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  The Full Moon Gathering
by Erik Braun

Erik BraunOn the southeast corner of the tiny island of Kho Phangan, two cliffs jut into the ocean. Between them lies a crescent of beach named Haad Rin. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of travelers congregate there under the white glare of each full moon to dance, sing, drink, and basically act completely nuts. When I was there, music blared out from the makeshift clubs, drowning out all sounds, even the continual whir of the blenders whipping up magic mushroom shakes, the most popular foodstuff of the evening. Many daubed florescent paint all over their bodies, and in the blacklights of the open-air clubs they swirled in a psychedelic trance under the hypnotic beat of dance music.

As the night wore on the music never stopped, though sometimes the dancers did. Crowds of young people dressed in bathing suits and ratty t-shirts formed circles on the sand. I often heard positive feelings espoused, and strangers were welcomed to introduce themselves and join a circle. I sat with a young man who gobbled a 'shroom omelet while he explained to me why Marxism would inevitably prevail over all other political traditions.

But in the years since these raves had begun — when Thailand's islands were still far-flung spots — a metamorphosis of sorts had occurred. Professional drug peddlers skirted the edges of almost every knot of dancing youth, prostitutes filtered through the crowd, and bands of Thai police roamed the beach.

The impetus of the event no longer lay with the traveler's zeal, but rather with merchants' greed — and so the energy struck me often as perfunctory and jaded. It seems a continual irony of travel in Asia that anywhere travelers populate in large numbers, the worst elements of that country's society collect as well.

Rumors circulate about new spots where the vibe is "pure." People mention Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, but given those countries' turbulent politics and troubled histories, it seems to me unlikely that this kind of scene could already have developed in those places.

I personally found the Full Moon Gathering exciting but a little disturbing. With the hard-eyed characters floating among the crowd, and the dangerous drugs people carried, feelings of fun were always undercut by the strain of caution.

One of the founding members of Wonderland Productions, Erik Braun traveled throughout Asia for a year before returning to San Francisco to work as a freelance writer.

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