Close your eyes and picture your fantasy New Year’s Eve celebration. Does it involve a white sand beach, a dress code of flip-flops, thousands of rowdy revelers and alcohol that is served quite literally by the bucket? Then I have the party for you.
The Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, Thailand has taken on legendary status among travelers. This monthly gathering centered around the lunar cycle started in the 80’s as a group of hippie friends kicking back on the beach. These days the gathering draws crowds of up to 30,000 travelers from around the world and has become quite the commercial spectacle attracting major international DJs, neon-colored clothing lines, and mini-moon parties such as the Half Moon, Black Moon, Shiva Moon, etc. Each month is a major event; however there is no bigger party than the New Year’s Eve Full Moon Party (which takes place regardless of the moon phase).
During this epic party the beach would manage to go from this:
Our New Year’s Eve started out the way so many do around the world- trying to pick out an outfit. However, instead of sorting through stilettos and Little Black Dresses, we were scouring the stores of Haad Rin for anything that was appropriately neon, ridiculous, and all-night-dancing-level comfortable.
I bought one bright dress with rainbow straps for about $9 (this is a pretty major splurge in Thailand) only to try it on later and deem it far too classy for an event where the vast majority of participants are wearing swimwear. Thankfully I had also purchased a backup outfit: a neon pink crop top with matching pink feather earrings. It was a good start. But no Full Moon Party outfit is complete without the final touch: neon body paint. I always realize it’s the night after a FMP when I see dozens of zombie-looking backpackers arrive in Koh Tao covered in crusty, cracking neon paint.
The first major portion of our evening was spent easing into a night of heavy drinking while taking turns getting adorned. I was elected as Head Body/Face Painter, thanks to the fantastic work I’ve done before.
Some people, like Olivia and Steffi, went for more decorative and pretty designs.
Others went for something a bit more… confrontational.
The cool thing about the body paint is that there are black lights everywhere. So while in pictures we looked like this:
In real life we looked more like this:
As we were finishing up our primping, we looked out over Sunrise Beach and saw something that actually made me gasp. Hundreds of rice paper lanterns were being released into the sky. It didn’t translate well onto my crappy point-and-shoot camera, so you’ll have to take my word for it: it was awe-inspiring.
Well, that was enough serene beauty for one night. It was time to party.
Like on any big night out in Thailand, everyone was drinking “buckets”- lethal combinations of M150 (an amphetamine-filled Thai version of Red Bull that is banned in the US), liquor, and mixers. They are best drank communally, hence the handful of straws in each one.
One we felt sufficiently pre-gamed, we ventured down to Sunrise Beach to take in the spectacle. Each resort on the beach has its own party going on with their own DJ, bar, and attraction. One had an amazing fire sign, like the one below, which changed from “2011” to “2012” at midnight.
Others went for more simple electric versions.
Fire is one of the major forms of entertainment at the Full Moon Party, and in Thailand in general. The beach was lined with fire dancers twirling chains of flames in time with the music.
For most people, just observing is enough. For others, perhaps those further in their alcohol consumption journeys, participation is vital. For those people, such as my boyfriend, there is fire limbo. Even I have participated once before… which I actually only realized when I woke up with a burn line down the front of my clothes. What, you didn’t know what a classy young lady I was?
Those with a more… relaxed perspective on personal safety might take a go at the fire jump rope. This, to me, is just completely nuts. Thankfully there are tons of clinics and nurses around but I would not want to wake up on New Year’s Day in Thailand with third degree burns. I actually can barely watch people do this because it gives me such anxiety.
For those not that into fire, there’s totally a water feature too — the steel water slide.
I must be getting boring in my old age because I was actually completely terrified to do this- it was peer pressure and peer pressure alone that prevented me from scrambling back down that net. I had a little comic relief to calm my nerves when one fairly chubby young gentleman stripped naked before climbing up past screaming innocent bystanders and bouncing down the slide with such ferocity that he actually fell off sideways, narrowly missing the flames.
With all our running up and down the beach, I barely realized that were were moments away from midnight.
We managed to score a spot on the most popular part of the beach, right in front of the Tommy’s Resort countdown clock. It was so crowded, in fact, that some people felt the need to scale the scaffolding just to get a spot of their own!
And then came the highlight of my night, a moment I’ll never forget. As the clock hit zero, fireworks erupted in the sky for what seemed like forever. The night lit up and the energy and excitement of over 30,000 young, adventurous, and euphorically happy people was palpable.
And just like that, it was 2012.
And it was time for the partying to really begin.
I felt like I hit the New Year’s Eve jackpot, getting to hang out with a crew made up of my boyfriend, my baby sister, old friends from NYC, blog friend Matt, and new friends from Oregon. What was most impressive? The fact that we all managed to stick together despite the monumental crowds.
Credit for that goes fully to Mark, who forced me to buy blinking battery-powered bunny ears early in the night when I was way too sober to fully appreciate them. Whenever we were moving around, the group leaders put on the blinking ears and everyone trotted along after them. I may have rolled my eyes at purchase but later I was thanking him for being such a genius.
I’d love to say more, but- I think what happens at the Full Moon Party gets to stay at the Full Moon Party. Except, of course, for all the stuff I’m putting on the interwebs. The rest will have to wait for my tell-all book deal.
We partied through the wee hours of the night only to nod off on the beach right before sunrise. Our nap didn’t last long because we had an 9am ferry to catch. As we ran towards town to try to find a taxi, the party raged on. My New Year euphoria was only slightly interrupted by the cab ride we shared with some of the most feral people I’ve ever come into with. If you ever meet me in person and want to hear someone rant- ask me the story.
I’ve rung in the New Year in big cities like New York and Montreal and places as remote and quiet as southern Eleuthera in the Bahamas. This year set a new standard for fun and debauchery… a standard I look forward to meeting again and again.
Happy 2012… three months!