Tag Archives: beach

How to Write a Beach: Thailand’s Andaman Coast

It’s difficult to write about a beach vacation.

I’m not pompous enough to pretend that I can write anything, even if I am enough to write. Besides, nothing really happened; and when nothing really happens, shitty metaphors spill out in oily logorrhea. I’ve been on whiter sands, have enjoyed more soothing and impressive surf, and swum in bluer waters. The mere notion of evoking such platitudes is enough to kill the real beauty that the coastal areas of southern Thailand actually contain.

I mean, this is the area where moviemakers filmed The Beach, The Man with the Golden Gun, and Tomorrow Never Dies.

Because of the awful, deadly, and destructive floods in northern and central Thailand that began at the end of July and have been slow to subside, many schools and businesses in the area have been forced to temporarily—permanently, in some tragic cases—suspend operations. From Thursday, 27 October, until Sunday, 30 October, the city of Bangkok declared an impromptu holiday. All residents who were able to leave the city were strongly encouraged by the government to do so.

Resort areas, like Hua Hin and Koh Samet, became quickly filled as Thais and others left the city. Many expats even flew home, including two of my friends.

All of us had just returned from our inter-semester vacations and were exhausted and traveling and ready for work. The news that classes were postponed—eventually until 28 November—was deflating.

Of course, not everyone was able to leave—and certainly not to beaches. On November 20, the Associated Press reported that the death toll from the floods had passed 600.

A friend and I left for the beach on Saturday, 29 October. We ran ourselves into the ground island hopping (if such a statement can and should be made), a strategy that was pretty stupid in hindsight. We got back to our rooms in Bang Na on Sunday, 6 November.

Of course, plenty happened during that week. I filled two and a half pages in my notebook with day-by-day notes—more than my stint as an extra in a commercial received. One day, I traveled on a long-tail boat to two islands and two karsts—limestone formations that jut out of the water and high into the clear sky—snorkeling into schools of fish I’d seen only in Finding Nemo. Another day, I spent all but five hours in my bed—mainly sleeping—as my body battled some disruptive and evacuating twenty-four-hour bug.

I also, embarrassingly, left my camera behind and missed photos within the otherworldly Emerald Cave, reportedly a one-time treasure cache for pirates.

The highlight, though, was a couple hours spent on a rented motorbike with my friend. She and I wanted to explore past our little nook on Klong Khong Beach and maybe hunt down an alleged night market in the older area, on the east coast, of Koh Lanta.

There was no night market where we looked for one, but it didn’t matter. We continued to slowly make our way around the eastern and north-eastern coasts of the island. The night was chilly—especially for me, who was driving—the road was poorly maintained and riddled with potholes, and our motorbike’s headlight worked, tops, at fifty percent.

But the sea air was crisp and delicious and the stars lit the sky almost as much as the waxing moon.

There weren’t Norwegian and British flags; signs reading, “We speak Francais”; persistent vendors pushing trips to other islands; or scuba shops. This was Koh Lanta before many—non-Thai and Thai alike—realized the island’s beach paradises, particularly on the western shores.

Ramshackle wood and corrugated metal houses stood on sparsely vegetated plots of dirt. 7-11s and restaurants were less popular than mobile food-stalls fixed outside of these homes. One could drive for five kilometers before seeing another human. Streetlights illuminated ten meters every kilometer, if not less.

I did float around in the gentle Andaman Sea as well. Long-tail boats and rectangle limestone-mountains were the only things visible on the horizon.

I did announce, twice, “This is motherfucking delightful,” squatting chin-deep in azure waters and staring down a karst.


Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Thailand


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Like a Tropical Jesus, I Walk between Islands

Although I’m working on less than five hours of sleep—I would set insomnia on fire if I could—I am here, at my keyboard, bringing you another installment of Suddenly Farang. That’s how much I care, people.

Besides, I figure you all want to hear about my long beach-weekend that was undoubtedly sandier and more picturesque, despite the monsoon season, than your typical-length weekend. So now that I’ve jammed my stomach with a minced shrimp omelet, it’s time to describe.

Last weekend was extended thanks to Wan Khao Pansa—or what’s translated as ‘Buddhist Lent’—which gave us off on Friday and Monday. The association with Lent seems like a mildly silly and denuding connection, but such cross-cultural borrowings are for a post where a four-day weekend isn’t involved.

