Part II: Hat Yai, The Islands, and The Full Moon Party
The night train from KL to Hat Yai was by far the worst train I have ever encountered. The seats were hard, the bathroom door was broken, and by the looks of it, so was the toilet. They never dimmed the lights and the entire night, they played the same God awful horror movie over and over. I tried my best to sleep, but it didn’t come easy. Partially because of the big fluorescent nightlights above me, partially because of the disturbingly bad movie that wouldn’t end, but mainly, because there was an exorcism being performed in my intestines. You know how sometimes your stomach bubbles before you have to burp? Well, it’s a similar sensation, but you know that if you even try to fart, you’re gonna mess up your shorts real bad. And since I didn’t dare use the toilet on the train, I just had to clench down and bear it. Now, its not as bad as it sounds. The moment would come, I would clench, and it would pass. But just try sleeping with the idea that if you so much as pass gas in your sleep, you may wake up with a crowd of strangers bearing down on you with combined looks of pity and disgust.
Hat Yai was nothing special. Apparently, it was a border town for Malaysians who came to shop away their superior currency and get pampered at beauty salons. And that was pretty much what Hat Yai offered. Foot massages and beauty salons, with the occasional string of bars or restaurants. I checked into the Louise Guesthouse, showered up, and met a local travel agent whose shop was literally a plastic stool set up in an outdoor walkway just outside the guesthouse. He was tall, skinny, and despite missing several teeth, had a very kind and charming smile. He helped me find a place to convert my RMB to Baht and offered to take me to a tiger show in the evening if I was interested. I was interested, until he explained that it wasn’t actually a show with tigers, but rather, a live sex show. Still, he did help me plan my first move. See, I had been on the move for the past four days or so. My back hurt, my stomach growled, and my spirit was beginning to weaken. I needed to find paradise and I needed to find it quick. He suggested leaving in the morning for Koh Lipe, a small island off the western shores of Thailand’s coast. So I booked my ticket for the bus and ferry ride, and set off to check out the city.
My first stop was a beauty salon. I stopped in for a pedicure to get the calluses of my feet and the woman just kept offering more services…manicure, facial, shave, ear cleaning, and I figured, there’s really nothing else to do in the city and after being in a state of perpetual travel for the past four days, I knew my body needed it. Besides, there’s something nostalgic about being a lone wanderer and stopping in for a grooming when your nails and whiskers get long. Eventually, even her assistant, a grotesque looking woman with small warts all over her face started flirting with me and began massaging my hands and feet, asking all the while if it felt good. It did feel good, I just had to remember to keep my eyes closed. I must have spent more than two hours getting cleaned up and when the bill came, I was expecting 300 baht, maybe 350, but I was a little off…1500bht later, I was a little stressed. That was almost a three day budget I had just spent and all I had really wanted was my feet shaved.
At this point, my back was tired, my stomach was angry, and I was getting hungry. I stopped in a local restaurant and bought a puny and pitiful burger, a side of fries, and a beer for another 150bht and while I was waiting for my order, a bubbling began in my stomach. I must have forgotten about my stomach bug, because I didn’t clench this time. I could feel the combined expression of surprise and terror come over my face as I felt a warm, muddy slime begin running down my leg. I could only hope they had a bathroom because if they didn’t, I wasn’t sure how I would face the streets in broad daylight as I walked back to my room. There was a bathroom and I made it there before anything made it past the bottom of my shorts. Luckily, instead of wearing underwear, I had my boardshorts underneath, so nothing soaked into my cargo shorts. But the boardshorts were a mess. I locked the door and stripped down and once again, fell in love with the water hose bidet that Southeast Asia uses to clean up. I washed up, hosed down the mess off my shorts, and emptied the trash bag right into the bin and used the bag itself to hold my swimtrunks. I put my cargo shorts back on , stuffed my shame into the side pocket, washed my hands, and made it back to the table before my meal did.
I’ll tell you, at this point in my trip, I wasn’t having any fun and I was beginning to question whether I had made the right decision to leave China. I had been so excited to get to Thailand and so far, all I had gotten was a makeover, a mess, and that later that night, a baby elephant trying to sell me bananas on the street. Well, that last part was actually pretty cool. Still, I was tired of having to stop off at the bathroom every five minutes and things weren’t getting better. I was actually afraid to leave my hotel room because there seemed to be no end to what was dying inside me. But by noon the next day, I was sitting on the back of a speed boad, racing through the blue green waters as jet streams of white wash cascaded past islands of green forest. At this point, I couldn’t help but smile, laughing at all the troubles that seemed to build up during my days dedicated to getting here. I had never seen these waters before or their islands. I had never seen this type of natural beauty before, but for some reason, everything seemed familiar. Maybe from a movie, or a postcard, or a travel ad…maybe from a dream…
Koh Lipe was paradise. Clear blue waters, white sand beaches, palm trees and jungle, all packed into an island that you could walk across in twenty minutes. I stayed in a bamboo hut and spent my days lying in the sun, swimming in the ocean, and snorkeling with the fish. It was just what I had needed, but after two days, I became restless again. As beautiful as the island was, it was an island for lovers and sadly, I had no one to love…So, I packed my bags and jumped on a boat to take me back to the mainland and to a bus that would drive me clear across to the gulf of Thailand, where Koh Phagnan and its notorious Full Moon Party awaited me….
