Ever been startled awake in the morning, eyes fogged and brain scrambled from a deep, deep sleep and thought “Where am I?” There was a thatched roof above, a buffer to the rainfall outside. I could feel tiny ants tickling the hair on my arm. The electricity ceased sometime during the night and the fan above had gone still. Slightly sweaty, I kicked the bed sheet off and brushed both arms to get the ants off. “Where am I?” To get here, I said a reluctant goodbye to our ocean-front swimming pool, air conditioning, hot water, high speed internet, and 24 hour electricity. The hotel arranged a brief ride on a golf cart to the bus stop, dropping us on the road side to wait for the next bus going our way. In short order, it came lumbering up the road brimming with Thais, tourists, and everyone in between. We paid our 200 baht (roughly $6.00) and boarded for a three hour journey north. Upon arrival in Ranong, a transfer by truck took us to the pier where we climbed aboard a boat laden with jugs of water, flats of brown eggs, and building materials. We tucked our bags and ourselves amidst the supplies and watched the giant jellyfish floating just below the surface of the boat’s wake as we puttered along. Two hours later, we climbed onto the pier, hitching up our backpacks to continue on the back of two separate motorbikes zipping along the ramshackle paved road, just wide enough to accommodate passing two-wheelers. Finally, we were dropped off at the end of a long driveway, where, by the power of our own two feet we finally arrived at the Bamboo Bungalows on the island of Ko Phayam.
There is running water here, albeit unheated and non-potable. The electricity comes on at sunset to take inhabitants from dusk until bedtime, the rumble of generators the baseline of the jungle orchestra punctuated by screaming cicadas and the occasional staccato of raindrops. Around 10pm, all is dark and there is little left to do but read by lamplight and listen to the frogs and crickets and distant sound of waves colliding with the beach. Tyler must have caught my expression as I swept some dead bugs out the front door of our new “home sweet home”, bending down to scratch a newly acquired collection of mosquito bites around my ankles. “It’s like camping, but with so many more amenities!” He exclaimed cheerfully. Well, if you look at it through a camper’s lens, this is pretty darn fancy. Plus, no more expensive than camping in the California Redwoods. I changed my lens from resort-style luxury to rustic camping, and immediately, our thatched-roof bungalow seemed much rosier. Bohemian romantic, even.
The next morning “camping” became even more palatable when I ordered a platter of fresh fruit and the most delicious banana pancakes ever, which were a hybrid of French crepe and American pancake with chocolate drizzled over top. Give me chocolate drizzled on anything and you’ll have me wrapped around finger. As for these pancakes, I could eat ten thousand of them. As I stuffed myself full and we discussed plans for the day, I looked over and promptly began to hyperventilate with excitement as I became aware of two brown balls of fur that appeared to be the newest permanent residents of the Bamboo Bungalows. One puppy was tucked under the arm of a guest, the other waddled around on one of the restaurant tables, trying to gobble up scraps from the discarded plates. There are so many stray dogs and cats here, some more mangy and diseased than others. They roam the beaches in motley packs, finding shade and food where they can. Tourists clearly love the newborn pups, which makes me feel like perhaps we as visitors, are part of the problem in terms of controlling the pet population. How does one say no to puppies? Guiltily, I took a turn holding one, my heart melting at the thought of these dogs being turned out as strays as soon as they grew out of their tourist-attracting puppy cuteness. I think I cried a bit at how cute they were. Before I was able to draw up the adoption papers, Tyler pulled me away with promises of banana pancakes and puppies every morning of our stay. It’s a strange sort of paradise I live in these days.
Last night, after a rather intense round of beachside pingpong, and the most delicious Mai Thai of my life (I watched them squeeze the pineapple juice), we cocooned ourselves in hammocks, each with a drink in hand and watched the sun go down, the stars come out, and the waves light up electric blue with plankton as they rose and broke against the beach. There is a certain magnetism here that seems to slow you down and draw you in. You get the sense that it’s almost a competition between islands to see which one can be the most laid back. So far for me, Ko Phayam stands out as the ultimate, do-nothing, expect little, take-it-easy place we’ve been to. You don’t see demanding visitors screaming at the front desk when the wireless isn’t fast enough. When you want to swim: swim. When you are hungry: eat. It’s not about how much you can see and do in a day. After five nights here, I’m as zen as a Buddhist monk and ready for our next adventure: to the north! We’ll spend our remaining days in and around Chiang Mai before heading to Costa Rica.
How has this month gone by so quickly?