Full Moon Party is a monthly event on the island of Koh Panghan – it’s high energy, it’s happening!
For one whole night, crowds come pouring into Haad Rin Beach like rush-hour in a big city. For the rest of the month it was by and large a quiet beach retreat. I had visited the island two times before – It had changed so much! Meditation centers, a Tai Chi school and some vegetarian cafes as well as numerous assorted restaurants were now on hand to eat good food at really reasonable prices. Some scrumptious pizza establishments, wine and cheese bars as well as the numerous local Thai fish restaurants were now there to tempt the palate. A European style bakery with delicious wholesome baked goods evidently catered for the health-conscious traveler. When I first visited the island six years before in 1987, it was very basic with huts and beaches! The neighboring island of Koh Samui had in the last six years also grown tremendously in order to accommodate a more affluent clientele who were particularly focused on the emerging package tours. A small airport had recently been built to accommodate the fast rising tourist industry.
Koh Panghan remains still an island for those who have more than the usual two-to-three weeks to spare. A truly mixed community abounding with mingled nationalities. Those who travel continuously often establish a living by selling and making jewelery or else teaching meditation. Numerous other occupations supply a few Europeans, Australians and Americans with the possibility to continue a life they enjoy. There are those who have saved enough money to travel for one or two years – the cost of living in Asia certainly allows for this opportunity. One sixty-five year old English lady spent six months of the year every year on the beaches of Thailand, living on her pension from England.
Two boats a day came to and from Koh Panghan and Koh Samui, ferrying passengers between the two islands at a cost of fifty Baht; a perilous ride lasting about forty minutes! People generally sat on the deck hanging their legs over the sides, watching the waves and their destination getting closer and closer. Very few sat inside where seating was available in plenty! The inside seating did always seem a bit boring.
Getting on and off the main boat in Koh Panghan was exciting, scary and most undoubtedly an adventure. Getting to the boat was equally gripping and since it was not possible for this particular boat to come into shore, little wooden boats were available to ferry passengers to and from the ‘big boat’. I always had the feeling they would sink when loaded up with sewing machines and huge bags of flour piled on and balanced on the bow while grinning native boatmen continued filling the little boats with brave travelers.
From flimsy wooden boats each person had no other choice than to climb up into the big boat – through the windows. Making the connecting step with the rhythm of the wave was crucial, because a missed step would land you in the water below. Reassuring camaraderie amongst all the passengers kept me from freezing with fear. As everyone helps each other, strong arms are extended to make the step up, or the step down depending in which direction you are headed. Whether coming to Koh Panghan or leaving, this part of the boat journey was always alarming though it invariably seemed like good fun, once safely on solid ground again; I was overcome with an exhilarating feeling of having overcome danger! There were two occasions where, even after the short journey had been completed the feeling I had, was not totally exhilarating – more like never again!
A young English girl in a wheelchair with the assistance of her brother had embarked on this journey. Those were five exceedingly long minutes that I shall probably not forget, as three men on each boat lifted the wheelchair from the small unstable wooden boat, through the window of the big boat while keeping in rhythm with the waves! The young girl’s face was timid, pale and scared as she sat vulnerably in her wheelchair between the two boats, trying to avoid glancing at the scene below; she was utterly and absolutely dependant on the capability of the people whose hands she was in. This is a demonstration of complete trust in my eyes! Suffering such discomfort willingly would not be my option – but it was clearly her choice and I was filled with admiration. Though I’m sure she found much to reward her for her courage in having undertaken this journey.
It was a challenge to my nerves when the weather was rough and our little wooden boat seemed like a piece of cardboard disappearing and appearing between the waves! Lucky for me, Scott had been in the United States Navy and through his guidance I managed the frightening climb into the big boat quite successfully. During the trip in that little cardboard boat I was soothed by his obvious knowledge of the ocean.
The day before the auspicious night-time event appropriately named Full Moon Party, the two daily boats arrived on the Island – packed. As I watched from our quiet beach, the big boat was covered in human bodies and little wooden boats seemed more than usually packed to the brim, which was hard to imagine! Backwards and forwards they went, too many times to count.
I stayed away from Haad Rin beach during the night of those monthly parties; nonetheless there were numerous clues and signs to indicate the advent and finale of this event! The afternoon before and morning after contributed greatly to further this understanding. We once found a German girl asleep on the veranda of our hut even though it was a good twenty-minute hike from Haad Rin beach.