The short teaching-week was much appreciated and fairly easy, since the bulk of my students had only in-class presentations. On Thursday, one level had to present a business plan for a predetermined type of company. Two of the more standout plans worthy of a blog were for a massage parlor and an airline company. The former named their business “Climax Massage Parlor” and began their PowerPoint slideshow with a picture of a woman with an especially red O-face. Their slogan: “Our Fingers. Our Palms. Your Climax.” I’m thankful these students are so good at English; otherwise, my lack of professionalism would have been very unprofessional.

The latter chose to make their airline company a luxury line, catering only to the wealthiest in Thailand. But, because of one student’s heavy-ish accent, I couldn’t quite make out his tag line. I could have sworn he said, “Our airline will get you high like Jesus?” I was rather proud of the oblique Beatles reference and sheer audacity of the statement, even if slightly confused. But, when I pressed the student further, I realized he said “high like a G6.” So much for my knowledge of popular music said through a heavy Asian accent.

Enter Friday, a day jam-packed with getting ready for the beach. I took the university’s free shuttle bus to Bangkok with my beach buddy to crash at another friend’s apartment close to the Ekamai bus station. Settling in, we got some amazing food at Coconuts, a place with an extensive vegetarian menu. And the food was about half the price of what I pay on campus. Bangkok definitely does have its upsides.

After a total lack of sleep (which is becoming a trend, apparently), the four of us

I'm on a bus

woke up at 6:30 a.m. to be to the station by 7 a.m. It took us about five hours to arrive at the pier, where we picked up a fifth member. Once on a ferry, it was another thirty minutes to reach the island. The whole trip was pretty easy—just a mix of interrupted naps, reading, listening to music, and vamping a playlist on which I’ve been working (cough NERD cough).

Cloudy Koh Chang

We left this early in the morning so we could eke out a day at the beach, but we were beach-blocked on Friday. About halfway through the bus ride, we began to drive into periodic and heavy rains—rains that didn’t stop until sometime on Monday, when we left. The rain didn’t preclude either time on the beach or awkward sunburns, but it did lead to a change of plans on Friday. Instead of a forced beach-day, we walked around our area—we ended up staying along White Sands Beach—and ate and ate and ate. Things could have been worse.

Because it was Buddhist Lent, however, obtaining alcohol over the weekend wasn’t a guarantee. I’m not a huge drinker—and have been described as a teetotaler—but I did want a beer or two on the beach. While most shops and restaurants didn’t mind selling booze, more regulated places—7-11, for example—had signs posting their refusal to sell alcohol because of the holiday. One wine store had its doors shut entirely. But if one could finagle and proffer a charming, demure smile—two of my specialties—one could enjoy an aforementioned beer or two on the beach.

The beach buddy and I rested in the same room all weekend: a 350B hotel room with an industrially powerful fan (I would wake up cold), two large beds, and detached-but-private showers that was across the road from the beach and our favorite place to eat, Cookies. The hotel was completely without frills, but for that it was perfect.

We all went to bed early—probably between 10 and 11 p.m.—with full stomachs and overwhelming exhaustion. We had big plans for Saturday, anyway.

But before the big plans could kick off, I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and was unable to fall back to sleep. DSLR in hand, I decided to walk around town and take night photos; I love dicking around with long exposures and insomnia lends the perfect excuse to do so. There were even potential sunrise shots in my future, at this rate.

The photos, as you can see didn’t turn out so great. Because it had been so rainy, there were few surfaces on which to rest my camera. Sunrise pictures were phased out as well since I was beginning to remember that it was 5:15 a.m. and my ass was actually tired.

All was not for naught, though, since I got to enjoy a 7-11 breakfast on a plastic chair outside of the store while bathing in the luminescence of the storefront sign. There was a weird kind of serenity to it, my probably strange tableau.

Back in bed by 5:45 a.m., I grabbed three more hours of welcomed sleep.

Rejuvenated, I squeezed in an ass-kicking hill run, glorious shower, and second breakfast, this time done right at Cookies with a soothing view of the beach.

Remants of a morning well spent.

Once again, I had the privilege of traveling with Tor, my friend’s Thai boyfriend. Another benefit of Tor I discovered regards travel: in Koh Chang, while other people were renting and wrecking motorbikes, we got to rent a badass pick-up truck. Aside from allowing a sequel to farang truck, our car proved to be much more reliable than the motorbikes on the switchbacks from hell, regularly slick with fresh rain puddles.

Thailand should begin training a bobsled team.

 After negotiating the often unbelievably winding and mountainous roads, we ventured into Bang Bao, a quaint—albeit touristly expensive—fishing village with cool piers to walk along and explore. There’s not much to be said about Bang Bao that isn’t conveyed better in pictures, so indulge below.

