Ko Pha Ngan gets a bad rap. Forever known as the home of the Full Moon Party, a hedonistic monthly gathering of maybe 50,000 people on popular Haad Rin beach, it’s not surprising that alcohol-fuelled accidents, thefts, and worse, sometimes occur. But it’s unfair to call Ko Pha Ngan unsafe. It isn’t. Keep your wits about you and follow these simple guidelines to stay safe on Ko Pha Ngan.
First and foremost, if you’ve never driven a motorbike or scooter — here, typically with 125-cc engines — now is probably not a good time to start, especially if you’ve come to the island during the week that surrounds the Full Moon Party. If you do get on a scooter, go to an area with little traffic to practise (the area west of the roundabout, near the pier, is perfect for this). You are supposed to have a license — while nobody may check, if you have an accident and you don’t have one, your insurance will not be valid.
Even if you are a good driver, and especially around Full Moon, there are a lot of drunken, or even sober-but-idiotic drivers on the road, and you need to watch out for them. Never drive drunk, always pass on the right, check your mirrors, stay on the lefthand side of the road, round corners slowly (there’s often sand on the road), and drive between 30 to 50 kilometres per hour. Of course, wear a helmet!
Do not drive to any party. The roads are always crowded and dangerous, whether it’s Half Moon, Full Moon, Black Moon, or any of the other seemingly endless list of parties that take place on the island. Furthermore, due to the rise in competition, taxis are always cheap – you’ll spend 100 to 200 baht per person each way to get there.
If you are walking, remember that though this may be a holiday destination, not everyone is on holiday — walking in the middle of the road is a no-no.
On the beach
The tide and currents are generally quite weak around Ko Pha Ngan, so you’re unlikely to get dragged under by a rip-tide, but still keep your wits about you when entering the ocean. Sea urchin are a concern, especially in the north of the island. You may wish to sport water shoes to help avoid a painful sting. Similarly, broken coral and shells may cut up your feet as you wade out, so tread lightly.
Thefts are not common, especially outside of Haad Rin beach, but it’s a good idea to designate someone to keep an eye on your belongings if you head into the water for a dip.
At the party
Try to avoid the cheap buckets sold on Haad Rin beach. These often contain home-made alcohol that can make you very drunk, very fast, and are terrible for your liver. Stick to drinks from more reputable bars, or if you must buy from a stand, get a beer instead.
Do not take anything to a party that you don’t mind losing. These parties are rife with pickpockets, and it’s not uncommon to catch a thief with his (or her) hands in your pocket/ purse. If you can avoid it, don’t bring a purse – stash everything in your pockets. Try to keep 1,000 baht hidden somewhere on yourself, separate from any other money or belongings, as a back-up.
Do not take drugs – drugs are strictly prohibited in Thailand and sometimes even the dealers are informants to the police. You could find yourself in big trouble chasing a high here.
Make sure you have at least one person who you plan to stick with all night, and arrange a meeting spot to find each other in case you get lost. Chicken Corner in Haad Rin is a popular meeting point.
In your bungalow
If you have a safe, use it. Thefts from rooms or bungalows are not that unusual. If you don’t have a safe, try stashing any valuables (laptop and so on) under your pillow (inside the case). You may want to consider buying your own padlock and using it on your door, especially if the lock provided is flimsy.
In general, just follow your instincts, use your street smarts, and be friendly and polite to both fellow tourists and locals, and you should have no problems enjoying this little piece of paradise.
By Kaila Krayewski
Last updated on 9th February, 2014.