Nima Chandler, a 30-something American businesswoman based in Bangkok, has attended 17 "full-moon" parties on Koh Phangan, and for each, she's sported a painted-on, fluorescent serpent coiling up her right arm. "I went to 12 in a row a couple of years ago," she says, flashing her latest serpent. "Then I began staggering them. Because, by full-moon standards, I'm old."
It's easy to see why she feels that way. Anyone who isn't 22, beautiful, terminally fit, and European or Israeli challenges the demographics of this all-night rave on Haad Rin beach. Communal tin buckets filled with Sangthip (Thai whiskey), Coca-Cola, and the trendy energy drink Red Bull help keep the barely clothed attendees upright and gyrating for up to 24 hours. Those who look hard enough can still find mushroom (psilocybin) milkshakes, ecstasy, and other, ahem, energizing pharmaceuticals, but recent police crackdowns have abolished the drug-tolerant ambiance of earlier years.
The kilometer of once-pristine sand that several decades ago attracted the first international coteries of hippies every full moon has now become a stretch of beachside bars and bungalows. Designed to accommodate approximately 2000, it packs in as many as 10,000 on full-moon nights. Compared to its middle-class counterpart on Ibiza, the Koh Phangan fest is a great social equalizer: Participants range from lawyers to nannies, music producers to construction workers.
The original Paradise Bungalow remains the first stop for many celebrants. Under the black light in its huge, white dance tent, a sea of bodies adorned in fluorescent bracelets and paint dissolves into an amorphous, pulsating glow.
After a night of revelry,
even the most crashed-out partier revives in time to greet the dawn. "I've
made it this far. Why stop now?" asks Nima, rising from a brief nap
on the beach. She then joins the mass of humanity on the sand in a communal
whoop as the sun appears. Re-energized from a refreshing dip in the sea,
she and other revelers will then move on to the next phase of the full-moon
party: They'll do it all over again.
Copyright © 2002 Jennifer Gampell