Heaven or hell? Ashton's death casts new light on Koh Phangan

Jan 3, 2013
Edward Loxton

Full-moon party craze on Thai island have brought drownings, date-rapes, assaults – and now murder

BANGKOK - It's described in Thailand's tourist guides as paradise, but the 'full-moon party' island of Koh Phangan is for many unsuspecting visitors a vision of hell. Once a month, as the full moon rises over the island's seemingly idyllic Haad Rin beach, tens of thousands of revelers swarm into its waterfront bars and discotheques and dance and drink the night away.

At New Year, the numbers swell to 50,000, who literally fight for space at the beach bars, where pretty Thai girls serve up drug-spiked cocktails in small buckets. Every year, at least one young reveler dies, dozens are assaulted, date-raped or ferried to mainland hospitals with serious alcohol poisoning.

This year it was the turn of a 22-year-old British holidaymaker, Stephen Ashton, who was shot dead at the Zoom beach bar during a brawl among a group of Thai men.

Twenty-six-year-old Ekkapan Kaewkla admits he was armed but says he never intended to shoot Ashton. The Bangkok Post quotes him as saying: "My group was outnumbered so we ran outside the bar. I drew out a gun and fired a shot into the bar aimed at my rivals. But it turned out that the tourist was hit. I'm sorry for the incident that occurred and I am ready to be punished for what I have done." He was due to appear in court today, charged with murder.

Ashton's death prompted Britain's ambassador in Thailand, Mark Kent, to issue a rare personal appeal to British tourists to exercise extreme care when visiting Koh Phangan at the time of the full moon.

Ashton's death comes just one year after a 19-year-old British tourist drowned off Haad Rin beach after a heavy drinking session. Local police statistics show that several deaths since the full moon party craze began in the 1980s have occurred when revelers stagger into the surf to sober up. Others have fallen drunk from speed boats ferrying them back to neighbouring Koh Samui, another celebrated holiday island.

Drownings, murders, rapes, armed robberies, fatal road accidents and other party-related statistics fill the local police files. A party-bound bus crashed on the way to Koh Pangan last July, killing 10 people, including a British tourist.

"The local people are concerned, of course," said Khun Wattana, owner of the Crazy Monkey bar. "But the parties make a lot of money for us. They're good for the island economy."

Thailand's Tourist Authority (TAT) is worried, however, that Koh Pangan's increasing infamy could hurt the country's reputation as an otherwise safe tourist destination, and approaches are being made to provincial police authorities responsible for the security of the holiday islands to crack down harder on drug and alcohol abuse.

Police checks on roads leading to southern beaches and islands were stepped up over the Christmas and New Year period but supplies of methamphetamines and so-called "magic mushrooms" were reportedly readily available at the Koh Pangan New Year full-moon party.

"You could pop a pill for the price of a bucket of beer," said one backpacker, on his way north to the Golden Triangle, after "surviving" Koh Pangan.

Like so many Phangan party-goers, he was enticed by the glowing promise of a night to remember carried by such websites as [2] Fullmoonparty-Thailand.com, which promises its readers an "unbelievably exhilarating experience you will never forget… There are no barriers here, no inhibitions, just people enjoying themselves with unified interests, to enjoy the magic that is the paradise of [a] full moon party."

One Tripadvisor contributor was lost for words to describe the scene - "You have to see it to believe it." But she added a caution: "It's SO dangerous."

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What a load of sh1te
You can just as easily get caught in the crossfire of gangland feuds in London but that's not on a "danger" list is it?!

If you fall off a boat drunk..
Darwinism at work

Not a load of sh1te David, but simply a matter of inaccurate reporting. The dangers are in fact much bigger - as you, a man living in Phuket, are very aware. Not only "gangland" issues, but a huge amount of drunk/stoned farang who over-indulge and over-play thinking they are invincible. Death on a motorbike, death by drowning, and death by katooi pimp, all risks that trippers should be aware of. Bars should take their responsibilities too - do you own one?

As humans, we are either part of the problem, part of the solution, or, it seems, collateral damage!

Having spent over half my life 'Under Arms", in America,
and now retired, I enjoy life with my family, friends, and firearms, for it is a God given Right to protect that no government may rescind!

Even Britain has admitted that tens of millions of arms are
held by private citizens who believe as do I.

And how does that pro-gun spew add to the discussion about Koh Pangan, Duzzy?

Nothing to do with this article.

This is very bias the way u say girls handing over pill spiked drinks like it happens every minite. I've been to a few full moon party's and never even seen a fight let alone a rape or murder. I'm sure there is some crime but everywhere in the world there are problems. Just 6 months ago an innocent woman was shot in Peckham from a gang shoot out so I don't see y u have to slate somewhere u obviously havnt been to and make up lies when there's just as much danger in the contry we live in.

Doesn't sound like the writer has been to Koh Phangan.

These kind of articles are complete nonsense and annoy the hell out of me! It is clear Mr Loxton has either never been to Koh Phangan or just visited Haad Rin briefly for a full moon. Comments such as 'pretty thai girls serve up drug spiked cocktails' only serves to reinforce the fact that he has no idea what he is talking about what-so-ever. Koh Phangan is a beautiful island that offers so much more than just a party once a month on a tiny little corner on the island. I have been to countless full moons over the last ten years and have seen far less violence and crime than i do at UK festivals and on the streets of UK cities on weekend nights out. Should we recommend we all avoid attending festivals and going out at the weekend, unless you are brave enough to 'survive' the ordeal. Numerous people get caught in the crossfire in gang shootings in London - should we recommend that all tourists avoid London or risk the danger of being shot? This kind of idiotic, sensationalist reporting is simply embarrassing, inaccurate and unfair on Koh Phangan.