Giselle and I flew into Bangkok, stayed for a night, then promptly took off to explore the Southern Thai beaches of Phuket — specifically Nai Harn Beach.
Upon entry to our Thailand adventure, everything was excitingly out of control, as was expected. Quickly I felt in touch with the new cultural surroundings and was thrilled to deeply understand my unfamiliar setting. The first drastic difference between Thai ways that I noticed was the minimalistic and improvised nature of most things. I find this mindset perfect.
Nai Harn Beach left a major impact — it is the kind of exotic beachy environment that people tend to think of when they try to imagine Thailand. We stayed at a guest house called #naiharnontherock, which was more minimal accommodation than other nearby hotels and closely overlooked the water. In my opinion, this was one of the best housing situations that I experienced throughout the trip. I loved the simplicity and noninvasive integration of the #guesthouse with the natural environment.
Most Memorable Experience: One night a big storm kept knocking the power out. Giselle got a little worried, but being with one another allowed us to feel safe and take it all in. As the storm started to calm down a bit, we started hearing people getting toasty outside. They were playing guitar, singing songs, and slamming Sangsom (Thai rum). The group invited us over and we joined in on the festivities. It turned out they were a group of performers, mostly from the Philippines I think, that performed on cruise ships and other similar venues. @mcjoshua20 angelically sang and played guitar throughout the night, while I jumped in and jammed with him here and there.
This perfect introduction to Thailand was better than I had imagined. Much more adventure was to come over the next month as we continued to explore this beautiful country and culture.
This is the first post of a series of weekly posts that will be released over the next month or two. I plan to breakdown and depict the past year of traveling throughout the world with my now fiancé Giselle, who is quite the audacious woman with a heart made of chocolate and gold.
Journey to Ko Muk, Thailand
After a couple of weeks of enjoying the great people & places of Nai Harn Beach, the time had come for us to depart Phuket. The next adventure lied within the island of Ko Muk, Thailand.
We embarked on an eight-hour bus ride to the city of Trang, which would act as a launchpad to reach the nearby island of Ko Muk (Koh Mook). I expected the public bus services in Thailand to be a bit rough — I couldn’t have been more wrong. While our trip to Trang was a bit strange at points, the ride was extremely comfortable and the beautiful scenery made it go by in a flash.
We arrived at the Trang bus station late in the evening. Unfortunately, we were informed that there weren’t any boats to Ko Muk until morning. While this was a disappointment, we used the inconvenience as a way to become more acquainted with the city of Trang. The bus station staff was quite helpful in referring us to an affordable and comfortable guesthouse with vacancy.
Upon waking we grabbed a bite to eat at a curiously large shopping mall and headed to the Hat Yao Pier. After haggling with the boatmen for about ten minutes we proceeded to board the vessel to Ko Muk. The longboat ride was an exhilarating experience that gave Giselle opportunities for loads of great pictures throughout our aquatic jaunt.
Turning up at Koh Mook Pier was a topsy-turvy encounter. A crowd of motorists came lunging towards us offering transportation to our guesthouse. As usual, we didn’t have set guesthouse accommodations, so Giselle instructed the driver to bring us to the center of the island where she had once stayed. As with the longboat, it was a wild ride through the streets of Ko Muk in a motorcycle sidecar. After whipping around the isle for a bit we reached [email protected] Mook, a desolate guesthouse that was clearly closed during the rainy season. Mookie’s Bungalow, a guesthouse nearby, seemed like a swell place to stay, so we booked a room, signed up for some snorkeling, and finally settled in.
The journey from Phuket to Ko Muk, while only 24 hours of travel, was the first of many odysseys we would encounter during our time in Southeast Asia. At last, we had successfully made it to the magnificent Isle of Ko Muk where immersive experiences with the natural habitat and compelling human interactions with eccentric souls awaited.
*Initially, I planned to cover the Ko Muk part of the trip in one post, but after revisiting the journey I’ve realized it is an experience in itself. In my next post, I will continue to detail the Discovery & Exploration of the Isle of Ko Muk. I hope you stay tuned and take the trip with me.
Discovering the Isle of Ko Muk
Ko Muk symbolized a deeper descent into Thailand. We began to connect with and comprehend the community on a more profound level.
After settling into Mookie’s Bungalow and slamming a power nap, we decided it was time to start the island wandering. It was down season throughout Thailand and the island of Ko Muk was especially vacant. Giselle and I ventured towards the Koh Mook Charlie Beach where we came across other guesthouses that were closed for the season.
Years ago Giselle had come to Ko Muk with some friends while she was teaching English in Thailand. Her last visit sounded like a lifetime ago. She seemed perplexed as she attempted to mentally resolve the two drastically different experiences in the same physical location.
