So here we are, two weeks into our 2nd spell in fabulous Thailand. We’re staying in the nicest place we’ve had so far – some lovely bungalows in the gorgeous town of Lamai Beach on Koh Samui Island which are also the cheapest place we’ve found in the resort. Pat and me are getting on really great and I’ve found a diet I can do whilst travelling and I’m losing size (my only way to check is using some some coloured strings!). We’ve arranged to go to another island, Koh Tao, reputedly even more beautiful, to meet up with my cousin Eddy which we’re excited about. And I’m in near meltdown.
It all started with hooks for a mossie net…..
I nearly totally lost it over an inability to put up a mossie net. This has been a running theme – we have our own nets but accommodation owners don’t have any little hooks or tacks we can attach it to. Their complacency about this astounds me each time; fair do’s, they may not worry about Mosquitoes but many tourists do. Why can’t they let us put up some little tiny hooks? Of course my meltdown is not about the net really, rather about the fact that I have no say, no control about anything really at the moment. It just feels like we are unimportant, just seen often as ‘walking cashmachines’ (there will be more about this in a future blog) and our needs and worries just disregarded. I feel out of sorts all the time and cry a lot. Patrick is wonderful and supportive but doesn’t know how to help.
A need to retreat…..
Just before we came back to Thailand I signed us up to a volunteering website. I wanted so much to volunteer somewhere – to give us a structure, be part of something, feel useful, something to do, help out for the greater good. And of course to save some money. I apply for us to volunteer at a yoga/retreat centre on neighbouring island Koh Phangan. I am so into the idea of a stay in a retreat centre – learning to meditate, maybe yoga, doing healing. They say not this time and it’s a bit of a blow to be honest as I really want to go to a place like that. I really regret not going to an ashram whilst in India. I realise It’s not the only retreat centre on the island. There are others including one, The Sanctuary, a friend of mine goes to; I could go for a few days and try and see if I can find some inner peace.
We can’t really afford it of course but Patrick is great and so we agree I can go and I’ll have just a few healing treatments which are fairly priced by UK standards but stuff pretty expensive for Thailand. I book a dorm bed and my treatments by email. We’ll travel together to Koh Tao for 1 night and get settled. Patrick’s (total lack of) sense of directions legendary; he honestly has been known to get lost coming back from the toilet in the pub! So I’ll head back to Koh Phangan on my own.
My cousin once removed Eddy has come to Koh Tao for a holiday so we meet him there. The total darling has found us a bungalow to share for that night. Only thing is …. it’s way more rustic than we can cope with – a coconut wood bungalow in jungle by the beach. No air con, no hot water, no windows even. And a floor made of wooden slats with large gaps between. Gaps just calling for insects and other jungle nasties to climb through! He’s agreed to pay 500 baht (about £11) but when the owner sees us she demands another 300. Patrick is required to do his manly duties when we arrive and deal with 2 huge spiders in the bathroom. I get into bed, dripping with sweat in my anti insect sleeping bag, too scared to move or open my eyes for fear of what I’ll find, willing myself to ignore needing to go to the toilet. I get very little sleep. Morning cannot come early enough…
The night before we had found a hostel bed for Pat whilst I’m away. The morning comes I head off to the ferry pier first thing. I agree to meet Pat in a local bar in 3 days time. Since leaving the UK over 5 months ago we have only been apart for a few hours on a handful of occasions. I get out exactly the amount of money I calculate I need based on the costs in the email and their website as there are no cash machines near the resort. Off I go!!
An eventful journey…..
So I set off. At the ferry I’m sold a cheaper ticket by a woman who has a spare. It’s fate. We sit together, and discover we share so much. We talk about fertility problems, miscarriage, having Polycystic Ovaries. I know the decision to come on this adventure on my own is absolutely the right decision.
The rain has been bad here for the last few days. I’m hoping no repeat of the terrible ferry ride to Koh Tao where I looked into a sickbag the whole journey. I arrive at Koh Phagnan and it’s really pouring it down. I put on a plastic cape, most attractive! The Sanctuary website says that it’s just short 15min taxi boat journey. Shouldn’t be too hard or expensive I think.
So after a taxi ride I arrive where the taxi boats go from – Haad Rin beach, home to the famous Full Moon Parties. I’m assaulted straight away with taxi boat offers. “The Sanctuary?” I ask. No problem I’m told, for 1500 baht (about £30) for the boat. My heart plummets; I, budgeted about 100-150 for this part of the journey. I sense this is going to be a running theme….