Spending the morning lying in a hammock tied between two palm trees, a lone coconut dangling above my head, I realized, I have unwittingly accomplished a life long dream. Ever since seeing a cartoon as a child of a penguin wearing sunglasses and idly hanging between two palm trees on the shores of a tropical beach have I wanted to the same. The view, the climate, the hypnotic sound of the shore is more than I ever imagined it would be. Maybe for the first time has reality surpassed the expectations of my fantasy. In the distance, a lonely boat rocks lazly in the water. Its movement mimicking that of my hammock as both of us follow the rhythm of the shoreline. I’ve spent the entire morning lying here, reading, relaxing, with no feeling of want. Completely content. Yesterday was a traveling day. A speed boat led a group of us on a two or three hour journey off the island of Koh Lipe and to the airport in Trang. From there, a mini bus drove myself and a young Dutch couple to Suratthanni. Johanson and Wendy were extremely friendly to me and treated me to a small lunch during an hour break we had. The bus go us to Surat around seven that evening and dropped us strategically in front of a travel agency. Johanson didn’t like the pushy nature of the agent and they went off in search of a hotel for the night. I instead, I opted for the night ferry which left at eleven. I paid the agent 500bht for the ticket, but after asking a competing agency the price, I felt I was getting ripped off. I asked for the money back and he tried to convince me that the other agent didn’t know what he was talking about. Soon, he called to his boss, who, though I couldn’t speak Thai, didn’t look very happy. My heart quickened a little when I saw him stand up and noticed a gun stuffed down the back of his pants. Even more so when he rested his hand on it. Eventually, he untucked a portion of his shirt to cover it and went to speak to the other agency. I followed, but he paid little notice to me. A different man was sitting out of the shop and was confronted in Thai by the gun toting boss. His face bore an expression of concerned irritability and proudly displayed outside his shirt, unlike the gun, was a bright yellow gold necklace that obviously marked his status as a boss, as if the bulge in the small of his back wasn’t enough. As the two men spoke, the man who quoted me a price of 350bht emerged from the back room, an expression of nervous fear, his hand even trembling a bit as he walked nearer. He had the disposition of a dog timidly walking to his master, knowing it was about to be punished. I asked him clearly again to reaffirm his price of 350, but he ignored me, keeping his eyes on the man’s with the gold necklace. In fact, they all ignored me, until finally, the man in charge, turned to me, smiled and said to me, “I’m sorry, my friend doesn’t speak very good English, its 350 for the boat ticket and 50 for the ride to the boat” So 400 total? I said. Yes, how much did you pay them and I said, 500. He says oh, then stops, turns to the other two men and says, “Yes, 500. That’s correct.” That’s all I needed to hear. I walked back, got my 500 back and walked myself to the pier to buy the ticket myself, which was 400. I had drinks and conversation with a young Swede by the name of Bavius and got on the boat close to 11. It was a cargo boat and wouldn’t arrive on the island until 5 the next morning. The ceiling was low and on the floor were thin cushions that lined the length of the ship on both sides. I had never slept on a boat, but found the rocking quite soothing, and at times, even fun. But as some point in the night, it began to rain and the rocking of the boat was something intense. It was like being on the swinging ship ride they have at carnivals. Even my dreams were affected. In my dream, I kept flying back and forth, being suspended in the air, unable to stand still. I would be speaking to someone in my dream and as the boat rocked, I would fly up into the air uncontrollably with the rhythm of the ship. I was aware that I was dreaming and at first, it was fun. But soon I became increasingly irritated that every time I was speaking to someone in my dream, our conversation would be interrupted with me flying off into the air. I remember trying to explain to the others in my dream that I was actually on a boat right now and the rocking of the boat was sending me off into the air. I guess Chris Nolan got it right in Inception.
