It is undeniable that a plethora of travelers head to Southeast Asia for its massive party scene, and with just cause…white-sand beaches are the dance floor, cheap stiff drinks are on tap, and it’s Saturday every night of the week. After our laid-back Christmas rock-climbing holiday in Railay Beach we decided to investigate (purely for research purposes, of course) two of the biggest party scenes in all of SE Asia, Koh Phi Phi and the infamous Full Moon Party of Koh Phangan.
Let’s begin with Koh Phi Phi or as it’s better known “The Beach” from The Beach. It’s hard to watch that film and not want to check out that azure water and white sand utopia…especially if you are already in the neighborhood. So we joined the ranks of meat-heads and misfits, with visions of Leonardo DiCaprio dancing through our heads, and saw it for ourselves. We got there and although it was indeed madness, the view looking down to the spit of sand that connects Phi Phi’s two limestone mountains is almost as good as the Hollywood fiction.
Though for us, Phi Phi’s real beauty was 60-feet below the surface amongst the coral gardens of Koh Bida Nok. This island across the way slopes down to the most vibrant reef, teeming with marine life. This guy was one of the 12 Hawksbill turtles we swam with during our dive.
Our last dive of the day ended at Koh Phi Phi Leh…this is the actual Beach beach. The best part was by the time we were done with our dives, the tour boats had gone home and we had the cove to ourselves for sunset and a swim to our own private “mini beach” tucked in the cliffs. (see photo #28 in the slideshow below.) If you find yourself in Phi Phi, definitely island hop by scuba boat, it’s the best way to beat the crowds!
After our dive, the instructors invited us out to the locals spot, Banana Bar. We talked tropical fish and island escapades over a few Changs, but the night got even more interesting on our way home. On our stroll past the tattoo and pizza parlors, we noticed a Muay Thai boxing ring in action. But it wasn’t Thai people boxing, it was drunk tourists competing for the spoils of a $6 bucket of booze. For all the horrible things Thai people endure in the name of the tourist dollar, this must be the sweetest little revenge.
The next day we snuck in another scuba dive, hiked to Phi Phi’s highest view point, and had dinner on the beach. We were going to call it an early night, but Phi Phi doesn’t work like that. The music was getting louder and we could see the fire shows sparking up down the shore. Joining ranks with an awesome Aussie couple at the next table, we decided to “just check it out for a minute.” Four hours later we were still dancing on the beach in a self-made dance circle, where in a tipsy state (yes, we had a bucket) we tried to convince every passerby to join in. We hammer-timed with an Argentine, waltzed with an Austrian, and shook it down with people from around the globe under the light of the stars and the fires shows. (DSLR in hand I was like a kid in a candy shop, snapping up photos of these flame throwing ninjas!)
After Koh Phi Phi we were going to head north on the train toward Cambodia and find a nice quite town to celebrate New Years Eve…until…we saw a sign that said “NYE & Full Moon Party Tomorrow Night in Koh Phangan – Bus/Ferry Tickets Sold Here.” The theme of irresistible hedonism continues and we booked a ticket to Koh Phangan. It was an ambitious move to show-up on the day of a 40,000-person party and the week of NYE with no reservations, but somehow we got a bed at “Power Beach” hotel (the name says it all) and made to the party just in time.
No matter how many clubs or raves you have ever attended, the scene at this Full Moon Party on Haad Rin beach is honestly like nothing you’ve ever seen. DJ booths with raised dance floors are set up all over the beach, free-fall water slides and flaming jump ropes are always in play, and the people watching is simply phenomenal. Everyone comes covered in body paint or gets drawn on by roaming artists (see slideshow #101 for the work of art that was bestowed upon Anne’s arm, back, and still to this day…her bathing suit).
In case you were wondering what the aforementioned “bucket” is…it’s basically a Mickey of rum, a can of Coke, Thai Red Bull, ice, and a if you aren’t careful, a few mystery additives to help relieve you of your belongings. Here are over 100 of them waiting for their next victim….muahahaha.
The next morning we woke up alive and in our room, albeit with Finnish guy on our floor (long story). We had survived a Koh Phangan Full Moon party, now it was time to see what the rest of this massive island was all about. We rented a scooter and drove away from the perils of Haad Rin to find any accommodation that wasn’t called Power Beach or Trippy Cove and to discover spots like this lovely sandbar beach that connects Mae Hat to the island of Koh Ma.
That night we embraced the peace and quiet on the beach in front of our bungalow, doing nothing but listen to the gentle sway of the palm trees and the ocean lapping the shore (okay there was still some techno music thumping somewhere in the distance, but still).
Round 2! New Years Eve on Haad Rin. We could tell you about this in greater detail but it was basically the same Full Moon Party madness with a countdown. We partied into the night, caught about two hours of sleep then the first boat back to the mainland. The New Year’s Day scene at the port was quite a sight, something similar to that of soldiers coming home from war…some wounded, some missing friends, most unsure of what the hell just happened…and everyone utterly exhausted from giving it their all!
In the end we are glad we got to experience the madness that is Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan, as much for the wild energy that envelopes the place, as just to know what all the hoopla is about. Have you ever been to a Full Moon Party? Would you like to check one out some day?