“The Thailand Travel Diary” Part Three
17 minute read
Previously in Part Two of “The Thailand Travel Diary” – Left Bangkok early in the morning, observed monks, reflective thoughts, a sickness-inducing catamaran ordeal, arrived at paradise, felt bad, then felt good, more reflective thoughts, hit the beach, communicated with a dog, watched a half-naked sun cream wrestling contest with three French ladies, reflective thoughts (and a few about the French ladies), a cosy afternoon in the villa, approaching a pretty Polish woman, not being told to ‘get lost’ by the pretty Polish woman, upset a young couple (he was a selfish pig anyway), saw a rock in the sea, more reflective thoughts, met Laura, dinner with pretty Polish woman, had another moment, thought about the rock again.
Day 8 – Friday (Koh Tao)
It was 9.30am, I’d had breakfast, applied a nice layer of sun cream, and I was now sat on the beach in the same spot I’d been occupying each day. My daytimes were steadily settling into a routine and by now I’d normally be about ten minutes into my first hour of sunbathing for the day.
I’d mellowed out in such a big way since first arriving on Koh Tao. I’m walking slowly, my feet are almost dragging, my shoulders are really loose, and I’m aware of the fact I’m constantly smiling. I feel at peace, I feel relaxed, and I feel so light; like I could float. The transformation had been incredible and was exactly what I’d needed.
But in the back of my mind something was troubling me, and that very something was currently positioned directly in front of me, about 80 metres or so away; out in the sea. It was that rock; the damn rock that reminded me of my fear of swimming in deep sea waters.
And it got me thinking about how important it is sometimes to just let go and to stop trying to control everything.
The first time I was in Thailand I spent almost five weeks out of those two months down in the south exploring the islands and the beaches. For most of that time I was walking around barefoot and never thought twice about it. However, prior to my second trip into South-East Asia where I was to spend a month exploring Cambodia and Vietnam, I started to read more and more about the ‘do’s and don’ts’ and the potential dangers that could be facing you. In other words, I was attempting to be more in control of everything, and so after reading about the potential of picking up parasites (known as ‘hookworms’) through the soles of your feet, I decided to ensure that I had footwear on at all times. I managed to do this for the entire month, except for one day when I was on Mui Ne beach in southern Vietnam. I’d worn my flip-flops to the beach, and I’d worn them as I found a spot to sun-bathe in. However, for the 20 metre round trip from my sarong to the sea and then back to my sarong, I went barefoot. The following day I returned to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and that night I went to bed and was ready for a good night’s sleep. But throughout the night my foot started to itch; it started to really itch. The following morning I awoke to find my foot had gone from itchy to painful, my toes had swollen, and I turned my foot over to see multiple red lines throughout the sole of my foot; it looked like a road map. Yes, you got it; I’d contracted a hookworm. And this came from just 20 metres of controlled barefoot walking in comparison to 5 weeks of throwing caution to the wind and being totally oblivious to the potential consequences.
The point I’m making here is not to be an irresponsible idiot, but that there’s such a thing as calculated risk and, well, luck. On that first trip I’d reached a point of letting go, of having faith, and I’d stopped trying to be in control of everything. But the time when I was overly cautious and tried to control every possible outcome, it went wrong. Yes it was more down to luck than anything, but there’s a lesson to be learned. Because the reality is that whatever will be will be. And if bad things are waiting for me out there then they will find me, no matter how much I try to control it. But until that day arrives, I will live my life by my own rules.
Living life ‘safely’ will not guarantee you a safe life. Doing what you ‘should’ do will not guarantee you success. And avoiding ‘risks’ will not guarantee you a happy ending. And that’s exactly what you have to accept in life; that you cannot avoid doing things because of ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’. You have to just do. You have to just act. You have to just live. Good things and bad things will happen, no matter what.
On this morning, on this Koh Tao beach, the realisation of that lesson hit me. All of a sudden I could feel water around my ankles, then my knees, and then my thighs. And now my waist, my belly, and my chest; they were all immersed in water, and my arms were fighting against it. I was in the sea. I was swimming. My eyes were fixated on that damn rock. For a moment my feet pressed down and I could feel the reassurance of the sea floor, and then I pushed back off and swam further on. My arms kept cutting through the water, pulling me further forward, and then I put my feet down once more and my toes pressed against the sand, giving me yet another reassuring boost. Then I set off again and I swam, and swam, and swam.