The night of the party was truly amazing. I was able to form a group of part time pals to go to the Full Moon Party with. Well, first I took a motor scooter up a mountain trail and I must say, there were parts that were truly scary. Large steep hills that sent my scooter on a fast and bumpy ride complete with near misses and skidding wheels. It was while exploring the island however that I first learned that, unlike Koh Lipe, this was truly a party island. Almost every bar, gas station, and hotel resort had signs advertising “Mushroom Shakes”. Not what you were looking for, then try their famous Red Bull, which still used amphetamines instead of caffeine and as if that still wasn’t enough, for a little extra cash, you could have them mix it with pure MDMA. And then, there was always The Amsterdam Bar which boasted the best view of the sunset in the world and even sold pre-rolled joints for those who wanted to enhance what was already a spectacular sight. Of course, anyone who knows me already knows that sampling the local Red Bull alone was enough for me… Afterwards, I returned to the bungalow, where I met up with a few other wanderers I had met earlier on the beach and after a few drinks and meeting up with a lovely Irish couple, I began to prepare for the night. It wasn’t until midnight that we left the resort, a group formed in the unified bond of finding a good time. Marcus and Jenni were a young couple from Ireland spending a holiday through Thailand. Marcus was 23 and had a clumsy way of moving. He was skinny and his face always had a sort of childlike excitement and joy displayed on it. Jenni was his 33 year old girlfriend who was wide eyed and welcoming. Our little fairy. I had met them at the bar as they were waiting on their Red Bull/MDMA cocktail. Steve was next to show up. I had met Steve the night before and we decided to partner up for the Full Moon Party. Steve was a Brit and had the face of a rugged movie star. He had run out of money, lost his phone, and was waiting on a bank transfer. A Kiwi named Lina had helped him out with money to get to Koh Phangan for his birthday and was on her way to meet him. It wasn’t too long when she showed up at the bar as well. Phillip, an Austrian with big teeth and a friendly demeanor was the last to arrive at 9.
It was around this time that Steven partook in a Red Bull MDMA mixture himself, and about an hour and half later, just before we left for the party, I decided to have another Red Bull for myself. I was ready to roll…and I did. The next seven hours were dedicated to tireless, uninhibited dancing. We tried to stay in a group, but by the time we ended up at the beach, Steve was blitzed and Lina and him had disappeared. I found out later, Steve had lost Lina shortly after and at some point had blacked out and passed out on the beach, only to wake up the next day with his wallet and camera missing. The remaining four of us made an informal pact to stay together. We found a spot down the beach where we liked the music and danced in the sand all night. We would buy one bucket of whiskey and red bull at a time and share turns holding it and taking sips. Marcus was trashed early, but was a good drunk, dancing the entire night away like a fool, as did I. If one of us was lost, Jenni, our little fairy, would come bursting through the crowd and lead us back to the safety of the group. I danced, I smiled, I drank, I flirted. The whole experience was magical. I took my shoes off so I could bounce around in the sand and Phillip kept telling me I was going to lose them and should put them back on. Plus, he added that I could cut my feet on broken bottles. But I told him I couldn’t dance with them on and I wanted to dance. So the whole night he kept an eye on my shoes for me and reminded me where they were. Really nice of him. At some point, hours of buckets and bouncing in the sand later, someone realized it was four in the morning and we were all shocked. We made our way to the end of the beach where upon the cliffs was a long bar called Mushroom Mountain. We climbed the steps and I quickly ordered another drink. Immediately, the world became magical. I saw beauty in everything, in everyone, in myself. At some point, while I was dancing with a free spirited woman with blond wavy hair, Philip found me and told me they were heading down to the beach to watch the sunrise. I told him I would meet them there and once I was done dancing and flirting, I made way down to the group. It was at that moment, as the sun came over the ocean that a magical experience began. .
I was completely at peace. The water gleamed as beautiful colors moved along its waves. I stood there the entire time soaking up the beauty. I took a swim and soaked up the experience of being one with nature and the world. I was in a state of complete and utter satisfaction. It must have been from dancing all night long. Its really like a form of meditation and there is an euphoric reward that comes with it. Later, I stood on the beach, watching the people pass by. I had no judgments, no envy, nothing but love for everything around me. The others were hungry, but I was full. I had energy and my mind was clear. I stood outside the restaurant, observing the drunkards and the wasted; the obnoxious and the sad. I saw people staggering like zombies, being led off by what could have been friends or strangers. I saw everyone in the clear daylight of the morning sun and it was sad. I thought, this is what the islanders see of Western culture. People staggering, slurring, still striving for some last minute hook-up with a stranger to fulfill and vindicate their night. I felt bad that so many weren’t experiencing the beauty and serenity that I was feeling. I knew I didn’t need anything to fulfill me. Not food, not drink, not women. I saw how energy flows perfectly and how we are all connected to the same source. How everything was meant to be as it was. We took a bus back to the bungalow and Jenni and Marcus went to their room to sleep off the night. I decided to take a swim in the water and must have been out there for at least an hour basking in the harmony of the waves and the sun. I had told Phillip to lie in the hammock and when I came back, he was still there sleeping. I found Lina asleep on the beach and because she was locked out and Steve was missing, I let her sleep in my extra bed while I ordered a breakfast of fruit and yogurt. By the time it came, I was falling asleep on the table. I ate my breakfast and fell asleep until two. Phillip was still in the hammock when I woke up.
Still to come: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Laos…
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