The Islands: Ko Larn and Ko Samet

Traveling from one place to another is a major part of this quilt of places we are patching together. Bus travel takes time partially because the roads can be rough, and windy, and mostly because buses take time.

The train lines are limited and go between Bangkok and Vientiane or Chiang Mai, so going east/west it’s either buses or vans. And then there is the problem of language, but the Thai transportation people have handled that by telling us non Thai speakers where to sit and wait until someone comes to take us to the van or bus. It’s pretty cool, actually, and they have to remind us when we get uptight, that we still need to sit and wait, cause they haven’t forgotten us. So piecing the travel together is a job. after Adel and I crossed the border back into Thailand, we decided to go West by bus for about five hours, to hook into the central train line to Bangkok, and get tickets for a night train in a second-class sleeper! And believe me that there is a whole story related to trying to find out information about how to coordinate the trip that involves a tourist information place that tried valiantly to help, and gave us the name of a travel agent who really couldn’t give us what we wanted but she did a crucial thing by giving us the bus schedule, and a tuktuk driver who was like an angel following us around even though we had said we were walking…and he kept pointing the way! We ended up hiring him for our quick ride back to our hotel to pack up and get to the bus station. We were determined to get to the ocean!

We decided to go to an island called Ko Larn. It is located off of the booming city of Pattaya, Thailand. It is an hour and a half from Bangkok which makes it a busy tourist attraction. We had no idea what to expect, and we caught on quickly as the trip over to the island unfolded. Pattaya is a hopping place for one, and as we approached the waterfront and tried to get our bearings, we attracted the attention of people who had all the answers to what we needed. It is wild how quickly a person gets wrapped into the sticky web of the ones who for just 1000 baht will get us to the island, how about 800, no no no, 900. Well what about the ferry which costs so much less, but where does it leave from? Okay 800, come. And before you know it we have paid the money, cell phone calls are made and they are loading us, our backpacks, and suitcase onto the backs of motorbikes. Where are we going? We are handed off to a woman who points out a speedboat in the distance, and then she says with gestures and broken English go wait on that floating dock. That one? Go! The yellow boat? Go! It does all work out, but I question our level of trust as we are moved about. It is a well oiled machine and each player gets a cut.

Our motorboat slaps the surface of the water hard as the waves are stirred up with some wind and rain. We come around the back side of Ko Larn and land at a long floating dock. It is a late Friday afternoon, and we will need to find a place to stay as our first order of business. We head up a little alley, and at the very end of it find a little guesthouse. The room the woman shows us is quite nice, with a view of the water over the rooftops, but too expensive, so we decide to look farther. We look just the tiniest bit farther, find a room on the same alley that would be like staying in a display window for just a couple of hundred baht less, before we decide that the first room is really perfect and worth every baht!!!!

Ko Larn, we come to find, is a day-trippers island. There is the floating pier that juts out 100 yards off the beach and is the landing spot for all the big speed boats that make countless trips all day long to transport passengers. There is a public pier, too, for the ferry that runs on the hour. The beach is long and and set up with rows of beach chairs and umbrellas that a person can rent. You can rent anything for a price….snorkel, inner tubes, motorbikes, bikes. There is a sidewalk about six feet wide that runs parallel to the ocean and is lined with all the businesses: restaurants, souvenir shops, clothes, clothes, clothes. It is all the same stuff repeated in every shop. So the sidewalk is crowded with people, but we get the added craziness of motorbikes traveling through. The culture of the motorized vehicle rules even here with so many people. I would change that!!!!

Because we are staying overnight we get to see the surreal change from bustling marketplace to a closed down ghost town. The first night we walk the quiet avenue looking for a place to eat. Luckily we are not very hungry. We walk farther along the beach, and there are dogs sleeping all along the road; little shadowy curled bodies along the edges. Dogs really don’t relate much to humans in this culture. It is rare to see a dog that is coddled. In the morning as we wake up we are aware of the roar of motorboats, and the day has begun. We come out to the end of the alley and see the beginnings of people arriving on the island, and soon it becomes a steady stream of arrivals. It is mostly big tour groups of Chinese people.

We decide to go to another beach this day, and hire a tuktuk. We go to Monkey Beach. I am so glad that we ventured to another beach because it feels more peaceful in a bustling kind of way. We rent a couple of beach chairs and settle in. We meet a family in crisis right next to us. All of a sudden there is a sinking feeling, all around us and it appears that a child is in trouble in the water, and the mother next to us rushes to the water, and her sister goes into the water to pull the child into shallows. Mostly, this was just a scare, but it was galvanizing to everyone nearby. We commiserate with the family next to us and find out that they are immigrants from Iraq who have overstayed their visa by five years. We hear their story, and the fact that their children cannot go to school, and the adults cannot work except on the side. Both have been teachers in the past, but now the father cuts hair. They kindly share food with us. So many stories. Adel also learns that the woman who runs our guesthouse has her children back in Cambodia, and she sends money back for their care. The end of the alley we are staying is a small collection of families from Cambodia.

We walk from Monkey Beach to a town. The twisty roads take us past clothing stores, restaurants, and guest houses, plus the occasional business that supports the residents, not just the tourists.