A little further on I instinctively put my feet down once again but this time they found nothing and my head went all the way under the surface of the water. I couldn’t feel the sea floor! Where had it gone? My head burst back out above the surface of the water and I coughed and rubbed the sea water from my eyes. My heart was pounding. I felt terrified, but I kicked off again and I swam, and swam. I was hurtling forward in front crawl but the rock was still some way off. Go back! Go back! My mind screamed at me to turn around. Elliot you’re already out of your depth and you’re not even close to the fucking rock! Go back! But I kept on swimming, and then the rock was getting closer, and closer. And then I was there. I’d reached it! I was there!
My heart was still pounding as I kicked and paddled, treading water. And then I started laughing. I was laughing so hard. My feet pushed down again but instead of panicking from the realisation that there was no sea floor to support me, my sensations suddenly changed and I was now enjoying the cooling feeling of the sea water passing between my toes as my feet swished back and forth. I looked back towards the beach and could see my sarong laying there on the sand where just a few moments ago I’d been sat, looking out at this rock; the rock that eluded me, the rock that taunted me. The rock that was now so close that I was pressing one hand against it, feeling the cool rough surface against my fingertips. I couldn’t stop smiling. The fear had subsided and I was overcome with joy.
I pushed off and swam around the rock, completing one full circle, and then I burst into a full on front crawl and headed back towards the shore. I was getting tired. My heart pounded. And when I was about ten metres from the beach I put my feet down for the final time. I walked out of the sea and onto the beach with my shoulders burning. They were on fire. I sat back down on the sarong, hair dripping wet, and my heart rate finally started to slow itself as I calmed down. And I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of peace.
I now realised that I’d been avoiding the rock because it meant that to swim out to it would mean being out of my depth. I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep my head above water when the ground beneath my feet disappeared. I’d realised that at some point I’d set limitations on myself and I’d created boundaries to fence myself inside of. The problem is that when you do this, you stop living. But I’d gone for it. I walked out into that sea, the waters had gotten deeper, and I eventually had nowhere to put my feet. I had no base. I had no support. I was out of my depth. All I had was my will and my determination to stay afloat; to sink or swim if you may. So I swam. I refused to fail. I couldn’t fail. I had no choice but to swim. And I got through it, I made it to shore, and I felt alive. I’d grown. And more importantly I realised that there had never been anything to be afraid of in the first place, because I had what it took all along; I just needed a chance to prove that.
And the same goes for life.
Think about it.
Later that evening as I walked towards the restaurant I caught the sound of a karaoke party in full flow. Although the volume was quiet and the gathering was subtle, the atmosphere that radiated from this small group of Thai’s was full of fun and very festive. As I walked past the Haad Tien’s Christmas tree which was quite unique and made out of nothing but coconuts and fairy lights, I could hear the group singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town; and it sounded hilarious.
After finishing a beautiful and very spicy Thai red curry, I sat back and finished off my third bottle of Chang. I then decided to round off the meal with a Johnnie Walker Black Label, and just as the waiter brought my drink to the table I caught a glimpse of two women making a dash across the restaurant from one table and then sitting down at the table adjacent to mine. I’d only seen them out of the corner of my eye, and just as I lifted the glass and was about to take a sip, both the women shouted “CHEERS!”
I turned to see these two young women looking straight at me with both their glasses raised. I lifted my glass up, smiled, and responded.
I was soon invited over and so I left my table and sat down alongside them. They were Pamela and Katja from Hamburg, Germany. Apparently they’d noticed me in the restaurant before now and had wanted to say hi, and although I’d also noticed them I’d never thought of saying hello as they’d seemed happy enough just enjoying each other’s company. It’s very easy to sometimes see two or more people together and assume that’s just how they want it and so you can sometimes find yourself avoiding approaching them. Tonight made me rethink that mindset.
