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Tales of a thirty-something wannabe backpacker: Thailand Part 3

Written by Jesse Wilkinson

Thailand Part 3

 

So, I’m writing this last Thailand post from a small hut in Africa. I was never intending to be here. But something happened on my last day in Thailand that changed the course of my summer.

First, I want to get back to my last week in Thailand. Just after Paul and I’s escape to the north of Koh Samui after getting Claire-Beare-d in Lamai Beach, we took a ferry to the best Thai island I’ve been to so far – Pangan. After scouting the island on our bikes the first day, we knew we could spend a week there – our last week. It was much more approachable than Samui – less traffic, and beautiful winding roads along the water and through the hills. Small villages popped up randomly with coffee shops, hostels, restaurants, beach access, and of course, 7/11s. Pai all of a sudden had some competition for our favourite place. We could move from beach to beach and still not see them all – a reason for going back (not that we needed one).

The East Coast is best this time of year

We chose to spend most of our time at Haad Rin, but it took a couple days to find it. We went north first to Haad Salad, a very pot-friendly village with obvious places like the Reggae Bar, Amsterdam, and Nimbin Bar (Nimbin is a town in Australia known for selling weed in all forms). After trying to negotiate a few resort owners down to our price range, we left defeated and checked into a popular backpacker’s hostel called Echo Beach right in the middle of the island. It was in an area near the Tongsala Pier with all the cool hostels (Arena, Baan Tai Backbackers, etc).

Normal evening at Echo Beach

It was cheap and full of young people. It had a great vibe with a common area with pool tables, a bar and restaurant that spilled onto the beach. We met a lot of young travelers here. I spoke at length to an Austrian guy named Simon, who was studying economics. It was a satisfying chat, one that I hadn’t had in some time. I talked for awhile to a German girl about her travels and her life back home and when I mentioned that I was a college prof, she laughed and thought it was funny that she was trying to escape college profs for awhile as she was a student back home. I felt old, but it didn’t seem to bother her that much because we talked for another half hour.

It was the next day we found ourselves at Haad Rin. I had found it on one of my early morning treks for good coffee joints. As I drank coffee on the beach at 8am, I knew it was the spot we’d been looking for: a quiet beach in the daytime, but with enough signs of a vibrant night life.

Our bungalows at Haad Rin on Koh Pangan

This is where we met Liz, a girl from New York City who was on her way to a yoga retreat soon; this is where Claire came back into our lives; and this is where we finally rented bungalows on the beach.

We spent our days swimming and drinking Changs at the hookah bar. We spent our evenings swimming and drinking Changs at the hookah bar. Until we discovered buckets. Then we drank buckets.

When Claire messaged us and told us she was coming to Haad Rin, we started amassing a crew of thirty-somethings. Add a winery-owner from  Australia and a couple Brits and we had a group who could fill a whole rug on the beach at the hookah bar.

Our Koh Pangan crew – last ones at the hookah bar

One night with Claire Bear back in our lives, and under her direct influence, we drank way too many buckets. So many that Paul slept the entire next day. He got Claire-Beare-d so badly that he didn’t leave the bungalow until noon and was in bed again by 8pm. He slept right through the bass beats that usually kept me up in the night. The bar at the end of the beach that was going off until 6am with fire dancers, balloons of laughing gas, and buckets for everyone, played music that traveled down the beach and penetrated the thin walls of our hut pretty easily.

After a few nights of Paul sleeping soundly through it and me not sleeping much at all save for my afternoon hammock naps, we moved one last time to a bungalow closer to Tongsala and closer to where the Half Moon Party was about to happen in the jungle. The island had gotten much busier with all the twenty-somethings who had traveled to Koh Pangan for the event, which Paul and I knew we had to attend. Claire was going too, so we knew we weren’t the only thirty somethings who would be there. We had to be strategic about meeting Claire-Bear there, though – we couldn’t lose another day to a crushing hangover.

It turned out we weren’t the oldest people there by a long shot. While the majority of the few thousand who arrived in neon-coloured dress and face paint were young, there enough people over 50 to make us very comfortable. There were even a few families who sat on the fringe of the bohemian celebration of the lunar cycle. But I had a feeling these cool European families wouldn’t be there when the sun came up at 6am. In fact, as we were on our way out of the festival at 2am, it seemed the party was just getting started. I wonder how my twenty-year old self would have viewed this party and just what kind of trouble I would have gotten into. But my thirty-something self wasn’t looking for trouble at all – just a few overpriced Changs, a little dancing, some people-watching, and a comfortable bed to sleep in in an air-conditioned room after.

