For my entire journey through Russia, Mongolia, China and what I guess you’d call northern Southeast-Asia, this was what I’d been waiting for. Actually, I’d been dreaming of this for my entire life. A tropical island in an exotic country with powder sand, fiery sunsets and a cerulean sea. And after an overnight ride in one of the more comfortable trains I’ve clanked about in, I was ready to embark towards one.
Koh Phangan, off the eastern coast of Thailand. The place has come to be known for drunken full moon parties, never mind if there’s a full moon or not, and I’d already met some travelers along the way with harrowing stories of roofie-fueled sodomy under the cover of crashing waves. This was far from my scene. Luckily, on an island as big as this one, you can still dig for some “realness” among all the depravity.
For the first couple of nights I’d checked into a resort full of unsuspecting Russian families with rising incomes. Sun loungers on the beach from where one could order a cool umbrella-adorned drink with the wave of a hand. These people, this place, could smell my lack of wealth. Still, it was the date of my birth and I was ready to splurge. Plus, the location was convenient to frequent the surrounding beach-side resort bars and lure unsuspecting French girls into a nearby “Pirate Bar” protected by a cove.
After a couple of days and nights of intelligence-gathering, I managed to nudge my way up the island. A hastily organized escape in the bed of a pickup truck took me to a location which I will not share. I’ve always hated travelers who tell these tales of unbelievable spots on an island somewhere, the location of which they won’t share out of fear of “ruining it”. Well now you all get to hate me.
The largest bungalow I’ve ever rented out, yet far from the most expensive one. A terrace over the water with a private beach encased by a rocky lagoon. A friendly Dutch expat owner with beautiful greenery. And most important of all, a hammock from where one could stare down sunsets upon sunsets, followed by the wild noises of the surrounding jungle and the lights of the stars and of squid boats with neon lights like the eyes of dragons.
During the slow days spent here I reached the peak of my happiness. Waking slowly to the heat of the day, reading a book, strolling to the closest restaurants through the water, sometimes swimming when I’d missed the tide. In the evenings, perfecting my drinks of local colas, spirits and M-150 mixed into 7-11 ice bags. The biggest drama being a drunken stumble through the canvas of my hammock.
Thinking back to these days brings an unbridled joy in my heart, followed by a grey gloom of the knowledge that it will likely be years before I return. And even when I do, will that hammock still be waiting for me with those same stars and sounds I’d grown to love?
Hanging onto this quiet desperation would be all too easy. Luckily, there would be more tranquility and beauty ahead. This may have been my peak, but the road back home would be filled with countless wonders. It was time to switch oceans.