It’s billed as must do and after 5 days in and around Thailand’s Koh Pha-Ngan Island for thefabled Full Moon Party I can concur it’s an eye opening, exciting if not a little scary experience.
Getting to Koh Pha-Ngan Thailand’s 5th Largest Island from New Zealand is like most things in Asia, easy as pie in the brochure and travel guide, but in reality there are a few hurdles and challenges along the way. Flights to Thailand are numerous, budget seekers can sneak through Australia to Bangkok on Air Asia or some concoction of budget carriers direct if you’re extremely lucky or via a series of Asian hub cities. From all accounts it’s long and painstaking but you can save a good amount of dosh if you have the time and patience. I took the far more convenient and comfortable Air New Zealand option which actually sees you flying on code share partner Thai Airways direct form Auckland. Yes it shifted a little more gorse from the trouser pocket but when you arrive in a big, hot smelly Asian city you at least want to do feeling as fresh as possible.
After arriving I snuck through Bangkok stealthily overnight staying close to the airport leaving the ping pong ball shows for another time. I made my hastily retreat from ‘One Quiet Night in Bangkok’ aboard Asia’s so called boutique carrier Bangkok Airlines, very friendly folk determined even on the shortest flight to provide a full meal service even if the poor Thai Hostess’s are hurriedly wheeling trolleys at a 45 degree angle down the aisle about 4 minutes after takeoff. There are numerous options available by land but few by air so I transited through the Island of Koh Samui home to the nearest Air Port to Koh Pha-Ngan.
As I travelled away from the Airport the bill boards educated me to the fact that in addition to the Full Moon Party the Thai’s have got sneaky diversifying the market and to include, half moon, black moon and every other sort of moon parties on Haad Rin Nok Beach.
It was in Koh Samui where not only the air conditioning but also the comfort and personal space began to wane as you embark on a 45 minute ferry crossing from the Big Budda Beach pier, which resembles a cattle yard. Like the transition from Air New Zealand flight to ferry over an often rough Foveaux straight things can get messy and a little more uncomfortable from this point on as you cross the 20km stretch of water to Koh Pha-Ngan.
The ferry looks as if it had its keel laid about World War Two probably about the same time the pier was last given a safety check and the rest of the world, Asia and the Indian Subcontinent excluded discovered sewage treatment and water purification. Plastic bags cover eroded and worn looking electronics panels the engine room has no door and the toilets are one step down from a bed pan.
There is obviously no workplace health and safety regulations of any note in Thailand nor any rules regarding the number of Full Moon Party bound revellers the archaic ferry could swallow and it was in true Thai style crammed to the hilt in a messy and disorganised fashion. A slight roll and an overloaded ferry combined to see a fair few wet and sick passengers which provided mild entertainment value for those fortunate enough to be sitting more than a few spots back from the windows.
The Haad Rin pier does nothing to dispel myth of health and safety being simply nonexistent here as three Thai wielders go about their work with no safety helmet and their power leads dangling in the water in at least two spots.
The township of Haad Rin is nearly 100% reliant on tourism, every inch of space is utilised to hire scooters and quad bikes, sell buckets (a full moon party staple filled with an assortment of spirits and mixers) food, tattoos, tourist nik naks, Thia massages with the without happy endings as well as plenty with them and piercings to any body part imaginable. The streets like most Asian countries are barely wide enough to swing a sheep in, and it’s not a rare occurrence for a 500 metre walk to take 15 minutes by taxi when things get bottlenecked. Walking once you have your bearings presuming you can hack the heat is often the best way to travel. If you’re going further afield have a Visa limit the size of New Zealand’s foreign debt to cover any possible accidents and don’t mind dodging dogs, other motorists, stray children and tourists then scooters are cheap to hire and run. Accommodation is plentiful but booking can ensure you don’t miss the good stuff and lay your head somewhere up a long dirt road called the comfort suites which looked far from comfortable unless you’re a cockroach, or even worse a 45 minute ride from the action. I managed by pure fluke to hit the jack pot with no research and very little foresight booked at the Phangan Buri Resort on Had Rin Nai Beach. It’s a large, relatively modern, moderately priced at $2500 to $3200 Thai Baht for a double room and only 5 minutes walk to the full moon party or 1 minute to the famed Coral Bungalow pool parties.
