Fool Moon Party: This epitome of international Rey Jing is worth the hassle one time
By Sonny Forrest
There are few one-night-only celebrations that coax 20,000 travelers to an island in an opposite hemisphere. Arriving on Ko Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand prompted several European travelers to ask me, “Ah you going to da Fool Moon Pah-tee?” We — my two friends, the Psychologist, the Actor, and I — nodded each time people posed this query, nearly always in an English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) accent.
The Full Moon Party began as a modest hippy gathering where party goers strummed out their own music and danced fireside, a beginning that, in practice, mirrors that of Burning Man’s (though I heard nothing of the first Full Moon Parties’ philosophical impetus, likely a victim of time). Word spread that this gathering was worth checking out and, some 20 years later, the party has taken on a neon-hued air of depravity.
Of course we hadn’t planned our trip to the island around this gathering like most of the other party people. Two British girls at our hostel the night before informed us that the party was happening that weekend. We’d heard of it, but our attendance was incidental to our island trip.
We decided to check out Ko Phangan because it’s renowned as a destination for hippies of the international variety. People go there to cruise around on mopeds during the day and drink at night. It’s been this way for some time.
The moon wasn’t full the night of the party (Saturday, March 15). It was still a waxing gibbous, a fact which illustrated that (a) Saturday is a more convenient time for the beach’s ancillary businesses to sell drinks and food to party people and (b) nobody really cares if the moon is full or not as long as there’s a humongous party.
We took a cab (basically a steel frame with cushioned benches drilled into the back of a Toyota pick-up truck) to the island’s southern end; it’s hosted at Haad Rin beach, which is a peninsula frosted by the Gulf’s big waves.
Three British dudes greeted us in the back of the truck. We told them we were going to the Full Moon Party and the mustachioed one told us it was going to be “shite.” The other two nodded along with him. “There’s too much happening,” he said. “It’s too commercial. Too much fist pumping.” Us three Americans sat undeterred. “Though I suppose it’s worth having a look at least once,” he finally conceded.
When the cab stopped at a gas station I jumped out and bought three Thai Red Bulls from the convenience store inside. Flat and cough-syrup thick, Thai Red Bull inspired the fizzy version of the drink familiar to readers in the Western hemisphere. The Thai version also produces a not-so-subtle amphetamine-like buzz. Word-of-mouth from several Westerners (ie. white people) I talked to suggests the Thai version is banned in places like the US and European Union. And in all fairness, the hearsay made me want to try it even more.
There is a difference. It’s like strapping on winged sandals (like I was a character in the drink’s animated commercials) v. lacing up regular shoes. I could have run a marathon and back.
But I didn’t do that; the street leading down to the beach was far too crowded. Booths were set up on either side of this alley-wide street hawking plastic sand pails stuffed with bottles of vodka (or rum) and mixers (tonic, Coca Cola, Red Bull, etc). Some vendors even offered to paint your body with intricate neon designs, a perk included in the booze bucket’s roughly 12 USD (400 THB) purchase price.
We walked down the snaking street until we reached the front gate. Admission, which included a rubbery snap-on bracelet, was around 3.50 USD (100 THB).
Once inside, we meandered down to the beach and grabbed a bucket drink. I ordered a vodka-Red Bull, which was poured over a scoop of ice and served with approximately 10,000 straws. Even the bartenders don’t expect you to drink the whole thing yourself.
But I did. There’s something about trance music that compels me to gulp down stupid quantities of alcohol.
I stumbled around the beach in my closed-toed shoes after draining my first bucket. (A friend told us to wear closed-toed shoes to the party in case, strewn across the sand, there was broken glass — which there was — or discarded hypodermic needles — which I didn’t see, but assumed were there somewhere.)
Most of the party people were caked in green, yellow, or pink neon paint and what clothes people were wearing were neon-hued as well. There was also more fist pumping than I’m generally comfortable with, but it was OK. It wasn’t mean fist pumping. It was more like the kind of fist pumping that people do who don’t know how they should be dancing.
