I spent New Years on the beautiful island of Koh Phangan. Home to the infamous and decadent Full Moon Party. Concern gripped me as the date for my departure inched closer. First I was concerned because the forecast said it was going to rain all week which could spell shitty weather for the outdoor beach party. Second, I was concerned because I was staying in a hostel with a friend who had never stayed in one before, and to make things worse this hostel brand was known for being particularly rambunctious.
And Finally, I was concerned because I had planned on avoiding Koh Phangan and the Full Moon Party altogether. The Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan is an event which has achieved icon status in the backpacker community. Through films, culture, and word of mouth this has become a mandatory stop on any backpacking adventure through SE Asia. My desire to skip it emanated from the belief that it is inauthentic to Thailand. When my friends who were visiting insisted on spending NYE in the islands I figured if I was going to be on any island it might as well be Koh Phangan. Once the opportunity appeared to me I decided to love it or hate it based on my own experience instead of letting the dense web of cultural knowledge that surrounds the Full Moon Party cloud my judgement.
The boat ride to Koh Phangan was long and stormy causing many people aboard to get motion sickness. I too almost succumbed but a trick I had learned from a Chinese traveler about massaging your pressure points kept me together. The dark rain clouds dumped their contents over the island of Koh Phangan as we disembarked the boat, everyone ran towards the transportation waiting at the end of the pier.
When I got dropped off at my hostel the clouds had vanished and Koh Phangan looked like the island paradise from the post cards. House music was blasting from the patio of Slumber Party Hostel as I walked up its stairs. A couple of dudes were sprawled out across the astro-turf clearly hung over from last nights party. I looked at the narrow stairs that took you to the rooms and wondered how nice the private room I was staying in was. After check in the attendant led me to my room, only instead of heading upstairs we went across the street. Turns out the private room I had booked was in an adjacent newly purchased property.
My friend John arrived later that night, and when I showed him our room he was shocked. The room was as nice as hotel because it was a fancy hotel before it got bought by the hostel chain. John was very happy that he was finally having a hostel experience, though I had to remind him that our housing situation was an outlier. That night the hostel planned a pub crawl. Travel spaces are dominated by straight white men who bring a colonial baggage that goes unchecked. So it was nice to have fellow black and lgbt person with me to see the crazy conversations I was surrounded by.
When New Years Eve arrived the sun hung bright in the sky and there was no forecast for rain. I had enjoyed my previous days on the island because it did not trigger my claustrophobia like Koh Phi Phi. As well there happened to be this hut on the side of the road run by this family who cooked the most delicious food. After dinner a group of us met on this tiny beach near our hostel to drink before heading down the the main attraction. The attendees were my friend John, four people I met while traveling in Vietnam, and two other travelers staying in our hostel.
Upon arrival at Haad Rin beach for the NYE Countdown party I was surrounded by bare skin, glowsticks, buckets of alcohol, and music. All the bars had an open floor plan facing the beach. Music stacked in large speakers blasting at levels you could hear in a boat off the coast. If you didn’t like what was playing at one bar all you had to do was move 25 feet in left or right direction. The music was very diverse and I found myself dancing on top of a platform to some old school R&B before we ended the year 2017. I looked out at the sea of bodies gyrating and stopped. I had always dreamt of traveling the world but I couldn’t believe that dream had brought me to an island off the coast of Thailand.
After a day of rest I packed up my belongings and attempted to leave Koh Phangan. Normally I buy all my tickets last minute while backpacking to ensure I don’t miss any trips due to illness or malaise. Yet, that day it was impossible to get a boat off the island for at least 3 days. I tried multiple travel agencies and they all laughed me out of their store. I wasn’t too worried about being stuck on an island because I had grown fond of Koh Phangan and this amazing restaurant next to my hostel which made the best green curry rice. What really concerned me was where I would sleep.
Most establishments were booked solid because of the holidays and the fact that there was a Full Moon Party 3 days after the NYE party. Online most places have a 5 day minimum to book lodging around the big beach parties but I discovered that if you go in person they wave most of those minimums. So with a place to stay and a ticket off the island booked in advance I went off and enjoyed my final days on the island. I thought the actual Full Moon Party would be less crowded or wild considering we had all just celebrated NYE, however I was proved wrong. My second expedition on Haad Rin was more an anthropological survey. I studied the attendees as they danced or played fire limbo. I got to explore more of the area and realized that there were more bars then just the ones facing the beach. I also learned of another bar atop the mountains that you have to take a boat to reach.
Koh Phangan is a big enough island that you can find both excessive debauchery and pockets of peace away from the madness. I’m happy I got to experience both for myself and make up my own mind about all this island holds. Subscribe below so you don’t miss an addition to the Archives!