They say (and by they, we mean other fellow wanderers) that you haven’t really been to Thailand unless you’ve experienced the Full Moon Festival. While you won’t find many native Thai here, it is certainly where the backpacker’s gather to let loose. You’ll find festival-goers painting themselves in glow-in-the-dark paint, lighting limbo poles on fire and partying all night to EDM music.
Sound like your kind of scene? Let us help you! We scoured the internet before our trip to find the best way to get to the festival and we never found it…not many people probably remembered how they got there but we carefully documented our path. If you aren’t sure if the Full Moon Festival is for you, keep going and find out how our once-in-a-lifetime experience panned out.
The Nuts and Bolts:
· Make sure you check the full moon calendar and leave enough time in your itinerary to visit Koh Phangan. Most hotels and Airbnb’s require a minimum of 2-3 night stay during the festival – we were very lucky to find the one Airbnb that hadn’t updated their policy yet!
- Fly from Bangkok (DMK or BKK) to Surat Thani (URT). We took Thai Air from DMK (1 Hour flight).
- Bus Ride from URT to Ferry Port - 90 minute bus ride. You can buy the bus/ferry ride tickets as a package deal.
- Ferry from the port to Koh Phangan (90 minutes)
- Walk to Airbnb or motorcycle (like we did!)
- You must book accommodations at least a few weeks in advance because everything sells out. Many of the Airbnb listings require a 3-night minimum, check the listing before you book to confirm.
- Most Airbnb’s and Hotels will offer transport to the Full Moon Festival for a nominal charge. The island is quite large and mountainous so make sure you arrange transport in advance.
- We had to find our own way back
- No Uber/Lyft on the island
The Full Moon Festival Experience
After travelling for over half a day on every means of transportation possible (e.g. airplane, bus, ferry, motorcycle) we arrived at our destination: Koh Phangan. We plugged in our Airbnb on Google Maps and walked the .5 miles avoiding crazy motorbikes on our way to Thaya’s Place. A really nice host excitedly welcomed us and quickly ushered us outside to show us the way to our accommodations. He then pointed to 2 motorcycles and told us to hop on.
Let’s pause a minute.
For one, yours truly has never been on a motorcycle, not even a Vespa, or a Segway, or a jet ski…see where I’m going with this? Second, Thailand was not the place where I would have wanted to try it for the first time. Nevertheless, we looked at each other nervously and had no chance but to put our fears to the side and go for it! We hopped on and took a ride with two locals into the small town.
We booked an Airbnb for 1 night (though most properties have a 3-night minimum during the full moon festival) and it was ~ $35. Sounds cheap, but it was a 1-bedroom home with an open air bathroom granting free reign to the creepy crawlers to come and go as they wish. The host had to clean it on our arrival, ensuring no critters were lurking around the corner.
After settling in – the host offered to bring us dinner from his restaurant and since we were extremely exhausted from traveling, we took him up on the offer. This host wore many hats. He also arranged for us to get picked up for the festival – mind you it was in the back of an open pickup truck, ran the Airbnb, operated a restaurant, and acted as the pre-game concierge before the Full Moon Festival.
Before we headed out to the festival we met up with a group of random people, also hitching a ride with the host to the Full Moon Festival. They were body-painting with glow-in-the-dark paint and so we joined the party. It was so hot I was surprised that the paint didn’t melt off our face! The ride over was an exciting adventure in itself, meeting people from Spain and Australia, all united by the goal to party hard. We went up and over hills while you heard the engine roaring struggling to get over some epic inclines. It was hilarious to see other party-goers heading in the same direction – some with three people to a motorcycle, holding tightly as they went up the unrelenting hills.
30 minutes of clutching hard to each other, we made it. As we were getting out, we asked the driver if he could take us back and his response, “Sure, if you can find me at 4am.”
We had finally arrived…but did we go right in? Of course not. We got a hot tip that if we went through a labyrinth of small streets and alleyways we would be able to find access to the beach that was not gated and we could avoid the nominal entry fee of 100 tbt (that’s $3.00). So, we followed the crowd, aka our new buddies from Spain.
The Full Moon Festival is really a giant party on the beach. It’s lined with vendors selling cheap drinks, glow-in-the-dark body paint and tourist shops alike. We finally made our way to the beach and immediately encountered a large crowd anxiously awaiting their turn for the ‘fire limbo’. We stuck close to the group which grew by 2 with a couple from Portugal. We had a bit of a language barrier and one of the guys had to translate from English to Spanish/Portuguese pretty much the whole night. However, everyone was down-to-earth and really easy to get along with so we had a great time!
For hours spirits were high, music was loud, the vibe was killer and you could tell everyone was letting loose. It was just around midnight, when the fun came to an abrupt halt, when the skies opened up and it started to monsoon like crazy. About half of the people started bolting for cover (us included) while the rest didn’t let it phase them in the slightest. But even under the cover from rain the fun didn’t stop…as several party boys used the sidewalk as their own slip-and-slide. We were too late in trying to pull out our phones to capture it – but it was awesome.
As the streets started to flood, we were in agreement that our Full Moon Festival experience needed to come to an end, especially since we didn’t have waterproof covers for our wallets and phones (don’t make the same mistake) *link case. We walked through the labyrinth again looking for a ride back to our Airbnb. The water level rose close to knee height in just a few minutes. We definitely took a wrong turn or two but were finally able to find our way back to the original pickup/drop-off area.
We were very fortunate to find a pickup that was completely full in the bed but the driver allowed us to sit in front in the dry cabin. Kashif mapped it back to a 7-11 that he thought was the correct landmark to our Airbnb, however when we got out of the taxi we quickly got turned around. Luckily, as you’ll find in Thailand, where there’s one 7-11 there are seven others nearby. Eventually, we were able to find our bearings and we walked the rest of the way home. As soaked as we were that night, we had to shower and pack our things for an early morning ferry departure. Back to the mainland and off to Chaing Mai we went.