Tag Archive for Full Moon Party

History of Koh Phangan


Little has been written down about the history of Koh Phangan. Speaking to the older people who were born on the island can reveal things about the island that are both surprising and shocking. It is not our place to re-tell these stories related in confidence; but needless to say that until tourism arrived in Koh Phangan in the 1970s the islanders meted out their own version of justice, and as with many of the other islands of Thailand the central government let Koh Phangan run itself in all but name.

The first thing that should be mentioned about Koh Phangan is that it was probably inhabited as far back as 500 to 100 BC. The evidence for this is an ancient bronze drum. Obviously, these people are very distant from the present ethnic group called ‘Thai’. It is thought that maybe these early people were related to the present day sea gypsies or Moken found in Ang Thong National Park and other out of the way islands in the Gulf.

Some 600 years ago a group of monks arrived on the island. They settled in Wat Phu Khao Noi just outside of Thongsala. There is also an old stupa from the same period at Ban Nua Village (near Ban Tai).

About 200 years ago Chinese people migrated from the island of Heinan. They originally started out fishing, but many moved to working on the tin mines. There were mines at Thong Nai Pan, Srithanu and Laem Son Lake near Haad Yao. The latter tin mine was only closed in the Twentieth Century.

The next historical marker for the island is the frequent visits of King Rama V between 1888 and 1910. The King had bought a steamship and toured his Kingdom. He fell in love with a small beach and waterfall in the east that was renamed Than Sadet meaning Royal Stream.

In 1970 Koh Phangan stopped being considered a sub-district of Koh Samui. At this point Koh Phangan became a separate sub-district and placed under Suratthani Province.

In the late 1970s regular tourists started appearing on Koh Phangan. The first placed to start catering for this new income source was Haad Rin. Despite people swearing it was this or that date, or Wikipedia and its false authority saying it was 1985, nobody is really sure when the first full moon party took place on the island. This typifies the slippery nature of Koh Phangan history.

Nobody is quite sure when the first Muslim people came to Koh Phangan either. Some think they are connected to the sea gypsies, others than the Muslims are a much newer addition to the island.

The constants of Koh Phangan history are probably fishing and coconut plantations. Both are still today important to the local economy of the island, and were probably so hundreds of years ago.

There are a number of old families on Koh Phangan who can trace their lineage back to well before the island became a tourist destination. In the case of some beaches these old families still hold on to the land and preserve a more low-key type of development. On other beaches the temptation to sell up was too great and outside developers have moved in with more grandiose schemes.

It is hoped that with the new interest in things creative on the island, someone will spend time to collect more information about the history of Koh Phangan.

Changing Image of Koh Phangan

Tesco Lotus in Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan is Thailand’s fifth biggest island. It is located in the Gulf of Thailand near the more famous island of Samui. It is an island that has had a steady trickle of tourists go through since the Samui Archipelago opened up in the 1970s. Koh Phangan was always seen as less developed than Koh Samui and a place for hippies and backpackers who didn’t mind slumming it. These perceptions are beginning to change, as well as visitor numbers to Koh Phangan.

The main advantage of Koh Samui over Koh Phangan as a tourist destination has always been amenities and facilities. Since the late 1980s Koh Samui has had an airport, big modern hospitals, international schools, well-stocked supermarkets, luxury hotels and fine dining options. Areas like Chaweng and Lamai also offer entertainment areas teaming with bars and clubs that are famous for offering intoxicating nightlife.

In contrast, Koh Phangan kept development to a minimum. Rainforest protection meant that 90% of the island retained its original tree cover. Building heights were restricted. Road repairs were slow. The hospital was kept basic – capable of only dealing with minor medical problems. There were no supermarkets like Tesco. Most of the accommodation was traditional thatched bungalows on the beach and few places had swimming pools.

Two things have changed the image of Koh Phangan: the Full Moon Party and Thong Nai Pan Noi beach. These two factors are pulling in the opposite directions but have both drastically increased visitor numbers to the island and the revenue of its businesses.

The Full Moon Party started out as a small beach party attended by a few hundred hippies. It was influenced by the Goan trance parties in India. As the party became more notorious so more people started coming to Haad Rin Nai just for the party.

Party numbers grew at an alarming rate and the main beach in Haad Rin changed from being a place full of cheap bungalows to being a strip of bars catering to the full moon hoards.

The people going to the Full Moon Parties are often not cost-conscious backpackers but people with income to spend on better accommodation and lots and lots of alcohol. As a result Haad Rin today is full of mid-range resorts with swimming pools and lots of bars offering pizzas, English breakfasts and drink deals.

I have been to several Full Moon Parties. Official figures say that 20,000 people go to the average party. I’m not sure it is that many but it is certainly thousands.

Thong Nai Pan Noi used to be a travelers’ secret – a perfect beach tucked away from the world surrounded by an amphitheater of mountains. A place for the discerning traveler with cheap prices and an addictively laid back atmosphere. Even the only hotel on Thong Nai Pan Noi, the Panviman, cost just 500 Thai Baht a night ($15) back in 1998.

Developers soon realized the potential of Thong Nai Pan Noi to attract ‘5 star customers’. From 2000 to 2008 two other luxury hotels were built on the beach – Anantara Rasananda and Santhiya. At present another is being built and Panviman is expanding. These places often charge close to $1,000 a night for private pool villas.

The hotel resorts in Thong Nai Pan Noi have high occupancy levels – much higher than their Koh Samui counterparts. It seems the wealthy prefer the unspoiled nature and idyllic beach of Thong Nai Pan Noi over the loud and brash beach culture offered on Koh Samui.

As a result of the Full Moon Party and Thong Nai Pan Noi’s popularity the roads have been improved around the island, a Tesco Lotus has been opened in the main town of Thongsala and several of the other beaches have started upgrading accommodation.

In early 2012 permission was given to start building Koh Phangan airport. The authorities have not offered much more information but it looks like it’s going to be near Chaloklum village and be used by the low cost carrier Kan Air.

Clearly the central and provincial governments have realized the potential of Koh Phangan to become a major travel destination in Thailand. No longer, it seems, is the island deemed as a ‘backwater’ and a ‘little brother to Koh Samui’.

At the moment there are still obscure beaches like Haad Khom, Than Sadet, Haad Yuan and Haad Tian East where the old hippy feel has been maintained but these places are beginning to feel like relics, albeit charming ones, from the past as Koh Phangan becomes more and more the reserve of those who want to party all night and those who want 5 star luxury.

Full Moon Party Review

The Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Sunrise Beach strongly divides locals, other Thais and foreign visitors to Koh Phangan. Those Thais whose businesses benefit from the party tend to tolerate the noise as it brings financial reward. The taxi drivers make good money. The bar owners along the beach totally depend on the party to pay the high rents. The locals who don’t benefit either directly or indirectly from the party tend to stay well away. The foreigners either hate it or love it. The haters often refer to those seeking all-night techno, trance and buckets as ‘fool mooners’.

The Full Moon Party started out in 1987 as a small birthday bash on the beach. It was organized by Paradise Bungalows. The bungalow place is still there along with a rock to commemorate the central role Paradise Bungalows had in starting the parties. It seems unlikely that there weren’t any beach parties in Haad Rin prior to the one legendary party that initiated the whole idea. I guess more credit should be given to the person who had the idea to market the idea of the ‘Full Moon Party’ – a monthly night of carnival and mayhem.

The early parties were much smaller affairs than they are today: just a few hundred hippies mostly sitting around smoking weed; something like in Goa where the whole party on the beach and trance music thing really started.

The early parties soon caught the attention of the press both local and foreign. This caused a massive clamping down on the open smoking of weed. It also helped to publicize the party – the notoriety of the party drew in the punters.

With time the commercial importance of the Full Moon Party became apparent. 20,000 tourists spending money couldn’t be ignored. The result was that most of the cheap bungalow places on the beach were pulled down and replaced with bars sporting large sound systems. Haad Rin expanded its room capacity; and of course peak prices were introduced along with a minimum stay requirement.

The latest step in maximizing the profits from the party was in 2011 when they started charging anyone who arrived by land or sea in Haad Rin on the night of the party 100 Thai Baht. The ‘organizers’ (there are no organizers) claim it is for security, cleaning etc. In Thailand these are dubious claims. No doubt the admission price will soon be 150 Thai Baht. Maybe they will blame the price increase on the price of petrol.

On the plus side, the Full Moon Party is quite a spectacle. The beach is packed with young Thais and ‘farangs’ many of whom are covered in fluorescent paint. The bars are packed with people dancing. Many are dancing on the beach, in the sea and on tables. Others are passed out some in the safety zone, others not. The town is heaving with people. Everywhere you turn there is a stall selling bucket sets of gin, vodka or Thai whisky.

Each bar has its own sound. There is psy-trance, house, drum and bass, chart and RnB. To find out which bar plays which music check out this list of bars at the Full Moon Party.

There are always fire dancers, fire limbo competitions and long ropes on fire which the daring attempt to skip over. Many have minor burns that they only discover the following day – hence the recent proliferation of medical clinics in Haad Rin.

People go to the Full Moon Party because they love the music. Others go to pull girls. Others go to pick the pockets of the passed out. Others go just to see the spectacle. Others go, I suspect, because it is one of those ‘must do’ or bucket list things when visiting Thailand.

The Full Moon Party has brought prosperity for a few on the island. It is made Koh Phangan a famous or infamous place. It has also caused a rash of imitators. Around the nearby village of Bantai they have the Jungle Experience, the Black Moon Party, the Shiva Moon Party and the Half Moon Party. The local residents are feed up with the noise that these parties generate.  Despite their protests the police seem reluctant to kill these geese that lay golden eggs. Haad Rin now also has Love:Is a new beach party. In Thailand a good business idea can never be copied too many times.

For those not keen on the party atmosphere, trance music and the concomitant illegality most of the beaches in Koh Phangan are free of the FMP bug. Than Sadet, Haad Khom, Thong Nai Pan Noi, Wok Tum, Srithanu don’t hold ‘warm up’ parties. These beaches attract hippies and those people who used to be hippies but now have money. They want peace, sand, warm seas and that Robinson Crusoe sense of being stranded far from the concerns of the world and the big raves in Haad Rin and Bantai.

To get an idea of what the Full Moon Party is like check out the Youtube clip above. It must be stressed, which the fool in the video didn’t, that the full moon doesn’t happen to fall on the last night of the year. They also have a party at Christmas. It just makes more commercial sense to hold parties at these times – nobody will notice that the moon is far from full.