Sidewalks are not just for pedestrians; they are for parking motorbikes, putting up signs, setting up a stall for selling noodle soup. Pedestrians can fend for ourselves out in the street. We end up at the pier where we get the fanciest dang drink I have ever had with an orchid and little umbrella.

We also decide to get massages which is always a possibility in Thailand, and for very little money, but being still bargain hunters we go back to the edge of town where the price is better. When we get there there are many pairs of shoes outside the door and they are booked up, so back into town! What a luxury to get an hour massage for 12 dollars, and both Adel and I were pleased with the skill of the women who worked on us. We also visited the market where all kinds of food vendors were selling street food. I don’t remember what we got, but it was extremely good, and what I do remember getting was a waffle with corn and chocolate chips cooked into it. It was a sweet delight.

We have another night and another chance in the morning to splash in the warm waters with everybody else before we head back to Pattaya on the public ferry. Adel’s time is coming to an end. We book a place online that looks pretty good, and then we must find our way to it. The deeper we walk into the vicinity of the guesthouse the more obvious it is that it is in the red light district of Pattaya. We had thought about getting another massage but as we pass masseuses, they are all dressed up in slinky clothes, and it seems like we are not the intended clientele. The whole scene is depressing and after all the beauty and simplicity and nature we have experienced, this is not so great. Adel has to get up at 4AM to catch a cab to Bangkok Airport, and the street scene pulses loudly until 3AM. Why was that fact not in any of the reviews I read???? I go down and see my dear friend off, and then go back for a little more sleep. I am catching a van to Baan Fe where I will take a ferry to Ko Samet.

I am realizing that I am not loving traveling alone this time. There is always so much to figure out, and having conversations is limited because of language. I feel frustrated so much of the time with all the unanswered questions I have, and I have so many unprocessed thoughts. I have found a place with Adel’s help called Ao Naun which is a small resort on a little cove on the Gulf of Thailand, on a lovely little beach that happened to be the most laid back beach on the island. This island is in a few hours shot of Bangkok which makes it a tourist destination more for weekends, and I figured I would stay a bit, and then move on to somewhere more remote, but I find that the beach I have found and the little bungalow is so sweet, that I can’t imagine finding anything better.

I listen to the constant roar of waves, and spend sweet time floating and bobbing in the warm water. I read, draw, walk, get two massages, write in my journal, and sweep out my bungalow every morning. I have been so inspired by the culture of sweeping that I have witnessed here. It does seem like a spiritual practice. Like an offering to the day.

I did a fair amount of worrying about how I was going to allow myself to possibly do nothing, so island time was more of a personal journey than my other travels thus far. I do like to make things or work toward goals, and doing projects and creative things does not seem like just busy work, and I felt a little lost until I decided to draw every day in addition to sweeping. I woke up at dawn everyday, and caught the sun rise though there were always clouds at the horizon, so the sun was up before it showed its face. I could go to the open air common space of the little resort of Ao Naun to get a cup of tea to drink early, and often had muesli, yogurt and fruit for breakfast. Cannot beat that! I had a little porch on my bungalow and usually pulled a beach chair up there to relax in and read with my tea. It’s good. It was fun to watch the little community of regulars set up on the beach each day, and there were some who had a routine set in sand. There was an older couple who arrived around 9:00 and I swear they did Sudokus all day with a few long swims interspersed……. All day and the whole two weeks I was there, and probably still! I never talked to them. The woman was stony faced, and I had a feeling that there was a language barrier. Up to the point of getting to the island I had conversations in passing with so many other travelers, but something was different here. Mostly folks were unto themselves. Maybe I was too. Did I just get shyer? Not sure. I wasn’t totally into being alone, but I did sink into it. Drawing helped.

One thing did occupy my mind while I was there. There were four very good-natured workers who served the needs of all the people who either stayed at Ao Naun or who frequented the beach. They started at 6 AM, and closed up at 9 PM. They cooked and served breakfast, lunch and dinner, and everything in between, plus they did all the maintenance, and were available to answer all concerns. They worked everyday that I was there, and only took one night off. There were some Thai people who came to vacation, but the majority of visitors were Farang (Westerners). I do feel so sensitive to the inequities of society, and this was a situation that felt so wrong. I realized that guilt does not solve a thing, and that I did not create the system, but sometimes the onus of my leisure in contrast to the staff’s 18-hour days of work was a burden. The other bit of information I was privy to was that Mam, this lovely worker with the most beautiful smile, was a mother of a two-year-old and a twelve-year-old son, who both were back in her town living with her husband and mother while she was earning money to send home. She was the second mother away from her kids because of financial necessity that I met. So what was there to do about it? Really other than be open and respectful and enjoy their company, there was nothing to do. I did learn how to write their names in Thai, and decided to embroider each name on a piece of felt which I turned into a little pouch in which I left a tip on the day I departed. Small, but somewhat personal answer to my dilemma. Goodbye Ae, Kao, Mam, and Pia. Thank you.

Here I am blogging about food and events from three weeks ago, and I realize that so many pictures, interactions, and morsels have come between. I seem to have fallen behind in my posts, and I am already ending my trip to Vietnam as I send this installment to Peter, who kindly gets it posted for me! Thank you, dear Peter!!!!

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