Thailand Discoveries Part 2: Koh Phanang

My computer is broken again. I can use it for the most part, but for some reason the entire row Q-O has stopped working, and for those of you keeping score at home it contains 5 of the 6 vowels (counting y) which makes typing pretty impossible. But I promised a 3 part series, and instead of risking losing my momentum am bringing you the next installment straight from my iPhone.

When we last checked in, I was on my way to the biggest party island in Thailand immediately after a 10 day silent retreat where I was cut off from speech, modern technology, and other human beings. Needless to say, I was in for quite the rude awakening.

Thankfully Sally was still with me, and we were having a pretty similar sensory overload experience–and we hadn’t even gotten to Koh Phanang yet. Being on the highway felt like an attack of stimulus. Ghida, Alex, Saskia, Sally and I meandered looking for non-monastery food in the airport from where we needed to catch our buses to the ferry. Transport was suddenly a very real thing again, and with it the need to be a self-sufficient adult once more.

When we got to the island, our first stop was pizza and burgers. The meat didn’t sit well in my stomach after so many days of being vegetarian.

When we got back to Nomad, I was surprised when Nelly offered Sally and I jobs–stick around through full moon, help clean up, do dishes, make beds. I only had about 12 days left on my visa, and something about this felt right. I’d experienced 12 days of tightness, and now it was time for a more lax experience.

The first few days were overwhelming–I didn’t feel like drinking, and there were so many people. By the second day, I had once again given up on shoes. Every night, there was a different party. Pool party, floating bar, jungle party, half moon, full moon (1).

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Some days, not unlike during the retreat, there were days when I wanted to quit. I wasn’t sleeping enough, or I was anxious, or thoughts would run through my head that I was unable to control. I was putting my body through vigorous mental and physical strain again, but in the completely opposite direction.

When these days happened, I would escape. Sally and I ran away to the grocery store, and I made mediocre guacamole with hard avocados and no cilantro. After Sally left the island, Frankie and I would escape to the beach, where I would ask her a million questions and remind myself what it was like to think creatively. I got in the ocean at every opportunity I had.

These days were my lifeblood–the very best way to recharge my batteries with amazing people doing things I loved (even when, in the case of the guac, the results were mediocre). I am so grateful to have met them. I knew that this juxtaposition was something I needed to experience, and I’m not sure I would have made it without them. I wasn’t sure why I needed to do this yet, but I could feel it in my bones.

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My life on Koh Phanang was a vibrant mess of dishes, body paint, drinking, and poor decisions. Most days, I saw the sunrise from the opposite side of the evening than I had the ten days before. My clothes, before so carefully chosen to cover my body completely, “monastery appropriate,” (2) suddenly felt ridiculously inappropriate for my location. 

I was drunk and I was reckless and sometimes I was both at the same time (sorry dad). I attempted to get over my fear of riding motorbikes. I played with balloons and made myself stay out at night even though there were nights where when I wanted to go home early. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right–I wanted to experience everything Koh Phanang had to offer, sunrise to sunset (3). These ended up being some of the best, most fun nights.

Eventually I fell into a groove–found time to sleep, chatted with hostel guests, enjoyed myself. When Full Moon arrived, I was ready. The morning of, despite having not slept prior to my 8:30 am shift, people commented that I looked “refreshed” as I trudged around in my pajamas. 

That night we were on it as a staff–surprisingly well-oiled, despite being overbooked to the point that there were no open staff rooms and 6 of us had been sleeping in scattered common room areas the last two days. At 2, after the last guest was in a taxi towards Haad Rin, we piled into another all together, my “bosses” (4) hanging out of the back of the cab. Full Moon Party was more colorful and expansive and crowded than I remembered. May’s was a little hazy.

I had lost my voice entirely from five nights of parties in a row, and I was running on very little sleep, but I was determined to redeem my full moon experience from the month before. Frankie and I made a pact to stick together, and we watched fire jumpers, and drank and danced and had a great time. Around 5, the sun was starting to come up. Frankie and I split up then, her to meet up with some of our other friends, and me to watch the sunrise. I plopped myself in the sand, soaking my skirt completely as the waves rolled in, and watched the light change behind the clouds. I had accomplished what I wanted to.


I caught a taxi home alone, feeling surprisingly centered.

On my last night on Koh Phanang, with my newly fixed computer, I wrote 20 pages. I hadn’t sat down and written since before the silent retreat–not anything substantial, anyway–and I had done it. I’d finally found my rhythm, even amidst the chaos around me. I could have fun and still do the things that I held close to my heart. I could find my voice here.

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And honestly, if I could find it on Koh Phanang, I knew I could find it anywhere.

This was my Middle Way.

1. Photo by Nelly.
2. Which, let’s be real, after months of living at a Buddhist monastery, is definitely my comfort zone.
3. Or would it be the other way around?
4. Brad and Nelly, I still refuse to acknowledge you being my boss as a legitimate thing.