Two weeks ago, I attended the world famous Full Moon Party on Haad Rin beach on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been to a pre-party several nights previously and been disappointed. Lousy music, boring people, seemed like everyone was just there to get drunk. A frat party, essentially. I hoped the main event would be better.
Imagine a mile-long crescent-shaped stretch of beach, ending in a cliff face on either side, with a palm-laced town behind. Every 50 yards, a huge building or tent complex houses a booming sound system, each DJ playing a different flavor of music. Full of people. Tens of thousands of partygoers, clothed in shorts and ripped t-shirts, skirts, bikinis, painted haphazardly with fluorescent paint. Many locals, some of them just there for the party, many others there to make money, whores and drug dealers, sellers of glowsticks and plastic things with flashing LEDs. Lots of stands selling buckets and other booze. Fire spinners and dancers. A giant 40-foot flaming jump rope. Back behind the beach, the town of Haad Rin seems focused exclusively on this event. It’s made entirely of hotels, bars, convenience stores, and souvenir shops.
On the night of the party, the entire street facing the beach is sealed off except for a couple of entrances, through which it costs 100 baht ($3 US) to pass, and for which you get a colorful wristband. The money goes to beach cleanup, which I assure you is worth every penny after seeing the beach at the end of the night.
I navigated down the winding streets, turning down offers for “fucking cheap bucket”. The main drink in Koh Phangan, and other party places in Thailand, is a bucket: literally a plastic beach bucket filled with two cans of soda and a flask of liquor. the people at the stands mix them on the spot and they end up being very tasty and impossible to finish without getting completely trashed. Even Aussies, with their superhuman alcohol tolerance levels, get messed up on these things. I’d purchased a bucket a few days before at the pre-party, in the hopes that it would make the party more interesting. It didn’t. I’d ended up discarding the thing when it was half empty. Nonetheless, and despite drinking lots of water afterwards, I’d paid for it the following morning. So the night of the FMP I decided to stay well away from the evil things.
I stepped out onto Sunrise Beach.
The beach itself, made of fine white sand, is lined with large dance clubs. On either end, the clubs continue up onto the cliff faces. The night of the party, countless Thai-style longboats were anchored along one section of beach, hoping to find passengers to taxi around the island.
The beach was packed with people. More interesting people than the other night, it appeared. I walked the length of the beach, sampling the music from each club. Some of it was crap, the kind of techno that’s just the same beat looped over and over for hours. Some was pop music, club music. There were two stages playing really good music. One was drum’n’bass, which I absolutely love to dance to. The beat’s so fast you just let the energy enter your body and your feet start flying. The other was Psy-Trance, my favorite style of techno because of its use of experimental, surreal sounds and high-energy beats.
During my wanderings I encountered several people I knew from the hotel and from my trek. The great thing about FMP is everybody is there, it’s like the whole island focuses into that one spot.
How can I put that night’s wanderings into chronological order? I had a Chang beer at a bar called the FuBar. Then it was back down to the beach for more dancing. I was feeling in a great, balanced place. I decided it was time to enhance the night a bit. The cliff face on the left side of the beach is known as Mellow Mountain, and is full of bars with blacklight velvet paintings of mushrooms. I climbed up to the topmost bar, and walked to the back, and ordered a “special shake”. It tasted of strawberries, with only the faintest hint of the secret ingredient. (The secret ingredient is LOVE of course! 🙂 That and mushrooms…)
So back down the beach. I spend some time at the psy-trance place. Soon I can feel primal energy rising through my feet, a line of it flowing like condensed joy up my chakras. I see the sand shift slightly. The music takes on an added significance. And I dance.
I walk off on a quest for some water. There is a chain of stores in Haad Rin, designed to look almost exactly like 7-11s (in the same way that a harmless creature will evolve the same skin pattern as a predator) called 0-7. 0-7 sell very cheap things, mostly booze. But they have bottled water. I get one and drink it.
As I pass through the gyrating crowds, I consider this night as a celebration of the Moon. I am surrounded by Dionysian chaos. People puking, passed out, dancing wildly, groping each other and making out. I look up. The moon has hid herself behind a shroud of clouds. Is she ashamed of us? Is she embarrassed at our behavior? No. She is being coy! Soon, she tosses off her veil, and lets it drift off over the ocean like a discarded nightgown. She’s beaming at us, laughing, joining us, encouraging our wild celebration. Entranced, I walk to the edge of the beach and sit, and watch the clouds float away towards the horizon for a long while. It’s absolutely beautiful and incredible. I sit for who knows how long. I become aware that other people are sitting near me, taking in the same scene. Eventually the clouds disappear completely, leaving just the reflections of the neon lights on the water, the sand, the cliffs, and the naked cloudless sky.
