Southern Island Saturnalia
Your dear author's quest to spend Christmas in a literal paradise necessitated that we take a domestic Thai flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani, which is in in the southern area of the country. We left some of our luggage with our host for the time being, and took a bus from Pattaya to Bangkok in order to catch the aforementioned flight. It's only a two hour bus ride from Pattaya to Bangkok, so I planned on soaking in the view of The Big Mango from afar, knowing full well that I would probably end up working there in the next month or so.
For reasons unknown, I didn't pay any attention to the scenery outside until we were well inside Bangkok and it was far too late to catch the sight of a cityscape, or anything close to it. One explanation is, perhaps this, that while there were plenty of sights to take in from the view outside afforded by my seat, the goings-on inside the bus were interesting in their own right. Namely, the amount of puking going on. During one stop that we made along the route, a group of numerous passengers, along with the driver, were lined up against a fence. Folks were either excreting bodily fluids (vomit and/or urine) or smoking cigarettes. Some appeared to be doing both. This behavior wasn't limited to pit stops, however, as the woman sitting next to me alternated between rocking a child situated on her knee, and horking repeatedly into a paper bag. The whole trip was quite surreal, and I was glad to be in the relative safety of an airport once we reached our destination at last.
The flight itself was something out of a dream. A dream of violent turbulence. Jokes aside, it really wasn't that bad, especially considering the fact that it cost less than twenty dollars. The worst part of the endeavor was landing, the motions of which had two of us white knuckling the armrests, as if our stress and concern could do anything to stabilize the fuselage on it's landing gear. After arriving in Surat Thani, we took a bus to the pier in hopes of catching an overnight boat to Koh Samui, which is one of three popular islands in the region. Koh Samui is the largest and most accommodating to tourists. There is also Koh Tao, which is famous mostly for its vibrant scuba diving culture. Caught in the middle of these two beauties is Koh Phangan, which is known internationally for the renowned full moon parties that it hosts at least once a month, if that wasn't obvious enough.
During our short bus ride, we were fortunate enough to meet two strapping young Aussie women, Sienna and Izzie, that were in the same predicament as us. A stroke of mutual good luck for both parties involved, we stayed together for the entirety of our time on Koh Samui. Upon reaching the pier we were told that the area around the islands had become unpredictable, with a chance of storms, and only one boat was willing to depart for the night voyage. Much to my chagrin, the group decided to bunk in town for the night and make the jaunt across the drink in the morning. This decision, however, proved not to be an entirely bad, for I got to spend my first night in a hostel, which was certainly something to cross off of the bucket list.
The morning brought with it a forty five minute bus ride to another pier, and a trip across the water on a high speed catamaran. All of this shuffling around proved to be worth the wait when we arrived on the docks of Koh Samui, adjusting back to the feel of land beneath our feet and swinging lazily to and fro in the trade winds, like the verdant palms covering almost every inch of land available to the human eye. Although completely different in nature from the experience of visiting Angkor Wat, what these two places share in common is the fact that if you would have told me one year ago that I would have been to either of them in the flesh, I would have broken down in utter disbelief. For fear of turning into a pillar of salt, however, I shall refrain from dwelling on what I have left behind. Finding myself in a new place and amid new brethren, my eyes are focused unflinchingly on the future, or at least that's what I like to tell myself in fleeting moments of self-doubt. Onward:
We wasted no time in finding accommodations, and soon found ourselves crossing the vestibule of a wonderful little hostel called Chill Inn, located right on the waterfront. Complete with a kitchen, a bar, ash trays always within arms reach, plenty of places to lounge about, and with the beach mere feet away, a more ideal location could not have been found as far as my needs were concerned. Chill Inn is operated by a wonderfully congenial dutchman by the name of Simon, who knows all that there is to know about navigating this earthly paradise. Equally delightful was his Thai wife, who helps him to manage the hostel and to create a friendly atmosphere for guests. We had originally intended on moving around the island more and staying in a couple of different hostels but Chill Inn proved to be so incredibly hospitable that we saw no reason to leave throughout the rest of our stay on the island.
In addition to Sienna and Izzy, we met another kindred soul shortly after checking in at the hostel. He goes by the name of Kris, he hails from Norway, and to this day I reckon that he's as good a man as any that have tread upon the earth's surface. The six of us began to frequent a nearby reggae-themed bar, also on the waterfront, which featured a nice sound system and a variety of music that seemed to appeal to the taste of all involved, at one time or another. We spent a day at some notable waterfalls, and I saw an elephant for the first time. I also saw a tiger on a leash. Both animals appeared to be treated with extreme malice. The elephant was skinny, worn out, and had a look in its eye which I find impossible to describe with accuracy. The tiger was so fat that its stomach was dragging along the ground. Seeing a creature that majestic and supreme subjected to the role of a circus freak made me feel all sorts of fucked up, and it does to this day. I'm not sure whether to feel better or worse for the human beings that are treated in a similar manner the world over, on a daily basis.
Now is the time for me to relate the story of my conversion at the Green Mango. The group decided to go out one night, and we chose a club on a different part of the island with that name as our destination. All of us went forward un to the night with the nearly innocent intentions of simply having a grand night of drinking and dance. The night, however, had other intentions for your dear author. Without going into too much detail, I must simply state that a woman was sniffing eagerly for fresh blood on the dance floor, and in her quest she found me. Lucky her! I experienced a night of dance that rocked my 5'6” frame entirely, and after all was said and done I felt that I had truly been welcomed into the country at last.