Would my twenty-year old self think I had turned into a lame-ass? Maybe. Probably. But if the psychological theory that we become a new person every 18 years is true, then I’m not even the same guy I was then, so I’m okay with it. I think that twenty-year old self was a bit of a selfish jack-ass anyways. A bit of douche-bag, too, to be honest, who didn’t know shit about the world.

Our ticket

Moon came out for a bit

And we’re off

Obligatory Insta pic

Many random dance parties

This was cool

It wasn’t long after the Half Moon Party that we had to start making our way back to Bangkok for our flight home. The trip was ending and we went out with a bang by attending one of the coolest outoor parties on the international backpacking circuit. But the trip wasn’t over yet. We had planned to spend our last night in Bangkok, by taking a hostel close to the airport and relaxing before our early morning flight to Toronto. That was the plan, but as an old friend used to say ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans’. If there is a God, he/she would have laughed at me because my plan to return home quietly and work on my house for the next week didn’t happen at all.

Instead I ended up flying to Cairo unexpectedly to see the pyramids and spend a week in the desert on the coast of the Red Sea with Saudi Arabia on the horizon and a very special soul beside me as my guide. I met someone in the Koh Saumui airport on my last full day in Thailand that changed my plans completely and changed the way I think about the world. Not exactly a full paradigm shift, but a bit more of an awareness, I guess.

It happened quickly and rather strangely. I was sitting outside the airport on the grass while Paul was smoking and a French girl was asking me in broken English if I’d stolen her headphones. She was pointing at my generic, white iPhone earbuds that I was about to place into my ears. I explained politely that these were mine and then in an olive-branch gesture, offered my other pair that I had tucked away for emergencies (not being able to listen to music while traveling sent panic into my bones, so I brought two pairs with me).

After she had accepted my pair and also a pair from Paul, and inspected my newest ones herself, she walked away content. This is when a beautiful woman with big, wavy blonde hair sat down beside me and said hi. She introduced herself as Wassam, an Egyptian who was traveling on business (she owned a high-end clothing boutique and traveled the world looking for women’s apparel). She was heading to Bangkok as well. We chatted for awhile about our lives and I couldn’t help but feel a connection to this woman for some reason. It was one of those strange feelings like I already knew her, like I’d met her before. If you asked her, she’d tell you that we’d met in a past life.

She was telling me about her integral part in the recent Egyptian Revolution (Arab Spring) which had ousted the hated leader, Mubarek, but had ultimately failed as he was replaced with another despot. I was fascinated by how a young generation could be so politically charged, aware and active. It was not like that in Canada (except maybe Quebec). I was interested in this thirty-seven year old’s life, a woman I felt connected to, but a life that was so foreign to my own.

Paul asked to do her portrait and as she posed for him, I brought her ice cream and we talked more.

Portrait of Wassam

It wasn’t until we landed in Bangkok that she told me about the moment she saw me talking to the French girl about her stolen headphones. What I thought was just a Canadian being a polite Canadian, she thought was extraordinary. But it wasn’t really the words I said or the gesture itself, she explained. She liked my aura, she said, and she felt an instant connection to me. She hadn’t felt that way in a very long time, many years, she said. And then she slipped a stone into my hand that she wanted me to have, a jade that was given to her by a woman who lived near the pyramids. She asked me to change my flight to stay in Bangkok for another week, but it was too late (under the 24 minimum time frame). We were to fly out the next morning (in 12 hours).

Wassam and Paul enjoying a cold beer in Bangkok

Needless to say, I needed to spend more time with this woman. Instead of going to our hostel near the airport, Paul and I followed her to the Citichic hostel in downtown Bangkok where she had a reservation and we got a room ourselves. We all went out for food and few last Changs and some of the best conversation I’d had in years. She introduced me to the notion of Sangha, which is a term for community, and was in a passage she had just read by Thich Nhat Hanh before seeing me. She knew instantly that she wanted me to be part of her Sangha.

So when I got home to Canada after a long flight, I decided to put my home renos on hold for now and took her up on an invitation to visit Egypt. I took a flight to Cairo two days later where the heat was unforgiving and the contemplation was endless. But it was just the eye-opening experience that I needed.

Part 4 coming soon: Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula.

 

Written by Jesse Wilkinson

 

 

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Jesse Wilkinson

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