So. Five hour bus from Phuket to Surat Thani Saturday, then two hour ferry to legendary Ko Samui: the heart of the Thai tourist islands. McDonalds! Starbucks! Pizza Hut! Cars, modpeds, people everywhere! T’is a big (some say tourist-destroyed) island, and all its running water smells like (and may be laced with) raw sewage. Trust me: I was in a foul mood that first rainy evening when, unthinking, I brushed my teeth from the tap water (which has been fine for me in all other third world countries) and promptly felt my entire mouth and throat go numb for the next three hours. I worked myself into a tizzy, convinced that typhoid would drag me into its feverish grip, but knock on wood I think it’s all good. (Knock again for good measure.)
Anyhoo, foul weather, foul mood, traffic and fast food neon blazing, I trudged for two hours through the smog-choked streets with my giant backpack, following the tip the Australian woman at the first full hotel shouted: “You wanna be in the center of the action? Find The Ark!” I found it (a hip hotel) and it was full and prohibitively expensive anyway. It was late and it was dark. I opted instead for 400 Baht ($12) worth of mildewed dustiness next door. Ew. Seeing my horrified face, the hotel owner spat, “Don’t stress. You just sleep here one night, not live here.”
Sure enough I got “lucky” room 113, with the last “3” scratched out, clearly to assure tourists of its non-unlucky status. “My brother says 13 is lucky; my brother says 13 is lucky…” I repeated as a mantra while “showering” in the egg-smelling hand-held spray over the toilet.
I found an internet cafe and desperately chatted online with my dear, dear friend Marleny who had just gotten off ten bazillion hours of being on call at the hospital, saintly doctor that she is. Perspective, cyber love from afar, deep breaths, improvement.
Oh, blessed roller coaster of life, whenever we are feeling like a tub of sewage water, you clean us off and pull us up again! (If there’s anything I learned from six years of teaching, it’s this!) Walking, dazed, from the revolting hotel onto the beach, an angel sound of “Ahhhhhyayyy!!!” chimed bright. Get this: turns out people go to Chaweng Beach in Ko Samui to go to the beach, not the street!
From green and gold illuminated flower light poles, strings of rainbow fairy lights glowed. Like Roman Gods, happy people were reclining as far as the eye could see onto burgundy mats in front of low tables of steaming food. And, (oh blessed nature!) like the wings of the magical fairies surrounding the scene, the wide blue ocean fluttered lovingly along the sand. Yes!
I ate alone, reclining on the mat on the sand, so happy to watch each of the groups laughing and scarfing down freshly caught grilled fish.
Though there were hundreds of giant groups cozily strewn around the beach restaurants, I suddenly noticed that there WAS one other person on the beach eating alone. This woman had the same expression of placid delight and observation as me. Her dark, eyeliner-embraced eyes darted about in wonder, and the colored lights danced over her round face and short gold hair. After I paid, I walked towards her, fulfilling my promise to Marleny to not be an antisocial coward.
Best decision ever. It turned out her name was Sylvie, and she is an English teacher (!) from Germany. Fast, we were fast friends, and it made me so happy to eat meals with her and talk about teaching, traveling, and the people we saw. The next day we met more folks (Canadians, Israelis), and like a traveling tropical snowball, we got a great pack going. So it goes. So this is why I love travelling :)
The next few days in Chaweng Beach are a lovely haze of sun (amid the rain), sand (soft!), surf (warm and shallow and blessedly calmer than Phuket)… and taking Sylvie’s advice to move to a much better hotel for the same price (pictured). The water still smelled like bad eggs, but by then I knew enough to import a big jug of clean H2O. Huzzah for making new friends and huzzah for learning!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!