Wasting Away in Ko Tao
Hello friends. It has been awhile. Sorry for the long pause. This blog post took me several days to type. The first part was written sitting on a plane making my way to Stockholm, Sweden. The second part was in my hostel in Sweden. The third was at a cafe by the river in Stockholm. Finally the fourth was written hungover in the kitchen of my hostel.
Thank you Ashley Williams (Doucette) for forcing me to continue writing. Also I apologize for the obvious lack of continuity in this post. It is a miracle authors can write a novel over several years. I could barely do a post in four days. Still, over these four months, I am pretty impressed with myself for actually keeping my blog relatively up-to-date. I need to give a thank you to all my readers! You have made blogging both a fun and enjoyable experience.
Anyway back to the islands….
I arrived on Ko Tao on the 16th of June. My original plan was to stay on the island for three days, do some diving, and then head up to Chiang Mai to do some jungle trekking. Well I ended up staying fourteen days. Since those fourteen days are mostly a blur now, it is impossible for me to backtrack and give you a detailed description of what I did each day. Instead I will try to focus on the highlights.
The first part of my stint on Ko Tao began mostly in insolation as I, once again, decided to stay in a hotel. Feeling hungry my first night, I decided to go out to dinner alone. I was thoroughly engrossed in my book and my green curry when, by happenstance, I noticed a cute blonde sitting at the table next to me also eating alone. Making eye contact, we briefly exchanged hello’s. She seemed normal, so taking a chance, I proceeded to pick up my half eaten dish and relocated myself to her table. Luckily we had a lot in common, and for the next several hours we chatted about almost everything. Her name was Antonela, and while she was originally from Croatia, she had lived in Germany since she was a kid. This random meeting was different from most. Obviously you meet A LOT of people traveling alone. To survive mentally, you have to be outgoing and be willing to talk to anyone. Though, despite the continual flood of new faces, it is not very often that you really connect with someone. Antonela was one of the few. We ended our four hour conversation at 12:30 am, mostly, because the next morning I had to get up at 5:45 a.m. to go diving. I probably could have kept talking all night.
The diving the next day was fantastic. I was extremely lucky and was able to see a broad diversity of sea life including a massive turtle and several eels. My dive adventure ended at 11 am, and I spent the afternoon driving around the island on a moped with Antonela.
The moped adventure was quite the experience. No I didn’t crash, but the roads, some of which were all dirt, were quite treacherous. Thailand engineers must not believe in switchbacks since a majority of the roads just went straight over the mountains. Some were so steep that with two people on the bike, the brakes could barely stop us going downhill. I have learned a lot since my incident on Ko Lanta and wasn’t so much worried about crashing. Instead I was terrified of putting a scratch in the moped. In Thailand, and especially Ko Tao, renting a moped can be a huge scam. If you put any scratch, no matter how small, on the moped, you have to pay for the entire cost of the replacement part. This business model allows them to make money when they rent you the bike for only $3 USD a day.
Anyway while going down was quite the challenge, going up was even more difficult. Some hills were so steep that the moped couldn’t make it up with both of us on it. Being the gentleman I am, I made Antonela walk. I had no choice, I was the one who signed to drive. The views and the hidden beaches found while cruising the island were comparable to those seen on postcards. Plus I had a cute blonde on the back of my moped. I was in paradise.
That night Antonela and I went to this Thai conservation festival on the island. Plastic rubbish, especially plastic bags, are ruining Thailand’s beaches. This festival was designed to bring awareness to this issue. The main act at the festival’s concert was this Thai rapper. I never really got his name, but to me, he sounded like a mixture of Jay Z, Fergi, and Enrique Iglesias. Apparently this guy is a big name in Thailand. I would estimate that at the concert there were probably several thousand people of which the majority were Thai. The music was interesting and so was accompanying Thai dancing. Though the best part of going to the concert was that, despite being forty feet from the stage, I had absolutely no trouble seeing. Love being tall in a short country.
Unfortunately after the concert, one of those typical European DJs came on; the kind that drops the same beat over and over and over again. Twenty minutes in I decided to leave. I said my goodbyes to Antonela and just like that, my one and half day friendship was over.
I can’t remember what I did the next morning, but it probably involved drinking copious amounts of coffee. Coffee like booze on the island was cheap, was everywhere, and was very tasty. I saw to it that I rekindled my addiction.
