Finding a nice white patch of beach in Thailand should be easy, but hasn’t been. In the last installation I found myself trapped in Pattaya, freshly scarred by the horror of a ping pong show. And now the conclusion.
Pattaya isn’t really all that bad. It’s just a matter of perspective, I suppose. I’ve since learned it’s the ladyboy capital of the world, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, I have a sort of fondness for ladyboys. Not in the sexual sense, albiet many of them are absolutely stunning, but rather in the sense that they tend to have a wicked sense of humor and a heap-load of confidence despite certain stigmas. And there is something to be said for Pattaya’s walking street–the mess of bodies mingling in bars, the Muay Thai fighters slugging it out for all to see, the drunken haze through which is is often perceived.
After a nice long massage (no, not that kind) and buzzing slightly from the slew of drinks I had imbibed to make it through the ping pong show I had subjected myself too, I’m feeling a bit better about my situation. I’ve made peace with Pattaya, and enjoy a nice long walk down the beachfront boulevard, despite 11 offers for drugs and at least two dozen offers of “company” from ladies of the night. I grab some street food and head back to the hostel for the night.
Early the next morning after coffee, I part ways with my host, the jovial British expat who so kindly took me in when I had been in near-panic mode the night before. It’s about seven in the morning, and he has directed me to several places where I could catch a bus to Ko Chang. It’s about a four hour ride, he says.
The woman in the tiny booking booth is kind enough to let me sit at a computer and do my thing while she arranges for the bus to come. Eight thirty, she says. But I’ve played this game before. Nine. Nine thirty. Ten. Ten thirty. And then it pulls up. Right on time, if time is a relative concept. But in Thailand, it is.
It’s even more cramped than before, minus the shifter between my legs. I can’t sit properly due to the bags under my feet, and I can’t quite relax due to my own backpack being on my lap. On the one hand, it’s cheap. On the other hand, it’s hell. Finally, after what feels like hours, we stop in a small, dingy, run down looking town along the coast. Ko Chang? I ask the driver. No no, Ko Samet. Three hours to Ko Chang.
I can’t take any more minibuses. Can I get off here? I ask. Nononono, Ko Chang. Three hours. I look around at the other passengers, wondering if I’ve just been forbidden to get off. I’m happy with Ko Samet. It’s fine. I’m fine, Ko Samet is good. He still doesn’t get it. I’m getting out. I’m getting out now. I will go to Ko Samet. I am happy with Ko Samet. I understand that this is Ko Samet, not Ko Chang. I slide the door open and hop out before he can offer any more objections. I smile, and give him the thumbs up. Ko Samet!
I know nothing about Ko Samet.
For all I know, there could be a sign reading “Here there be dragons…” but really at this point I don’t care. At this point, all I want is that damned white strip of beach where I can sit back and drink something out of a coconut. It’s -20 degrees in Seoul, thirty five plus degrees in Thailand, and I just want to soak it in. No gogo bars, no ping pong shows, no minibuses or anything else. Beach. I’m the only idiot in Thailand who can’t find a nice white beach.
In a small roadside restaurant I have a satisfyingly spicy lunch next to an American family who seem fairly relaxed, which in turn helps me to calm down. Not because they’re westerners. Because they’re relaxed. In my own experience, travelling with family is can be nightmarishly stressful, so if they’re smiling and serene, I must be close.
Finding tickets to the island proves easy enough, and before I know it I’m chugging my way across beautifully turquoise waters with the tree line rapidly approaching.
As I get off the boat I feel better already. Looks quiet. Looks calm. There are pickup trucks lined up to take people from the dock to the main street, but truth be told you don’t need to take one. I give myself a minute to catch my bearings, when I hear a guy who sounds like he knows what’s going on. He’s standing by a map, explaining the layout of the island to a couple of girls. He’s quirky, and has a good sense of humor, but more importantly, he’s been here before. Here, he says, pointing to the map with what sounds like a British accent, is where the turquoise water is. Over here, it’s more of a purplish color. And here, it’s kind of a bluish tinge. So it really all depends on what color water you’re looking for.
I can read a situation. He’s with a friend, who quietly smirks at his companion’s simplistic geographic explanation. I can count two guys, two girls, so I really don’t want to intrude. But I wanted to make sure that I didn’t get on a truck that’s taking me to to a brothel, so I quickly ask him which beach he recommends.
The next thing I know, we’re in the back of a pickup truck and he’s handing me a beer. Turns out he’s Danish, not English, and his male companion is from New York. The two girls are Swiss, and midway through a southeast Asian tour.
We decide to look together for accommodations, and find a cheap, brand new bungalow complex not too far from the beach. Should we grab something to eat, or head to the beach? asks one of the Swiss girls. It’s a clear consensus.
And then we’re standing in white sand. Cloudless. Plenty of space, few tourists, no noise. A turquoise ocean lies before us, and we need not say anything. I think we were all looking for the same thing. We’re start walking to the water, peeling off shirts, dropping sandals haphazardly everywhere, slowly picking up speed until we crash into bathwater waves. Floating in a circle, it’s all smiles, laughter and the occasional holler of freedom. At least for now, we have all escaped whatever it was we were getting away from.