Koh Phangan has changed a lot since it became a tourist destination in the 1970s. Now it is 2015 and Koh Phangan is very different to the undeveloped jungle island that it once was. As with many holiday spots Koh Phangan has moved on. It seemed that it had become a party and beach mecca for the young. Very recently both the central government in Bangkok as well as the provincial government have insisted Koh Phangan clean up its act. Has anything changed?
The answer is basically no. Not long after the military regained control of the country in 2014 they started a campaign to cut back graft, nepotism, scams, foreigners working on a tourist visa and the numerous instances of where the actual law had been ignored for years. They set about reigning in the Jet Ski scammers and the illegal selling of permits to beach chair vendors. They tried to enforce the alcohol curfew after 2am and the 1am closure of massage parlours. Tighter visa restrictions were put in place. They also told civil servants to stop wasting their time on social media instead of working. In short the General had a clear vision of what needs to be done in Thailand.
Koh Phangan did not escape his notice. The double murder of Brits in Koh Tao no doubt focused the attention of the administration on the Samui Archipelago. The general set out a plan to re-brand Koh Phangan as a place to experience ‘Thai style’ parties, as well as sun, sand and 5 star hotels.
It ended at that. None of the party organisers in Baan Tai, Haad Rin and elsewhere on the island paid any attention. The DJs kept playing and the ‘up-for-it’ crowds kept coming. Thailand has seen dozens of coups since getting democracy. Fiercely independent, the locals have a habit of ignoring what goes on in Bangkok.
The end of the party scene seemed more likely after the Governor of Surrathani Province in early 2015 issued a notice that all the parties (bar the Full Moon Party) were too noisy and disruptive and would stop immediately. Again nothing happened. See here for more.
The week of the gubernatorial decree the Half Moon Party went ahead. This was followed a few days later by Jungle Experience holding a special anniversary all-nighter.
To outsiders this might seem confusing. How can the Koh Phangan police not do anything? Why does the governor allow his authority to be flouted? Why doesn’t the General flex his muscles and just bring down his own men from Bangkok to shut down the parties?
Nothing is clear. This is the way things are done in Thailand as well as other places in Asia. Nothing is transparent; the media is not informed about negotiations between stake holders. The notion of the supremacy of the law is just that a notion.
The Full Moon Party is as important to Thai tourism as the beaches of Phuket. It is a huge money spinner and a major attraction. Closing the Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Nok was quickly off the table. Unfortunately, the party culture that the FMP has engendered has led to numerous outdoor parties, club nights and DJ events. The island now has a growing music scene and even the smaller parties are gaining international acclaim and attracting big name DJs. You cannot easily manufacture the image of a tourist destination. It looks like the party faction is in a position to gain concessions; to get a compromise.
Koh Phangan will keep on changing and as it does it gains something. The hippies came and gave rise to the need for cheap bungalows and reggae bars. We still have them in Haad Salad, Haad Yao, Haad Khom and other places along the coast. The high paying customers came to Santhiya on the beautiful beach of Thong Nai Pan Noi and the ‘luxury’ cache of Koh Phangan grew. The Full Moon Party gave birth to a burgeoning dance music scene and that will persist. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the paradise beach locations – still sun, sand, jungle and warm sea.