…and it’s wonderful.
After several months of moving from place to place nearly every few days, we decided to squeeze in a little relaxing break before heading back to Cambodia, where Steph would be volunteering for all of February.
We were hoping there might still exist a small quiet island in the gulf of Thailand, something that has some of the scenery of the popular islands but with a little more local culture, and without crowds of people and big resorts clogging the beaches. This seemed like a tall order, but much to our great surprise, a little research led us to find that there happens to be just that sort of place, and best of all, a place that makes a convenient stop en route to Cambodia – the island of Koh Mak!
Heading out of Mae Sot
Building on our good fortune, we found that there’s a bus route that runs direct from Mae Sot, where we were in the far northwest of Thailand, ALL THE WAY to the boat dock on the eastern Gulf, where we could catch a quick boat ride to Koh Mak. So convenient.
Mid one afternoon, we left our guesthouse, “Ban Thai,” in Mae Sot, and crawled into a style of tuk tuk that was completely new to us. Unfortunately, we failed to grab a picture, as we were busy grabbing other things – like the metal railings on the open-front wheelbarrow in which we were sitting, while it was driven from behind by a man on a tractor!
In absence of a picture, here’s a drawing I made (thanks Mom and Dad for the art school education!!).
The bus ride.
We arrived at the bus station where we hoped there would still be a) a bus running to the Gulf, and b) tickets available on said bus. Once again, luck was on our side: we managed to get the last 2 seats - which were actually “Monk Seats,” apparently seats normally reserved for monks, or maybe the only seats that monks can sit in (we weren’t sure). This was something we hadn’t seen before, but sure enough, our seats in the very back of the bus were right across from a couple of monks who were heading south as well! From what we could tell from our elevated row, it seemed that “monk seats” are about a foot higher than the rest of seats, which makes sense as it’s considered disrespectful for a layperson to place themself higher than a monk.
Stting across from these friendly monks made for a curious juxtaposition: this bus was brand new, with luxury reclining seats, 2 floors, and all sorts of on-board ammenities, and here were these men looking like they had just crawled out of the 15th century, dressed in bright saffron robes, carrying their alms bowls and whatever limited possessions they had. Since woman cannot touch a monk, or even his robe, Steph had to awkwardly lean away from the aisle as the younger monk tried to wrestle his heavy alms bowl back behind his seat next to Steph’s backpack.
Once we were all seated, the bus attendants came back with snacks and refreshments for us. When they offered the snacks to the monks, one of them held out his robe so that she could place it on top for him, rather than handing it to him. She ended up dropping the snack on the floor by mistake, and an awkward moment ensued when the female attendent, the monk, and Steph tried to decide what to do: it they reached down and accidentally touched him, it might invalidate his vow. In the end, the monk laughed and picked it up himself.
From then on, we were on that bus for 10 hours, straight through the night! I started by getting some work done at the “office”, and then we went to sleep, waking to find ourselves arriving at the pier for our boat.
A week on Koh Mak
From there we took a speed boat to Koh Mak, and within the hour, we had our
shoes flip-flops kicked off, sitting in front of our beachfront bungalow.
…And that’s pretty much where we stayed for the next 10 days. In that rustic, quiet little shack, just about the only thing that wasn’t perfect about it was the bed, which was hard as the wood plank that it actually was and on a significant incline.
Okay, there was one other thing that wasn’t perfect about it: this little friend snuck into the room while we were out. It took a couple solid minutes with the water sprayer to get him to slither up the wall and head back to the jungle. (We were told it wasn’t poisonous…)
Some days, we ventured out walking down the bright red dirt roads in the middle of the island, where the only cultivation of the land was sparse coconut and rubber tree farms.
One day, we rented a motorbike and toured some of the parts we couldn’t easily reach by foot, our first time on a hog since back on Koh Lanta, early in our trip. Along the way, we stopped and snacked, and finished the day off with some local beers.
One day, we were walking up the road and saw the locals were putting on a bit of an Earth fair. They waved us over and told us all about the ways they’re looking to wean people off burning firewood for cooking, encouraging people to install solar panels, and better manage waste – all very good to see as a lot of the islands in the area have growing pollution problems.
On weekdays in the late afternoon, I’d put in my work shift. Here I am at the office.
At night, we usually ate dinner at what was probably the best Thai restaurant in the entire country, “Mong Restaurant”. The curries here were the best we’d ever had. Below, some of their Tom Kha Gai soup, and red pineapple curry.
Here’s a before/after of some of the spiciest, most delicious penang curry that we’ve ever encountered – there were even more chillies in there at the start…
Early mornings on the beach were almost always covered in a dense fog; we could barely see the fishermen out working for their morning catch.
About the only late-night activity on the island was a “Reggae Night,” put on at a place called Monkey Bar, a short walk down the beach from our hut. What they had certainly wasn’t reggae though, more of a decently talented Thai singer doing acoustic, phonetically-pronounced covers of classic rock tunes, like House of the Lightning Sun.
We were much better off enjoying the quiet of the nights from our place, where the plankton in the water would actually glow as the water was rustled.
Plankton, on its own in the sand:
So, how to sum up our stay on Koh Mak? No complaints.
Onward to Cambodia!