We continued to venture through the abandoned and desolate guest houses built to sustain the surge of tourism that cyclically swept through the island. I observed Giselle’s intense reactions to the environment and figured it was best to not intrude — to let her thoughts flow in an uninterrupted fashion. I would equate the experiential vibe to exploring relics of an old-world, something we would actually end up doing in Myanmar later in the trip.
After troubleshooting the jungle-ridden terrain for about an hour or so, we navigated ourselves to a beautiful beach that was virtually empty named Koh Mook Charlie Beach. In the distance we could see a landmark named Emerald Cave, a popular Koh Muk cave, from the beach; we learned it was closed off to tourists because of a recent incident in Chiang Rai. Gigi was all pumped up to take a dip in the ocean and the next thing I knew she was knee-deep in the water.
The sun was beginning to set and a few stragglers had made an appearance. A lone woman walking along the beach loudly whispered over to us — pointing at something in the sand she said, “Do you know what this is?” In sort of a hesitated fashion, we approached the woman to get a better look at whatever it was that had taken hold of her attention. While we examined the specimen in the sand, the woman excitedly explained that the creature was surely a Komodo Dragon that had indeed broken through to the other side due to a series of unfortunate events.
The sun was setting throughout the conversation with our new friend. We learned that she had moved to Ko Muk years ago to teach English to the island’s local people. She was from the Scandinavian region and spoke of the cultural challenges between her culture and Thai culture. She seemed like a great asset to the island of Ko Muk — a relatively isolated location that didn’t seem to have an abundance of English speaking people who have a passion for teaching. As darkness began to set in and the moon was about to show up, we all decided that it was probably best to head back to our respective abodes.
After touching base at our swell Mookie’s bungalow guest house, we ventured out to procure dinner. Luckily, Giselle knew of a great restaurant from her last visit that boasted a comprehensive Thai menu with outstanding quality. We climbed a forested hill to the Hilltop Restaurant where we were greeted with a warm embrace by the owner. She provided us with menus, insect repellent burners, and thoroughly enthusiastic conversation. While we waited for our meal the amiable restaurateur gave us a breakdown of all Ko Muk had to offer. She seemed to know every person that passed by her establishment and would call out to them with some kind of jovial joke. As our dinner began to arrive at our table, she left us to embark on our adventure through the best meal of the entire Thailand trip. We would end up coming back many times to the Hilltop Restaurant during our time on the island of Ko Muk. Each visit to this establishment was met with the same level of enthusiasm, while the conversations deepened.
Snorkeling & Finding Lost Paradise on Ko Kradan, Thailand
We woke up at the break of dawn to meet with the motorbike man outside our guest house. He was taking us to the main Ko Muk dock, where a boatman awaited our arrival. After another topsy-turvy ride through the small paths of Ko Muk, we found ourselves again at the edge of open water. Although communication with the boatman was quite tricky, he was a real smiley fellow. We boarded his longboat and bounced our way along the waves to the neighboring island of Ko Kradan.
As we approached the shore, the boat stopped at an area in the ocean where a coral reef laid below. The boatman broke out three sets of snorkeling equipment and some cold water bottles. After we finished gearing up and getting rehydrating, the boatman gestured at the open water. Admittedly, we were a little confused about what to do at this point, but once the boatman began descending down into the ocean — it became clear that this was the spot where we would engage in some open water snorkeling.
I quickly followed the boat man’s lead, while Giselle seemed apprehensive. After a bit of swimming around, the boatman seemed concerned that Giselle was still hanging out on the boat and kept miming to her to take the plunge. Eventually, she made her way into the ocean but still seemed somewhat distraught. The boatman began guiding us around so we were able to get a color-soaked view of the coral reef. The coral reef was filled with all sorts of exotic fish. At one point the boatman dove down to the coral reef and shook a bushy looking structure — a clown-fish appeared and zipped around for a bit. After an hour or so of coral reef exploration, we climbed back aboard the longboat and proceeded to the shore.
From the moment we popped off the boat we noticed that Ko Kradan was even less populated than Ko Muk. The beach we had landed on was long, beautiful, and desolate. We slowly wandered down the beach discussing the beauty that surrounded us. As we made it to the end of the beach we saw a mysterious path that led deeper into the island’s jungle. It looked like some kind of construction was underway and didn’t really seem like the safest route. We decided to move further down the path to see what was really going on.
The mysterious path took us to a part of the island where the jungle became lush. Eventually, we came to an area that seemed to be inhabited at some point — there was a sign that had the words “Paradise Lost”. There were some men constructing a new structure and we asked them where to go next. They instructed us to continue down a path even deeper into the jungle. We realized that the boatman would be expecting us to be back soon, so we confirmed with each other that we would walk a bit further and then turn back.
