Saturday, March 4, 2017

Koh Phangan and Koh Tao: Thailand, Part 1 (and a little more of China, too)

Happy New Year
It's surreal to be in China with all that is happening in the U.S. Places of worship being burned? Refugees targeted? Immigrants banned? Russian intrigue? White nationalism? Whose country are we talking about?
I'm concerned about my friends who are complaining about physical illness as a result of the barrage of news. Don't make yourselves sick, you compassionate badasses and change-makers. We need you. As Krista Tippett writes in Becoming Wise, "We create transformative, resilient new realities by becoming transformed, resilient people."
And please don't apologize on social media for posting positive things. Life is multi-faceted. If we're going to be the change we want to see, we also need to be the light we want to see.
All of this makes me ultra-aware of how privileged I am to be able to travel freely. When the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) break occurred, we hit the road with Tina (our Chinese "daughter") her friend Rose, our colleague Michele, and her husband, Joshua. As usual, everywhere we went, people wanted to take pictures with us. But Joshua--a Ugandan reggae artist--was the real star, especially with young guys who thought he was the coolest ever.

we real cool
A 4-hour bus ride from Nanning took us to Detian waterfall, billed as the fourth largest transnational waterfall. In the picture below, the left part of the falls is in Vietnam, and the right in China.

On the boat ride, we got close enough to feel the spray.
The next day we explored Tongling Grand Canyon, which felt like Pirates of the Caribbean, complete with multicolored lighting--proof that "cheesy" and "sublime" don't have to cancel each other out.

When we emerged from the cave, we faced a stunning sight: one of the tallest waterfalls in Asia.
And we hiked around the back of it.
After this two-day excursion, we did a quick turnaround at our apartment and headed out for a month to Thailand, by way of Malaysia. Flying through Kuala Lumpur turned out to be about half the price of a direct flight to Bangkok. Work it right, and Air Asia is so inexpensive; we spent only $300 on five flights.

First stop: Koh Phangan, a Thai island. Hard to argue with a place that looks like this:

To say it's stunning is to understate. As much as I enjoyed (for the most part) my semester teaching, I found it exhausting. This island was the perfect antidote. Dave's college buddy, Mark, met us there. It's a thrill to watch Mark's renaissance. He suffered from a major medical trauma, and has now bounced back and is living large. You can see in his eyes and hear in his ebullient patter a joie de vivre laced with his signature wit. We got right in the swing with lots of good island food...

Mark with a whole snapper.
and drink...
Yes, you can find shroom shakes in a place well-known for its raging Full Moon parties.
We also got to meet in the flesh Brian, one of my many Facebook pals. Currently living on Koh Phangan, he's a traveler and writer, too--and one of those great conversationalists who knows something about everything.

Brian ferrying me around on the island's most popular transport.
We didn't have much on our agenda other than a little exploring, cheap beach massages, yoga, and swimming. That is, until Mark roped us into checking out another part of the island for a dance party--in a place called "Eden," no less. A DJ, Mark is a music connoisseur, always in search of an inspired scene.

To get to Eden, you go by way Sanctuary. (Clearly, the names of these places are intended to lull you there--but they aren't misnomers.) There's no riding a motorbike to get to this part of the island; you must hop on a long tail boat. All able-bodied brawn is enlisted in helping shove it off the sand and into the waves.

Sanctuary is a spa resort with a beautiful open-air restaurant nestled in the rocky face of a cliff. We ate some of their delicious raw food specialties, watching the sunset. Mark chatted up a woman who was there from New York for a five-day cleanse. When he offered her some of his "happy fungus" shake, she eagerly broke her fast with a chug.

We made our way to Eden, shakily clambering up rocks along a crumbling path, our only light source my phone. A heroic ascent and descent revealed the scene of Mark's dreams: electronica on a cliff, waves roiling below, the dance floor lit up with psychedelic lights and a wide array of dancers, eccentric in movement and dress. We boogied for hours. My high came not from substances but this wild life. It was like dancing on another planet.

A few days later, we headed by inter-island ferry to Koh Tao. With lots of macho, tatted diver dudes walking around and a more touristy vibe, Koh Tao has a rougher edge. But soon I found a beautiful yoga studio nestled in the rainforest and a great place to have breakfast afterward, my feet in the sand.

Dave hung out underwater with a turtle while I did yoga.
And we enjoyed street food galore.

But the real sweet spot of Koh Tao is its world-class snorkeling. Mark treated us to a private boat for a full day, just the three of us with two Thai guys who knew all the great spots. It was heartening to see so much magnificent healthy coral and huge schools of multicolored fish.

Mark and me
Our pimped-up ride.
After two weeks, I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the islands. So I said "hasta luego"--as we had a plane to catch to Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand--which I will share about soon.

In the meantime, I send my love to my friends in America and abroad. These are critical, historical times. As the Indigo Girls sing:

"If the world is night, shine my life like a light."

Koh Tao sunset


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