A Quiet and Dignified New Years
Since the end of the Thai semester approach-eth and my chronicling indolence increase-eth, the material you’re about to feast your eyes on is definitively old news. Several lifetimes ago (rounding up), I had the pleasure of visiting one of Thailand’s most widely renown National Park’s with three of my best pals in the world. Should you ever find yourself aimlessly wandering around Thailand, as I accidentally appear to have, make sure you short list Kao Yai! After an hour and a half motorbike ride coupled with a paralyzing 8-hour train voyage, we found our way to Pak Chang, the closest town to the park. From there our well-organized plan was executed without a hitch. That was a test. If you have been a loyal blog follower you would already know that there is no such thing as a “plan” in Thailand much less a successful one. We lumbered off the train, sea legs cramping and splaying every which way, and set off to find motorbikes to rent for our sojourn into the park. Thailand, sensing our utter exhaustion, must have sent out a country-wide memo at this point rendering each of the 20,289,721 motorbikes (keep doing what you’re doing out there Google) in this country unavailable. We unabashedly begged for bikes, taxis, songthaews and piggyback rides at every juncture for the subsequent three hours but the only success to be found was successfully missing the local winery tour we had booked for that day. By the time our humble quartet of beggars found a ride, we had barred every right to complain regarding the 5-foot clearance, standing-room only lorry. We eventually stumbled into the National Park looking like attractions ourselves: vaguely human but entirely too decrepit to not be at least partially monkey. Throwing caution as well as social decency to the wind, we all but moshed our way into the first truck that drove by, pleading in broken Thai that they take us to our campsite.
As luck would have it, we had aggressively underestimated the vastness of the park. After twenty minutes of driving, we were discarded at a point that we deduced to be more than 5 kilometers away from our site still. It was now dark; bloodthirsty bugs careened recklessly down at us, I internally commended my genius foresight for skimping on Malaria pills, monkeys howled distantly, and stomachs gurgled as we dejectedly began our trudge through the dense forest. When our foursome of formerly human creatins stumbled into the campsite, we were surprised to find that it was not a campsite at all – at least not in the traditional sense. Voices boomed from the extravagant, oasis-like cafeteria in the center of the site and a sea of Thai people reclined on luxurious feather-down beanbags under expertly hung twinkly lights while tending to tantalizing meats searing on their state of the art grills. As we fumbled with our comparatively pitiable tent in the blackness, several silent, local angels approached us with lights and general solidarity to help us (put simply yet eloquently) get our shit together. We awoke the next day feeling thankful, refreshed, and eager for an adventure free of transportation hurdles. The prophecy was self-fulfilling. Since we had already violently ripped off the hitchhiking Band-Aid the previous day we had no qualms with jumping into every passing vehicle despite unknown destinations. To our dismay, many of the natural attractions were overflowing with Thai tourists due to the long weekend. Predictably, we decided off-roading would be the only way to satiate our desire for an authentic adventure. We dodged thorns, clung to vines on the faces of drop-offs, hurdled over gullies and waded through rapids aimlessly until we were sufficiently scraped up and at the foot of the largest deserted waterfall I have ever seen. Swimming in the pristine waters with friends while reflecting on the kindness of strangers that made it possible made me acutely aware of how lucky I am to be able to make my own adventure every day. All days are not without setback, in fact most aren’t, but overcoming the challenges and unpredictability offers the biggest payoff I could have hoped for: unrestrained exploration and learning.
Traveling from my sequestered province is significantly taxing on my time and money. To travel most anywhere I have to ride my motorbike an hour and a half to the nearest overpriced airport. From there it will take at least one connecting flight through Bangkok and several ancillary trains, vans or buses to reach any major hubs. And these are only the known travel complications. The farthest we have travelled yet was a trip to the islands to meet up with friends and celebrate the holidays. If you know me, you know my fervent devotion to living and dying for the joke, but the world famous full moon New Years party was perhaps my most sadistic yet. Koh Phangan is a small, notorious party island off the Southern coast of Thailand and a stark departure from the ornate temples and pastoral nature scenes I have been traveling to see. Koh Phangan is the kind of place that gets parents’ spidey senses tingling and anxiety raging all over the world at its mere mention. The kind of place where an entire two liter bucket of alcohol with a single straw is perceived as an under commitment. The kind of place where 5 hours of sleep is more valuable than all the recognizable food in Thailand put together. The kind of place where, had I not been living the life of a rural Thai school teacher only days prior, I would not believe in the existence of sobriety as an abstract concept. You get the point: the island was a living manifestation of ‘no parents, no rules’, but the absolute lunacy in no way detracts from the indescribable fun of it all. People come from all over the world to enjoy a few uninhibited days in this beautiful beachscape. All ages and walks of life were more benevolent and approachable than any mass crowd I had ever seen, perhaps because they recognized that their counterparts were also just looking to have some fun! Our days and nights in Koh Phangan blend together on a canvas of confusion and inebriation (THERE I SAID IT, MOM AND DAD DON’T SHOOT) that includes but is not limited to: body paint, dancing in the downpour of a tropical storm, breakfast burritos, body paint in my hair, snuggling with reunited friends, body paint stinging all my facial orifices, people jumping rope with literal fire, some of the most fun of my entire life, and being forcefully dyed by strangers with, you guessed it, more body paint. I was hardly a collegiate economist, but I imagine New Years would be a great time to invest in some body paint stock if you’re looking to expand your portfolio.
The morning of New Years Day, our motley crew gathered around a generous breakfast feast with a heaping side of head-splitting hangover and self-pity. We swapped stories from the madness of the night before and laughed at the abject ridiculousness of it all, agreeing that this strange party haven was completely disconnected from reality. We all concluded reality might as well be a stranger we met once at a corporate cocktail party. Reality files my taxes once a year. Reality details my car. Etc. In an attempt to reacquaint ourselves with the ever-evasive ‘reality’ we’d heard of, we headed to the beach for a final bout of cool water and ocean air. We settled for a trash-riddled beach covered in empty handles and hung-over travelers napping. We waded into the water where the tumultuous tropical storm induced waves had their way with us as well as certainly a good laugh at our expense. As we wandered along the beach toward our hostel, water-logged and more than a little dilapidated, we passed a blatantly mocking billboard asserting “KOH PHANGAN NEW YEARS – SEE YOU NEXT YEAR”. We couldn’t help but laugh. On the ferry ride back to the mainland, despite feeling like congealed, day-old, overcooked noodles, we were overcome by nostalgic thankfulness for the friends we’ve accumulated here that feel like family after an impossibly short amount of time. The thankfulness, though still abundantly relevant, dissipated quickly when our ferry and van ride were late, causing us to miss not one, but TWO subsequent flights. We had to buy two more flights on the fly (with a Thai teacher's salary) to board a plane just in time for the fever to hit - the universe’s apt punishment for a weekend of debauchery and an esteemed stepping-stone on the path to achieving my lofty goal of contracting the flu in every country I’ve ever travelled to. Thanks for the amazing time and the incredibly blog worthy material Koh Phangan, but see you next year my ass.
Until next time!