We headed to the Chao Praya River pier with only an overnight bag and ambitions for something new, something more than the usual escape from high season. First sight was Koh Klang, just across the river yet worlds away from the raucous hustle; quaint villages quietly existing in the traditions of fishing and farming, and not much else. Waiting patiently under the trees for enough people to fill the longtail boat, we were finally waved over to ride our motorbike down the walkway, and onto a skinny, rickety wooden ramp where we parked our bike on the boat. The boat was the same size as the droves of longtails that sweep the Ao Nang seashore, but with only a platform for cargo, anything with wheels, and a firm stance for the few bodies crossing over. We hadn’t yet entered that realm filled with curious looks as to what the foreigners were doing, travelling with the locals, sans ferries, crowded speedboats and the confines of advanced bookings.
We rode through the island past fields of rice and tarps of drying fish to the end, looking for a boat that would puddle-jump us to the next land mass. A woman sitting in the refuge of her sala approached us with an inquisitive smile; our faces shrouded in that unmistakeable look of hope that we found the right place. When our plans were revealed, she graciously pointed us towards the unassuming pickup point on the beach, sanctioning our quest to commute as she does. Riding our motorbike onto the sand, we came to the shy white flag upon its pole, waiting to be raised as a signal to any boats on the other side that people were ready to cross. For half an hour we sat in a shaded hammock made of an old fishing net, unconcerned with however much time it would take to be picked up. At this moment, still in the dawn of our adventure, we had all the time that time could create, and there we sat in the cradle of an umbriferous tree, imbibing that satiating breeze. We could go anywhere.
As a boat driver approached, he made no attempts to hide his look of surprise. Smiles drew across all of our faces – ours acknowledging our excitement, and his of his bewildered amusement. And so it went like this as in a game of hopscotch, from island to mainland back to island again. Passing through villages too small for a presence on maps, we found ourselves launching out of Laem Kruat Pier towards Koh Sriboya, a place that hardly graces the lips of travellers surging past it on their way towards Koh Jum. Our minds were reeling at the thought that perhaps this island was a stone left unturned.
Two local girls accompanied us on the boat and began to ask questions, possibly because Koh Sriboya saw little to no traffic from outsiders, save for the one small resort on the island mostly inhabited by a few expats throughout various times of the year. Speeding up the sandy bank and onto the dirt roads that had seen better days, we rode through an island that still paused at the sight of us. As we whirred by a group of villagers milling about, a little girl screamed out “Farang!” with an undeniable tone of shock and awe, followed by roars of laughter from the rest of the group and ourselves. The intruders had been identified. We knew then that we need not venture any further.
We found the islands only lodging almost completely unoccupied, spoiling us for choice. Past a forest of hammocks, under the refuge of banyan and palm trees with uninterrupted views of the ocean, we had discovered utopia. A roomy teakwood bungalow with windows as wide as the walls on all sides, a shower under the sky, and a verandah pleading for us to stay; a proper paradise found. The ceaseless breeze brushed against our skin as if to beg us never to leave. Close the eyes and the mind can’t remember the troubles of yesterday; we’re here now, drifting in a sea of bliss. Before our eyes were so many reasons to be grateful for this life.
The treasured bottle of wine we had carried was well worth the haul, every taste bud in overload underneath the painted sunset of fiery reds, amber oranges, soft purples and placid blues. And the villagers seemed untouched by the burdens of catering to a transient community, a weight that seems to tax the warmth of other well sought out destinations. This is a place where visitors and locals invite each other to connect over a meal in their homes, the simplest form of hospitality in the world, and the fastest way into hearts and minds. This is the stuff of real travel diaries that posits itself deep into the marrow.
When the sound of waves lapping an empty beach can be heard from your bed through the night, nothing else in the world would appear to sooth the soul. If only we could’ve lingered longer in this postcard. But the romance of a motorbike adventure will live on in our memory, and in a conversation over dinner somewhere far away in the future.
by Emily Huang-Ramirez