I've started writing this post on a beach in Koh Phangan island, me, my laptop and a glass of wine (bartender said it's the first time someone orders wine in this hostel..), pretending to be a backpacker/digital nomad/hardcore traveler. Someone just shouted: "everyone who jumps in the swimming pool with their clothes on, gets a free cocktail", I stay seated but enjoy the view of people running to jump in the water while macarena is playing in the background. Inevitably, I ask myself if I'm getting too old for some things, you know, like partying with other 20-something backpackers on free shots till sunrise. But then I get my party clothes on, have 10 shots in a row and dance on rave music all night. Haha, not. I stay with my wine until two guys from Spain come to talk to me, with a great conversation starter of "soooo, why are you alone?".
My first week in Thailand was mostly spent in a beautiful resort, an hour away from Bangkok, dancing and immersing myself in swing (and swimming pool). The setting was paradise-like and it felt so good to finally get away from the big cities. At the same time, being surrounded by nature and some mad dancers (as we all are), you could forget which country you're in. Or which time of the year for that matter (35°C in February makes you a little bit confused). On top of that, the "Big Bang Swing" festival was quite crazy, I loved the attitude that organisers had, I think this conversation sums it up pretty well:
- "Don't forget to finish your class on time!"
- "Yeah, sure"
- "..Because there's a POOL PARTY straight after it, woohoo!"
- "Oh nice"
- "And then don't forget to dress up tonight, me, I'll be Aladdin on a magic carpet"
So yes, there was a good amount of magic and crazynesss happening, from doing "Hand Shim Sham" in the pool to an impromptu jam session at 4AM (I really don't want to see a video of that..), to seeing a snake (I kept asking if it was dangerous and the restaurant staff kept laughing, so I guess it wasn't), to seeing a giant lizard that looked like a crocodile (seriously, that thing was bigger than me!), to eating breakfast before going to sleep (the best). However, probably the most impressive moment of the weekend was Sunday night dance party at the biggest Pagoda in Thailand (Wat Phra Pathom Chedi) with more than a thousand people coming from all over, trying to dance some Lindy hop to Shirt Tail Stompers and Meschiya Lake. They had one of the main streets closed off, news reporters, hundreds of cameras and everyone's dancing, sweating and laughing. It all started a few years ago when the organiser of the festival Oat and his friend were walking in the area of the temple and Oat had an idea: "You know what would be cool? If we close off this whole street and have a dance party here". What seemed highly unlikely, became reality and one of the most stunning views in the history of swing dance festivals. I wish, my ideas that start with "you know what would be cool" would finish like that.. (or maybe I just need to dream bigger).
After the festival I flew over to Koh Samui island to have some time off. The first place I went was exactly what you see in postcards or travel magazines: bright blue water, endless beaches, palm trees and people drinking coconuts. However, I must say that it wasn't easy to make the switch into this calm holiday mode. I had a month of constantly being surrounded by people, having a schedule, practically no time alone, dancing, creating, teaching and I got used to it, so once I stopped, looked around and found nobody around me (apart from sunburnt tourists), it felt.. disturbing? Lonely? I know it might sound like a first-world-problem and that's what made it even worse, I was in this stunning island, yet I felt completely lost in myself.
The pivoting moment was when I got to a smaller, Koh Phangan island and hiked up to the mountains where I found this old Buddhist monastery in the middle of a jungle. First of all, there was a sign "Take a stick to protect yourself from wild dogs", alright, to begin with, I don't feel too comfortable with domestic dogs and I have no idea how to protect myself from a wild one, even if I have a stick, especially with a stick. Anyhow, I found a stick, imagined myself as Lara Croft/Indiana Jones type of adventurer and went on through the jungle. Finally, I reached the viewpoint where you could see the whole island and it was breathtaking, I sat there for a really long time, just making mental pictures. On my way back I met a monk who showed me around, we talked about meditation, the quietness of that place and suddenly tears started streaming down my face. The contrast, the disconnect of my inner being with the outside calmness was so obvious. We walked in silence with the monk and the more we walked, the more healed I felt. It was like that Kim Ki-duk movie, where a boy is being raised by a buddhist monk in the Korean wilderness. I was that boy, just a little bit more lost.
The next two days were spent in a "fun-hipster-party" hostel in Koh Phangan. It's quite crazy how many tourists come to these islands, to the point where it feels like this place is more of a simulation made for all the foreigners: everyone speaks English, in a lot of the food shacks you find "European food" sign (because once you go to Thailand, you just have to have that Bratwurst sausage and English breakfast). I'm nagging about that, yet I went to search for specialty coffee in every island I've been (guilty..). Some backpackers are here for the parties, they have full moon parties on the beach every month and jungle parties, well, obviously in the jungle. Some come here to spend a month or two running away from the real winter (and the real world in a way). Others come to search for some meaning in life (however, that's the smallest group I'd say), they run away to a bungalow, leaving all the worries behind, trying to feel calmer yet sensing that the outside world is still going to catch up with them.
The beautiful thing about this place it's the locals who are so welcoming and warm. I guess for that reason Thailand is often called "the land of smiles". I feel that Thai people won this gratitude game that the rest of us are still amateurs at. They greet you and thank you with the biggest smiles I've ever seen, even on the hottest day the person selling mangos will talk to you with such joy that makes you want to eat more mangos. I feel that somewhere along the way we've lost this attitude of being thankful, smiling and approaching each other with an open heart (at home we usually blame it on Lithuania's long and excruciating winters, ah, also on Soviet occupation). Being here even the most sour-ass (I don't know if that's even a word) travelers put the effort to smile to each other and start up a conversation.
On the last day of my trip, I went to a Thai cooking class, where I got to cook, smell, touch and of course eat the most delicious food. I usually think of myself as a pretty lousy cook but having a real cook besides me made me feel kind of pro (though I'm happy she didn't leave my sight for a second, else, Pad Thai would have become Burnt Thai). I'm even excited to go back home and TRY to cook what I learnt.. (hold on my friends!).
*Thank you Desmond Khoh for the picture!