By the time I noticed all of this I was on my second bucket of booze and the Actor was sweet talking Scandinavian girls as Richie Washington, an auto mechanic from London’s East End. I’m glad no actual English people were around or they would’ve outed his fake cockney accent in a second. It’s lucky that ESL speakers usually can’t tell the difference.
We wandered further down the beach, wading through the crowds gathered at each stage. The music more or less blended into a belly-aching bass thump between stages so it’s tough to say if one stage’s music was better than any other.
Between stages, nearer land, stood more makeshift bars with consistent drink prices (though no body painting). Across from the bars, ankle deep in ebbing sea foam, boys relieved themselves with their backs to the party; the girls sort of crouched, maneuvering carefully to avoid falling in. Though I saw at least one girl stumble and splash into the surf, inadvertently covering herself in salt water and human refuse. But it’s not like I was watching for this sort of thing. We had climbed a rope ladder to the third story of a concrete building. I looked out and happened to catch it.
Atop the building I caught a great view of the circle that formed around the fire jump rope. For readers unenlightened to fire jump rope, it goes like this: (1) two Thai men set up ladders across from each other, maybe 15 feet apart, (2) one of the men tosses the other an end of rope, of about the gauge used to tether a small boat to a dock, (3) one of the men lights the rope on fire, which leads me to believe they’ve soaked the rope in some sort of combustible liquid like kerosene, (4) the two Thai men begin swinging the rope like a jump rope, and (5) random white guys strut out into the circle in the middle of the crowd and try to jump this flaming rope.
Let me be clear: only males exhibiting abnormally delusional, aggressive machismo attempted this activity. And most of them sucked at it. Some dudes made it several jumps, eliciting hoots from the crowd. Others made it over the rope once and dipped out, while even more tripped over the flaming rope on their first jump. (Everyone went, “OOOOHHHHH!?!?!?!” when this happened.) I was too high up to tell if anyone was seriously injured during this rite, but it didn’t look like anyone suffered more than singed leg hair. At worst someone lost an eyebrow.
I figured the Psychologist would have some interesting insight about the participants’ psyches, but he just shrugged when I brought it up. “Everyone’s drunk,” he told me. He didn’t elaborate, though I could see he was pondering something. The next thing I knew he jumped down the slide from the building’s top and disappeared into the crowd surrounding the rope, which, after several mediocre performances, was losing its enthusiasm.
I squinted to see the Psychologist appear from the mob, waving his hands to stoke the crowd before clearing the rope several times. People went bananas. The Actor and I slid down to get a closer look, but by the time we reached the action, strangers were already patting the Psychologist on the back and ruffling his hair after a job well done, leg hair intact.
We trudged up the hill through an alley to grab a bottle of water from the nearest 7-Eleven (there’s one every hundred yards or so in Thailand). As soon as we lost view of the beach a couple Thai gentlemen approached us, offering to sell us “whatever you need.” We’d been thoroughly warned beforehand to avoid any Thai (or Thai-appearing) men offering to sell us MDMA and Yaaba, which is Thai for crystal meth. Word had it that these guys were in cahoots with the local police and, if you bought drugs, they would alert the allegedly corrupt cops who were said to let you go if you gave them enough money. If you don’t have money, you go to Thai jail. Still geeked on Red Bull, we walked past these guys.
By the time we reached the 7-Eleven it was nearly 4 a.m. I chugged a bottle of water before splitting my last bucket among the three of us. Things became hazy around this time.
The final piece of the night I remember is listening to a German guy explaining to my two friends how in Germany “things have certainly changed” since the end of the Holocaust. At this point I tuned out, wordlessly acknowledging the conversation’s absurdity as an appropriate ending to the shindig every German person I met referred to as “da Fool Moon Pah-tee.”
This spectacle is worth checking out should you find yourself in the neighborhood of Southeast Asia, but, like the British dude suggested earlier in the night, one time is plenty.