Sustainable Tourism and Partying

It would be wrong to imagine that partying in a foreign country is by definition diametrically opposed to either sustainable tourism or responsible tourism. On the other hand, several parties around the world do have a reputation for excess, for drugs, for environmental damage and cultural pollution. Perhaps the best example to take to discuss this topic is famous (or infamous) Full Moon Party on Phangan Island in Thailand.

Koh Phangan is Thailand’s fifth biggest island. It is a designated eco-tourist area that retains 90% of its original rain forest cover thanks to zoning and a population keen to avoid the mistakes made on the neighboring island of Samui.

Until the Full Moon Party really started to attract large numbers of people to the island it was a quiet place famous for its laid back atmosphere, simple bungalows and low-key backpacker and hippy tourist industry.

That all changed in the early 2000s as news of the Full Moon Party spread far and wide and attracted a party minded set of young people to the island. In many cases these new devotees of Koh Phangan cared very little about Thai culture, picking up a few words of the language or staying in cheap fan bungalows on the beach. Whereas, they don’t openly smoke marijuana on the beach they do raid the pharmacies prior to the party and organize other class A substances for the party. Since nothing is smoked openly on the beach the organizers and authorities can claim the party is now ‘clean’.

This is very far from responsible tourism. The locals gain a bad impression of foreigners, Thai culture is not respected and money is being funneled into the hands of the gangs.

It is a pity because the original parties were a chance for locals and tourists to mingle and get to know each other. Parties are very much part of Thai culture, since having fun, drinking and smoking a bit of weed was never really frowned on until tourism highlighted this part of Thai culture that does not fit in with American values.

In short, there is nothing wrong with partying with the locals. It can be done in the right way. Big commercial events that pollute the beach and create large black markets are not sustainable or desirable in the long run.

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