All of the best things to be seen in Bangkok are safely tucked away from the main streets.
I’ve been falling into this habit: when anything happens, when I do anything of note, I think to myself, ‘what was I doing, where was I exactly a year ago?’
In the case of this past weekend, the answers were more or less the same. Last year, I made this video of my first time at any festival in Thailand.
This year, there was also lots of wandering around Chinatown to explore the Buddhist Vegetarian Festival. While I am perfectly content to mill around dark alleyways and crowded intersections by myself for hours, I couldn’t help but wish that I had friends to share in these experiences with. I’ve learned so much of the lay of the land in Bangkok and I wonder what will happen to all of this knowledge once I’m not in Thailand anymore. Will my sense of direction get fuzzy? Probably.
I suppose I had better enjoy it as much as I possibly can for now.
It’s a familiar story.
Girl goes to live abroad in Thailand, girl gets a 4-day weekend.
Girl gets dropped off in the middle of nowhere, gets caught in a freak monsoon and irked by a pig.
Alright, maybe I have your attention now.
This is how my first weekend in August started out. This trip to Koh Mak was, without a doubt, the strangest getaway I have been on to date.
For the amount of foresight that went into planning this trip (scanning the internet for routes of transport to the island, best guesthouses on the island, most beautiful beaches, the usual) nothing turned out right. At least at first.
Stephanie (friend & volunteer with the organization I work for), Adam (by now, a familiar face on the blog), and I decided on going to Koh Mak, a tiny island in far southeastern Thailand near the border of Cambodia. Koh Mak is known for being isolated, rustic, and free of the hoards of tourists that clog the beaches of the more well-known Thai islands. It sounded perfect. We made plans to take a overnight bus from Nakhon Ratchasima to Trat Province, where we would meet up with Adam.
Once again, I was shuttled onto an overnight bus that had oversold tickets and crammed people into aisles for the 7-hour journey. Luckily, Stephanie and I managed to get the last seats on the bus.
I popped motion sickness pills, not because I get motion sick, but because it’s an excellent way to ensure sleep on less than ideal, mobile sleeping environments. I’ve received sage advice that listening to the Planet Money podcast has similar effects.
I woke up around 4 in the morning, the bus having pulled into the Trat bus station. We crawled into a song taew packed with Thai and foreign tourists (everyone else was going to the popular island of Koh Chang). Half an hour later, Stephanie are dumped at what can only be described as a backpacker holding pen.
MY WORST NIGHTMARE.
Dreadlocked, wayward youths sipping beers, taking drags from their cheap cigarettes, and downing beef & basil at 5 in the morning. I looked around with contempt and got pretty disappointed in myself that I had ended up here (even though there was really nowhere else to go). We waited in line and bought ferry tickets to Koh Mak from a company that probably doesn’t even exist. We were given vague details of where to find the dock with our boat. I felt pretty duped, taken advantage of.
Stephanie grabbed some breakfast and I sit and cheerily seethe in a way that only I can imagine doing. I decided to go looking for the mythical dock, as the sun had started to rise. Stephanie and I walk for about 10 minutes and find could only have been our dock. There were a few people milling about, but no boat companies to speak of.
This whole time we had ventured outside, we had a conversation that will go down as one of the dumbest conversations I’ve had in my life. We walked along commenting on the sky – “Wow, the sky looks really weird right now!” “Oh, look how black it is over there.” “This is so strange. The dock and the sky. What are we doing?”
What the heck were we thinking?! LOOK AT THIS SKY!
Somehow, we did not manage to put 2 and 2 together to figure out that we would soon be stranded outside in a really intense storm, without shelter.
Really dumb, I know.
As you would easily be able to predict, we got soaked. Every inch of our bodies, our hair, our clothes, our backpacks. And there were no boats either. We were told to go back.
Cranky and wet, we retreated. I squeezed the water out of my skirt and warmed up with some instant coffee.
Then I noticed this pet pig who kept on wandering around and wiggling his piggy nose.
And as much as I insist that my life in Thailand isn’t very exciting, I had to admit that this morning with the dock and the rain and the pig, this morning that was going on forever was truly surreal. I had to stop and say to myself, “Okay, this isn’t normal. My life is strange.”
After some lounging and minimal drying out, we went back to the dock. And waited. We didn’t know what boat company would take our tickets, and none of them did. We watched boats come and go for 6 hours. And Adam still hadn’t shown up from Bangkok.
I was getting irritated at how unrelaxing this relaxing beach vacation was turning out.
And then I turned my head and saw Adam not 5 feet from me! “Adam!” I yelled.
He had taken a chance and gotten off his bus early. Had he not gone with his gut, we would have missed him entirely! 10 minutes later, we had all found seats on the crowded ferry. Tired by the morning’s events, I slept most of the way (sleeping on boats is a special talent of mine).
Like most islands, you step off the ferry and are greeted by touts and trucks taking you to their guesthouses. There was one guesthouse we wanted to stay, but for some reason the driver wouldn’t let us get on. We boarded another truck with the name of a guesthouse I had recognized from my online research – Baan Koh Mak or something like that. Since it’s the low season, guesthouses and accommodation can be harder to come by on the islands, so we had to take what we could get.
Driving through the island, sitting in the back of the truck, I could see how thoroughly off the tourist trail we were.
We were taken to a remote corner of the island. We were only guests on this beach, at this guesthouse. Our bungalow was right on the beach, the waves crashed right outside our doorstep.
This all might have felt perfect, but because of the day’s events, it just felt a little creepy.
We spent the afternoon reading aloud to each other on the porch of the bungalow and played cards and drank lao pun. We wanted to eat fish given that, you know, we were on an island, but for some reason, there were no fish to had on the entire island. This might have been the weirdest thing of all.
The night was stormy and we slept unsoundly thanks to the cracks and gaps in the walls, our proximity to the sea, and the fact that all three of us were crowded onto a bed that was definitely not built for 3 non-Thai-height people.
The mosquito net was kind of dreamy though.
It was quickly decided that we would look for more centrally located accommodation the next day.
Our first full day on the island shook off all of the weird vibes we had accumulated from the day before. The sky was perfect and the sea was clear and it was exactly what we needed. We easily found a new place to stay. We shared our new guesthouse with a group of high schoolers on a tour and we spent a great deal of time watching them and speculating about them.
We coated ourselves in coconut oil, not for better bronzing, but because it’s a natural sand flea repellant. I learned that sand flea bites don’t hurt but will leave a small red dot that fades quickly.
Much laying out and lounging in the warm gulf waters was done. It was finally shaping up to be the beachy vacation we were all hoping for. We laid down on the sand and let the water lap the backs of our legs, our backs, our arms.
Rosy cheeked and tired from the sun, we spent the afternoons curled up in hammocks, reading. This is all I ask of any vacation, ever. Copious amounts of reading time.
At night, we lay under a different mosquito, reading more stories and having hours-long conversations.
For all of the strangeness, it turned out as peacefully and restfully as I had hoped.
Except, really, how could an island not have fish? Tell me, please.
day & sunset from our favorite view of the ocean from Koh Mak: