Thursday, 6 November 2014

Parties Stopped in Koh Phangan

For years local residents in Baan Tai have been asking the police to do something about the noise being generated by the all-night parties in the area. Their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Ever since the early 2000s when the Full Moon Party became a world-famous event, numerous other monthly parties have sprung up both small and fairly large. Most of these have been in Baan Tai. The combination of a military junta crackdown on illegal activities as well as the adverse publicity generated by the murder of two young Brits, Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on the neighbouring island of Koh Tao in September, 2014 has forced the police on Koh Phangan to shut down all the parties except for the Full Moon Party.

Until this point it seemed that every year a new regular party was added to the list. The Half Moon Party, Jungle Experience and Shiva Moon Party have been joined by Rhythm and Sands, Loy Lai Floating Bar, Ku Klub and Sramanora Waterfall Blue and Green Party. All in the Baan Tai / Baan Kai area and all going on all night. While the noise is not great for those trying to sleep, the legal issue is the selling of alcohol after the curfew of 1am.

Thailand is the land of the free and anyone who has stayed in the country for any length of time will notice that the alcohol curfew is only selectively enforced. This is true both in tourist hotspots and in less visited areas of Thailand. However, it is a law that gives the police the legal authority to shut down bars, nightclubs, street vendors and all night raves.

Pressure, no doubt, has been asserted from the top to do something about the parties. The interim government led by General Prayuth has been keen to enforce laws and curb the increase in corruption. They have been tackling all kinds of abuse such as Jet Ski scammers, illegal permits for sun loungers in Phuket and foreigners using tourist visas to work in Thailand. Those people who thought that the cash generated by the Full Moon Party made Koh Phangan immune to the clean-up campaigns appear to be wrong for the moment. Both Jungle Experience and the Half Moon Party were stopped by the police.

Their reasons were that the alcohol laws were being broken and that they didn’t have the man power to police the events. It cannot be ignored that these actions happened shortly after the double murder in Koh Tao. It has caught many by surprise that the tragic attack of two young Brits has attracted so much international press coverage. Thailand’s image has been dented by not only the awful crime but also the ensuing police investigation which been marred by allegations of framing two Burmese workers and ‘fixing’ the evidence. The British police observers in the area have not made any comments about the regime’s insistence that the case is closed to everyone’s satisfaction. However, a report from the British police into the affair due when they return might further embarrass officials in Thailand.

Meanwhile the plan is to limit the damage caused by the incident. All-night parties in Koh Tao and Koh Phangan are off until further notice. It is only the Full Moon Party that has been allowed to continue since it already has a large police presence. Some bars are still running DJ events but these are small gatherings.

Despite these measures tourist numbers are seriously down on last year’s figures on the islands. Tonight is Loy Kratong full moon party. Authorities expect 20,000 revellers. That remains to be seen; and anyway, these TAT numbers are generally pulled out of nowhere.

The question that remains is if the party curfew in Baan Tai and in Koh Tao will continue for very long. Those involved in the parties will no doubt be keen to get the parties back on. They make profits for numerous people and keep many ex-pats on the islands. The key moment will be when the current junta is replaced by an elected government. If the parties aren’t back with a change of government they are gone for good.

This will have a discernible effect on the demographics for Koh Phangan visitors as well as the number of ex-pats living semi-permanently on the island. The mood of Koh Phangan will noticeably change if party-goers come in fewer numbers. The Full Moon Party might continue to attract thousands but many just come for the party and many only stay a couple of nights. The other parties in Baan Tai kept a steady trickle of young people booking hostels and spending thousands of Baht on alcohol and banned substances. Time will tell if Koh Phangan has undergone a sea-change.