By the Light of the Moon: Koh Pha Ngan & Ang Thong National Park

“And it was good to be a little Island.
A part of the world
and a world of its own
All surrounded by the bright blue sea.”
~ Margaret Wise Brown, The Little Island

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Angthong National Park

Contrary to any romantic images that the title of this post may have conjured, the full moon party in Koh Pha Ngan was inspired more by the wild desire to completely lose all inhibitions and party (far too) hard. Chased by a vicious hangover the next day on a queasy ferry ride back to the Chumphon pier, I decided the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and simultaneously vowed to never do it again.

A couple of weekends ago, a few friends and I took the trip down to Koh Pha Ngan, an island resting south of Hua Hin and nestled within a group of other picturesque islands, including Koh Tao and those of the Angthong National Marine Park.

Not entirely sure what to expect or how to prepare for the weekend, I had spent a couple hours in the week before we left Googling – as I’ve learned to do for most things – “Full Moon Party Koh Pha Ngan.”  The first hit brought me to a rather haphazard “Official Full Moon Party” website that offered a hard-hitting FAQ section in multi-coloured text.

“How long party last?” read the first inquiry, and well past the point of no return, I kept scrolling on. The more I read, the more I appreciated the succinct, although extremely vague, responses.  “Party last all night.”  

“Can I sleep on beach?” read the next one. This seemed like a valid question, although I don’t know how anyone would ever be able to sleep in the midst of what looked like a pretty wild time. This answer was even shorter. “No.”

Can I play own music?” I was intrigued. What kind of music were we talking about here? And what kind of music would be provided at this beach-wide party? Was there going to be live music? Were there DJs? Would there be clubs on the beach itself?

Surprisingly, answers to the majority of these extremely important questions were given: “No, you cannot play own music!” the website exclaimed in alarming hot pink and white text. “There will be many DJ on beach. Lots of music provided. We encourage you enjoy.”

Well-assured and also no more prepared for this party than when I first started my research, I closed my laptop and went to bed. Come Thursday morning, I figured I’d find out what the weekend had in store.

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A hotspot for backpackers seeking full moon party shenanigans, Koh Pha Ngan maintains a distinctly hippie islander atmosphere. Tie-dye shirts and dresses flutter in the sea breeze from sidewalk shops, and shell mobiles hang from sandy doorframes. A hot walk down many a side street leads us to our friendly hostel, tucked into a corner past the quintessential 7-11 down the road. “Kombucha for 30 baht” is scrawled on a chalkboard in colourful print, and we are welcomed by a Polish girl Liza. Barefoot and clad in a skirt made from leaf cut-outs of green cloth; she seems to embody the very essence of Thailand and Boulder, CO combined.

Returning from the bright white beach a little earlier than the others, I take a spot on the breezy patio.  By this point, we had met a few of the fellow backpackers in our hostel, mainly young 20-somethings that were at once endlessly adventurous and fully exhausted from the former. Tucking my legs under me, I watch the world turn slowly round. There on my right, a Polish guy with a OBEY baseball cap down the last few sips of a Chang beer, nose achingly sunburnt red.

Down the steps and flitting about is Isa, a dread-locked girl from Spain who would later tell me about her many loves and many losses. And here comes Teis from Denmark, a bright red-head with a spirit to match, whose lanky limbs looked out of place in his traditional Thai elephant pants. He smiles at me, takes a seat, and we wait for the others to arrive and for the night to begin.

It’s a slow and lazy island life. Sun-drunk days turn to drunken nights, and a few drinking games later, everyone either turns in for the night or goes out to the pre-parties, advertised heavily around the town. Will we see you at the Jungle Party? What about the ____ Party?

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Malibu Beach

I’m happy staying in for now. I’ve booked a full-day boat trip to the Angthong National Marine Park for the next day, and we leave by ferry at 8am.

The national marine park itself, I find, is well worth the two hour ferry ride from Koh Pha Ngan. Bright blues and brighter greens wreath the entire group of islands; it looks like a tropical fairy-tale. We spend the day hiking, snorkeling, and swimming around the ship. Climbing up to the third-level sun-deck, I jump off and feel the spinning adrenaline rush deep in my stomach – down, down, down – a lengthy fall before the water hits me hard on the chest.

