Well, I said goodbye to the luxury of Samahita retreat this morning, after one final yoga session and feeding frenzy. I then, miraculously, just made it in one piece to the ferry pier on the northern coast of the island, having experienced thai road-rage at too-close quarters on the hair-raising journey there. Seriously, our driver’s overtaking obsession was psychotic and he seemed to be a very, very angry man; we spent most of the journey pretty much attached to the back of whichever poor vehicle had the misfortune of being in front of us.
Our journey took us through the very touristy and sadly uglified east coast area of Chaweng, which made me appreciate the unspoilt beauty of the coastline where I had been staying, but also made me feel guilty that I am likely to have been part of the initial patter of footsteps that will eventually turn to a stampede, flattening the essence of the idyllic beauty that attracted visitors in the first place.
It is a strange fact that a location’s outstanding beauty is often its downfall. As the trickle of tourists becomes a flood, the charm and beauty of the place is gradually eroded. And when that happens, the type of tourist inevitably changes to those who are less interested in the landscape and culture and more interested in replicating the party towns from their home country in a more tropical climate. And so a vicious cycle develops and the beautiful landscape slowly suffocates below the oppressive weight of countless sports bars and concrete hotels, until you see something like THIS, horror of horrors:
Love the fact they try and soften the blow with the Lotus branding…
Anyway, stepping off my soapbox… I now find myself on the neighbouring island of Koh Phagnan, which is the original backpacker hang-out island from the late eighties and has a reputation for having retained some if its original hippy charm. However, conversely, it is also the epicentre of the infamous Thailand Full Moon Party, whereby young backpackers congregate on the beach of Had Rin once a month to drink cocktails out of buckets, wear luminous garb and glow-paint, possibly take drugs and definitely dance like nutters all night. The island suddenly becomes packed with young, hedonistic revellers, accommodation is booked out and prices rocket. Thankfully there won’t be one whilst I’m here – definitely a ‘last decade’ experience for me, plus I’m not sure my body could have re-calibrated quickly enough after my week of peace and tranquility. Although I probably could have been tempted, just for the experience (and I do love a good dance).
Instead, I’m here on a specific mission: to learn to scuba dive and hopefully get my Open Water PADI certificate, which will enable me to scuba dive anywhere in the world. My three day course starts tomorrow and I am very excited and rather nervous too. I basically just had to sign a death waiver (although I was assured it’s very safe as long as I follow all the instructions – I will be avidly listening to the instructors like the class nerd tomorrow, that’s for sure). I got a good deal, with four nights’ free accommodation, through a British-run diving school and, as such, I find myself residing in something that is a far-cry from the health-conscious Samahita retreat. Here, the diner menu boasts delights such as the ‘northerner’ breakfast (a complete meat-fest fry-up) and the drinks menu is mostly cocktails. It makes me chuckle a lot – from one culinary extreme to another, my body won’t know what’s hit it.
It’s slightly odd adjusting to such a different atmosphere – having been so introspective and quiet for the last week I am struggling to absorb all the sudden external stimuli – old-time classics blaring out of the stereo, posters shouting deals about the next pool party and lots of jokey, crude banter. But I’m enjoying it – I have an irrepressible ability to embrace and enjoy a huge variety of life’s different facets – perhaps that’s why I’m still confused about what I should be doing with my life in my thirties! My accommodation is also a brilliant contrast to my luxury studio at Samahita – put it this way, I feel I am enjoying an authentic piece of 1980s beach bungalow backpacker life, in that my bungalow looks like it hasn’t been renovated since those early days.
The old-school charm of my beach bungalow accommodation – basically a bed in a tiny, sweaty wooden shack with a fan.
This afternoon I visited the once weekly ‘walking market’ of Thong Sala, which was a brilliant mix of gorgeous-smelling, intriguing foodstalls, backpacker clothing and jewelry. The stall-owners were also an interesting mix of locals and long-time hippy westerners who have adopted the island as their own. However, the best thing about the market was watching it disappear before my eyes like a mirage, just before one of the incredibly violent tropical storms blew through the town. The stall-owners must have a special storm-sense, and I have never seen such efficient dismantling of tables and rails in my life.
Fruits of the market (the pink one is dragonfruit).
This is a common street-food delicacy – tiny poached partridge eggs, a few of which are then served together in a ‘bowl’ made of a banana leaf – the thais sure do love their eggs.
Also this afternoon I experienced what someone rather other-worldly at Samahita had referred to as ‘the universe providing’. She was a young woman, possibly around my age, who had decided her life mission was to travel the world on a voyage of yoga discovery. I expressed open-mouthed awe and envy that she had made such a life possible and she retorted that anyone could do it. “If you want something enough, you can make it happen. The universe will provide.” She was very matter-of-fact about it, but didn’t leave me convinced. However, on my way to the market today, I thought to myself how much I would like a massage, but I had already spent far too much money on the yoga week and now diving so I needed to abstain. At that moment, I spotted a sign for a holistic healing centre and, almost involuntarily, I found myself walking down a dirt track towards it. On arrival, I met a really friendly thai lady who asked if I had some spare time to act as the ‘body’ for one of her students in thai massage to practise on. Of course I assented with great pleasure and spent a very happy hour being diligently palpated and prodded by the student under the tutor’s watchful eye. I couldn’t help but think back to that girl’s words – it did indeed appear that the universe had provided in this small matter, as if to show me that it could. Even better, I had a really good chat with the trainer and student alike afterwards, and think that I myself might undergo the thai massage training next week, once my dive course is over – learning to massage properly is something I’ve wanted to do for ages, and it feels like maybe the universe is providing again, in which case who am I to argue?!