As a roving travel writer focusing on the Thai islands, everyone says I have a dream job. And, well, they’re right.
I get paid to spend my days in places that most people can only daydream about from their offices. My last work trip took me to Ko Lipe, Ko Kradan, and Ko Tarutao (to name a few) and my current project has me going to Khao Sok National Park and the Similan Islands. Once in a lifetime destinations for many, these are some of the most beautiful places on earth.
Yet, as a former Travelfish.org writer expressed so well in a feature some years back, being a travel writer is not about lounging on the beach all day and jotting down a few notes while waiting for the next pina colada to be delivered. The setting may be spectacular at times but this is work, and after a while the constant information gathering, daily bus and boat rides, and different hotel room each night begin to take their toll. It’s easy to focus only on the arduous, tedious, stressful aspects of the job while forgetting what this is really all about: doing what I love—travelling—and helping others to do the same.
I’ll admit it—today I forgot what it’s all about. After a terrible night’s sleep last night at a grungy hotel in the not so charming outpost town of Takua Pa where the sound of drunken Thai karaoke from a nearby bar kept me awake until the wee morning hours, and an even worse one two nights ago in a breezeless Ko Surin tent with the world’s loudest snorer next door, I just felt like going home to my old bed in America as I groggily stumbled into the cold shower this morning.
Ko Kho Khao was the destination of the day and again, I admit, I just wasn’t up for another boat ride, another day of trudging in 30+ degree heat from resort to resort, another night in some hot and cramped bungalow.
“What is this Ko Kho Khao place anyway? I can’t even pronounce the name (it’s pronounced kaw koe cow by the way), and by all accounts it’s not a particularly beautiful or special island. The sand here is a grainy gold, not a fine white. The waters are a murky blue-brown, not a crystal turquoise. What am I doing here anyway?” These were the negative thoughts running through my fatigued mind as I set foot on this little known, medium sized island this morning.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… “What is this crybaby whining about? He’s complaining about walking on the beach and getting paid for it!” And after reviewing the first five resorts today without finding a vacant room for less than 2,500 baht on what I initially find to be an unimpressive island, I wasn’t getting any cheerier.
Finally, at about 16:00, I made it to what I thought was the last resort on Ko Kho Khao’s long, wide beach, and at this point I’d reviewed nothing but high-end luxury resorts that left me asking, “So, exactly what is the difference between the ‘garden view superior villa’ and the garden view deluxe superior villa’?” I’d checked out some decent restaurants, gathered all the vital transport info, and reviewed all the accommodation options (so I thought), but seeing as there was no inexpensive place to stay, I thought it would be wise to catch the ferry back to the mainland.
Before I could do that, of course, I needed to make sure all the bases have been covered on this particular beach, so I asked the waitress at a beach restaurant called Boom’s if I’d missed anything. “Oh yes, Ha Pla Cottages is another two kilometres up…” she said.
Now came a familiar decision: did I miss the ferry back to the mainland and risk paying somewhere around 2,000 baht for the night just to check out this one last resort? Even in the foulest of moods, I know from experience that going the extra mile often yields that truly special undiscovered gem. The answer had to be: “Go for it!”
And it’s here, in the unexpected, that the real beauty of this job—and indeed of travel in general—is realised. When I reached Ha Pla I found not another predictable luxury resort but a chilled out, artsy, stylish and welcoming spot on an isolated stretch of beach. They had just one more cottage available for the night and although still on the pricey side, at 1,300 baht the room is comfortable, spacious and has a fresh, pleasant smell. One glance at the big, soft bed and my frustration began to fade away.
After settling in I headed out to the beachside restaurant and met a few friendly Swedish chaps who offered to buy me a drink. The sun slowly dipped over the expansive Andaman Sea; late day rays shone gently through the palms and my favourite Jack Johnson tune wafted from the little radio on the bar. A perfectly made mango shake arrived, refreshing body and soul.
Before long, I gazed at one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen—it looked as though the red hot embers normally found at the base of a campfire were floating like some mythical volcanic island far out to sea.
Soaking up its peaceful atmosphere and stunning beauty, Ko Kho Khao became not just another island. This place—this feeling—is now an unforgettable experience in my travels. For an instant, I sat back in my bamboo chair, allowed my shoulders to relax, and sighed. Then, as if lifted by some unseen natural force, I stand up, take off my shirt, run across the beach and dive in to the waves.
How quickly I’d forgotten. This is what it’s all about.
Tomorrow, another boat; another bus; another bungalow, but it’s not a chore anymore. If anything, it’s a blessing. Ko Kho Khao has unexpectedly breathed fresh air into my travels, and reminded me that—yes indeed—I am lucky to be in paradise.
Planning well is an integral part of getting the most out of your trip. Be it picking the right backpack, the right vaccinations or the right country, the simple decisions are often the most important.