Pamela and Katja were both a lot of fun and it was a great evening spent chatting and getting to know each other. Although we did have the usual conversations about travelling, things also slipped very quickly into a comfortable and friendly rhythm and the banter was great. They were very easy to be with. And just as Laura had been telling me all about Rotterdam the day before, I was now getting to hear all about Hamburg too. My list of places to visit was growing bigger and bigger by the day.
By the time I’d found my way down another whisky it was getting towards closing time at the restaurant. Pamela, Katja and I finished off our drinks and we decided to head down to the beach. A minute or so later the three of us were stood in a line on the sand looking out to sea. The skies were slightly overcast and so we didn’t have a full night sky to look at, but the stars that were visible were glowing brightly. My eyes had adjusted to the darkness and I turned and looked across at Pamela and Katja who were both still looking upwards. As I listened to the sound of the sea lapping onto the shore, I just took the moment in. It was another great day, a wonderful evening, and I’d made two more new friends who I agreed to meet up with again the following evening.
The walk back towards my room was accompanied by the sound of crickets, and the gardens and villas were beautifully lit up. This really was a little piece of paradise. So much had happened in such a short space of time, and yet I was only halfway in to my trip.
Inside the villa I switched the lamps on and took another beer from the mini bar. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, that feeling of being overwhelmed hit me again and I was grinning from ear to ear. My heart felt like it was pounding in my chest and my breathing had quickened. I took a mouthful of beer, lay back on the bed, looked up at the ceiling, and then I started laughing. I had that feeling once again that all of this was happening to me and that I was thousands of miles from home. I’d dreamt of this trip for months and I was now here. I started to laugh almost uncontrollably, which was maybe partially down to the alcohol, but what it was most certainly down to was the fact that I felt alive. I felt more alive than I had in a long time.
But it was in this moment when I realised that we spend so much of our waking time actually in a state of sleep. We get out of bed, we slip into routine, we do what we need to do, we go back to bed, we sleep, and then we get up again and do it all over. Rinse and repeat. And yes, that’s life, but when we simply live like that out of habit and routine and not out of awareness, we’re actually asleep, mentally. Why do you think it is that we have those sudden moments of inspiration that seem to come to us right out of nowhere? Why do we have times when ideas hit and they feel so real and as though anything is possible? Why is it that sometimes we are motivated to pursue the things we want the most and we feel ready to smash through brick walls with our bare hands in order to get there? It’s because they’re the moments when we’ve escaped the drudgery and we’ve woken up from sleep. We’ve been able to really see. Between moments like these we’re just asleep and in auto-pilot. But when you hit those moments where you feel truly alive, it’s one of the most incredible feelings you can ever experience.
And those moments are when your life is really happening.
Day 9 – Saturday (Koh Tao)
The day began much like all the others had, and it was a routine that I’d become very happy with. I’d get out of bed, get dressed, take a wander over to the restaurant, eat breakfast, return to the villa and get changed, and then take up residency in my usual spot on the beach. It was another hot and sunny day with perfectly clear skies, and I had no sense of urgency about me at all. Instead I just sat on my sarong with a smile on my face, breathing steadily, feeling completely in the moment, and letting the day be whatever it was going to be.
An hour or so later I was laying on my front with my head tipped to one side, eyes closed, and both my hands stretched out in front of me. As I ran my fingertips back and forth through the warm and powdery sand, I suddenly felt a drip of water on my back. And then came another drip, and then another. Was it rain? The brightness of the sun suddenly dipped as a shadow cast over me, and so I turned onto my side, putting my weight onto my elbow as it pressed into the sand. I looked up and saw Pamela standing over me, smiling, and her hair dripping wet from having just been swimming in the sea. It was good to see her again.
“Oh hey Pamela, how are you?”
“I’m good. And how’s your day been so far?”
We had a brief chat about the previous evening and what our plans were for the day, and then we agreed to message each other later to arrange meeting up. As Pamela started walking back along the beach, I turned back over onto my front and settled down into the sand once again. This was my penultimate day here on Koh Tao and I wanted to soak up every last ray of sunshine that I could before moving on.
That afternoon I walked out into the sea and instinctively started swimming towards the rock, and I did so without any fear or hesitation. I took a breather as I reached the rock and then completed one full circle and returned to shore. Even later into the afternoon I did exactly the same thing again, only this time I was able to swim all the way there and back, in front crawl, without stopping. What had once scared me had now become a routine activity for me; and I’d smashed through my comfort zone and was thriving on it.
