Happiness only real when shared—Christopher McCandless
At a restaurant, In Haadrin, Koh phangan, head down, staring at my Shnitzel sandwitch, my second and last meal of the day, background sounds of the tv show “friends” playing. I feel a tap on my shoulder, I look up and no it’s not the waiter, it’s no cute girl trying to strike up a conversation, it’s a random guy who left before I couldn’t even grasp what he said, trying to decode what just happened, even though I responded with a grin and a nod, his words actually made me angry, shivers and chills crawlng from my spine to my head, I wanted to shout my lungs out, I wanted to hit my table, but that would make me look crazy, which definitely opposed his intentions, “smile once in a while”he had said, almost a month in Koh pangan now, I knew I wasn’t the happiest person in that island but I didn’t know people see me as depressed !
From north to south, between mini vans, buses, one train and one boat, I finally arrived to my first island, lesson of this journey: always take the train, weird remark of the journey: I heard more british than thai.
When I got in the ferry I went for a window seat, but after failing at taking decent pictures due to the thick glass, I stood up and started exploring the place, scaning around until I met a door, opened it, a blinding light hit my face, it was a deck with a few people who unlike most passengers, and yet like me chose to take better pictures or just wanted to enjoy the sun, my eyes watered, gazing at the infinite blue sea, I felt like I was in the best place in the world, pure happiness filled my flesh. you know when someone asks you, if you’d rather be anywhere else where would you go? Well from then on, my answer would always be: there on that ferry deck. “I’m gonna remember this moment for the rest of my life” I pondered, I’d repeat this to myself everytime a fascinating scene was in front me. This trick works like magic.
The dreamy faraway shore from moments ago is now real, my hostel picked me up, and as soon as I checked in I went to the beach, it was breathtaking, hair raising, heart stirring, I couldnt believe my reality, the hostel looked like a resort, I have a strong belief it was the best located hostel in the world, it had a pool which existence I didn’t fathom at first, it only took me one full dip to change my perspective, I stayed inside for at least 4 hours and I wasn’t the only one, an english man invited me to join him and his friends, I was witnessing social mastery performed by this no less than 40 year old man, his name was George, social dynamics wasn’t his only virtue, no one could beat him in holding breath underwater, his submerged face and floating technique unsettled everyone since we wouldn’t tell a difference if he drowned.
I got of the warm water, took an instant shower then went to the main lobby where they were playing a spiderman movie. A face caught my attention, god she was beautiful, I didn’t do it, I didn’t go say hi, I stayed seated and watched a movie, I saw her leave a couple of hours later, the movie left my mind, she didn’t. I took a walk to the calm beach, and layed on the sand facing the stars, thinking about the moment when disguised fear had seated me. While I enjoyed my time alone I was hoping to see her pretty face in the next days. “I’ll definitely say hi the next time” I thought.
On my stroll at the shore I spotted a dart board at the bar, it was closed yet accessible, I had played darts once in my life before, and couldn’t even get the dart to stick to the board, it was time to change that, I lost track of time until I hit the center. I was finally getting good at this, good at being by myself.
It was Sunday, I spent the first half of it working on my blog before going to the beach with James, a canadian guy I met in the pool the day before, he was on a 3 weeks vacation, and I was on a travel until no money left kind of thing, so of course I couldn’t afford hanging out with him all the time. After a few hours chilling at the beach with views of topless girls. I went back and continued tweaking my blog, facing a screen for six straight hours until both a headache and my empty stomach called for a stop.
There was a nightclub only a few steps away I could go to for free that night, and there was a british girl I had met the first day who invited me for drinks with her friends yet the sane option was to get some food, when my padthai was served to me, my headache ate all my appetite away and I had to put my plate for take away. It was midnight, and what was supposed to be a goodnight sleep turned to a two hour nap, interupted by a consciousness that was examining the possibility for me to hit the club. Minutes later I was dancing with the two girls I’ve been wanting to talk to since day one, However, they left before I could make any kind of escalation, James was also there and dancing turned into pushups and pull ups in the dancefloor, it wasn’t any dancefloor, it was indoor but the floor was sand. I ended my night by calling my best friend Habib while eating my leftover from few hours ago, I tried convincing him to travel and perhaps join my little adventures.
Day 3 was monday and as I got up from my dorm bed I found 680 baht laying on the floor, “Gooood Morning” I thought to myself! To put that to perspective, In this island a meal usually costs around 70 baht. I’d be bummed to lose that amount of money yet I couldn’t think how I would return in to its owner, so I got a nice brunch, while waiting for my order I noticed something different about the lobby, the hostel staff were playing with children I haven’t seen before, Cheerful screams and lots of running around. I had no idea what was going on. My order was ready I grabbed the tray and sat with the two girls from last night, Laura was quiet, her head in space, Emily was way friendlier and more engaged in our conversation, I liked Laura. Later, I learned they They had a bike accident that same morning, they got away with some scratches in both their bodies and on their bike as well, they got really lucky because they found a place where to fix the little damage without having the owner noticing anything. Haadrin beach is where the party at, you should go there and be careful on the wet streets they added. My confused look summed up that I had no idea what was going on, “It’s the water festival today” they explained.
