Koh Samui is the most developed of the islands, with long strips of buji resorts and expensive restaurants. It reminded me a lot of parts of Hawaii. I was going to avoid it all together but it's the best way to access Ang Thong National Park. Our first night on Koh Samui, I found out later, was not an unusual one. We couldn't find a cheap place to eat and as we walked up and down the roads we'd peek into bars to see all these (and this is not an exaggeration) old fat white men with young, very young Thai girls. What a sleezy, yet cliche sight! Other bars had lady boys (the famous Thai almost trannys) whistling the boys in my group inside. We had seen enough, the next day we took off to explore Ang Thong.
Ang Thong National Marine Park is a collection of forty something small islands in the gulf. It's the kind of scenery you can't really take in all at once because it's so breathtakingly beautiful you don't quite believe it's real. We unfortunately ended up on one of those herding tours, but it didn't fully take away from the feeling of paradise these islands radiated. An emerald lagoon lay in the middle of one of the islands. The park claims it's a "sacred lagoon" not to be spoiled by the human body, which I took as we don't want gross western tourists pissing in yet another one of our beautiful landmarks. However, a couple of people managed to "drop" their flip flops in and had to wade into the sacred lagoon to get them. Clever bastards. We got kayaks and explored the different islands, going in and out of caves that extended under the exterior of the limestone formations and over long stretches of coral reef. Afterwards, we did a 500 meter trek straight up the side of a mountain, over boulders, around trees, through patches of monkeys. By the end there were large slanted limestone rocks going straight up. You had to hold a rope in order to hoist yourself onto each rock. Halfway through this unsafe and unsupervised rock climbing I was cursing at what I got myself into, and ten minutes later it was all forgotten.... A spectacular viewpoint, small green islands and blue sea extended for miles in every direction. I almost don't want to write about it because nothing will do it justice. That was the first time I realized heaven can exist on earth.
The second time I came to realize this was on Koh Phangan. I picked a place on the map and asked a water taxi to take me there. No roads went to this beach and the bungalows only had running water and electricity during certain hours. During the hours that afforded us running water, I'd have the occasional lizard jumping onto my head in the shower. Each day I'd swim out to a raft that had a hammock on it. I'd swing on the hammock for hours, to my left were large boulders stacked up a mountain, in front of me, large stretches of sandy white beaches, and behind that, miles and miles of dense jungle. The beach holds a few bungalows, two restaurant and a wellness center with a sanctuary garden and a meditation center, you know, just in case you need to relax. Bliss is an understatement and I'm pretty sure my brain was so relaxed it stopped working. My daily routine went as follows, wake up, watch the sunrise, go for a hike, eat breakfast, read, lay in the hammock, lay on the beach, write, swim, read, swim, lay, lunch, and by the time lunch rolled around I'm so exhausted from all the resting I took a nap. It was a total retreat from reality. There are some people on the island who's entire life consists of this very schedule. The guys whose job it is to watch the boats didn't leave their hammocks all day. After dinner they play soccer with a coconut. Those deadly coconuts, which fall from trees with such force they've been known to kill people. If I die via coconut I don't think I'd be too upset. One day the rain poured down in the late afternoon. We went in the sanctuary to watch the storm pass, and about twenty minutes later, as it cleared, a perfect rainbow formed, starting from that hammock, on that raft I lay in everyday, stretching across the sea. It was so absolutely perfect, the picture I took did not do any justice. Heaven.
Koh Phangan is said to be the teenager island, it's not sure what it's identity is, hasn't yet grown up and fluctuates between being the rebellious party animal and the mellowed quiet one. This "teenage" behavior is easy to spot at it's world famous Full Moon Parties. The party began more then twenty years ago as an intimate celebration on the beach with music and dancing and has morphed into a swelling crowd of 30'000 people in a sort of Brits gone wild "uni" break edition. Everyone crammed onto a beach with six stages, an enormous waterslide and a fire lit jumping rope (who thought that'd be a good idea?) instead of bars, you can buy your drink at one of the many wooden shacks that line the beach. However the drink selection consists of one option: a bucket filled with a mixture of unknown alcohol and energy drink that I'm pretty sure is not legal anywhere else in the world. Or you can go to " mushroom mountain" where there's an unmarked shack that sells "shakes". This party, on a Thai island in the middle of the gulf had a lot of contradictions for me. Thousands of kids younger than me who had no idea how to handle their alcohol passed out on the beach, got sat on and messed with by another thousand of kids. One of the most beautiful (at one time) beaches on the island was littered with trash all over, plastic bottles drifting into the sea, and all I could think of was that they were headed for that giant Texas size island. It's also a bit embarrassing as a westerner to see so many people act like idiots as Thai families stood by and observed. In the end, I'm glad I went, participated and observed to some extent, because if I waited, even a couple of years, I would've been completely lost.
I've been in Koh Tao now for a week and I can already tell it's my favorite. Maybe it's because I've spent most of my time here underwater, swimming over massive coral reefs and through schools of fish so thick you don't know which way is out. My night life has consisted of diving with a flashlight and watching the giant sea turtles sleep. I can easily become a "Taoist- the foreigners who come to Koh Tao for a week and end up staying ten years. The islands aren't all fun and games, the bug bites turn into nasty welts, I've had bed bugs and a chicken stole my sock. That doesn't deter me from staying here a few more days though, every day I wake up and think, okay, today's the day I'll go back to civilization. yet a week later and the white sands and warm water continue to lure me back in!