September 1, 2019 By bangkok7
A few years back, I had the rare pleasure of spending a month on Ko Kood. For those who don’t know about it, it’s an island approximately an hour south of Ko Chang by speedboat. Most of the land is a national park—uninhabited and closed to the casual visitor. There are a handful of resorts ranging from affordable to very high-end to totally exclusive. For that latter category, the entire northwest corner of the island is walled-off and inaccessible by the general public. It even has its own airfield where the likes of Brad Pitt and Prince Harry fly in and out, and no one’s the wiser.
There are no ATMS, no 7-11s, no traffic lights, and hardly any paved roads. There’s a school that teaches the children of the resorts’ employees, and one reggae bar in a treehouse. And that’s all. It’s the closest you can come to a “Robinson Crusoe” style experience while still having access to electricity and running water.
And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.
My purpose for being there was to host and teach a TEFL certification course for about 20 foreigners seeking teaching positions in Thailand. We rented rooms in A-Na-Lay resort and, except when going to the reggae bar, only left the grounds to motor to Koh Chang or hit one of the other resort restaurants. I ventured off on my own a few times just to explore, but as it was during rainy season, the dirt roads were mostly sludge and hard to navigate. I did manage to get to the southern coast of the island for a swim at one of the spectacular beaches there. The rest of the time I spent at A-Na-Lay’s pools or on their private beach. My room was a bungalow on stilts a mere 10 meters from the sand, and every evening I waded out into the sea to float on my back and gaze up at the stars. And to stifle fits of giggling at the momentary blissful perfection of my life.
The first thing I noticed, after being there for a few days, was the Robinson Crusoe-type of feeling that came over me. The only sounds I could hear were the surf, the wind in the trees, and birds. The environment was so peaceful, I actually felt a little uncomfortable. On the fifth day, lightning struck the hotel’s satellite dish, knocking out TV and internet for nearly a week. Our main reason for going to Koh Chang on the weekend was to check email and let friends and family know we were still alive. The days were spent strolling on the beach, swimming, fishing, kayaking, reading, napping, and eating. And after a week of that, hitting Koh Chang was like going to Las Vegas. The hotel served three meals per day and in between, the kitchen was closed. If one felt peckish during those intervals, one had to venture out of the resort grounds and up a grassy slope, at the top of which was an old lady with a small stash of snack items. She also had a pet monkey and a very large pig in the front garden, either of which could be in a dour mood for any random reason, so going for snacks was at times a harrowing endeavor. And once you got back to your room, the most involved activity was to swing lazily in the porch hammock, listening to the wind in the trees.
When we wanted a midweek night out, we piled into a songteaw and drove to the island’s only non-hotel bar, a Reggae-themed watering hole built inside a treehouse. The lone proprietor is a Thai Rastafarian and the bar doubles as his home. He doesn’t take drink orders—you simply go to his fridge and grab what you want. At the end of the night he counts the empties and charges accordingly—40 baht per beer. His main job is to play the guitar, and for anyone brave enough to join in he’s got a set of conga drums. There’s no furniture. You just find a spot on the floor and park it. And that’s what constituted a wild night on the town in Koh Kood.
I will say that, once I got used to the low-tech life, it was unbelievably serene. Fresh pineapple tastes better when the only thing you have to focus on is the pineapple. Lying on a dock while watching the waves hit the shore can surprisingly compelling. When the mind is free to wander anywhere, the places it goes to can be a revelation.
I didn’t read the news or look at a TV for that entire month. Past and future became inconsequential. Instead of pondering the toxic state of the world, I learned how to make gang kiew wan. Watching the sun set replaced rush hour, while porch drinking substituted for bar hopping. The hardest adjustment came when the course ended and we had to return to civilization. The noise, frenetic pace, and information inundation (inforndation for short, copyright BKK7) were a nightmare to readapt to. I hated it for a while.
These days, I look back on that month in Koh Kood with a kind of bitter-sweet longing. It was an incredible experience, being that isolated and surrounded by so much beauty. But if I’m honest, I never want to go back. In fact, I think if I’d have stayed much longer I would’ve lost myself. There would’ve come a mental breaking point when I would be forced to reconcile the complete lack of purpose in my existence, and the futility of this rat-race lifestyle and the accumulation of possessions and achievements when all you really need is a beach, a pillow, and a kitchen that opens three times a day.
Swing by on Friday for a frowback, and between now and then keep your balls warm, you beer cold, and cheers to anyone who has ever unplugged long enough to see his true place in the cosmos. If you haven’t yet and want to know what it feels like, book a couple of weeks in Koh Kood during the low season. Maybe bring along a paperback. Peace!