Today, near sunset, Steve and I stepped off the ferry at Haad Rin Harbor onto Koh Phangan, an island in southern Thailand, widely known as a backpacker haven and the home of the infamous Full Moon Party. We boarded a dusty blue truck (songthaew) with a few other travelers, and rode the dipping, screeching truck for almost half an hour over the hilly island before spilling onto Haad Yao in the northwest corner of the island where we were staying. Upon first impressions, Koh Phangan is gorgeous. Our songthaew took us over a dozen hills and valleys at breakneck pace, and at times, we could catch a glimpse of the sun setting over a glittering ocean. When we got into our room, the first thing we did was change into bathing suits and run down the road for the beach.
And it was endlessly gorgeous. Haad Yao is a long sandy beach that curves to face west, and we walked the length of it in the ankle-length water, savoring the sunset. The sun had just disappeared behind the low cloud cover on the horizon, but it lit up everything else. We kept looking up as we walked, as the sunset changed by the minute, tinting the delicate, thin clouds at first a dusty pink and lavender and then changing to saffron, orange, and red. I couldn’t get over how incredibly wide that sky was above us. I didn’t bring my camera because I deliberately wanted to absorb that first sunset, but even if I did, I wouldn’t have known where to begin taking pictures. I wished that I had a large enough lens to capture the entire horizon of the sunset, because you have to see the full spectrum of that sky, from the silhouette of tall palms against that muted blue all the way to the fiery red that underlined the horizon, to appreciate what an amazing view it was.
Last night in Chiang Mai, we visited Wat Chedi Luang, a historic Buddhist temple whose ruins date to the 14th century, and we saw it at dusk. Emily, who was staying in our hostel, coaxed us into going to a monk chat (more about that later!) at Chedi Luang, or else we would have never seen it. And seeing it gave me the same feeling that I had while watching the sunset tonight — that all I wanted to do was simply to sit and look at it for an hour, because it was so achingly lovely.
After we reached the end of the beach, we turned around and walked back, taking a closer look at the various bars and restaurants that line the beach. Many had chairs and low tables or soft mats set into the sand at the edge of the beach, accompanied by glowing torches or citronella candles to chase away the mosquitos. I can easily imagine sampling each restaurant in its turn this next week, and taking in the sunset each time.
At a glance, I can tell Koh Phangan will give us the swim-and-sun we’ve been looking for and fantasizing about. But for a moment, I miss Chiang Mai — as much as we lacked privacy in our eight-bed dorm room, the social interaction with other people our age who were also sporting similarly huge backpacks and speaking different languages was a huge perk. I’m a natural extrovert, and it was so energizing to be in a mess of folk who were all talking, socializing, coming up with spur-of-the-moment ideas and small adventures. We had so much fun just having dinner with Veronica from Uruguay and talking about her experiences in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. At 2 am last night, I was sitting outside the McDonald’s at Thapae Gate wolfing down French fries, drinking beer, and debating different worldviews with five other people. (So, yeah, it’s a little like college again!) And on Tuesday, we got out of bed at 6 am and went as a multi-national crowd (albeit all English speaking countries, including Australia, Canada, and England) to a local bar to watch the Super Bowl. Serendipitously, 95% of the bar were Seattle fans, with only an unhappy minority supporting Denver!
We were only there for a week, but I have so many startlingly fun and unique memories already. The sudden quiet here is unexpectedly lonely in a way for me, though Steve relishes the atmosphere here already and is quick to remind me that now our bedroom doesn’t smell like feet, and no one is loudly talking outside our door. I guess there are trade-offs to everything!
After dinner at the restaurant attached to our resort, we took a nap, made a trip for refreshments, and then took ourselves out by the pool. I’m sitting here now, still typing after an hour, trying to figure out how to describe my mood and our experiences. It’s really dark out here, and despite the lights of the pool around us, I can see that the sky here is a deeper black, and the stars stand out more brightly against that background. It makes me think about a few lines from my favorite Counting Crows song, “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby,” which perfectly describes my mood:
We drove out to the desert just to lie down beneath this bowl of stars
We stand up in the Palace, like it’s the last of the great pioneer town bars
Aw, we shout out these songs against the clang of electric guitars
Well, you can see a million miles tonight
But you can’t get very far
With love from Thailand,