It has been said that all good things must come to an end. Purveyors of such garbage were clearly not among our group for while we were about to depart for a new island, we ended sailing into an even better time on the calm sands of Koh Tao, a smaller and less populated island paradise, although two British backpackers were savagely bludgeoned there in the year of our lord, 2014. We left Izzie, Sienna, and Kris in Koh Samui, and thus we were a threesome once again, but it is certainly not for this reason that I enjoyed my time in Koh Tao more than in Koh Samui. In addition to the more intimate social atmosphere offered by the island, I enjoyed the prices of beer and other provisional items, which proved to be somewhat diminished with respect to the tourist haven of Samui. It was also on Koh Tao that I tried eating insects for the first time! (With an exception of sampling the leg of a tarantula on the side of a highway in Cambodia, it was cooked of course) Silk Worms and Crickets were the fare of the evening, although Silk Worms proved to be much more palatable, in my opinion. There is less work involved in chewing them to a mush than with crickets.
We stayed at a brand new hostel called Gecko Republic Jungle Hostel. Their level of hospitality was incomparable to anything I have ever experienced anywhere. Offering free rides to different parts of the island and providing free home-baked snacks on the regular, they are well on their way to becoming an amazing hostel. The pod bunks are spacious, clean, and comfortable, which is more than can be said of most hostels, I 'm told. The staff were warm and informative, and this were constantly providing us with the resources to make the most of our time on Koh Tao, for the least amount of money. Tragedy can only be prevented to a certain extent, however, for I lost three hats on late night drives on the back of their truck! I realize this is completely my own fault, and I take full responsibility for my losses. I shall not even begin to describe these hats in detail for the pain that would necessarily be involved is such that my keyboard would no longer cease to function, being soaked in my own fat tears of self-pity. Suffice it to say that they were beautiful; your illustrious and dear old dad of an author was a figurative bird of paradise while on Koh Tao.
In addition to some of the best food I have ever eaten in my entire life, sans bugs, Koh Tao offers nightlife which should not in any way be missed. Our night crew consisted of a scotsman, a Mexican who, while cordial, preferred not to drink, a few Frenchmen, a handful of Dutch women, a couple of Germans, and a Tunisian along with our merry selves. There is something of a party on the beach every night, complete with fire dancers, drinks that can be ordered by the bucket, and so many genres of electronic music blaring from the beach front that there is certain to be something for every kind of discriminating ear. The three of us took part in a pub crawl (during which I received my favorite tank top as of this writing, matter of fact) and while ultimately coming across as more than fairly 'bro,' it turned out to be the catalyst for a good evening, including a pool party and free admission to a ladyboy cabaret show. How scandalous indeed.
An anecdote: One night I was participating in the nights festivities and enjoying the visual delights provided by the fire dancers. Games of fire-limbo, jump-rope-on-fire, and jump-through-the-ring-of-fire were commencing as usual. All of the sudden, I noticed a familiar body shape leap through the circular inferno only to land in the wee end of the surf, laughing like a drunken hyena. Why, it was our Kris! After gathering himself together, he announced that he had gotten bored on Koh Samui after we had left, and had followed suit to Koh Tao. He had been drinking on the beach for at least eight hours by the time that I found him. In fact, he wasn't at all happy with the place that he had booked a room at. It was loud, uncomfortable, warm, and full of bedbugs. We convinced him to come to Gecko Republic, and upon visiting the establishment, was dead-set on joining us there.
As far as daytime activities are concerned, there is much to relate. I have already mentioned that the island is a paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers. Not having a license for scuba diving, Collum, Sarah, and I decided to try our hand at Snorkeling. What was experienced upon my behalf was nothing short of a miracle and I plan to get my scuba certification as soon an prudently possible. If I can send any message to you it is that the opportunity to experience the visual delights of the underwater world firsthand is an opportunity unlike any other, and should be taken advantage of as soon as possible. Aside from snorkeling, we enjoyed driving motorbikes around the island whenever the chance arouse, which culminated in the trip to a spot for photos overlooking Koh Tao and Koh Nang-Yuan.
Speaking of Koh Nang-Yuan, it is a tiny, photogenic island that we visited at the end of our snorkeling adventure. It is by far one of the most photogenic spots I have ever seen in my life. Even by western standards, the amount of money required to spend any significant amount of time at this site of earthly perfection is exorbitant. Enjoying it's view from the top of Koh Tao was certainly one of the most interesting ways I have ever spent a holiday vacation.
On that note, spending Christmas in a buddhist country was rather strange. In America, we usually associate Thanksgiving and Christmas with eating insane amounts of good food. In this respect, my experience in Thailand was no different. Good food is everywhere. However, other than heavenly food and locals yelling out “Merry Christmas” at the sight of my santa hat, it was a different celebration than I have ever enjoyed. For the most part, the three of us celebrated the holiday by taking our motorbikes to a place called “Freedom Beach.” As true blue Americans, it felt only right to celebrate ol Uncle Sam on this day of days, if only nominally. The beach was clean and the lone bar nearby pumped the music of Bob Marley from its speakers all day long. Personally, this was everything that I could have expected from a place called “Freedom Beach.”
After a few weeks of island life, I was feeling quite refreshed and invigorated. I was by all means ready to crawl back into the working world with some much needed pep in my step. We took another high speed catamaran across the water back to Surat Thani, where we subjected ourselves the distinct pleasures of domestic Thai flight. Aside from another bus ride to Pattaya that we only embarked upon in order to retrieve our luggage, our island furlough had finished at last. For the next entry, I will relate my first impressions of Bangkok as well as the quest I undertook to find gainful employment. Until then, nerds.