However, a few metres from shore I noticed a strange texture in the water and the object appeared translucent. And then I noticed the tentacles that trailed behind it. It was a jellyfish, and it was just two feet away from my face. This explained a strange sensation I’d had in the water that morning when I’d began to feel a strange kind of burning and prickling on the inside of one of my thighs. I thought that I was imagining it until the feeling got so intense that it felt like I was receiving an electric shock. I’d looked into the water and had rubbed my hand over my thigh but there appeared to be nothing there that could have been causing the pain. And finally the pain got so bad that I had to run out of the water as quickly as possible. There were red lines and blotches on my leg, but the origin of this was a mystery.
I’ve since read that what this could actually be is that when there have been storms at sea and/or rough waters, the stinging cells from jellyfish can be broken off from them and then wash around in the water. If you’re unfortunate enough to have these make contact with your skin, you’ll then receive the sting of the jellyfish. If anyone can confirm this or knows any different then please feel free to comment below or send me a message via the contact page.
That evening I met up with Pamela and Katja and they told me about a restaurant around the corner from the bay which you can reach by walking through the sea. We took off our shoes and set off through the water, eventually reaching a set of white wooden steps which we ascended to an outdoor terrace. The terrace had a number of empty tables and after we’d settled into one which overlooked Shark Bay, a very timid young waiter came out to greet us and take our order.
The food was cheap and simple, and it made a nice break to the restaurant of the Haad Tien. Pamela, Katja and I continued from where we’d left off the night before and we all talked about our deepening love for the Haad Tien and Shark Bay. It was one of those wonderfully relaxed evenings with the three of us sharing more stories about ourselves, drinking steadily, and enjoying the night-time views over the bay.
After the restaurant closed we retraced our steps back through the sea and returned to the Haad Tien restaurant for our final drinks of the evening. The waiters came over to chat to us for a little while but before we knew it we’d reached closing time here also. But we weren’t quite ready to call it a night and so the three of us made our way over to the sun deck where we lay across the sun-loungers, taking in our surroundings.
Whereas last night had been slightly overcast, tonight gifted us with a beautiful clear sky. My eyes scanned what seemed like an infinite amount of twinkling stars, and in the time that I was there I must have counted half a dozen shooting stars. It was incredible. And at one point my attention was drawn by a light in the corner of my eye which was so bright that I genuinely thought somebody had fired a flare off into the sky. As my eyes quickly traced the origin of the light I saw a bright white line tear through the sky which was so intense that it reminded me of science class at school when the teacher would set alight a piece of magnesium ribbon. Can a shooting star really be that bright? Whatever it was, I saw it with my own two eyes, and it was extraordinary.
It had been a great evening. The three of us had become so relaxed in each other’s company that we were now able to say very little and just enjoy being in the moment. I’m fully aware that nothing lasts forever, and so I kept myself completely in the here and now, taking in every glorious moment to keep with me always; Pamela, Katja, the stars, the sea, the warm evening breeze, and the wonderfully comfortable silences.
We stayed on those sun-loungers right through until the early hours.
Day 10 – Sunday (Koh Tao)
I’d had a great night’s sleep followed by a hearty breakfast in the restaurant. On my way back to the villa I bumped into Laura and we stood chatting for a little while in the gardens. I really liked Laura; she was a really cool girl who seemed very at ease with herself, and as we smiled and said goodbye to each other, I knew that there was a very good chance that this was the last time I’d see her. This was my last full day on Koh Tao and tomorrow I’d be heading back to Bangkok.
The day followed its usual steady routine, but I also seemed to be more observant to what was happening around me than on any other day before; perhaps because I knew it was my last day and I wanted to savour every moment.
At one point I was relaxing in the pool and was looking out into the gardens. I rested my head on my folded arms against the side of the pool as I watched two birds (the feathered kind) searching for food. It appeared as though they were communicating with each other but then one hopped all the way over to the other and started screeching in the other ones face. Clearly they were having a disagreement. But the argument was soon forgotten as they got distracted by a low-flying butterfly. The two birds then joined forces again and went bouncing off after it but no matter how hard they tried the butterfly still managed to elude them.
