just think: if we hadn’t tried it, would I ever be able to get to sleep again? Or would I lie awake, consumed by the thought that maybe, just maybe, that bucket WAS same same but better? I just couldn’t do that to myself OR to Brittany. Again, Brittany, you’re looking at marriage material here.

surprise!And so our night was spent hanging out with four cool new Irish friends, dodging unsolicited offers of questionable drugs, and trying to keep up with one particular bucket that Brittany really wanted to bring home as a souvenir. All in all, the night goes by quickly during the Full Moon Party (the buckets help with that) and before we knew it, it was time to meet our boat driver for a ride back.

What they DON’T tell you about the Full Moon Party is that around 3am, the beach evolves into an obstacle course fit for one of those gross-out episodes of Fear Factor. We had to step over scores of people passed out on the sand (face up/face down/face buried in sand) and showing debatable signs of life. Several other unconscious bodies were being carried off the beach by friends or Good Samaritans. In hopes of escaping this maze, we made our way down to the waterline, figuring we could wade our way down the beach faster than we could body-hop. Big mistake.

Because while there ARE free public restrooms at Hat Rin Beach, drunk people prefer the ocean. Not a big deal if one or two people choose to relieve themselves that way. BIG DEAL when 8,000 people relieve themselves that way at the same time. Both genders. We quickly hopped back out of the water, and shuddered when we finally had to wade our way back through a crowd to get to our boat. I was so tired when we finally arrived back at our beach an hour later… but not too tired for a shower.

Conclusion: If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Ko Pha-Ngan during the full moon, the Full Moon Party is worth the excursion. But please: after midnight, stay out of the water.

NEXT: The best part about coming home »



2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Tales We Never Told: Full Moon Party”

  1. Laurieon 14 May 2008 at 10:10 pm

    You realize that this “par-tee” looks like “too much fun”?! Now that you are back in the ‘burbs; you might want to see the movie The Bucket List. It will provide a different perspective on buckets.

    You also realize that some us were expecting to see a different type of Full Moon. Thanks for not sharing!

    And one more tidbit: Michael Palen ( Monty Python/BBC) has participated as narrator/ creative director of several Around the World in 80 Days/ Circumnavigating documentaries. After the 8 month adventures, I am sure you and Brittany would enjoy these- available at your local CCPL. (wink)

    Glad you two are back safe and sound! Come visit!

  2. Nomadic Matton 15 May 2008 at 3:54 pm

    i’ll tell you where they fit. The ocean. I was there during peak season…the december and jan full moon as well as new years and thank god for low tide because the people just go out into the ocean and flood the town.

    its much better with about 15,000 people lol.

    but it’s such a great time!

    and i know that sign! fucking bucket lol

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