I’m told to wait; if there’s 5 people then it’s only 300 baht each. Better. I’m starving having had no breakfast. I sit in the rain, waiting for more people. There’s another woman as wet as me. We sort of keep looking at each other. Eventually she comes over ad says hello. She is Lisa, from Canada and also going to the Sanctuary for some healing and as a birthday treat. We bond instantly and I have found my Sanctuary friend.
After about an hour we have enough people and we are walked through the torrential rain to a tiny boat. I realise I’m going to have get into the water to climb on the boat. I have a large rucksack and a large shoulder back with lots of electronic equipment in it. I’m not good at climbing at the best of times but since my head injury in India the vertigo makes climbing terrible. Somehow I manage to pass them my rucksack and bags and get in the boat. We are totally soaked. The journey is seriously bumpy and precarious and we get wetter and wetter. There’s no life jackets. Lisa tells me after she spent most of it working out how to save her passport if we capasise; I do the same but with my iPhone and trying to memorise Pats phone no.
30 minutes later, about 4 in the afternoon, the boat pulls into a small bay. We have to climb off into the water again. I’m last to get off, no idea how I’ll get myself off, let alone my rucksack and shoulder bag! Somehow I get off, temprarily losing my shoes into the sea. My rucksack is thrown onto the beach. A huge wave comes in and covers it, soaking all my other clothes inside….
The blitz spirit….
So now I’m here. I find an amazing place – made up of a main bar on the beach and lots of buildings and bungalows built in the jungle hills behind, linked by long winding paths and many steep, knee challenging steps. (My knees took rather too much punishment when I used to be very fat and I now pay the price.) It’s very busy in the bar – full of westerners, most sporting the traveller/hippy look. Lots of people sit working on MacBooks or iPads. I hope that it will be friendly and gulp down a feeling of intimidation that I’m on my own.
I’m taken to my dorm bed (a challenging 5 min walk from the resort bar), and drape it with all my wet stuff from my ruck sack in an attempt to dry it out. The dorm is up some stairs which scare the life out of someone with vertigo. (By the 2nd day I’d summoned up courage to get down then sideways rather than backwards but I never make it to fromtways!) The toilets are downstairs outside and there’s no hot showers. I resign myself to more nights trying to ignore my bodies need to have 1 or 2 wees on a normal night…..
At 5.30 I make my way for my first treatment, a Hawaiian lomi-lomi massage which is am so looking forward to. I ask at reception in the bar where massages are held. In the spa they say. I borrow a brolly (I’ve kind of started to dry off) and head to the spa. I walk up some lovely but huge and totally slippy and impractical steps to the spa. My knees are killing me. No booking they tell me, they don’t do Hawaiian massage. I head back to reception and show them the email. I’m trying very hard not to lose it. Reception aren’t sure but suggest I try the space where the healers work. I run through the rain to another part of the resort knowing I’m late, feeling more than a little out of sorts. I finally find Milaika who does the Lomi-lomi. I tell her today this place feels very English – trying to stay cheerful despite the rain and cold!
The massage is unbelievable – maybe the best I’ve ever had. It was Alexis who we met in Goa who suggested I could do with one. It’s all about flushing away physical and emotional blockages. It’s very oily, soft and physical but also spiritual. I think new thoughts about old situations and realise somethings about why I feel like I do about my past, my body and my infertility and miscarriages very clearly. (The day after I realise that the week of my visit would have been the 40th of my last pregnancy.) I cry and wail knowing its all very therapeutic. And hour and a half later I feel totally exhausted even though I have done is lie there. I feel amazing …. and oily on my skin, my hair. It’s then I remember the dorm only has cold showers. I pay for the treatment still in a daze. It’s 200 baht more than when I booked. I don’t care, it’s worth every penny. I ask to have a hot shower. No hot shower available I’m told but I can use the steam room for 150 baht. Already I’m worried about the finite cash in my purse and so now all the wonderful feelings from the massage have disappeared and I’m left feeling again stranded unless I pay. I resign myself to oily hair and wearing my only dry clothes, now oily, for the next few days. Thankfully Lisa rescues me and lets me use her hot shower the following day.
Great & not so good…..
So my few days at The Sanctuary move on with ups and downs. At times it’s brilliant and I get chatting to lovely people – Lisa of course, Sandi and Jason a fab couple from Sydney and Dashani from London. She is there on a 2 week weight detox – 3 people are doing it. All 3 of them don’t look very overweight to me and one is positively slim. But I hope it shifts the few pounds they feel they need to shift.
