Monday, 12 March 2012

Full Moon Survival Guide

It isn’t a promising start: the longtail boat taxi we’ve booked to take us to Koh Phangan’s legendary Full Moon Party is cancelled. The reason? The captain is drunk.

So instead we’re herded into the back of a pick-up, sitting on god knows what, totally cramped with knees under our chins, squealing with mock (and real) terror as we bump along the perilous road from Thong Nai Pan Noi. Even before we reach Haad Rin, I’m having severe reservations about the night: why have I committed to a night of debauchery at the most famous outdoor party on earth? Surely no sane 40-something-year-old woman would do this without good reason!
That reason is sitting next to me, my 21-year-old daughter. She’s totally pumped, and is already loving the adventure. As my travelling companion on this visit to Koh Phangan, we’d come to an agreement – she’d stay with me at one of the quieter, more remote beaches on the island, venturing into the madness of Haad Rin only for the Full Moon Party. I’d get my tranquil beach holiday, she’d get her party on. Deal.

Quite frankly, I was dreading it. Since its conception as an intimate druggie rave back in the ‘80s, Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party, held on the divine crescent-shaped beach at Haad Rin, now attracts up to 30,000 revellers and subsequently a lot of bad press. Tales of uncontrolled drinking, horrible injuries, even death has plagued the event; it’s the event that every teenager wants to attend and every mother fears. Even the Tourism of Authority of Thailand cannot endorse the event, despite it being a huge money-spinner – it’s just too controversial.
But now I’m here. With my kid. Who’s heading straight to that stall to buy a ‘F***-ing Cheap Bucket’ of vodka, red bull and lemonade. I’m in for quite a ride.

                             (buckets, regular and extra-large! Pic: Julie Miller)

On first impressions, Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party resembles a carnival, or some sort of dance theme park. Everyone under 30 is wearing uniform – cut-off shorts, fluoro singlets and flashing head gear, with fluorescent body paint smeared on every available patch of sweaty skin. The streets of Haad Rin are abuzz, with revellers buying 300 baht buckets of alcohol or snacking on street food. The locals are making a killing, but unlike similar events in Australia, there are no exorbitant overheads or wildly inflated prices. Even the taxis are operating under fixed prices; you may have to wait for a full load before heading home, but at least there are plenty of transport options.
Despite the fact that there are around 20,000 people here, I’m also impressed to discover there is no agro, no shoving or pushing and no queues, even at the bars or toilets. And even in the thick of the crowd, I don’t feel claustrophobic or have a desperate desire to escape – I’m happy to wander the length of the beach, simply observing the insanity rather than being part of it.

Every strip of beach has its own atmosphere, with each bar throwing its own individual party. If you don’t like the music at one bar, move on. And if you want to chill, there are plenty of quiet places to put your feet up, with no pressure to fork out for further drinks. Can you imagine the outroar if you attempted to take your own drink into a bar in Australia? Or sat for an hour at a venue without spending a cent? It’s this relaxed, chilled vibe, this “do what you want” attitude that makes this event so appealing and so easy. I can’t imagine it happening anywhere else in the world, accompanied by the indefatigable Thai smile and ‘sabai’ way of life.
Did I have fun? Yes I did. For a couple of hours at least. By 3am, I was a bit over it – I’d reached my alcoholic threshold, things were starting to get messy on the beach, and it was raining. Even the unabashed joy of watching idiots burn themselves at the flaming jump rope was wearing off. Time to head home. With one very messed-up daughter....

                                    (Flaming jump rope. Pic: Joana Miller)

Everything they say about the Full Moon Party is true. It’s wild. It’s uncontrolled. There are no ID checks, drinks (and probably drugs) are readily available to anyone with cash, and there are no safety regulations. Injuries are rife; most of them cuts or burns, from the aforementioned flaming jump rope. And I can’t begin to imagine the state of the beach in the morning.
But is it a good party? Damn straight. Like any major event, it needs to be treated with caution and self-control. Be sensible, and you’ll have a great night. I know I did.


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