My Ko Chang

Reading these reminiscences of a Phuket ages back (ok, ages for me, I started talking in sentences at that time, approximately), the feeling of impermanence struck me. If you start a long-term relationship with a place, you need to get used to seeing it develop. Or decay. It’s the two sides of the same coin I guess. If you’re just a one-time visitor, then you get the nice “still photos” of a moment in time and space. It’s been over four years now that I first set foot in Thailand, and I’ve started to perceive changes – even from a distance of a 12-hour flight…. and it’s caught me off guard, I cannot deal with it as yet.

Ko Chang’s Treehouse is closing down in December….

When I bought my first and last Lonely Planet (inevitable, isn’t it?), there were no paved roads reaching all the way down to the fishing village on the southernmost tip of Ko Chang. The Treehouse was only accessible on dirt roads or by boat. When I first visited, the break-neck serpentine road was already there, and along came the electric cables. And goodies to be bought. A small petrol pump. Maybe even a few atm’s and internet since then as well…

At that time, Treehouse was still stuck somewhere in the 70s or 80s. Not that I remember the 70s so clearly, but I heard my impressions echoed in those memories of one-time Phuket. I didn’t really like the usual clientele of hippi-like travellers though, I have always had a hard time mixing and blending in with other farangs. Many of them were soooo keen on being casual and as hippi as possible, it took them considerable time and effort to look ragged. There were meditations at the beach, and someone told me she could smell ganja – I couldn’t identify the smell myself. But I just loved the place and didn’t care about anything else. I loved having the kilometer-long beach all to myself when it was raining, or right before sunset – others were having a drink at that time, usually.

Playing with the Thai kids in the sand for hours or just watch them play. Lying all day long in my hammock, listening to the easy music at the Treehouse restaurant, ordering coconut milk rice for breakfast, fruit salad for lunch, fried red snapper for dinner, and putting the flowers coming with my shakes in my hair (oh yes, stone me but I do love those stereotypical banana shakes).

Making friends with the local cats. Watching the waves and take in their smell. Jumping in the waves at high tide, even with that very, very strong sideways current. I never washed away the touch and smell of seawater, it made my skin soft and young. And when the night fell, the twelve-hour downpour started. I was lying on my bed in my small hut, blew out the oil lamp, opened the window, and the stormy sea almost rolled in. Sometimes I could feel the foam of the huge waves in my face. I dreamt about the water rolling the stones back and forth, and the waves smashing against my tree – my hut was sheltered and virtually hugged by an ancient banyan tree.

(I have only found this photo – I don’t have one of my hut….)

I was feeling truly blessed, at peace with the world and with myself – I had become part of an irresistible, all-encompassing ONE that took care of me and took away my fears, instead of fighting and fighting my dragons. And then one night it didn’t rain, and a million stars appeared. I had never known so many stars existed. I stared at them and they stared back, and I realised that it’s not just me looking for my own personal star for years and years, but there is also a star looking for me out there. The key is that we must catch each other’s glance simultaneously…. I felt it was hopeless. I had never felt so lonely in my life, I was crying for a long time that night. But the waves rocking the pier muted my crying.

(out there, but with the sun off and the starts on….)

I rented a motorcycle, and that was the first time I had ever tried a non-automatic. I learnt to deal with the pedals and gears on that very serpentine road that scares the hell of people when they see it for the first time. I went along all the roads and accessible dirt paths on the island. I just love that feeling, riding for miles and miles slowly, feeling the breeze in my face, and taking in the moments. Waterfalls, an elephant conservation centre, villages, beaches with nothing but palm trees and nobody but me. The crowded tourist hangouts were really limited to a few kilometres on the Western side of the island, otherwise it was deserted, at times almost haunted.

When I went back to the mainland and looked into the mirror for the first time in weeks, a stranger looked back. A stranger that was the most me ever.

That’s me and my brother on a later visit, at the entrance to the “Haunted palm valley” leading to a waterfall, as we called it. We got drenched on the one-hour ride back home, caught in the darkness, with fallen wire posts and trees on the serpentine road, and all hell broken loose. I really thought we were all going to die that night.

It’s hard to swallow that it’s slowly disappearing. At that time, there were rumours that the government only wanted to allow five-star luxury spas and resorts and intended to do away with the backpacker scene. I have no idea about the latest plans and the current situation. I don’t know if I want to go back once more. After all, the Treehouse is closing down, and moving from Lonely Beach to Long Beach, trying to escape development and higher rents. Maybe I should look around and find a new getaway for myself, another Ko Chang of a few years ago and Phuket of the 70s. Surely there must be some more islands out there with a road or two to ride along, a few reefs to snorkel, a simple lamp to be blown out before going to bed.

You know, I just really hope that my ancient banyan tree will be spared at least.

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