The food is amazing – and not that expensive given most things there are. There’s wifi but it costs a lot for dorm dwellers. Communication with Pat is limited to the odd text and I have serious Facebook withdrawal. But my cash isn’t going very far. I try to find out about getting a ride to the cash machine but I find it would cost me £13 to go, and that’s if I can find at least 4 other people to go with me. So I have to eek out what I have in my purse. I realise without the extra cost of the LomiLomi and had the boat been less I would have been fine. Instead, if I only drink free water, trim half an hour off one if my treatments and just have some protein powder for brekkie, I can afford 2 other meals each day – but no diet coke. Seems I’m joining the detox programme too!!!
I’m not the only person with cash worries. On my 2nd evening, about 6pm, I’m sitting at a table where a group of people talk about a man called Tom; no-one knows his surname. He was headed to the main town so they all gave him their cash cards and pin numbers. One of the group resigns herself to the fact that he won’t be able to get back till the next day. She says she’s not worried even though she doesn’t know his name; the vibes were fine when she handed over her card. A German woman is less sanguine. “I gave him my card and we have to leave in the morning!”.
Everywhere you turn there’s stuff about the philosophy behind the Sanctuary. About wholeness and wellness. The bar receipts say something like love, peace and the planet. But I think it’s got a bit confused along the way. It’s very popular with a real hippy, retreat feel and a really beautiful place. But it is very expensive and actually the facilities and customer service are no way good enough for the prices they charge. A cynical part of me wonders if no-one wants to say this or complain lest they bring negative energy to the party!
I fancy a workshop on meditation for manifestation (to attract what you want into your life) but its 300 baht. Later I find it’s run by someone who includes tantra in many of her sessions. I’m told it was pretty intense. I think back to my trip to Araombol! I silently thank my financial situation.
My other treatments are brilliant too. A tarot reading which wasn’t what I wanted (I like cold, hard facts in my readings – this was far more spiritual) but really made me think. And an amazing reiki session where it was identified that I was totally out of balance after my fall so no wonder I’ve been feeling so strange. She is also able to work on my dodgiest knee which by this stage is agony. I don’t cry, for once. I just feel amazing and wish I could have done longer and had more sessions.
I want to give Lisa a birthday thingy but I can’t even afford to buy her a drink or piece of cake. So I make her a card instead, using a torn out page from a lined exercise book I have and my only biro. The envelope is stuck together with duct tape cut into a star share. I tell her it’s an effort present. I think she is really touched.
Dorm wars strike again….
All is not harmony though. There’s something I find can be very individualistic and laisez faire about these hippy places – almost a ‘if it’s gonna happen it will happen’ and ‘I’m just getting in touch with my inner core’ which can mean people are oblivious to anything else. Generally, people there are not as friendly as I had expected; I spend many hours as billy no-mates in the bar on my own. Some people clearly feel they are loving some hippy ideal but their actions say anything but. I get into a situation with a man with a guitar the night of an Open Mike event. I’ve found someone to accompany me to sing which I’m determined to do despite having no idea what sound will come out (I’ve only sung once in 5 months). I’ve had to push my way into a very closed group who are not very friendly to do this. One bloke is sitting wearing a hoody, strumming a song to himself on the shared guitar which we need to practice. So I ask nicely if when he’s finished we could use the guitar. He ignores me. I ask again. He tells me I’m “fucking rude” for asking mid song. I’m mortified as I hear him add “I love you man, but I’m pissed off you interrupted my song”. I can’t help it and I’m too embarrassed to shriek with laughter at the cliche, instead saying “no you don’t, you said I was fucking rude”. All my bonhomie has disappeared and I set off to do my song feeling more than a little of an interloper and crappy.
One of my fellow dorm dwellers and me also get off to a bad start, and it goes from bad to worse. He’s English, maybe late 30s/early 40s, quite posh sounding, his bed opposite mine. There’s no aircon but there are large powerful ceiling fans running the length of the dorm. Windows line the walls and we each have a little lamp by our beds. There are empty beds. Before I go to bed the first night I close the windows near my bed – remember I am still in shock from the lizard action the night before! Next morning he wakes early and gets up, walks by my bed and opens the window by my bed. It wakes me up. I get up and close it. We are surrounded by people sleeping. He says across the room ‘can you leave it open?’. I say no – its woken me up. I leave it closed and get back into my bed. Bloody cheek of the man – its my window. But it’s too late, swords are drawn.
