When I started planning our trip to Thailand in December, I got on the phone with a friend who had toured Thailand and had some suggestions for us. She told us about the different islands they went to and said that Koh Phangan was their favorite. It was full of amazing yoga centers, healers, and yummy vegan food. She said the beaches were beautiful, some of her favorite she'd ever been to. I got the names of the different places she talked about, and she mentioned that the world-famous Full Moon Party takes place in Koh Phangan each month, and that it's been the best place to go for the party for decades (since 1985, to be exact). I put Koh Phangan at the top of our list.
I cherish the moon and have been to the Full Moon parties in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, so I figured that it would be fun to go to the party in Koh Phangan. I am always aware of the moon's cycle and the effects it has on us as individuals and as a society. My mom, who is an NICU nurse, always talks about the full moon being a crazy time at the hospital, as many women go into labor around the full moon. In yoga, we talk about the sun and the moon quite often, and the opposite yet complementary energies that each possess.
I figured the full moon would be towards the end of January, and researched exactly when the party would be. I don't like to do too much on-line research about the places I'm going to visit, as I don't like expectations. If I'm guided somewhere, I go there and let myself experience it in the moment - simple as that. I found that the party would be close to when we would be visiting the island of Koh Phangan. I put that down on the calendar and started planning our trip around the Full Moon Party that was to happen January 23rd, 2016. Naturally, I wanted to go to the party, envisioning in to be a spiritual and enlightening experience.
Not to spoil the story, but spiritual and enlightening it definitely was not. I'll preface this by saying that I'm not a drug-user (it's not that I've never tried drugs, but I'm not the "raver" type) and neither is my husband (anymore). Those days are long-gone for us both as we've found a more peaceful and balanced way of life. Perhaps it was naive of me to think that we could go to this party and not be completely discouraged by the behavior of our fellow humans, but I just didn't want to think that there would be no consciousness at a party that is literally dependent on something so magnificent and mystifying - the moon. To be fair, I could've YouTubed the term "Full Moon Party Koh Phangan" and witnessed the horrors I was in for, but again, I didn't want to set any expectations and felt like it was worth experiencing since we would be in Thailand anyway.
Pete was less than thrilled about going, but he went along with it for me. We arrived in Koh Phangan on the night of the 23rd on the ferry from Koh Tao, and already we could see that it was going to be a shit show. Mass amounts of tourists from all over swarmed the ferries with no belongings, stating that they were going for the party and would "figure out" where they would be sleeping later. Many said they tried to get rooms but to no avail, as even hostels were charging $80 a night for a bed (unheard of). We later found two such tourists passed out on the lawn of our hotel. I booked our room in advance so we had a comfortable hotel room at Sunset beach, a short walking distance from Sunrise beach, where the party takes place.
We arrived in KP and there were lines of taxi trucks at the ferry waiting to haul the partygoers into town. We were starting to see what we were in for. The taxi dropped us off outside of town because all the roads were blocked off, and already we could see the streets lined with vendors of all kinds. Vendors selling street food, vendors painting bodies with fluorescent paints, vendors selling flower headbands and apparel, and vendors selling buckets of booze. Literally. You could buy a bucket (think a child's sandbox toy) that contains a entire pint of liquor, a can of soda, and a can of Red Bull. Then the vendor hands you four straws for some reason. This spells a total recipe for disaster as most partygoers appeared to be children on their own for the first time. We looked at each other with fear starting to mount in our eyes. I could tell that Pete was annoyed, but we were there already and I was determined to make the most of it.
So I bought myself some orange flowers for my hair and we headed to our hotel. As I debated aloud whether or not I made the right choice in flowers, Pete's annoyance continued to grow. You could barely walk through the streets as they were overflowing with seas of neon yellow, orange & green "Full Moon Party" shirts attached to heads and limbs. Needless to say, we were nervous about the coming night.
In our room, we made an agreement to enjoy the night while not contributing to the vast amount of douchebaggery that we were witnessing. I already knew that I would be seeing trash everywhere, so Pete made me promise not to yell at people who were littering, as I tend to do. He also asked me to try to enjoy the moment and not let the endless amounts of trash ruin our night, as there was little we could do about it. That's when I vowed to bear witness, not contribute (of course), and try to write this article in an attempt to enact some change or increase consciousness around the event.
