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The death of the Full Moon Party

By Jonathan Head

The Full Moon Party on the Thai island of Koh Pha Ngan is the stuff of legend.

Now Covid-19 has put a stop to it. And some see an opportunity for a different type of tourism.

Is this the end of backpacking in Thailand?

The sun has dipped behind the bars and restaurants that run the length of Haad Rin beach.

Soon the full moon will rise out of the sea, illuminating the soft, almost pure white sand.

Staff at the bars, most of them Burmese migrants, lay out chairs and tables on the beach, to the pulsing beat of half a dozen sound systems.

Only a handful of customers come to eat and drink. It’s a peaceful, but cheerless scene.

Just six months ago there would have been thousands of revellers here, drawn from all over the globe to one of the world’s most famous parties.

The Full Moon Party grew from just a few travellers who, around 30 years ago, gravitated to the island in search of quieter beaches, into something more akin to a night out on the party island of Ibiza - DJs the length of the beach, buckets of cocktails; more than 30,000 tourists at peak times like New Year.

Guidebooks such as The Lonely Planet had begun to recommend that travellers wanting to explore the island’s natural beauty should look beyond the Full Moon gatherings and avoid peak party periods.

In March the local authorities ordered the parties to stop.

There are plenty of legends about the origins of the Full Moon Party.

By some accounts, it was started by a group of travellers disillusioned with rapid modernisation on the larger island of Koh Samui. The story goes that they took a boat across to Koh Pha Ngan in 1988, with just a crate of beer and substantial supplies of magic mushrooms - though some versions suggest there were earlier gatherings. There was no electricity on the island then, and the travellers danced the night away in the light of the full moon. It was a quest for an untouched tropical retreat which would later be immortalised in Alex Garland’s best-selling novel, The Beach.

According to another account, the very first party was held at Paradise Bungalows owned by Sutti Kursakul at the southern end of the beach, also in 1988.

Ellie Housego, from Milton Keynes in the UK, is staying on Haad Rin and is a big fan of the Full Moon Party - she went to three with her sister Amy last year.

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