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The Famous Full Moon Party? Depressing

THAILAND | Friday, 29 January 2016 | Views [555]

The full moon party on the beaches of Haad Rin in Koh Phangan was a blatant, disturbing display of hedonism and blithe disregard for the planet.  I’m sad to have been a part of it but feel it worth recounting, if for no other reason than to deter everyone I know from ever participating.

The island of Koh Phangan is a place that people largely forget outside of the monthly full moon. After reading that the island was quiet, sparsely populated, rugged, and prices plummet outside of the week of the full moon, I was excited to spend a quiet few days on a secluded beach, snorkeling and reading.

But we booked our flights without looking at the lunar calendar.

One of my most egregious errors as a traveler to date. The full moon party has always sounded sort of nightmarish to me: young people drinking too much, beating eachother up and vomiting, all to an obnoxiously loud soundtrack.

But, there we were, aboard a ferry with hoards of tanned, young bodies, tattoos peeking out from under barely-there bikinis and man tanks. It was a frat fest. We chalked our mistake up to an opportunity to people watch and booked a hotel in the jungle, far north of crowded Haad Rin.

Here’s what I knew about the full moon party before we attended (most of which I learned from this Nomadic Matt blog post):

  1. It has an attendance of up to 30,000 people.
  2. The signature drink is called a “bucket.” Buckets are a poisonous concoction of ice, soda, whiskey (or a liquor of your choice) and the Thai version of the Red Bull Energy Drink, which is chock-full of ephedrine.
  3. One of the activities on offer is a massive, double-dutch jump rope that has been soaked in gasoline and lit on fire.

When we arrived at 10, several people had already passed out in the sand (or maybe they were just power-napping?). The surf was a wall of men’s backs as they peed in the water, dotted by the occasional girl squatting over the waves. There actually was a gasoline-soaked, fiery jump rope, and people actually were participating. As we walked towards the beach, we passed a kid in an ambulance. Chris said, eloquently,  “This is simultaneously exceeding and not meeting my expectations.”

The trash cans set out on the beach every few yards are a joke. They were probably full by 3 in the afternoon. Mountains of debris had built up around the bins and the beach was a minefield - you couldn’t go more than a few feet without stepping on something. But the real kicker was the water. Glistening under the light of the celebrated full moon, the white-capped waves were filled with trash. It was like the Great Pacific garbage patch in miniature.

We tried to drink, listen to music and have a good time, but watching - and thereby participating in - the destruction of that landscape was ultimately too depressing.

We grabbed a couple of trash bags from one of the vendors in a futile attempt to assuage our guilt. It was a disheartening process: for every piece we picked up, someone dropped three more in front of us. We left the party frustrated and angry.

So here’s the thing: even if all 30,000 partiers filled and removed a bag of trash the following day (and a world where that happens doesn’t exist because HANGOVER), there is nothing to be done for the amount of trash that flows out into the ocean in just a single night during this party. Before the hangover has even set in, a landfill’s worth of plastic bottles, buckets, cups, flip flops, clothes, toxic neon paint and who knows what other non-biodegradable crap have floated out into the Thai Gulf to kill marine life and generally MESS UP the earth.

I’m no Earth angel. Hell, I’m a traveler - my carbon footprint from air transport alone is probably disgusting. But throwing plastic trash into the ocean just seems like dont-be-an-asshole 101. These parties have a truly destructive environmental impact and I think patronizing this event is morally questionable.

If ephedrine-rich booze buckets, glow paint and flaming jump ropes are your thing, find somewhere else to do it. Somewhere with more recycling bins and less ocean.

Tags: beaches, ecology, environment, festivals, full moon, full moon party, music festivals, oceans, parties, trash

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