We enjoyed the party to the best of our ability. We got some dinner at a vegan place nearby and went back to the room to change. I put my flowers on and we hit the streets. We walked towards the beach and were astounded by the amount of people on the beach. Later the next day, we heard that the estimate was 40,000 people.
40,000 people. Can you imagine what that would look like on a beach? It was overwhelming. We took one stroll down the beach, enjoying some of the fire dancers and I myself even danced a bit. Pete liked my moves. The party itself was quite fantastic - it wouldn't be so bad if the island itself put some measures in place to contain the amount of waste that is produced that ends up on the floor, and in the ocean. We walked by a guy that finished his bucket of booze and literally threw it at the ocean, four straws and all. I cringed and looked around hopelessly at the endless amount of straws washing into the ocean. I looked around and saw ZERO trashcans in sight. I looked around and saw ZERO bathrooms for people to use aside from the few that were charging for use. What I did see were hundreds of people pissing into the ocean.
After we made our stroll down the beach, we headed back to our hotel - we'd seen enough. I won't be going into much detail about the party itself, since there are 1000s of videos online showing the craziness of the party. What these videos fail to depict is the aftermath and the sad reality of what's happened to this area of Koh Phangan. We had a private beach at the hotel so we set up shop there and stared at the moon. Another ferry port was nearby, one that was taking partygoers back to their respective hotels. For hours we watched as drunk and drugged-out people shouted and wandered onto our beach to vomit or urinate. As pissed off as it made me, it was difficult to be made at the people. The whole scene was set up to encourage this behavior with nowhere for people to relieve themselves or dispose of their garbage responsibly.
In California, where I'm from, you can't walk 5 feet on the beach without coming across a trash can. And guess what? People use them! Sure, you see assholes throw things on the beach still, but they get yelled at and people will pick trash up if they walk by it (like me). It's unfathomable to imagine a population of people that live on this island that aren't completely distraught over this situation.
Pete saw an advertisement on the ferry that said Leo Beer hosts a beach cleanup the day after the party at 4 pm. This made me feel slightly better, although all night I woke up repeatedly, imagining waves crashing onto the beach and carrying straws to the depth of the ocean floor and envisioning sea animals choking on them. I knew it would be too little, too late, and after doing research later, we realized that all of the coral reefs and the majority of the sea life in this area has long been murdered because of this party anyway.
How ironic, huh? A party created to celebrate Mother Nature has caused her an immense amount of death and destruction. We headed to the beach the next day to participate in the beach cleanup only to find that there was no such cleanup. All we saw were 1000s of partygoers hungover, drinking, sitting amongst piles of trash. I went to a vendor and asked him for a black trash bag and started cleaning the beach. Pete helped, and two others were already doing the same. Another girl (from San Diego, of course) started to help us, too. Living near a beach increases awareness, for sure. Each time I would sweep an area of straws, I would turn around to see 10 more washed up onshore. An hour and a half into it, the entire black trash bag was filled to the brim with various varieties of trash, mostly straws. I couldn't stop cleaning and eventually Pete had to take me by the hand and lead me off the beach in tears. I cried the whole way back to the hotel, and was just in complete shock. Tears sting my eyes as I write this, feeling the pain brim to the top once again. How could this happen every single month?
We heard many comments from people as we cleaned. "You're doing a great thing!" and "Thank you!". I told them they could make a difference, too, but they didn't budge from their beach chairs. We also saw a lot of people turn their heads away from us, not wanting to make eye contact. Numerous times I cleaned trash from underneath peoples' chairs, simply to make a point and many were unaffected. They viewed us as "hippies" probably or some exception to the rule, since most people didn't seem to give a shit that the beach was left in complete disarray. Why should they care? They only came for the party and would be leaving that day - out of sight, out of mind, I guess.
The next night, the roads were like a ghost town. Business owners swept the streets in front of their businesses and some attempted to clean the beach. The town of Haad Rin is alive for one night a month. The night where businesses make their money - it's difficult for them to not participate in it since their livelihoods depend on it. The other 30 nights of the month, no one cares about Haad Rin. The majority of these partygoers don't care about the amount of trash left behind for the locals to deal with, or the reefs that have been destroyed, or the animals that are terrified from the noises and are poisoned from the trash, or the ocean that is intoxicated with filth and piss and vomit. They may not, but I do. Do you? Sign my petition!