This is a question that can never be answered with any certainty. And this for the simple fact that statistics, if they exist, in Thailand are not reliable. The internet is awash with different figures for the size of the party. It is a point of pride for the party folk on the island and those that benefit from the party to ‘big up’ the popularity of the event.
No official figure exists for how many people go to the average Full Moon Party. The Wikipedia page cites the number of 5,000 to 30,000. This number is based on a news story in Time Magazine.
I have seen elsewhere the top figure put at 20,000 as well as 50,000. I imagine you could find sources that say 60,000.
The census of 2012 for Koh Phangan puts the population of Koh Phangan at 13,700. That figure probably doesn’t include the few hundred ex-pats living on Koh Phangan on and off for the last 20 years.
On the 23rd of January 2013 the Bangkok Post declared that 30,000 people had attended the Full Moon Party (http://www.blog.fullmoonpartythailand.info/attendancefigures.html). They based this fact on the assertion that 30,000 foreigners took ferries to the island a few days preceding the party. Two holes are quickly seen in this method of counting: you don’t need to show ID to buy a ferry ticket. Lots of Thais come to Koh Phangan as well for the party. And secondly, not everyone arriving on the island near the FMP will go to the party.
However, boat capacity is probably the best way to estimate party attendance numbers. The other possible source for data would be the entrance fee for the party: everyone going to the party has to pay 100 Thai Baht. To this number you could add the number of people already in Haad Rin who could get to the beach before the ticket barriers go up.
Somewhat not surprisingly, official figures aren’t available for how much money is raised by charging to enter the Full Moon Party. The money is divvied up between the headmen and the police with money put aside for beach cleaning. Tea anyone?
When you are at the party, bucket in hand, and you try to guess how many people are on the beach with you, you come to the unflinching conclusion that a ‘fuck of a lot’ is the answer.
Why settle for a figure used by a lazy journalist at Time Magazine with a middle age party pooping axe to grind? Why give Wikipedia any credence when they cite such weak sources?
I expect the low-point attendance of 5,000 could be about right. It could be lower. The monsoon season sees the island empty out. Lots of the locals go north rather than face the rains, power cuts, treacherous roads and deep puddles. Only dedicated kiteboarders would be drawn to Koh Phangan in October and November. (The worst of it usually lasts a month but when it starts varies from year to year.)
The top figure? Well New Year’s Eve is the biggest party in Haad Rin and maybe that is close to 30,000. I suspect the average party gets no more than 10,000. Haad Rin beach is less than a kilometre in length. There are about 10 main sound systems. Under such limitations the beach seems really crowded, as does Haad Rin which is no more than an overgrown village. 10,000 people would be enough to swamp the place.
I went every Monday for 18 months to the Jungle Bar party in Thong Nai Pan Noi. It always seemed full. At peak season in August and December it seemed really full. The German techno festival also swelled the party goer numbers. But otherwise it was always about the same amount of people. Less than 100. Less than 50. It just felt like lots of people. Only the owner who counted the cash take the next day held the answer.