The now notorious Ko Pha Ngan is an island in the Gulf of Thailand, about halfway between Ko Samui, to the south, and Ko Tao, to the north. Twenty years ago the island received just a tiny trickle of backpackers looking for an escape from Ko Samui, which already appeared overcooked from a hippy point of view. Today the island is the home of the Full Moon Party, a monthly event that brings thousands of young travellers here to dance the night away.
The island's economy is almost entirely based on tourism, and almost all its beaches are home to little groups of inexpensive bungalows, and ever more trendy resorts, but it is the Hat Rin Peninsula the southeast of Ko Pha Ngan, with beaches to either side, that draws the crowds. The eastern side, Hat Rin Nok, is a long stretch of golden sand beach, backed by coconut trees. Once the site of a few cheap bamboo huts, a couple of cafes and no electricity, it is now lined with restaurants, shops and travel agents, as well as accommodation, and it's become 'traveller town'.
On full moon night, everyone takes to the beach, many decorated in UV body paint, to drink and dance to sound systems playing booming house and trance music. And then there are the drugs - despite the heavy penalties that can be incurred, not to mention the potential danger to health, drugs are still ubiquitous at the party, as the hospitals can attest.
Ko Pha Ngan is pretty, its hilly, forested interior includes a National Park. Trek up to great lookout points, or cool off under waterfalls if you need a rest. The main town, Thong Sala, is on the west of the island. However, you can choose to stay on a distant, secluded beach, accessible only by boat, and there you may still find a little peace.
When to visit
Any time, but December to June is probably best
How to reach
By boat from the mainland via Ko Samui, or from the outer islands
- A herbal sauna at Wat Pho.
- Learning to meditate at Wat Khao Tham.
- Laem Son Alke is a cool oasis.
- A trek up Khao Ra, the islands' highest point at 630 m (2,100 ft)
- Taking a trip to Ko Tao, one of Thailand's major diving centres.
You should know
Plain-clothes policemen are always around at the Full Moon Party. Be careful, wear shoes to avoid dancing on broken glass, and don't accept drinks from strangers - there are many reports of spiked drinks, picked pockets, attempted rapes, muggings and worse, so stay with your friends, and leave the scene if any trouble breaks out. There are also Half Moon and Dark Moon parties to attend if you haven't had enough.