Each place I visit feels similar to the one before but they all have a different energy—their own unique spirit. Walking through the streets of Koh Tao I pass stray dogs, chickens, tattoo shops and fruit stands, while a concoction of incense, massage oil and burning garbage waft through the air.
The smells in Thailand are distinct and ever changing, intensified by the intense humid heat. A stray puppy sunbathes in the middle of the road, inches away from speeding motorbikes and I drop my bag to carry him to safety. You’d think with the lack of rules, structure and safety measures in this country there would be constant chaos but somehow, in some divine some way, it all just works.
A day hasn’t gone by where I haven’t found myself lost at some point. Being lost here is nothing like being lost back home. All of my senses are bombarded with everything foreign—the buildings, the people, the writing, the sounds and smells, the heat, even the roosters look different and cats don’t meow the same. And even amongst the other tourists I am still a foreigner.
This new environment is a lot to adapt to. I walk past the same places each day and still get lost on the way back to my bungalow. The dirt roads have no structure to them at all—it’s a giant maze of pathways winding and intersecting around the most random mix of homes, bars, markets and bungalows (usually I can’t even distinguish those from each other) with no signs or markings anywhere. Picture someone shook up a bag of buildings, dropped them onto the earth and wherever they landed is where they stayed.
It’s as if the thick, humid air is created by the abundance of positive energy emitted from every soul on the island. We’re all riding the same higher wavelength here, existing in this alternate universe apart from the rest of the world. In the past two weeks I have not seen a single angry, sad or upset face… have you ever gone one day without encountering that in some form? It’s fascinating how our mind, thoughts and actions change in the absence of all negativity.
Before leaving I’d always read how important it was to have theft-proof everything—backpacks, purses, locks, wire mesh bag covers, money belts, even personal safes. From what I’ve experienced so far… it’s all completely unnecessary. Maybe it’s because I’m not living in fear but I feel very safe on this island. The only moment of panic came while running from an angry feral dog down a dirt road in the middle of the night, and I’m sure that I’m often moments away from death on these motorbikes, but the people are friendly and kind and I trust my intuition. If I hadn’t been vulnerable and placed myself in uncomfortable situations, I wouldn’t be here right now. Everything you want is on the other side of fear…
After getting my henna tattoo on the second day on the island, I made friends with an Austrian diving instructor who told me about another snorkeling spot with baby sharks and even better coral reefs. We hopped on his bike the next day, made our way down to the crowded Aow Leuk beach and jumped in with our snorkel gear. This experience blew away the first one. The reef was deep and plentiful with new colorful species of fish, coral and life forms I’ve only seen on Nat Geo. I got a lesson in free diving, we found nemos and yes, even swam with baby sharks… unforgettable.
The rest of my days consisted of one or more of the following events: Wake at sunrise. Walk next door to the dive shop in hopes of a good wifi signal, drink coffee, chat with the crew and work on my laptop. Walk over a bridge across the bay, past bungalows, bars and markets to an authentic french cafe for iced coffee and the most buttery, delicious croissants and muesli I’ve ever tasted. Use their wifi signal to work for a few hours, chat with more new people. Walk back to my bungalow and grab my camera to take photos and/or edit them. Snuggle my adopted kitty and nap in the hammock. Go for a swim in the ocean. Shop at the markets. Meet up with new friends I’ve met that day and go for a drive around the island, or find a new restaurant or bar. Return back to my bungalow in the wee morning hours. Repeat the cycle.
At dusk, the beach bar next door to my bungalow lights torches and candles in preparation for the night fire show. As the sky darkens, bars and restaurants all along the bay begin to illuminate in every color, initiating the islands distinctly different night vibe.
I met a couple Germans who told me about a Castle Party they have weekly here on the island and went to check it out that night after dinner at an amazing Indian restaurant. We walked into a dark entryway, up a set of winding concrete stairs and pathways to find ourselves at the top of what seemed to be an abandoned castle. There were seating areas scattered about with two bars playing drum & bass mixed with trance/pop music. Definitely an environment I could never imagine existing back home—foreign in every sense. I’ve been dropped into an Abercrombie catalog—surrounded by tall, slender and sculpted, cultured multilingual interesting Europeans and I’ve been missing out on this new world. There’s something in Europe’s water, I’m telling you… a breeding ground for perfect specimens. Sometimes I don’t want to go back to America.
The crowd grew denser as the night went on and people sipped on Thai beer and rum and inhaled nitrous oxide balloons (yes, they dispense them at the bars here). Below our feet was a ground was of wood slats which bounced and swayed as we danced, all moving together, riding the same wavelength. It began to rain and we embraced the water as it purified the sticky air and cooled our bodies. Rain turned into a downpour which only increased the energy level and turned the night into magic for those of us alive in that moment.
Thailand has a 12am sound curfew, so around that time the party switched to a “silent disco”—everyone has headphones on with two different music channels and they danced together in silence. I’d never heard of such a thing but apparently it exists in other parts of the world and it was interesting to witness—like watching a night club scene in a movie on mute. The Castle Party was an experience… a night I’ll never forget.
What I’ve learned in the time I’ve been here is that our lives, ways of living and thinking and doing, may be polar opposites but the one thing that brings us all together is music. It’s crazy how you can be struggling to communicate with someone in the most basic way but then Beyoncé comes on, and you’re singing the same words and dancing the same moves and sharing that same feeling and experience. Music is the common denominator in all of us.
It’s interesting being surrounded by people who grew up in completely different conditions and cultures than you. They often can’t relate to or understand references that are so ingrained in your upbringing and formed your thoughts and opinions about the world. It can be an isolating feeling sometimes but I crave these new interactions and soak up information like a sponge. I feel fortunate to have been let in to a circle of friends on the island. They teach me German words and phrases and I help with their English pronunciation and attempt to explain funny jokes. We laugh at meanings that get lost in translation and I think of all the new souls I have yet to meet who will forever change me.
Geographically I couldn’t be farther from California, but here on the other side of the world I’ve never felt more at home.
On Sunday I said goodbye to the islands and this afternoon I’ll be on a plane to Chiang Mai in the north. There are a few more stories to tell before the next leg of my adventure… it’s been hard to keep up in real time with so much happening. I’ll check in very soon with the final installment of my southern Thailand experience…