Next day I go to bed early-ish again after the open mike. I wasn’t very good so I head to bed early full of shame and upset at the guitar incident. All the windows are open, he’s not there but has left his light on by his bed. I shut my window and get into bed. I’m trying to ignore wee like demands of my bladder (I’m getting better at the steps but they are still a challenge) and ignore his open window next to his light. I half fall asleep but all I see is the lizard and I start to imagine snakes coming up through the window, following the light. Why not put a bloody great sign up saying ‘snakes and other large insects or reptiles please enter here’!! Eventually it’s too much. I get up close the window and turn off his light, deciding he must have been to public school with his open window obsession and lack of dorm etiquette. I finally fall asleep.
Next morning I’m last up, other than him…. and the woman he has pulled. Oh god – I see two naked people in his bed. At least they put on clothes and then they start to get to know each other – verbally. They tell each other about their lives. She is nice and I know from a workshop the day before a woman with a lot of issues. She has such a look of excitement on her face, it’s really quite sweet. I hear him tell her a story which includes “they all hated me”. I smile to myself whilst making myself a cup of coffee and protein shake. I spend a lot of time looking the other way feeling very awkward. Eventually I dare to walk past them to go to the toilet. On the way back I find the dorm door is locked. I’m furious – if they want to get together they really should get a room!! Indignantly I knock hard at the door. After a few mins he opens it and I just shrug and walk in knowing I have the moral high ground. “The last person out slammed the door” he said “it locked itself with the bang”. I feel terrible but unable to offer an apology.
The next night there’s a massive all night party nearby and we are warned its loud. Ear plus are provided by the resort. It is really very loud and it goes on all night and all the next day. I go to bed early. The dorm is dark and so I creep in planning to turn on my lamp so I can see if anyone is asleep before turning on the light. He is behind me. I’m halfway to my bed when he says full volume “don’t you want the lights on?” and he turns them on. Luckily, no on was trying to sleep but I feel vindicated. This man clearly has no concept of his actions on others. Closing all the windows would have helped with the noise but oh no. Even in the morning, the noise still booming in he gets up early and goes for a shower, leaving the door open on his way out. People stir in their beds as even more noise fills the room.
The previous evening I saw him walk away from the woman from the night before. I wanted to tell her not to worry, but obviously I don’t. I’m too busy hiding from guitar man!!
Even more eventful journey home…..
Everyone tells me it’s easier to get back to the main town on Saturday mornings as the all-night party means lots of people need to go. I keep asking at reception where the party is and every time I’m just told ‘over there’ to a vague hand wave. Great!
I’ve known to keep 300 baht for my ride to town and the cash point and Kho Tao ferry, but something inside me told me to save 400, not having a slice wheat free choc cake on my last night. Ye gods are on my side. Brushing my teeth I meet a german woman who says she on her way to join the party and she will show me where it is if we walk together. I get there early and find shared taxi vans – I’m not trying that bloody boat again. It’s around 9 in the morning.
Taxis in Thailand are pick-up trucks. You sit on benches and there are some rails to hold on to so you don’t fall out. Fine on normal roads, terrible on dirt track massive hills – which it turns out is what we have to go over to get to the town. I’m told they need to wait for 6 more people and then we can go – and of course it would be 400 baht to get me to the ferry port! I wait over an hour try not to panic. All around me everyone is still partying. The music is actually ace and in normal circumstances I would love it. But I’m just desperate to get away from this place, really not liking not being able to travel. Everyone has been partying since about 11 the night before. We need 6 for the trip, after about an hour and a half we have enough. I get into the back of the truck with a bloke from Manchester who is so off his face I think he’s Russian!! We all get chatting. He spends the journey propositioning me. “Your husband will never need to know” he says. I spend precious money on an unnecessary text to Patrick to make him smile – Pat loves the story and laughs a lot, not because I was propositioned, but because it was by a Manc, literally a red rag to a Leeds fan. 🙂 . We all hold on for dear life as the van navigates the dirt track hills. I am just thankful my coxyxc has pretty much healed as we bang up and down and I’m just excited I’m leaving in time to catch the ferry that day.
So 6 hours after leaving the dorm on Koh Phagnan I walk into the bar on Koh Tao to find Patrick and cousin Eddy. All is right with the world and I’m so happy to be ‘home’; my current home being a very hot sweaty hug with Patrick. I wouldn’t have changed making the trip to the Sanctuary for anything, but I’m back where I belong.