Settling into Island Life – Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand

About three minutes after getting off the ferry, I was drenched. Damn its hot here! It didn’t help that I was sitting on a cement sidewalk outside the 7-11 trying to arrange for transportation. Finally I just gave into the persistent older Thai lady who offered “Taxi?” for the six hundredth time. I was glad of it when a brand new grey pickup truck showed up and whisked me off to the North of the island.

It only took about 20 minutes to get to Chalokum, a quaint fishing village I would stay in for the first two nights. The hotel Mandalai was modern and classy but something smelled fishy…literally. Now you know how much I love fishing and can tolerate the unpleasant odor that comes with it. But I discovered that just a few meters away from the hotel, hundreds of squid were laid out on racks to dry. It wasn’t a one time thing but actually a daily operation and we just happened to be downwind. I thought surely I would get used to it but I never did.

The tiny village was quaint and like stepping into Thailand, fifty years ago. I crossed paths with very few tourists and found the locals slightly timid. This certainly was no Bangkok. No vendors pressuring at me to buy their wares, no scantily clad lady boys parading around showing off their wares, and no reason in the world to feel I have to beware…this place felt super safe. No one was trying to rip me off and most were to shy even to meet my eyes.

I was pretty motivated to get a permanent residence sorted out so I contacted a real estate agent. I had found a few places I liked and we had arranged for viewings. Unfortunately, I forgot to factor in the fact that now I was on Island Time. This means that things get done in their own time and that appointments may or may not happen and if they do, it will never be on time. Ug.

Needless to say, after I calmed down and let things be, everything started to work out. I was super stoked to get the house that I had originally wanted which overlooks the sea. What is the point of moving to an island if you can’t see the water? I was tickled pink when the fully furnished house with its own beach was available for just the dates I needed. It was awesome when my agent no only helped me get a cell phone set up, but took me food shopping so I could stock my fridge.

I moved in and got relatively settled when it was time to head out to the south of the island where two big parties were taking place. The first festival was called Loy Krathong and was attended mostly by Thai locals. It was most certainly a family affair and it was a real honor to be able to participate. I bought my hand made “krathong” which was made from banana leaves, flowers, incense and candles.

 

The idea is that you release your small raft into the water and it symbolizes letting go of negativity so you can start life anew on a better foot. I pulled out some of my hair (didn’t have scissors) and bit off some fingernail which traditionally represent ones bad parts, to add to my offering to the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha. It was a serene and wonderful experience to watch all the Krathongs floating out into the sea. Many were lighting Khom Fai, which are sky lanterns which made the night that much more magical.

Next I made my way 15 minutes south to a festival which was a little less peaceful. The renown Full Moon Party in Haad Rin beckoned my curiosity. I had made the decision to stay sober for the event and I imagined I would likely be the only one. I think I was right.

They now charge 100 baht to enter the massive beach party but I had an inside track so I didn’t have to pay the ridiculous fee. I still have no idea what that surcharge is for or who gets it. As I navigated the narrow alleyways towards the music, a man asked me if I wanted some florescent paint. I shrugged and agreed since he said there would be no charge. It couldn’t hurt right? Little did I know, he was the ONLY person offering the service for free.

Others along the beach were charging hundreds of baht for a few swipes of the black light reactive paint. I guess I lucked out. I was actually quite pleased with my orange and blue dragon which spanned my back shoulder spiraling down my arm. As I checked out other partygoers ink throughout the night, I realized that not all were so lucky to have had a real artist.

The whole night was pretty much a gong show from start to finish. I only lasted until 3am and can’t imagine having stayed a minute longer. You know that point when you know its time to go home but you stick around because you don’t want to miss anything? Well, lucky for me I wasn’t fueled by the deadly mix of redbull/coke/Thai Whiskey and therefore my judgment wasn’t clouded. I knew that the only thing I would be missing is a sharp decline in moral decency. I shuddered to imagine just how disgusting the water would be by sunrise with all the urine and vomit that the drunks were already depositing on a regular basis. It costs 10 baht to use a toilet and most would rather put that towards a 200 baht bucket of death.

On the upside, the music was awesome, the set ups were grand, and the intermittent fireworks just punctuated the high notes. I did get a little worried when I saw several flares skim across the ocean exploding on the surface. It was striking and something I had never seen before. Probably because it is so unbelievably dangerous. The backdrop was perfect for an incredible beach party and I could imagine how it had gained such a worldwide reputation. I wondered what it was like years ago before it was spoiled by the air of irresponsibility and blatant disregard for others.

A few people stepped on and fell into me but I remained unscathed. I certainly didn’t require the services of the several medical centers smartly situated in the thick of it all. Many tried to have inebriated conversations but it all came out sideways in a language unbeknownst to me. Something about this being the best, the best ever, oh my god, the best…then they would add something to the effect of “I have never been this wrecked in my life”. The high grade Red Bull originated in Thailand and is more concentrated than the versions you get elsewhere. Countless others tripped (sand is a challenge for some on the best of days and with all the rubbish strewn about it became something of an obstacle course) and spilled their buckets everywhere.

It was comical to watch one young lads face morph from shock to utter misery stopping only for a moment in between to commemorate his beloved concoction seeping into the sand. After tipping it to his mouth with no avail, triple checking that all was infact lost, he angrily flung the empty bucket into the ocean. He kicked the sand sullenly shoving his hands into his pockets and I almost felt sorry for him for a second. Just then, his face lit up as he pulled out a few soggy wadded up forgotten bills. It was as if he’d won the lottery as he clutched his money flashing me a look of pure unadulterated joy before sprinting to the nearest drink stand. Oddly entertaining yet disturbing all at the same time.

I was happy to bound up my spiral stone staircase and slide open my patio doors. I nibbled on some healthy green mango and sipped some warm lemongrass tea as I wound down from my day. I crawled into my soft bed draped with luxurious white netting and snuggled into my pillows. I had passed a personal challenge I had unknowingly set for myself. I stayed completely lucid in a very difficult environment which was a huge accomplishment for me. I reflected on just how far I had come over the past two years. I am making better choices now and it shows in my smile.

Though its only a 20 minute drive, the full moon festivities seemed galaxies away from my little slice of heaven. The ground shaking bass of the party was replaced by the gentle splash of the surf kissing the sand below my bedroom window. There were no fireworks and sky lanterns…only the heavy light of the full moon reflecting off the shimmering sea. And the chaotic energy that was my reality an hour ago has now turned to calm stillness.

Grateful for steadfastness.

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