Today the gates of heaven slid opened and let me in for a few hours. I wonder if there is a more beautiful place on earth then Koh Lok. I doubt it.
Early this morning I took a boat from Koh Lanta to Koh Lok for a snorkeling expedition. When I got on the speed boat I took a seat at the front figuring this would afford me the best views. I was right about that part. What I hadn't anticipated was how rough the journey would be. We made our way down the coast, stopping a few times to pick up passengers. Then we set out for the island. We were told it would be a 45 minute journey. We were also told the sea was rough so it might be a bit choppy. As I've said before, Thai's are kings of understatement. A more accurate statement would have been "there's a 50% chance we'll make it safely to the other side but a 100% certainty that if we do, you will be covered in your own vomit." The driver pointed the boat directly towards the island in the distance and opened up the engines full throttle. The waves were coming at us head on, waves of biblical proportion, and the front on our small boat rose up at what seemed 45 degrees then crashed down again, bottoming out hard each time as if landing in rock. We rose and fell with each wave, up in the air out of our seats as we crested each wave then slammed back down when we hit the bottom. My brain rattled in my skull. My organs shook. I feared my kidneys would become dislodged and I'd puke them over the side of the boat. And I had chosen the worst seat, all alone up there in the thick of the tumult. I felt like Noah on an arc of the UN. Behind me, Chinese, French, Brits, Germans, and the Thai mad men running the whole operation seemed like the flock I was shepherding the other side. The only common language between us was fear as we screamed and clutched the side rails for dear life. At one point it got so rough that one if the guides came to reassure us. "Don't worry. This boat new - 30 days old. Have 3 extra motors in case these 2 burn out." This was not reassuring. I wondered how much insurance they carried - surely not enough. I wondered what this boat was made of. Fiberglass? Was it designed to handle this kind of thrashing? Why did they have a new boat - Did the old one snap in half? I considered biting on my towel to keep my teeth from shattering if we hit a particularly stiff wave.
That was the hell part of the journey. But then we pulled up at the island and entered heaven. It took my breath away. It was the stuff of movies and coffee table books, white sand beaches, a crystal sea undulating between shades of blue the hues of beach glass. It was time for our first snorkel experience. Under us was an expansive coral reef, stretching as far as you could see in every direction. I saw angel fish bigger than my 2 hands, enormous sea urchin partially concealed under coves in the coral, and a bunch of other fish I couldn't identify - a long fish with a nose half the length of his body, a green and pink and blue fish with fluorescent green fins that flapped elegantly as he meandered. Big fish guarded their territory by lunging at little fish who tried to enter. All the fish pecked at the coral looking for food and it all looked like an ancient buried city inhabited by prehistoric creatures. I wondered - why are fish so colorful if survival depends on their ability to conceal themselves from predators? And why do they move around so much? Do they spend all of their waking hours hunting for food? Do fish sleep?
Soon it was time for lunch. We pulled up to a beach with a campsite (this island is completely undeveloped, hence the beauty it retains and the only way to stay here is to camp). We were served a buffet of the best food I've had in Koh Lanta. Simple Thai food, full of flavor. I spent my 90 minutes of free time lying on the beach and sifting the sand between my fingers (it fwas only slightly more coarse than powdered sugar), staring at the sea, desperately trying to capture these colors on film, and floating in the water. When it was time to go I wanted to cry. I did some quick calculations and figured I could cash out all of my assets and live here, pretty much for the rest of my life, camping on the beach, eating Thai food, and maybe selling jewelry made of coral and shells to the tourists who visit. Dennis could just fly over and join me and he could make a living playing music for island visitors. That would be a wonderful life.
Somehow, I dragged myself onto the boat. I discussed with a young British student, visiting Thailand on a break from school, how I expected the journey to be more pleasant on the way home since the wind would be at our backs. She agreed. Sadly, we both turned out to be wrong and the trip back was even worse. I gripped the handrail so tight that I pulled muscles in my forearm (they’re so strained I’m having trouble typing). I could no longer bear to sit down so I crouched and tried to take the rise and fall in my knees as if surfing the waves (a more pleasant experience than taking it in your back but one hell of a workout). After 45 minutes, we finally made it back to try land.
For my last dinner in Koh Lanta I decided to head into town to a place I’d read and heard about - Time for Lime. They run a pretty popular cooking school, I’d heard they served authentic Thai food, and all of the proceeds from the restaurant go to an animal sanctuary they run. The place was packed so I took a seat at the bar. Over the next two hours I ate a nearly perfect meal. A lemongrass margarita, a few glasses of wine, and a 6-course tasting menu of marinated grilled shrimp, carmelized fish with thai spicy salad, green massaman curry served in a banana leaf cone . . . it was spectacular and it only cost me $20. On the way out I made a donation to the animal charity and made my way out to the street to find a tuk tuk. It was my first and only tuk tuk ride and although every bump in the road was amplified in my sore body, it was a thrilling way to travel. After nearly 2 weeks in this country I’m starting to feel completely at home. Hard to believe it’s almost time to leave.