Sunshine, Beach Dogs, Good Food and Even a Lizard: Relaxing on Ko Pha-Ngan (Matt)
Aug 13, 2007
|The ferry from Ko Samui lowers its teetering rusty gangway to the pier as the boat tilts back and forth in the rough waves. The wind is blowing. The boat had been tilting on the large rollers during the trip from Ko Samui, sending luggage that was stacked in the middle of the deck into disarray. Now we are moored to the rickety pier. Laura and I strap our bags to our backs and try to think light thoughts as we scurry over the gangway and the frothy waves below. We've arrived. Before us is the town of Haad Rin.
Haad Rin is famous for the full moon party, a huge all-night drunken mess splayed across the beach there each month. As we walk through the town, it is obvious that the party doesn't stop when the moon is less than full. Grocery stores prominently display bottles of rum, gin, and vodka. Tattoo shops, internet cafes, bars, and restaurants (blaring videos of Hollywood blockbusters to the bleary-eyed, early-afternoon risers eating their British breakfasts of sausages, eggs, and beans).
We stop at a mediterranean restaurant (which really just means Israeli) and have a cheap tasty lunch of falafel in a pita. Music blares through loudspeakers at the deadlocked mostly Israeli customers (who look at us curiously). Every song is about pot or getting drunk.
We will not be staying in Haad Rin, however. Before long, we are in a longtail boat on our way to Haad Tien, a small beach just a short trip away. We pull up on the sand and scan the huts nestled along the beach and further back into the rainforest. Where the sandy beach ends, palm trees and long grass grow. Narrow paths through the grass lead to the various "resorts". I leave Laura with our bags and head off in search of a suitable hut.
We settle upon one perched on a hillside overlooking the ocean. The beach is just a few minutes walk away. The first night, we stay in a cheaper ($10) hut with its bathroom open to the sky. We change rooms to a larger one and enclosed bathroom later; Laura doesn't want to get rained on when using the bathroom at night.
The days that follow become a routine of relaxation. Our alarm clock wakes us at 7:30 each morning so we can walk down to a nearby resort (called The Sanctuary) for our yoga class. At our first class, I choose not to bring my own mat and walk to the back of the screened-in yoga room for one of theirs. The class starts. I have my hands extended over my head when I feel something on the back of my neck. It feels big. Instinctively, I quickly reach to brush it off. It feels big. There is something back there and I'm not sure if its inside my shirt. Everyone around me is peacefully doing their exercises. Immediately, I feel a stinging burning sensation on my neck and on my index finger where I touched it. The burning in my finger intensifies. I try to get Laura's attention.
"Is there something on my back?" I whisper.
She looks and shakes her head. I look around on the floor and see nothing. What WAS that!?!?
I continue with the class, ignoring the burning in my finger and neck. A while later, Laura points to the corner of the room, then motions to the floor between our mats.
"Scorpion!" she says.
It turns out that I was stung by a scorpion that was crawling inside my shirt during class. I never saw it, but Laura said it was greyish brown and about two inches long.
Needless to say, I brought my own yoga mat for the remainder of our classes. I can only guess that the scorpion was folded inside the mat and fell onto my shirt when I took it off the wall.
Happily, future yoga classes were much more relaxing. The teacher was good (and pretty to look at, according to Laura) and I learned a lot from him about the complexities of postures that I'd previously thought were very simple.
After returning to our "resort" for a bowl of muesli, fruit, and yoghurt, our afternoons would be spent at a beautiful white sand beach (called Haad Yuan) just a short walk away. We would relax on beach chairs, read, float in the warm turquoise water, stopping only to eat lunch before returning again. Unfortunately, the water also has its share of jellyfish. Swimming comes with its share of stings. Though I feel brief stings, Laura reacts much more strongly: she emerged one afternoon with two welts across her ankle and red spots across her abdomen. They must be very small though, as I never actually saw a jellyfish ... just felt its sting.
A highlight of our time in Haad Tien is Sherri who runs the restaurant at our resort. At one of our first meals, I told her I like spicy food and love basil. The next night, she hands us a menu and quietly asks if I'd like to try a red curry with basil. Of course, I reply. Red curry isn't on the menu and I know she's making it specially for me.
The curry, when it arrives, is very tasty and spicy enough that there are few people I know who could eat it. Its wonderful. Laura has a similar dish but with 1/3 the chillies, we're told. Sherri appears very happy when she collects our empty plates!
From then on, I stop looking at the menu. Each night, Sherri has a suggestion for a special dish, "thai style" she always says, implying that much of the food on menus has been watered down somehow for the tourists. Yellow curry with shrimp. Fried thick noodles with chicken and basil. One night she tells us she has a treat: mango and sticky rice. I can honestly say its the best mango and sticky rice I've tasted. We gobble it up greedily. Finally, for the first time in our trip, we have found someone who will make the food spicy. Spicy enough that my mouth burns for about 30 minutes after eating. Its great.
When I checked in to the resort, I told Sherri how nice and quiet it was. "Not on Fridays," she tells us sadly. "They have a party at the bar on Fridays" she explains, motioning toward some neighbouring bungalows and restaurants across the beach from us. "Its loud."
Friday came and we, naively, hoped for the best. At 10PM, there wasn't any music. The party must not be happening, we figure. At around 11PM, it begins.
The bar must have a very impressive sound system. Not only does it sound like there is a stereo system blaring music right inside your room (earplugs made no difference), but the clarity was perfect. Every nuance, every techno buzz, pop, simulated jet engine whirr, and thudding drum beat was perfectly, crystal clear.
At 2AM, we were getting impatient for it to stop. By 3AM, it was getting stupid. By 5AM, we'd realized we weren't likely to sleep that night. At 7:30, a techno version of "Another One Bites the Dust" bopped across the forest into our room and I guessed it might be winding down. Then the Sinatra-swing versions of Beastie Boys tunes began.
By 8AM, the music stopped. A crowd cheered. I was in the midst of a dream in which I was fighting the bar owner to turn down the music while also trying to convince him I wasn't too old to attend the party. An hour later, I woke and couldn't sleep any longer. The evening ranks with Gorakphur in India as one of our worst sleeps during the trip.
A week passed quickly in our little bungalow. Soon, we will have to leave, to say farewell to Sherri and the beach dogs who like to jump on the back of Laura's flip-flops. Farewell to the mangy dog with the nasty red eye who follows us home occasionally and sleeps in front of our door, guarding us. Farewell to the foot-long baby Monitor lizard that welcomed us home, perched proudly on the wall over our bathroom door. Farewell to the beautiful beach and our morning yoga class. Soon, but not quite yet.
In the meantime, I'm trying to decide whether to attend a meditation retreat (I probably will) and, if so, whether I will go to one here on Ko Pha-Ngan or on the mainland. The experience is difficult: no communication of any kind, no reading, no entertainment, for 10 days. Waking at 4AM, learning meditation techniques, following a rigorous schedule, eating only rice soup. Perhaps I'm crazy ... but I also like a challenge.
Our time on Ko Pha-Ngan isn't finished yet, but our time to leave Haad Tien is nearing.
For those who might be planning a trip, I've started writing a "travel tips" blog to share some of what we've learned over the last year. You can view it at http://tips-for-travelling.blogspot.com/ Share it with your friends and let me know if you have any suggestions of your own!