Couples entwined on the beach or under coconut trees, drunk teenagers passed out on the sand, men urinating into the sea and partygoers draining small plastic buckets of booze, are the regular aftermath of Thailand’s Full Moon Parties. The morning after, empty bottles and plastic buckets remain scattered along the two kilometres of Haad Rin beach on the south-eastern cape of Koh Phangan, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. It marks a stark contrast to the ‘normal’ nights. On each month’s night of the full moon, people dressed in neon clothes turn themselves into walking graffiti, with iridescent paint plastered all over their bodies. Strong caffeinated drinks, laced with alcohol, are on sale in plastic buckets.
’Magic’ mushrooms, marijuana and other drugs are readily available. Flashing lights and lasers light up the night sky as loudspeakers blast out remixes of electronic hits, with boosted bass notes. The smells of fuel from the fire-shows and of marijuana fill the breezy air. The beach becomes a giant dance floor, with the moon as the disco ball. The Full Moon Party is one of the world’s biggest beach parties, drawing tens of thousands of people to Koh Phangan each month. People of many nationalities party from dusk until dawn. Whether or not the moon is to blame, the party is wild, with injuries common and several lives lost over the course of each year. Dehydration, burns, cuts, fights and thefts are common, mostly attributable (at least in part) to intoxication.
There are also regular reports of rapes, drownings and deaths from alcohol-related accidents. The all-night rave goes back almost three decades and has been held more than 300 times.
The Thai local authorities are now trying to regulate the event more strictly. The Koh Phangan police department and the Haad Rin Business Association are trying to make the event safer for partygoers. ”The police force is more strict and careful during the party,” says police colonel Prachoom Ruengthong, who adds that problems usually occur when tourists are too drunk and do not take care of themselves and their belongings. ”I saw a guy fall off a raised platform and crack his head open because he was too drunk,” says Christina from Australia. ”The Association helps the police take care of partygoers, because there are far fewer police than tourists,” says Boonprasob Tuaycharoen, the head of the Haad Rin Business Association. “We have given the police two walk-through metal detectors, to screen for weapons at entrances to the party area. We try to reduce crime and make it less violent,” he adds. Police keep the area under surveillance three days before and after the event. Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) cameras have been installed around the area as well.
”There are fewer incidents of thieves breaking into hotel rooms,” says Nok Suwanchai, the manager of a bungalow on Sunrise Beach. Police say that they regularly assess their plan to tackle drug problems. ”We found that drug dealers do not sell drugs to Thai people, so we use foreigners in undercover operations,” says the superintendent.
According to the police, the most common drugs at the party are marijuana, MDMA and cocaine. Drug-related crime is punishable by imprisonment, and even death, under Thai law. In an effort to clean up the image of the Full Moon Party, the Haad Rin Business Association has asked vendors to refrain from using vulgar language on their signage, which was common in the past. A sleep area has also been set up on the beach, to provide a safe resting spot for partygoers. Money collected in the form of an entrance fee is used to clean up the beach after the party.
The Association also pays for emergency transportation to Koh Samui, a larger island nearby, for people who need medical attention. The party continues to draw people from all over the world, despite the tighter controls from local authorities. Theo, a student from France, who has been to the party twice, says the new controls are not obvious and that the party has not changed. “I don’t feel the police presence, so it is still fun,” he says. ”The fact that they try to make it stricter does not necessarily lower the fun,” says Denise from Germany.
The party still brings in more than 30,000 visitors each full moon – mainly the British, French, Germans and Australians. Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Phangan is the fifth largest island in Thailand. The island is known for its wild nightlife. In addition to the Full Moon Party, the island also hosts four other high-profile monthly outdoor music events. The biggest events are held at the end of the year - celebrating Christmas, New Year’s Eve and the first Full Moon Party of the new year.