The “Every Island” adventure: Thailand has more than 300 islands; 100 of which are accessible to humans (read: they’ve been inhabited and developed to varying degrees). That’s over 2,000 miles of tropical coastline, guys.
I’ve set a realistic goal of visiting all 100 of those which are accessible. And some of the inaccessible ones. (Just kidding, Mom and Dad. You know I respect boundaries.)
The mattress is about two inches thick, and the only other component of my bungalow on Koh Chang’s Lonely Beach is the mosquito net surrounding the mat. There’s a pillow and a sheet and I’ve got all I need because there’s a hammock hanging outside on the balcony.
I’m staying at a bungalow complex on Thailand’s second largest island. Here, the toilet is a shared one. It’s a hole in the floor. Literally. Hole in the floor. The shower is a plastic bucket of stagnant water that sits by the hole-in-the-floor toilet. A plastic bowl bobs in it. That’s your showerhead. Rustic? A little.
Fast forward five years.
I’m back on Koh Chang. But the inch-thick mattress has been replaced with white Egyptian cotton sheets and a welcome platter of artfully cut fruit, an outdoor shower sort of experience, and the ultimate luxury: air conditioning.
This weekend, I’m with friends who prefer a different kind of accommodation than what I stayed in years ago during my first rodeo in Thailand.
We’re at an upper-class resort. Room service is all day service. You will feel like a sultan with a harem. Your cocktails will have more accessories and garnishments than you usually ever wear.
There’s a place for the backpackers and Thai Bob Marleys and the hippies and the college grads exploring Southeast Asia. And then there’s the other side that prefers to pee in a normal toilet, sleep in a bed that feels like a bowl of whip cream, and fall asleep with not just a feeling of safety, but comfort. You shudder at stepping outside the resort. Because why would you? You’re sunbathing on a cloud and falling in love with an infinity pool and rehydrating off of only Mai Thai’s. A sultan in a harem.
My advice is: if you can, experience both. It will humble you; it will expose you to extravagance, it will teach you gratitude. To be privileged enough to have been exposed to both extremes – that alone is wondrous.
Both experiences on Koh Chang were wondrous, left me crisply sunburnt, smiling, drunk with pruned fingers. Totally different experiences, neither of which is better than the other.
I appreciate the times I’ve roughed it in $7 accommodations while traveling. I’m getting older though. Air conditioning and private showers are slightly more appealing than six-person shared dorms.
But can you appreciate either without having experienced them both?
The Chill Resort offers rooms with your own personal pool, open terrace shower, and beachside fine dining. May I suggest their assortment of coffees, green curry, and dinner breadsticks.
You will eat all of the dinner breadsticks.
Or rather, I ate all of the dinner breadsticks.
The resort was chosen by friends I met who then lived in Thailand: a blunt, bickering couple, her from Trinidad and him from England. Never have I met a person – a couple – that gave me answers straight up like these two. Direct, opinionated, honest — they became family.
Family because I lost my virginity to Yorkshire pudding at one of Chrissy’s dinners and went to more red light district shows in Bangkok with these two than with anyone I’ve met, ever. But I digress.
We went swimming late night in the infinity pool. It’s open until you leave, because the staff — a mix of beautiful Cambodians and Swedes — won’t kick you out. We spent our days lying comfortable by their mile-long pool overlooking the Gulf of Thailand, occasionally photographing ourselves doing weird things in said waters.
“Colin, take a picture of Chrissy standing on my shoulders.”
“Colin, take a picture of us jumping into the pool simultaneously.”
“Colin, we’re going underwater. Tell us who can hold their breath longer.”
“Colon, take a picture of us on this swing set like we’re honeymooning.”
“Colin, are you sure the sunset is in the background?”
Colin probably had a great time.
We rarely left that resort. My deepest, darkest backpacker-couchsurfing self will tell you I never wanted to. We were always content; our belly’s always full, lounging in poolside beds.
Colin read. Chrissy and I tried to look seductive in the pool.
We were still there in the evenings, getting tropical sugary shots and swimming naked in the infinity pool which by then, we had to ourselves.
So leaving Sunday was bittersweet. We were sunburnt with a chemical composition of 75% alcohol versus water. An hour long ferry and four hour car ride back never felt so good.
Contrast this with that first experience — Koh Chang in 2009. I was teaching English in Ayutthaya and was with a group of volunteers set on creating a kickass out of two nights in Koh Chang. This is where those one inch mattresses came into play.
But being broke in Thailand, even then, this was still a luxury.
It was the first time I saw and felt the type of water that has forever etched itself into my memory, and it’s partially what brought me back here.
I was waist-high in it. I saw each distinct speckle of sand at my feet. It’s like the water didn’t even exist; it was so clear you were just floating through some kind of gravity-resistant fluid piece of space. From a distance, a cerulean turquoise. Up close, crystal clear. Always beautiful. I was enclosed in this delicious salty Gulf, forgetting about every other murky body of water I had ever experienced.
I appreciate water. I think it has a harmonizing effect on people. Except for those desktop waterfalls people have. That just sounds like someone’s taking a piss in your cubicle.
That water stood out to me — I think I floated around in it forever. It’s one of those few times you feel your mind truly shuts off. Thoughts don’t pass through your consciousness because the present itself is too awesomely distracting.
The worries and to-do’s that ruin moments weren’t there. You just feel sensations and happiness in that moment. You really don’t think anything. That, I think, is nirvana.
Eventually, I had to get out of the water. We had kayaking plans.
We kayaked for two hours or so. And while we were out there, the afternoon sun disappeared behind clouds, the sky grayed. We were kilometers from shore. It started to drizzle, then pour.
And there we were, paddling through torrential precipitation, to the next closest piece of land – an uninhabited dot of an island that was not the island we were staying on.
We pulled our kayaks to the undeveloped island’s shore and waited for the storm to pass. The raindrops were powerful. It felt like hail. But on a glorious beach next to that warm body of water, hail felt like a hug.
We watched lightning hit water; we bemoaned our sore biceps from paddling (upper body strength is so underrated). The storm eventually calmed, and we made our way back.
That experience, along with others, is what’s brought me back here.
You see, this blog is aptly named. This single island in Thailand has given me the most diverse of experiences. It’s made me see things, feel things, smell things, live. That stagnant, enclosed life, where a single location serves as and always will be your only home and the limit of your adventures — that doesn’t suit me right now. I want mind-numbingly amazing experiences, whether they’re ridiculous infinity-pool photoshoots with new family, or blissful moments in the purest of waters.
Until next time Koh Chang.
See my other “Every Island” adventures: