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Stickman Readers' Submissions October 20th, 2009

Koh Lanta Revisited Part I

I’ve been to Koh Lanta twice. Five years apart. The first time I was running from the devastation of grief. The next time I was running from the devastation of a different kind of grief. Both birthed paradigm shifts and both were nourished by Lanta; cycles of destruction and renewal. It was on Koh Lanta that I became addicted to Thailand and I didn’t work out why until I went back there. It was a journey that refracted past and present, magnifying shards of memory and consciousness. It was also the place I fell in love with the reckless abandon of motorcycle riding in South East Asia. Tuck your knees in and ride it out with me.

He Clinic Bangkok

I arrived having spent the previous fifteen months trying to weather an emotional maelstrom. I’d had to be a man and stand strong. But that kind of shit erodes a man. I needed to escape back to that place of neutral observation; a place protected by an aura of nothingness. I found that place on Lanta Long Beach with sun filled days of lounging and nights of release running into each other.

I already loved Lanta before I got there. Sitting up on the top deck of the ferry, perfect blue sky, facing into the breeze, feeling the sun on my face, sliding past sheer limestone cliffs, a lot of shit just melted away and I started breathing again. A hot blonde gave me the glad-eye and I knew that it had gone. Women can tell. I was no longer repulsing.

Touts on board offered me accommodation options from folders with faded brochures in crumpled plastic sleeves and amateur photos of swans making love-hearts from white towels twisted into shape on pristine white sheets. I didn’t want to be committed to anything like that. The bag between my legs was light. I had three t-shirts, half a dozen pairs of underwear, a toothbrush, sunscreen, a pair of jeans and a copy of Joyce’s Dubliners. I got off the ferry and walked past the main wave of touts and taxi drivers, past the soi dogs lolling on the sun-baked clay and straight towards a sign announcing motorbikes for hire. I happily gave up my passport in exchange for an innocuous step-through and felt the breeze in my face again as I accelerated away.

The main road of Ban Saladan sat sleepily as I rode past sarongs and t-shirts garishly waving their color alongside the ubiquitous gaggle of motorbikes, snot-nose kids, and lobster-red tourists scattered about outside the 7 Eleven. Tranquil faces smiled out at the world from the shade as Thais selling fruit, DVDs, leather sandals and souvenirs, relaxed in the moment. I rolled on by flashing smiles and sucking in deep lung-fulls of clean, salty air.

The road soon gave way to a rutted and pot-holed track of hard baked clay with dust and sand swirling in a choking red mist. I jarred my way along for a while before I randomly rolled into a resort planning on parking up and wandering up and down the beach to find a cheap room. I didn’t make it onto the beach. Glad-eye girl was checking in. So did I. Accommodation sorted. I braved a fan room striking a deal for a month at a pittance. Right out in front of the resort I could see a circular bar surrounding the trunk of a tree looking at odds in its isolation high on the beach. Tanned, lithe, young Westerners were splayed in, on and around the bar on an assortment of bar stools, cushions, and thin mattresses. “The Drinking Trap” pulled no punches in its name and proved itself a worthy recipient of it. But this trap was the catalyst for my first great escape.

The bar was run by four British diving instructors looking to supplement their income and enhance their night-lives. I don’t know about the former but they definitely managed the later and they enhanced mine too. There weren’t too many nights that I wasn’t around to help belt out The Trap’s theme song near closing time over the next month. Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” quickly became my favorite song in his vast repertoire.

“We’re caught in a trap / I can’t walk out / Because I love you too much, baby.”

These opening lyrics seemed to speak to so many people on different levels. Or maybe it was just what people were smoking. Doesn’t matter. There’s nothing like late night drunken bonding over music.

Glad-eye girl was only there for a few days and I didn’t get anywhere after she caught me checking out her bristols as she sat next to me on a bar stool in a bikini the first evening there. What’s a man supposed to do? I’d just polished off three big bottles of Chang and a joint so my eyes were doing whatever the hell they wanted. She scowled at me and buggered off. I shrugged it off and clinked glasses with one of the divers behind the bar who’d observed the incident with amusement. It seemed her only gift to me would be luring me to this particular resort in the first place. Good enough.

I met plenty of other girls there over the next month and managed to bed some of them. I wasn’t really bothered either way for the most part and I think that is why I was rarely alone. Chicks can smell desperation. Being aloof only works up to a point though. After that the offer of a ride on my motorbike always broke some ice. Why, I still don’t know. Riding recklessly and drunkenly down potholed roads was apparently a bit of a turn-on. Maybe it was the near-death experience that got them going. I think that ultimately women like to put themselves in the care of a man so that he can prove himself worthy. Jumping on a motorbike with a novice rider is not the smartest move but backpackers can be strange people. I myself had never been a reckless person in any sense really, so throwing myself on a motorbike, sans-helmet, and under the influence of weed and beer was somewhat out of character. I admit my idiocy but to this day I still love few things more than rolling up and down hills, and around curves and bends with the wind in my hair (what’s left of it these days) on any one of Thailand’s beautiful islands. The first thing I do any time I hit an island is exchange my passport for a motorbike. It is as much a part of my Thailand experience as my daily plate of som tam Thai.

One of the main reasons I fell in love with the beach lifestyle was that my naivety when it came to bargirls was matched by the conservatism of the Koh Lanta populace. I had a relatively ‘pure’ first experience because, quite simply, I didn’t see any bargirls nor any farang / bargirl couplings. A few bars with girls for hire were pointed out to me but I was having enough fun with Swedes and Danes to bother checking them out further. It wasn’t as if you would just come across them either as they were tucked away down an anonymous side road, well out of sight. It wasn’t until a few trips later that I realised that Koh Lanta was somewhat different in that regard and that it was largely due to the overwhelming dominance of Muslim Thais on the island. I think that my own experience of living in a Middle-Eastern Muslim culture certainly eased the way for me and I really didn’t see anything that I perceived to be out of the ordinary. I think for many people there is no Thailand without the echoes of ‘you hansum man. I go wit chew.’ As a first place to visit I feel like I struck it lucky with Koh Lanta.

Stickman's thoughts:

Very nice start. I do think you're brave handing over your passport and not a photocopy though!