Like any major event the nights leading up are often the most action packed, by game day many have peaked early and energy levels are wholly dependent on the cheap knock off red bull syrup that is mixed with everything you drink in these parts. Waking up the next day after a few too many buckets laced with Thai Red Bull is not the one of the world’s most pleasant experiences, heart rate pumping along at 150 beats per minute and hands feel like they are attached to someone else’s arms.It seems the thing to do as a party goer is to adorn yourself with this fluorescent body paint prior to heading down to the beach somewhere towards midnight. A decent crew was assembled from the resort with Southland lasses, the Patton Sisters and Brit North in tow for good measure and to provide painting services for anyone wanted to have ‘Go Stags’ or ‘I love NZ’ inked onto their sweaty carcass. Needless to say there was a good deal of explaining to confused looking foreigners about who the Stags were.
The beach itself is absolute mayhem mixed with considerable pandemonium and a good deal of filth. Constant doof doof music blares from the speakers, while every conceivable form of entertainment mainstream and alternative competes for space and attention along the beachfront. With all the action on the beach bars are reduced simply to glorified toilets each with a cover charge for your patronage, alternatively those wanting to add to the level of pollution already washing over the comatose souls sloshing in the shallows can opt for the outdoor free and seemingly more popular sea option. Drinks are all served from beachside stalls each with their own unique phrase based around the default line ‘No Bucket, No Boom Boom’ It’s not somewhere you would want to take your mum, children or anyone overly sensitive to alcohol, sex, loud noise or flashing lights. It’s a maze of dancing, tracing, drinking, sense altering revelry and familiar relations of all kinds. Watch out for the pick pockets, Thai prostitutes, drug peddlers and fire skipping if you’re uncoordinated. Keep a good group together in one spot so you have somewhere to return to after your take a wander to check out the mayhem up and down the beach. The whole beachfront is relatively busy but there are some more quiet spots at one end for a timeout if things get too much or simply head back to the street and grab a feed from the many cheap stalls. Prices seem to go up for the full moon but by the time you get there you shouldn’t need to purchase much more alcohol.
If you do get carried away on the buckets the next day makes your regular New Zealand hangover looks like a pink fairy handing out candy in the parking lot. Staying close is great for getting back to your bed if you do manage it after the party, but there are an abundance of Taxi’s and other travellers heading further afield just don’t fall asleep and forget your stop! Things die completely after the party and a new crowd comes to town, an extra night’s stay is the go as travelling in the state most people are in afterwards is sure to end in a shambles. Things are busy getting out so expect another crammed ferry ride and long sweaty waits.
You should end up with some new friends, your eyes opened, a moderate sized hole in your wallet, a liver in need of a break and a piercing or tattoo seem to be common also. You hope you don’t end up with, a piercing or tattoo by accident, a lost passport, a broken limb from a scooter crash, stolen camera, some form of disease picked up from an unprotected adventure or from frolicking in the septic water on Full Moon night all of which are distinct possibilities for the unlucky or nonsensical traveller. Travel light, take cash as its far easier, book in advance but ask people who have been where best, pack is your black insulation tape to patch up holes in your feet and to attach your adaptor to the derelict plug system for charging cameras and phones. Don’t expect things to be clean and do expect to have to barter and bargain for a deal but overall it’s an exciting holiday one I would totally recommend for anyone under 30.
Author: Mark Wilson
Photos: Mark Wilson/Rahul Govada
Copyright 2010, for information on reproduction of this article and or images or for information on how to purchase the rights to publish please email Mark Wilson
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