“It hurts!” I exclaim to one of the tour guides when I re-surface. He’s also jumped from the deck, but unlike me, knows how to angle his body to make the impact less harsh. “What hurts?” he asks, quizzically. Muscular and bronzed from days in the sun, he’s lived the majority of his life on this ocean, and he floats by – perfectly content in the blazing sun.

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Viewpoint on one of the Angthong National Park islands

Later on, when I’m getting dressed for the Full Moon Party, I recognize that I’ve done something to my chest. It’s a little hard to breathe, and I can’t exactly extend my arms backwards easily. Small price to pay for a long jump from a ferry, and the adrenaline from free-falling lingers on. It’s a simple bruise, and over time, it does heal. Weeks later, I look back on it and remember the sting of the water and thrill of the jump. Oh, but to feel that free always.

On the trip back, I climb back up to the sun-deck and spread my scarf out on the padded surface. Overhead, the sun has started its afternoon climb and when I wake up from my nap, golden light coats every surface. I have mentioned it before, the happiness scale, but I can’t help but think about it once more. So many happy moments I’ve had here, and this is one of them – dozing on the deck with the sun overhead and the breeze all-around. There is nowhere else that I have to be than right there, right then.

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Here are a few spots that we loved in Koh Pha Ngan:

Ando Loco // Stop here for a solid margarita and decent fish tacos. It’s far from the Mexican food you would find, say, in the States, but it hits the spot.

The Fat Cat // A family-owned establishment nestled between a tie-dye t-shirt store and a souvenir shop, this gorgeous breakfast spot was one of the highlights of our trip. Order the vegetarian breakfast with eggs, toast, veggie sausage, and coffee.

Malibu Beach // Replete with a warm-water swimming cove and perfect sand, this is just the prettiest beach I’ve ever seen. A short drive in from town, expect to pay about 300 baht for 5-6 people in a taxi.

Paradise Falls // On route to Malibu Beach, this sheltered little spot is a short walk up and offers a shaded swimming hole at the base of a slowly moving waterfall. The water is nice and cool, and the hike up to the spot isn’t bad at all.

Angthong National Marine Park // I loved this entire day. It was a bit of a splurge, plus it costs 200 baht to enter the park, but the tour included all three meals, snorkeling, three different islands, and lots of hiking. The viewpoints from two of the islands were really spectacular, and even though jumping from the boat may not have been my best move, the water was perfect for swimming.

Tips for the Full Moon Party & Getting to Koh Pha Ngan:

  1. Wear clothing that you won’t care about getting dirty. A large part of Full Moon Party fun is getting ready with neon paint. It’s fantastic, but it also lingers on the skin for a day or two afterward, and my white shirt maintains a brilliant orange mark that no amount of water could ever remove.

  2. Keep track of your drinks. It’s scarily easy for things to get snuck into your drinks, so watch them being mixed or bring your own drinks from the hostel.

  3. Be aware of Taxi drivers trying to swindle you on the way back from the party. Travel with friends and NEVER pay more than 100 baht each for a taxi ride back to your hostel.

  4. Don’t leave the day after the party unless completely necessary. You will regret absolutely everything on the ferry ride back. It will probably be your worst time traveling ever. The sun will be the hottest you’ve ever felt. You might think you’re actually ON the sun. The water will not be cool or breezy. It will also be hot and very salty. There is no air-conditioning. Everything is super bright. You want to drink water but you also don’t want to drink anything at all. You will vow to never travel in Thailand again. Until you do travel again. The next weekend, in fact.

  5. Be prepared to spend all day and night traveling in Thailand. Getting anywhere can really be a haul sometimes, and it is nearly always cramped (on the bus, on the ferry, on taxis – you name it). Just be patient with the journey. It’ll take awhile, but you will get there eventually. We took an overnight bus there and a day-time bus back that we booked online (included the tickets for the ferry as well). The day-time bus was loads nicer than the overnight bus, but I hear this can be kind of a crap shoot. There are some really nice overnight buses, but it might just be luck of the draw.
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Dusk on the island
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