HAT RIN is firmly established as the major party venue in Southeast Asia, especially in the peak seasons of August, December and January, but it’s most famous for its year-round full moon parties – something like Apocalypse Now without the war. Hat Rin’s compact geography is ideally suited to an intense party town: it occupies the flat neck of Pha Ngan’s southeast headland, which is so narrow that the resort comprises two back-to-back beaches, joined by transverse roads at the north and south ends. The eastern beach, usually referred to as Sunrise, or Hat Rin Nok (Outer Hat Rin), is what originally drew visitors here, a classic curve of fine white sand between two rocky slopes; there’s still some coral off the southern slope to explore, though the water is far from limpid these days. This beach is the centre of Hat Rin’s action, with a solid line of bars, restaurants and bungalows tucked under the palm trees.
Sunset beach, or Hat Rin Nai (Inner Hat Rin), which for much of the year is littered with flotsam, looks ordinary by comparison but has plenty of quieter accommodation. Unfortunately, development between the beaches does no justice to the setting: it’s ugly, cramped and chaotic, with new low-rise concrete shophouses thrown up at any old angle. Businesses here, concentrated around what’s known as Chicken Corner, where the southern transverse road meets the road along the back of Sunrise, include supermarkets, overseas phone facilities, dozens of internet outlets, plenty of ATMs and bank currency-exchange booths, as well as outlets for more outré services such as bikini waxing and Playstation rental. Half-hearted attempts to tart up the large body of water in the middle of the headland with a few park benches and lights have been undermined by all-too-accurate signposts pointing to “Hat Rin Swamp”.