Our beach, a concave bay nestled safely into the hills was an idyllic hideaway. On the night of Full Moon Party someone had fixed a huge loudspeaker onto the hill above our bay and we reluctantly participated in festivities by experiencing blaring sounds from the cliffs above – earplugs didn’t help much. A deep echoing beat rocked the walls of our hut as we persisted in an attempt to survive the night. It was only one night a month after all. There was a further indication of the coming night’s activities when, for two days before the event a few shops and restaurants began advertising ‘magic mushroom omelet’; ‘magic milk-shakes’; ‘special cookies’. Saloons and discos that had emerged in the last three years, advertised ‘super-dooper magic cocktails’. There was of course an array of choices to make the night a memorable occasion!
Shops and restaurants stocked valium for the ‘day after’ – apparently people became over excited due to the overwhelming ‘high-energy’ state they found themselves in. As a helpful gesture to those who were unable to ‘come down’, a valium tablet was available for purchase at the bakery.
The boats were loaded up next day, and people disappeared; one would never know that anything had taken place.
There was one other indication that something a little unusual was happening on one of those action-packed days when the Thai cook who made our meals every day, mentioned casually over lunch that he had seen a body floating by while sitting on the rocks and gazing peacefully out at the vast expanse of ocean. He appeared neither agitated nor disturbed and went on to explain that the body was bloated – a condition the human corpse transforms into when left for long enough in the water. For me, this announcement took on great relevance – a body floating by! This was definitely something I was not familiar with so I began asking him pointed questions. I didn’t get any answers because there were none! Anyway the cook, a good-natured twenty-three year old man, indicated that my detective work was beginning to annoy him – ‘what was all the fuss about’? This kind of situation was nothing unusual or any reason to panic, these things happened now and again! His patience began to dwindle, and I’m sure he wished that he had never mentioned his discovery to me.
My immediate response was to call the police; I pestered the poor man about that too – what police? I had forgotten that there were none on an island. I was intent on someone finding out who the body was – again this poor man showed immense tolerance with my persistence and ignorance. He explained that the body had probably floated on to somewhere else by now or exploded. Anyway I clearly read in his expression that he wished I would stop all this fuss and leave him alone – he was trying to have a rest.
It was alas to remain a mystery and my short-lived detective work didn’t come to much – nobody would ever know who this body was. Even though it seemed futile to find answers, I felt a deep sadness at someone’s loss. I did see notices pinned up in the restaurants, describing missing persons. Distressed European parents had lost their wandering offspring and were trying to locate him or her. This floating body may have been a result of too much ‘high life’ at full moon party – it wasn’t the first floating body, nor would it be the last.
Another riveting subject was the white boat! Also somewhat of a mystery as it turned out.
From one day to the next, a white boat quite unexpectedly anchored near our bay – close enough to see that it was a boat of remarkable luxury. About one hundred-and-fifty foot long and thirty-feet wide, it was a modern and newly built model of exceptional design and must have cost a great deal of money. We were intrigued by its appearance on the island and soon began to hear rumors that a millionaire’s son, who spent his time sailing between Ibiza, Goa and Thailand, owned the boat. Well that solved the mystery very quickly.
The boat remained anchored while boatloads of people were being transported there until it resembled the big ferryboat at the onset of Full Moon Party. One could see the boat rocking with dance music and for two weeks before the real Full Moon Party – loud music came booming into our little bay. Someone had ingeniously rigged up loudspeakers between the top of our hill and the luxury boat and we were receiving the stereo sound effects loud and clear. Technology is amazing – a techno-party in the white boat! Next day, boatloads of people were ferried back to the island. What a busy place this little sanctuary had become – filled with puzzling and entertaining incidents.
After this elegant boat had been anchored for three party filled weeks, a large military patrol vessel came roaring towards the bay. While watching all this with curiosity, the lavish white boat suddenly started up its engines and sped off at top speed; that was the last we ever saw of it – and the gray military boat seemed to follow intently in its trail. Another mystery?
The island of Koh Panghan had become quite an intriguing location; Haad Rin beach was a place to encounter engaging sights and sounds. People seemed to be dressing as they had done in the sixties; there was that unique air of ‘flower power’. To top it all they showed the movie Hair in the restaurants for several nights. Videos had become a regular evening feature of life in cafes and restaurants on the islands. During the day, big signs would indicate which video movies were showing that evening. Many made their choice of restaurant according to the movie. The evenings embodied a friendly, cozy and relaxed atmosphere as people sat quietly together enjoying the evening’s entertainment. It was almost like being at home and watching television.
Koh Panghan, a rich and beautiful island is filled with natural vegetation, waterfalls, hills and of course the incredibly stunning coastline. People are drawn to this island for many reasons. One of the main highlights -
FULL MOON PARTY!
Copyright Charmiene Maxwell-Batten©2009. All Rights Reserved
This is a narrative from my book about India and Thailand
This is a narrative about a monthly party event at Full Moon, on the Island of Koh Panghan in Thailand. There are some mysterious and intriguing events!
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