The biggest change that occurred over the next several days was that I decided that I had had enough Bret time. My self-reflection days were over. It was time to move back into a hostel. I am glad I did. Over the course of the next few days, I meant and befriended several people. First were these two Australian guys who were on Ko Tao for holiday. I met them only briefly. Two days later they were gone. The next person was Josh, a New Zealander traveling the globe for a whole year. Then there was Tom, an English guy who was in Thailand for three weeks on vacation. Tom was one of the unluckiest people I have ever met. On his third day in Thailand, his expensive sunglasses were stolen from him . Also on the third day, he forgot to put the correct case on his secondhand GoPro. We went cliff jumping and the GoPro was soon filled with water. That day he also dropped it, on accident, off the cliff. The GoPro sank thirty feet down. Luckily we were able to retrieve it but it didn’t change the fact that it was still water logged. To replace his damaged GoPro he purchased a brand new Hero 3+ the following day. Apparently the waterproof housing was defective on his new GoPro, and on the first time in water the case leaked. His brand new GoPro was destroyed.
There was also Lotte, a Danish girl that sounded 100% Australian. Last were Elliott and Shannon, an English couple traveling for eight months together. They were only three weeks in but already seemed like seasoned travelers. Over the next week or so, this group, in some shape or fashion, all hung out together, having mini adventures here and there.
One of our first adventures was mopeding. This time I had the moped to myself. I drove pretty wild, scared myself shitless, and had a blast. We ended the afternoon snorkeling and cliff jumping.
Our group also went out most nights. Some nights hard. Others easy. I liked Ko Tao because it wasn’t too big and it had watering holes to suit all personalities. You could go wild or take it easy. My favorite bar was Fizz. It was right on the beach and only served swanky cocktails. At four dollars a cocktail, I had no choice but to spend most of my evenings there sipping on Pina Coladas and Bahama Mammas while watching the sunset.
One night we all went out particularly hard. I made my way around the bar flirting and chatting up the Europeans. I was feeling confident and walked up to these two English girls sipping helium out of balloons near the bar. I though it would be fun to join them so I struck up conversation by asking them “How much for the balloon?” They replied “Three Hundred Baht (or $3 USD).” I laughed and said “Why the hell would you pay that much for helium?!” They countered quickly. “Why don’t you stop asking and try it then.” So I did.
After purchasing the balloon, I took a long, slow, and deep breath in. I looked at one of the girls and tried to open my mouth to speak. But before I could, my existence started to melt into nothing, she became distant, and I was flying. I was on drugs.
Turns out it wasn’t helium after all. It was NOS or Laughing Gas. It only lasted thirty seconds but it was sure one hell of a fun ride. Still that will be my one and only time doing NOS. I can’t imagine how many braincells I destroyed doing that. Bret’s naivety strikes again!
Another particular day, Josh and I went sailing on a Laser sailboat that we rented for about $30 USD between the two of us. Josh, an avid sailer, was the captain. Knowing nothing, I was mostly along for the ride. The day and wind were perfect. Of course, that changed about halfway through our trip when the wind became quite gusty. On one particular gust, I was leaning over the side of the boat getting some GoPro video, when a wave came up and took me right off the boat. With the weight of me gone, the boat soon capsized. Josh seemed pretty angry, but the resulting video was worth it. In total, we capsized three times. Only once was my fault.
Also during that day someone stole my flip-flops while I was eating lunch. Thai culture states that your feet are the dirtiest part of your body. As such, you have to leave your shoes outside whenever entering a restaurant. Unfortunately I was about two and half miles from the room when the heist occurred. While traversing the island barefoot, I burned my heel on some hot pavement. I stumbled back to my hostel, changed clothes (aka put a different tank top on), and walked to Fizz. Jimmy Buffett – I can relate to you now.
Another adventure – I went Scuba diving at night. The dive was good, though it could have been easily called a ‘dusk’ dive since only the last ten or so minutes of the dive were actually in the dark. Also my guide was a douche. I don’t use that word often but to describe his personality, there is no substitute. He was one of those people that the sport of diving has gone to his head.
If I had anything negative to say about Ko Tao, it would be these people. They are small in numbers but large in egos. To them diving isn’t a fun hobby but a serious activity requiring hardened skills and strong resolve. They candidly brag about their qualifications and have no problem telling you how good they are at being an Advanced Open Water Diver or how deep they once went down. I wanted to remind him that all he was doing was putting a tank of air on his back and breathing. But I let him continue in his delusions.
Still I managed to have a good time on the dive. In my adventure thus far I have dove eight times and seven were amazing. I can’t complain but I just did.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time on Ko Tao. The island was small enough that after fourteen days, I began to recognize people on the streets and began to get a feel for how things operated on the island. Most, if not all of my trip thus far, has been characterized by short stays here and there; three to five days at the most. Two months ago I read a travel blog that theorized that in order to truly get a feel for a place, you need a minimum of two weeks there. After my two week stay on Ko Tao, I agree with that conclusion. Going forward, I am going to slow down. While I will probably cover less miles, I think in the end I will see more.
To Tom, Josh, Elliott, Shannon, Lotte, and Antonela – if you are reading this, thanks for making my stay on Ko Tao an excellent experience. AND, of course, good luck with the rest of your travels.