The sun was setting and we were in the thick of it — we took some slamming snapshots and speedily made our way back to the beach access point. On our way out we ran into an Italian man riding a quad vehicle. He was heading up the construction of the Paradise Lost resort and offered to take us on a ride through the jungle. While we were all for zipping around the island with our new Italian friend, we didn’t want to keep the boatman waiting too long.
Ko Muk Departure
The exploration of Ko Muk marked a turning point in our Thailand adventure. We became more active participants rather than simple spectators. The sparsely populated environment made the overall experience feel more authentic; the reduced “noise” gave way to a clearer perception.
After four days of island adventure, our time in Ko Muk had come to its end. We woke up early to catch a ride to Koh Mook Pier. We haggled our way onto the boat and started our transition to the next phase of our trip: the overnight train to Hua Hin. It was time to head back up north where we were to connect with our friend Jessica Sgueglia and continue back to Bangkok for a real night out on the town!
Overnight Train to Hua Hin
The boat ride back to Trang was drastically different than our original departure a few days back — densely populated and commercial. Rather than an improvised and unpredictable longboat, with the captain within earshot and eyesight, this was a multi-level vessel with plenty of storage space and one objective: to comfortably shuffle the tourists away from Ko Muk and back to the mainstream coastal city of Trang.
As we boarded this monster of a ship, we noticed the people aboard were not in line with the people we had spent the past few days with on the isle of Koh Muk. While settling in to the first available seating we could find, we passively listened to our unfamiliar social surroundings. It soon became clear, the collection of souls we had joined for this voyage most likely hadn’t blindly rocked and rolled on a motorbike’s sidecar to the center of the island hoping to find accommodations upon their arrival.
We were considerably exhausted going into this leg of the journey due to lack of sleep and the inflexible transport schedule we adhered to. The aquatic jaunt proved to be riddled with delirium — at one point I recall having this big idea of wanting to bring everyone together. I asked Giselle how to say “everybody” in Spanish. I was unaware if anyone actually spoke Spanish, but if we were going to maintain the kind of camaraderie we’d been experiencing on Koh Mook, it seemed like our only chance.
Aside from our company and exhaustion, the oceanic sights of the crystal sea were calming. Sweet Giselle quietly stared off into the endless lengths that could be seen out the sides of the water transport. She was frequently hypnotized by the allures of our travels and would become unresponsively silent. Generally, I attempted to control myself and not disturb her focus, but my excitement frequently got the best of me. She seemed to understand my elementary enthusiasm though, perhaps she recalled her first encounters with Thailand years ago. I find it interesting that the same intimate trip taken between two people, can create drastically different experiences at points.
Eventually, we found ourselves back on the shore of Trang. Dismounting from the floating monstrosity was an entangled affair. Extreme impatience and systems of entropy were all around us — suitcases were flying all over, people howled as their luggage reached the deck of the ship. Luckily, we rejoined with our respective belongings without any major incidents and a smile on our faces. We were off to connect with the bus that had been scheduled for us by Mookie’s Guesthouse back on Ko Muk. Locating the bus was relatively simple, they happily stored the luggage we had recently rejoined with and we climbed aboard.
The bus dropped us off in the heart of Trang. Our next challenge would be to board the train that would take us up north. Giselle had done this before and didn’t seem the least bit worried. After ping-ponging about the city streets for a while, we suddenly found ourselves standing in front of a perplexing train station kiosk. The train schedule’s obscure routing notation wasn’t adding up. Giselle’s conversation with the stern train ticket lady slowly began to take on tones of negotiation — there were a lot of unappetizing options being thrown around. After a bit of trouble with the strict ticket lady, it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to board the train until the evening and would be forced to explore the city of Trang while we waited.
It was still early in the day and we had some major time to kill. Neither of us had fueled our bodies with caffeine yet, so we decided to find a cafe to take refuge and get some work done. After three or four queries to Google Maps and about 20 minutes of wandering, we found a trendy cafe armed with Wi-Fi named Dhammada Café.
Dhammada Café felt a lot like a cafe you might come across in NYC. The menu boasted a decent list of fancy Italian-style coffee cocktails along with a tasty pastry list that caught Giselle’s attention. In contrast to NY cafes, it seemed that the cafe converted into a bar when the sun clocked out. Check out Dhammada Café on TripAdvisor here.
After three rounds of delectable coffee drinks and five or six hours of cranking on our laptops, it was time to start heading back to the area near the train station. We handed over the appropriate amount of Baht to pay for our steamy beverages and bid the staff a gallant farewell. Again, we blindly wandered the streets of Trang and eventually found ourselves back at the train station. We still had a bit more time to wait for our transport and needed nourishment for our long overnight ride up to Hua Hin. Quickly, Giselle ran over to a restaurant nearby to pick up provisions and returned as our train was pulling in. We found our assigned seating, stored our belongings, and felt a surge of relaxation as we hit the cushions. At last — we were northbound!