We wondered if we could buy this for 300,000B

Piers ventured, we drove to Khlong Phlu Waterfall. Thanks to my university ID, which somehow makes me a resident of Thailand that somewhat compensates for my skin-tone-and-language-based farang status, I paid only 40B as opposed to the 200B mandated from foreigners. Cha-ching.

The 400-meter trek to the waterfall would have sucked if it wasn’t kind of funny. All of us were wearing sandals and the ground on the way to the falls was muddy, mossy, wet, or all three—making the steep drop to the left all that much more comic. I was happy we pressed on, though, because what was at the end of the 400 meters was pretty motherfucking spectacular.

Khlong Phlu Waterfall

Although I didn’t like sharing the Khlong Phlu Waterfall, the crowds eventually faded into the background. All I really remember was taking the first jump into the water and floating around for not nearly long enough, the sound of water crashing down behind me.


The waterfall was a huge victory, but Saturday had another surprise in store. Who goes shopping for prescription eyeglasses while on an island vacation in a tropical climate? Cool kids, obviously. Beach buddy needed eyeglasses something fierce and a shop on the island was having a 2-for-1 sale. She felt bad for taking up a portion of my night with eyeglasses, but I was perfectly content—and she would have been stupid to pass up the sale. Besides, I was treated to free juice and a sedate feeling of atemporal presence: high and relaxed. The eyeglass shopping was, oddly enough, as good a part of the weekend as any other.

Sunday was another early morning; two of our friends were leaving at noon and we had to walk to an island from our island.

Walkable island, from Koh Chang

Fo’ real.

Once on Kai Bae beach, it was probably a quarter- to half-mile walk to a nearby island, accessible by foot only at low tide. One of those in the group had been to Koh Chang a month or two earlier, so she told us about this walkable island on the bus. Needless to say, all of us had been excited about the possibility of marching to an island from the start.

Setting off.

Don't slip.

The walk itself took about twenty to thirty minutes and, once we hit the coral, became like walking on stilts—underwater. Much like the waterfall, the walk was a pain in the ass, but, unlike the waterfall, watching the island become increasingly closer was a persistent motivator.

Pii krap ani koh tao rai krap?

Once on the island—which is for sale, if you’re interested (although non-Thais can’t own land in Thailand)—we kind of traipsed around the shore, taking photos and climbing on driftwood. I wish I could better convey what it was to walk to island from an island, but I think that clause conveys what we did quite nicely:

We walked to an island from an island.

And while a ton of people tried to follow us path, maybe only a handful made it. Poseur wannabe bitches.

An offering?

Such an achievement meant it was time for street food. Admittedly, though, I’ll be goddamned if I know of an hour when it isn’t time for street food in Thailand. This meal was particularly tasty: a whole fish grilled on a skewer with two sides of sticky rice, or khao niao. I ordered the whole thing in Thai before hopping back into the truck and sharing the feast with my beach buddy. She and I sat in the bed of the truck eating moist, smoky, grilled fish and khao niao as we drove back to our beach—and loving the shit out of life. By noon, I was rocking a super-sweet tank-top sunburn, but whatevs. There was no opportunity to stress.

After some time in a café with coffee, tomato juice, and pineapple fried rice with my beach buddy, we spent the rest of the day hanging out, watching Fashion TV—it was really rainy and/or overcast out and we were effing exhausted—and taking pictures of the sunset over wine, the beach buddy and I met with the third friend for dinner, as the other two had since left. Once again, I ordered street food—two orders of som tom and two of sticky rice, all for 80B—completely in Thai. Ego inflated, we sat down to dinner with our third and were treated to an impromptu fire show. Check out these shots of the sunset and fire dancers.

And then the Apocalypse happened

Monday morning was spent on the beach—laying out, running up and down the shoreline, and romping in the ocean. (Walking into the waves, I said, out loud, “This is so irresponsible,” a fact for which I was thankful.) Plus, although I spent only a few hours on the beach, I was able to soften my awkward tank-tan into an overall redness. Score one for me? Hell, the whole weekend was score-one-for-me.

The bus ride back sucked—100% sucked—but I was able to play back the entire weekend in my mind. Not bad, kids. Not bad.

Next up: a trip to Chiang Mai, an area I’ve hyped up so much in my mind that I expect nothing less than a haven interspersed with elephants, vegetarian food, and colorful tapestries.

See you all then.

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Posted by on July 22, 2011 in Thailand


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