Escape through travel works. Almost from the moment I boarded my flight, life in England became meaningless. Seat-belt signs lit up, problems switched off. Broken armrests took precedence over broken hearts. By the time the plane was airborne I’d forgotten England even existed.”
Alex Garland, The Beach
I suppose I was influenced by Alex Garland’s 1996 novel “The Beach” more than I realized at the time during my late teenage years.
If you are unfamiliar with Garland’s work, here’s a link to the trailer for the film of the novel, directed by Danny Boyle, 2000:
Growing up constantly surrounded by urban terrain, dismal weather, and both the fore and aftermath of Thatcher’s reign, the film version of “The Beach” brought to life a fantasy of the perfect form of escapism for Generation X (of which I learnt I was a part by reading a borrowed copy of Douglas Coupland’s “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Future”, 7 years after its precocious 1991 publication date, whilst staying in our empty, freezing cold student house over the Winter vacation in order to do a part-time shelf-stacking job to support myself as an arts undergraduate).
Therefore, when the opportunities have arisen to flee to sunnier, more coastal climes, I have grasped at them and this remains a weakness of mine decades later. Of all the hot, sunny, beach-drenched places I have visited (including Nahariyah, Israel; Essaouira, Morocco; Cape Tribulation, Australia; Keramas, Bali, and Jeju Island, South Korea) Koh Phangan, Thailand has been economically and logistically accessible to me over the years. I have been enthralled each time I have basked on the island’s golden sands in 2003, 2010, 2012 and 2018.
Haad Yuan and Haad Tien (East), Koh Phangan pictured in 2012 above.
People talk of unwanted modernisation and destruction of the natural environment throughout Thailand (and indeed the entire world) and this was saddeningly noticeable between my trips in 2003 and 2010, but as a tourist I have to admit my own part in this process, as I watch in dismay from my air-conditioned bus on the newly-built concrete highway. Simply put, there is no such thing as ‘ethical tourism’ unless you walk or cycle to your destination, taking all your own food and water, and leave with your own trash and nothing but photographs, as the cliché goes. If you want a place to remain ‘unspoilt’, don’t go there!
So, it is in this vein of indulgent, non-ethical tourism that I ended up greeting my fifth decade on the planet brushing my teeth on a train platform whilst wandering about with my backpack looking for a suitable place to spit. Blundering off the train before dawn, I had breakfasted on a banana and soy milk, standing outside the convenience store as the sun rose. It was an enjoyably wretched experience. There were plenty of local people around rising and attending to their ablutions, breakfasts, and morning rituals who would remain at the roadside and on the train platform for the rest of the day, routinely inhaling the traffic-polluted air and smoggy heat. I was privileged to be a fleeting spectator, on my way to The Beach.
I rented a fan bungalow near Haad Yao, Koh Phangan for 15 days and decided to stick to going everywhere on foot except for one taxi trip to visit the new Moonlight Cinema:
My carbon footprint was already mammoth-sized from my flight to Bangkok (and my life in general), so I resolved to see the surroudning charming and enchanting places while hoofing about, and I passed the time sauntering around resorts, goggling at hippy shops, and tiptoeing along ‘private’ stretches of sand. Due to intermittent rain I was able to enjoy these adventures without being frazzled by the sun, although I took fewer photos than I intended.
For the second week of the trip, I took a 50 hour Aerial Yoga Teacher Training course with Ulu Yoga.
This full week of classes, training, performance, tests and photo sessions was more arduous than I expected (even though I expected it to be pretty arduous!), but also more fun in equal measure.
And here’s our backlight dance extravaganza!….Can you guess the theme?