I’ve just arrived back onto Koh Samui after six days, five nights, on the island of Wu Ta Lab in the Ang Thong National Park. What a blast!
I left my main pack at the Seaview Guesthouse (it should be noted that I have neither the sea, a view, or a sea view), where I spent my one night between Koh Pha Ngan and Ang Thong, and headed to the park on a High Sea Tour boat. For 500B (plus 200B standard National Park entrance fee) the boat goes to Wua Ta Lap, the parks HQ, and spends two hours there while tourists hike up to the View Point, to the limestone cave or just lounge on the beach. After that the boat departs to Ko Ma Ko, an island directly north of Wua Ta Lap that features the “Emerald Lake” that alegedly Alex Garland got the idea for the secret inland lake in The Beach.
I got off at the first stop and confirmed with the tour boat that I could just hop back on after staying a couple days – and every day they asked me, “Today you leave?” and I answered simply with a smile and a, “Nope, not today.” It really was damn near painful to tear myself away from this place. If it wasn’t for the desire for a soft bed and more than just one change of dirty clothes, I may have never left – and at only 20B per night, who would have blamed me.
I really underpacked for the place under the assumption that I’d be roughing it for a few days. Turns out that the place is a pretty popular tourist destination and the island houses more than 30 full-time staff members. The thing is it isn’t farang tourists, but Thai. It was strange to see these people I had just come to think of as 20h a day working machines actually taking time to relax in the sun.
My first day I set up camp and after the majority of the tourists had left I headed up to the viewpoint. Now, let it be said that I’ve been told a number of times by Thais that Thai people work hard and therefore don’t generally like to hike, walk, generally expend any energy they don’t have to (Rieng admitted she takes a motorbike home from the bus stop). So when I saw the sign that basically advised that the View Point was 500m and a very hard trek I assumed that this was using the Thai system of what “hard” was, and it didn’t seriously apply to this rugged Canadian. About 45 minutes later, after swiftly dodging about 5 major coronary failures and a stroke or two, when a Dutch girl on her way down told me that I was about half way and it only gets harder, I re-assessed National Park signs and took good note to always follow them to the letter.
Eventually after a STEEP climb that involved two ropes as my only support and a bunch of sharp, sun scorched rocks as my footing (strangly, they clinked like metal when my rings hit them) I reached the View Point – a wooden platform that overlooks all the National Park islands. It was absolutely stunning. I knew what to expect as I had seen photos in brochures, but to see it first hand was breathtaking, and I had very little breath left to take.
I took in the view for a good 30 minutes, which incidently was about how long it took to catch my breath – imagine that. By this time I had been joined by a Brit, so together we made the decent and happily told all those on their way up how hard it was, but how worth it it was. We only managed to scare two people into turning around – but they were not young and looked close to needing to push their medical alert bracelets.
The rest of my time on the island was basically spent hanging with a bunch of Thais, as there really weren’t many farangs that stayed on the island. I made friends with Gon, the park’s manager who also plays some mean Scorpions covers and a great Thai rendition of Hotel California on guitar. I also befriended the staff at the park’s canteen/restaurant. They were all so awesome and sitting here alone in my room I am left wanting for more of their conversation. Their English was all quite good, and it gave me an excellent opportunity to practice my Thai as well as learn more vocab.
I think it was day three I decided to fight off impending bordom (I had finished my only book the day before and there was not a scrap of written English other than my brochure on the entire island) by heading to a fishing village on the other side of the island. I got directions from one of the staff members who gave me a bit of a “crazy farang” look for wanting to know, and I headed into the forest. About 30 minutes of walking through spider webs and battling with mosquitoes later I stumbled into the “village”, which was more of a dirt path with scattered bamboo huts on either side and the tools of fishing everywhere. After aimlessly wandering around with a quirky smile on my face a fisherman took pity on this sweaty white guy and invited him into the shade of his hut where he was repairing strange looking hooks. He explained, through a series of demonstrations as his English was worse than my Thai, that they were for catching squid and that he was a squid fisherman, squiderman?
I swiftly became the novelty of the town as foreigners are not common (and I think that’s an understatement). I was treated to some fried squid (which on my way in to town I had sworn never to eat again as I saw how it was sundried and covered with flies – meh), mellon, water, and pretty much offered everything these people had. It was incredible. Then to top it all off, after about an hour or so of hanging out, they gave me a free lift in their boat back to the other side of the island. Simply amazing. When I offered money for the ride, they laughed at me.
I fell into a bit of a routine on the island whereby I would wake up between 6 and 8 (depending on how well I tuned out the rooster, monkeys, staff and increasing heat from the rising sun), spend most the day in the restaurant speaking with Kae, a 26-year-old girl that ran sorta ran the restaurant; and Ake, Pim and Fon, three students from Chiang Mai Uni that were there on sort of a work-placement type of thing. Around 4 p.m., after the day-tourists left, I would head down to the beach to swim and usually ended up falling asleep for an hour or two in the fading sunlight. Waking up I’d go to the restaurant, have some fried rice with squid (or on one special occasion I had chicken curry with coconut milk – every day I asked for it but they never had it, then one day Kae had a big smile on her face and said I could have it!). After dinner I’d go and hang on the beach with my guitar and usually ended up making friends with whatever audience decided to come and pay me a listen. By about 9:30-10:30 it was bed time and then I’d wake up and repeat. Some of the characters would change, but basically that’s what I did every day. Tough life eh? Haha.
I also practiced my spinning things. An Israeli guy told me what their official name is, but I have forgotten. He also showed me how to turn around with them, which has lent me some movement while playing with them.
Today, after saying goodbye to my friends, and appearing in some photos with Pim, I boarded the boat and headed to Ko Ma Ko to see what this Emerald Lake was all about. Though not quite as dramatic as its cinematic counterpart, it was quite beautiful. We only had an hour on the island and hiking up to a view point and then down close to the water ate up most of this time and before I knew it I was back on the boat headed towards Samui.
It was at this point that I realized that now, with exactly one week left in Thailand, I’ve begun my trip homeward. Everything now is geared towards getting back to Canada, and I have to admit, I’m a bit sad. When I think about it, I can’t be, because I’ve seen and done so many amazing things, but… well, there it is. It’s really coming to an end. To borrow a lyric from a song that only Cass, myself and the ocean may recognize, “The question is: What will I do then?”
Speaking of Cass, it’s been the better part of a week since I’ve been able to check e-mail and hear from her, so… time to end this and go see if anyone misses me.
Oh, tomorrow I head out of the island paradise I’ve been surrounded by for the past four weeks and begin my trek back to Bangkok. Once there I’m going to take a day or two and head over to Kanchantanaburi (no idea if that’s actually how it’s spelt), where the infamous Bridge Over The River Kwai and death railway are. Then it’s back to Rieng’s for some good chat, good food, good shopping and goodbyes with her and her family.