As I got ready for dinner that night I received a text from Iva who was now back in Germany. It was good to know she’d made it back home safely, but it really made me realise how much I missed her company. However, even by text we still managed to maintain a great conversation, and it was clear that we had both come to really value each other as friends.
I’d decided to enjoy my final evening meal at the Haad Tien restaurant alone, and I really made it count, enjoying a wonderful Thai red curry, more beer, and more whisky. As one of the waiters brought a drink over we got into a conversation.
He asked me how old I was, and when I replied 37 he started smiling as he said he was the same age. And then he began talking about home life. I never caught his name properly, but he was from Burma, and he had a family and a son back there. His smile took on a sad expression just momentarily as he appeared to reflect on the fact he was so far away from his son. But when I brought the conversation back to him working in Thailand to provide for his family, his warm smile returned and he seemed to swell with pride. When I asked about Burma and what the country is like to visit he responded enthusiastically about the country now opening up and being a good place for visitors. I let my new friend know that I’d be leaving in the morning and we wished each other happiness, showed mutual respect with a ‘wai’ and then shook hands and smiled. As he left the table it really got me to thinking about my next destination.
Maybe. Just maybe.
As I sat staring into the night, feeling the coolness from the whisky glass in my hand, and lost in thought, I was suddenly brought back into the moment by the appearance of Pamela.
“Hi Pamela. How are you? Have you had a nice evening?”
“Yes we’ve been into town for dinner but we’re heading over to the sun deck for a drink. Care to join us again?”
“That’d be great. I’ll be over in a moment.”
Pamela left the restaurant and I spent a moment just taking everything in, enjoying the Haad Tien restaurant for the final time. I sat up, finished my drink, and then left the restaurant and made my way over to the sun deck where Pamela and Katja were relaxing on the sun-loungers. I bought us a round of drinks and then we took up residence for the remainder of the evening, once again exploring a spectacular night sky.
But this time we were also treated to some activity out in the sea as a small fishing boat made its way towards shore. As the boat reached the shore, two men climbed out and brought their days catch on to the beach where they were soon greeted by two other people. It appeared that there was some late evening trading going on, most likely for the restaurant who would be preparing their menus for the following day.
As I lay on the sun-lounger, taking all this in, and with Christmas music now playing somewhere in the distance, it really began to hit me just how much I’d miss the place.
The Haad Tien had gone way beyond my expectations, and it had also introduced me to some wonderful people; two of which were lying beside me right now enjoying the same views as myself. I knew it was one of those times in my life that I’d always be able to look back on and smile. And it was at this moment when I knew for sure where I’d spend my final week in Thailand. I was going to head back to a place that had come to be really special to me over the years. I just had to navigate a brief stop-off in Bangkok first.
Katja decided to call it a night and we said our goodbyes, and then it was just Pamela and I that were left on the sun deck, chatting. We had a really nice conversation as we talked about what was to come next in our lives, and it was a nice way to say goodbye. Pamela and Katja were heading further south to Ko Pha Ngan, and I was heading back north to Bangkok.
We hugged and said goodbye, and then I was on my own again and heading back towards my villa. But on the way back I suddenly made a turn from the path and started heading towards the beach.
I sat down on the sand and looked out to sea, and then I lay down and looked up at the darkened silhouettes of the palm leaves gently swaying against the night sky. Earlier in the year I’d booked this place as a reward for the goals I’d set myself. I’d worked solidly throughout the year to make sure that I could reach Koh Tao knowing that I’d achieved all my goals, and now it had all drawn to a conclusion. It was a great way to end the year, but after a few minutes spent allowing myself to feel pride at what I’d achieved, I then started thinking about my next goals and what I intended to achieve in 2016. One chapter had come to an end, and the next one was about to begin.
But the new chapter could wait until tomorrow because all I wanted to do right now was to feel the sand beneath me and to listen to that sea for the final time.
I quietly said goodbye to the Haad Tien, and a whole new adventure was about to begin.
CLICK HERE FOR PART 4 OF THE THAILAND TRAVEL DIARY
Share this article: