Misadventures on Koh Phanang

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: traveling is not always easy. It’s a lot of fun, but when things go wrong (which, if you have a track record like mine, they are bound to), sometimes they’re ten times more difficult to get out of, and often a lot more mentally straining.

I’m lucky to have been able to develop a community that I loved on Koh Phanang, thanks to my time at The Nomad House. Without them, August would have been a lot more difficult than it already was. So here’s what happened…

Part 1. Motorbike Mishap

When I left Koh Phanang the first time, I remember sitting in the back of a pick-up truck taxi, looking at the place and thinking, “I feel like I’m never going to see this place again.”

What a joke.

I started my fifth go-around in August. I was traveling briefly with a friend, and intended to be on the island for two days. He stayed for four. I stayed for two months.

This time around, I saw Koh Phanang in a different way. I wasn’t working, just stayed as a guest, which meant I could have my own motorbike and tag along on the free day tours. One of the owners, Yuki, had been on an extended holiday during my first few visits, and this time he and his brother Bobby were both around to show us a good time. It was on one of these wonderful day trips that our fearless leaders took us to one of the most beautiful view points I had encountered on the island. To get there, we scaled a treacherous dirt and rock road–I was nervous, but had confidence in my ability, so I waved off offers of help. Though Yuki and Bobby were very insistent that I could leave my bike at the bottom and go up with one of them, I was adamant I was fine.

And I was rewarded when I made it up with no problem. I was proud of myself. On the way back down, I took it slow. I was ten feet from the bottom of a half kilometer hill. In my excitement, I looked up to the group and exclaimed, “I made it without incident!” And no sooner had the words left my mouth than my front wheel shifted and I tipped over. (Yuki maintains that I was going too fast, but I think if I had been entirely focused on the road it would have been a non-issue. I realize my stubbornness is something I could work on.)

In true Monica fashion, I fell and got back up no problem. I was unscathed, save a small cut on the palm of my hand. My bike, however, was scratched in several places, and I hadn’t rented from Nomad House because I am unwise (1). When I returned the bike a month later, the damage totaled to more than 15,000 Thai baht (440 USD).

Part 2. People are Gross.

A few days later, as Full Moon drew closer, I asked Yuki if they needed any help during the busy weeks. I came back on as staff for Full Moon.

Now, Koh Phanang is an island that lives and breathes by the lunar cycle–the flow of people rises and falls in perfect unison with the tides. The crowd follows the fullness of the moon. And as we all know, the moon affects how crazy people act, too. Which means when Full Moon rolls around, the hostel is teeming with 145 drunk and depraved travelers. Things are bound to get out of hand.

The bar sink was basically my office.

The bar sink was basically my office.

One morning I’m doing dishes when a young English lad wanders down the stairs. “I need to tell you something. I’m telling you cuz I think you’ll think it’s funny, but I also think I need to pay a fine.”

Oh boy. “Did you throw up?” Uff. 1000 baht (30 USD) fine for vomiting. “Uh, no. I may have pissed on my friend’s bed last night.”

“While he was in it?!”

“Well. Yes.”

I dried my hands off. “Well, let’s see it then.”

To be honest, the whole thing was hilarious and he handled it well. He cleaned it up himself, and was just generally really stand-up about it. But it was an omen of worse things yet to come.

Much later that night, a couple of people were up until 4 in the morning cleaning up and hanging out after we had sent off the guests. I was sexiled from my hostel room, and Yuki had offered to let me crash on the extra bed in his room.

Except for when we walk in to finally pass out, we encounter this (warning for explicit language):

Yuki’s dog had gone to town. Seriously, the range of acrobatics required for his feces smear were of an Olympic caliber.

So we grabbed mops and went to work. Halfway through the epic clean up, two guests run across the courtyard. “Can you kick someone out?”

“What’s going on guys?” Poor Yuki just sounded defeated at this point.

“Some dude’s pissing on the floor.”

Not again. By the time we got into the 18-bed dorm, the vagrant in question (not the same one from that morning) had already crawled into his bed. So instead of waking up the other guests, we just mopped the floor and slipped back out. We got to bed around 5 that night, after well earned showers. In the morning, the chalkboard read STOP PISSING THE FLOORS.


A few days after Full Moon, disaster struck again. Itchy blisters had started cropping up on my skin–-an allergy? Some kind of rash? I had no idea. Bobby drove me to the hospital to get it checked out at midnight, but after a few hours of not-so-thorough testing, they gave me antibiotics and sent me on my way. The next night, things were looking much, much worse, and after hours of debate I got myself back to the ER. They scraped and prodded and poked.

Two hours later, the nurse came by with tests results. “We know what you have.”

Because I can never do anything like a normal human being, I had somehow managed to contract the chicken pox at the age of 24. 

When I got back from the hospital that night, I had concerned messages from Bobby. “Are you dead?" and, "If I don’t hear from you soon, I’m coming to the hospital.”

I messaged back that I was fine, and was greeted with a FaceTime call. “So what is it?” He asked. And then his face dropped. “And–-shit-–did it look like this?” He flipped a camera to a spot on his leg.

“Let’s go back to the hospital.”

And that’s how Bobby and I ended up in quarantine for five days. We found ways to entertain ourselves–we watched a lot of movies, and sorted the hostel keys and chatted about life. We were also both good at just chilling and doing our own thing, which made us pretty good roommates (2). 

Part 4. Coming out of it

Between the bike and the hospital, August had been an expensive month. It served as a reminder that I was one major accident or incident away from not being able to keep traveling. I had attended a lot of parties on the island–-Full Moon, Half Moon, Jungle Party, and I was down at Haad Rin beach more times than I can count-–but now I had experienced some of the hardships this island life could bring-–ones with real life repercussions.

Not one to shy away from discomfort, I know that these experiences brought me a lot of wonderful and important things–two relationships with two awesome people I wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise, and a renewed sense of purpose and responsibility in my work that has pushed me to make sure the life I’m leading is sustainable. Spoiler alert: I know I’m not there yet, but it’s on the horizon and the only thing I can do is keep trucking.

On my last day in Koh Phanang, Bobby pushed me to climb up a waterfall. I went slowly, I took alternate paths, and I cut up my hands and feet, but I made it. Koh Phanang proved to be a worthy opponent, but I like to think I held my own. 

Things will always stand in my way–-money, body, illness, other people–-but I’m learning to appreciate the obstacles in all of their stressful absurdity. Maybe that’s the middle way? 

2. I still hate you Bobby.
3. I know this was supposed to be a three part series where I came to a final conclusion, but I think I’m still figuring it all out, and I’m okay with that.