Now the water has run its course through my body and is pressing on my kidneys. There are several bathrooms up in town, all of which cost 10 baht to use. But many guys (and the occasional girl) are simply using the ocean. I decide to go that route, and find a relatively empty stretch of beach, near the Mellow Mountain end. I wade out into the water up to my knees and unzip. Before I start I briefly wonder if I’m somehow profaning the ocean. Just then I’m startled by loud yelling right behind me. Some sort of gibberish. I hastily zip back up and whirl around. There stands a wild-haired wild-eyed young lady, wearing bangles and brown rags. She continues to gabble and dance and laugh at me in no language I’ve ever heard. Then she dashes back up the beach to join three other similarly clad ladies, cavorting and leering at me. Another approaches and babbles in a similar dialect. I reply laughingly “.. what? I can’t understand…” she gabbles something more, then shouts “WHY SO NICE!??” and goes “BLEAAH” and sticks her tongue out at me. So I go “BLEAAAH” and stick my tongue back out at her. Then they all dash back up the beach and I turn and walk off in the other direction.
Did I really experience that? That was odd, even for this party. I turn around and walk back to investigate, but the ladies have all vanished completely.
I walk into town and use a pay toilet.
And so it continues through the night. Piles of sand resolve themselves into worn-out partiers, passed out or sleeping on the beach. One couple lie together in the most beautiful pose, hands clasped, heads together almost kissing, arms and legs splayed out in different directions.
Some locals carefully hang a sign made of rope onto a scaffold out in the ocean, and light it with a torch until the burning words spell out “FULL MOON PARTY HAAD RIN BEACH THAILAND” forty feet high.
I watch the pile of passed-out bodies accumulate under the tarp next to the medical tent, a sort of human lost-and-found.
I watch a 10-year-old Thai boy spin a flaming staff like a pro, to the shouts of encouragement from the older fire spinners, and the cheers of the watching crowd.
The ocean gradually recedes and makes room for the ever increasing press of people. How lucky, I think, until I realize that the tides must always be timed like this, being determined by the moon’s phase.
I’m hungry, and slightly queasy. Nothing fried or meaty will do now. I wander through town until I find the perfect thing- roasted corn on the cob. I munch on this. Delightful. I reflect that it’s the first time I’ve eaten corn since I left the US. Since nearly everything in the US is made of corn, I’ve been staying away from it to try and clear the stuff out of my system. Now it tastes sooo good.
There are so many pictures I would have taken of this night if I’d had my camera with me. People splayed on the sand in odd poses, the reflections of the flames and neon on the waves, the moon over the palms. The amazing tesselated pattern of light and shadow formed by half a million overlapping footprints across a moonlit beach.
I didn’t bring my camera because I was advised not to bring anything valuable, breakable or likely to be stolen. My wallet and passport were also safely locked in my room. It’s good I didn’t bring my camera. It would’ve been ruined by the salt water from wading into the ocean, or the many water fights. If nothing else, it would’ve gotten smashed when some random guy runs up out of the waves and tackles me from the side, knocking both of us down onto the beach, snapping my mind back to the present. He stands up and wanders off, laughing. After a moment so do I.
As the effects of the shake begin to fade, leaving me feeling clear and beautiful, I return to the drum’n’bass place and just let loose for a while. I consider getting another beer, or even a bucket, but I’m totally content to continue as I am. Some people’s good time is to get completely smashed and crazy and not remember any of it the next day. I find I prefer to just observe and absorb, accepting the beauty of the party as a sort of meditation. Diving into it when it takes me, and standing apart to appreciate when it lets me go again, like waves of the ocean.
Once again I’m hungry. I locate a pad thai stand I noticed earlier, and order some, which is served to me by a friendly transvestite. The pad thai is delicious, although not as good as the stuff in Bangkok. I get lost in the food for a while. Then it’s back to the beach.
Soon the big digital clock at the psy-trance place reads 5:15 AM, and the sun begins to rise. The tide is at its lowest now. The moon and sun are in opposition, both pulling the ocean in opposite directions away from the beach. I join many others in standing way out among the lapping waves to watch the slow brightening of the eastern sky.
Soon the harsh light of day floods over the beach and sops up the last vestiges of moonlight. The once shadowy beach is exposed and the ruins of the night are fully revealed, as happens so often after a night of drunken revelry.
It’s almost 6 AM, when the last van will leave for my hotel. There’s time to dance to just one more song, which ends up being Baby Got Back by Sir Mixalot.
Still grinning, I walk away from Sunrise Beach. I’ll definitely be back.