local time: tuesday, 9/21/2010, noon
i've been in thailand for one week today. strangely, although i've been having a great time, it feels like much longer than that. time seems to move differently here. i don't think it feels that way simply because i'm on vacation, as i was unemployed and not sticking to a regular schedule for the month before i arrived here. normally a night owl with a touch of insomnia, i've been falling asleep effortlessly around 9 or 10 each night and waking up with the birds between 5 and 7 in the morning. and such sleep - my god! deep, sumptuous, restful sleep; the kind that i haven't experienced in i don't know how long. during the day, i'm always surprised when i look at a clock and see that it is only noon, or 3, or whatever time it happens to be. the days - whether packed with activity or spent lazily wandering around and lounging by the pool - seem much longer, and i feel as though i've been here for two or three weeks rather than just one. maybe it's the strangeness of being in a place so different from my home? maybe it's the equatorial sun? i don't know, but i kind of like it.
anyway . . .
i arrived in ko samui on saturday, after a twelve hour bus ride (quite comfy as i accidentally purchased a first class ticket. note to self - always double check what the quoted fare is for.) and a ninety minute ferry ride. more in the mood for quiet contemplation than big time partying, i decided to skip the built-up hustle and bustle and raucous nightlife of chaweng - samui's most famous beach area - and took a taxi north to the smaller, quieter, bang rak, or big buddha beach. with no hotel reservation i wasn't sure exactly where i wanted to go. understandably, the driver was frustrated with me and stopped and insisted that i get out once we got to the start of the bang rak area. i wandered a little ways up a street and stumbled upon the samui mermaid, a resort i remembered reading about in my lonely planet guide. the fan bungalow was lovely, right across the street from the beach, with its own bathroom, hot water, and access to two pools on the grounds. my pack was feeling pretty heavy, i was dying for a shower, and the low season price was right, so i checked in. the mermaid has been a lovely home away from home these past few days. you can check it out at www.samuimermaid.info if you're so inclined.
i woke up on sunday feeling suddenly overwhelmed with loneliness. though taking this trip alone is something i was looking forward to, it is proving to be quite difficult at times. at that point i hadn't encountered any other english speaking tourists, and my thai is limited to "hello," "please," "thank you," and "how much?". i found myself longing for a conversation; for a traveling partner to help ease the nervousness when lost in a strange land; for some reminder that i matter to people other than myself (the comments on the blog help immensely with that. thanks, folks!). i pulled out the thai cell phone that i bought for emergency purposes and called my mom who, as always, knew just what to say to comfort me. she reminded me that what comes up in these darker moments is just as important as, if not moreso than, the good times that i'm having. she commended me on my strength and courage in doing this on my own and encouraged me to put myself in situations where i might meet more people if that was what i wanted. feeling much better after our chat (thanks mom!) and a good, cleansing cry, i went and got myself breakfast and planned my day. honeymooning couples be damned! this is my trip to make of what i will.
later that morning, i walked up to the big, golden buddha for which this area is named. i bought some incense and climbed the sixty stairs (yes, i counted them, as i always do) to the top, where i lit an offering and spent some time walking around, taking in the beautiful views, breathing deeply, centering myself, and getting back to the joy and excitement with which i began this adventure. later i went to one of the local travel offices to book an excursion for the following day, figuring that would be a good way to see some of the sights and to spend some time with other people. i spent the rest of the afternoon poolside, sipping on singhas and fending off the advances of two much older german men (i know i said i wanted company, but that was not exactly what i had in mind!).
on monday, i took a guided trip out to angthong marine national park, a group of small, rocky islands just west of samui in the gulf of thailand. upon boarding the boat, i sat next to a lovely couple from wales and a very friendly australian family with two gorgeous kids. i spent most of the rest of the day in their company. yay! an hour-long speedboat ride took us to ko wao, where we dropped anchor and spent a wonderful hour snorkeling around a shallow water coral reef. the water was clear and the marine life was plentiful, and i couldn't help giggling as schools of fish danced around me. from there we cruised at a slower, more photo-friendly pace around various islands and rock formations (photos will be posted when i get home, as the internet cafe proprietors frown upon me plugging in my camera to upload them). we stopped a mae koh island and climbed a steep, slippery staircase (i lost count. there were many, many steps, often made of slippery rock, and i was focused on not falling to my death!) up to a stunning vista point over the emerald lake lagoon. so beautiful! after a heart stopping (for me, at least) climb down, we got back on the boat and raced over to ko paluay, the only inhabited island in the park. after walking around the tiny fishing village, we enjoyed a scrumptious lunch of fried prawns, rice, vegetables, soup, and some sort of delicious fruit that nobody could tell me the name of. from there we boated to song pee nong beach on yet another island, where we spent the afternoon kayaking around rocks and caves, swimming, and sunbathing. i know that the tour was orchestrated for tourists, and not necessarily an "authentic" experience of the place, but it was a great day full of breathtaking views, physical activity, white sand beaches, and good company. i arrived back at my bungalow happy, exhausted, sunburned (despite copious amounts of spf 70 sunscreen - the sun here is something else!), and feeling as though i'd gotten a little taste of paradise. aaahhh.
this afternoon i'm going to wander a few kilometers west to neighboring bo phut and its beach and fisherman's village. tomorrow i leave samui on the morning ferry and head over to ko pha-ngan, where i plan to hike to some waterfalls, hopefully visit some elephants, and indulge in some more beach bumming.