We split,they left to relax by the pool, and I went to rent a bike on Songkran Festival, I stood by the shop looking at what was happening in the streets, examining how dangerous these circumstances were, I haven’t seen anyone slip so I assumed I’d be fine.
It was the best and the worst day during all my travels.
Carol, a friend I had met in Chiang mai was in the island for the same reason as me, the full moon party, she gave me her hostel address which I had so much troube finding having only a couple of google map snapshots at hand. I had to stop and hide whenever I wanted to get my phone out from my bike’s little trunk, in the midst of all this, I randomly spotted a moroccan restaurant which we later ate at all together.
Haadrin was so vibrant, filled with hostels, bars and restaurants, a backpacker’s hub, I knew I had to move here to enjoy this island to the fullest. Soaking Wet I met Carol and Renan and after a little catching up, we headed out to the streets, it was time for revenge. For the past hour I was thrown buckets at defensless, I thought that by speeding on a bike, I would be untouchable, However, reality was different, not only I got soaking wet, but I also got repeatedly slapped in the face by water. On foot, it was all fun, I couldn’t take pictures of this craziness because I had no waterproof camera yet I’ll never forget how ecstatic people were splashing water at one another, dancing freely at the sounds of Summer music, we were kids again, at one moment, I wanted to pause, and scan this scene so I could store it all, I could consiously do it while facing a beautiful view, but this was a moving image that I wanted to retain. And here I am almost two years later, having a clorful vivid memory of that blisfful ambiance created by probably the happiest souls on earth at that moment in time. It had been my most gratifying and pleasant event on my trip so far.
After all the dancing, we then went to the beach, Carol and her friend relaxed while I played some soccer with some guys on the wet sand, in a circle, we played with the ball not letting it hit the ground, the circle was made of a brazilian, an argentinian, an israeli, and a Moroccan, later, I joined another circle, this time, it was frisbee inside the water, I sucked, I think they stopped playing just because I ruined their game.
I Stayed at the beach until 2 am partying and watching fire shows, all my friends have long gone home by then, Now the worst part of the day was on my way back to my hostel. Mistake number one: I shouldn’t have dranked when I’d have to ride in the dark for a good twenty minutes. Mistake number two: While riding the bike, I was checking google map with my left hand, so I could only pull the front brake handle, and when there was a speed bump ahead of me, I instincively braked, in a blink of an eye I was on the ground, I couldn’t believe what had just happened, I felt utterly stupid, I was fine but I scrached my bike, I thought about the staggering amount of money Laura and Emily were telling me about that morning. I couldn’t sleep that night until I convinced myself to forget it and see if my travel inssurance would cover the expenses.
Tuesday, no mood for breakfast, I called my insurance first thing in the morning, explaing my situation. “we don’t cover bike accidents” they replied. Just like that, I was screwed, the only time I needed insurance, during this trip and that was their answer, “this is the last time I’m buying travel insurance, 800$ down the drain” I thought. I was pissed. I asked the staff about a solution but they were helpless, they pointed out that if I had rented the bike from their guy, only then they could negociate. At least he was empathic with me, he added that in some cases people had paid over 30000 baht to the bike shop before they got their passport back. At this point, It was a waiting game, I decided to eventually give the bike during nightime hoping the guy won’t see it. That night was the full moon night and since I didn’t wanna drink much I couldn’t get over how stupid I was to front break and end up paying what could at least cover two weeks in that island.
The night was insane though, imagine a beach and then pack it with beautiful people dancing until sunrise, and then add cheap alcohol and again don’t forget the beach, where people have sex inside the water, how do I know you ask? it was my main view while sitting by myself on the sand all tired, I couldn’t pretend everything was alright, I couldn’t fake a happy face, many people who passed near me asked if I was alright, I tried ignoring everything and have a good time, and at some moments I was having fun vibing with different people, talking to cute girls. To get myself in the mood I joined a group of 2girls and one guy, I said something as if we were friends, they were astonished to what they were witnessing, they loved it. I lost them or didn’t want to follow them when the group accompanied a girl to the bathroom.
Later, I kissed one girl, I could sense a spark between us but her friend grabbed her away soon after the kiss. I was mentally drained already and naturally couldn’t put up with all the ups and downs, so I sat and watched.
The next day, I started looking for jobs, going to hostels, hotels, resorts, some laughed at me, some were shocked and wondered why I would need a job, my answer was along the lines of: “I like this place and I want to stay longer” and at the end of the day I had 2 jobs in my pocket, the question was which one to choose, I get really undecisive sometimes, this was one of those times. An amazing resort where I would be the head chef, no accomodation the first month yet I’d get paid 12000 baht every month, against a front desk doing check-in/check-out in an old hotel including 2 meals a day and a free room, for 10000 baht a month.
I still don’t know if it was the unsetlled mind or eating a western sandwich but I got sick that day, and it was a first since the begining of this trip. I tried eating as much local food as possible to save money but Thai food was easy to get tired of.
The following day, I went to the hotel in Haadrin and sat next to the manager while he was working, everyone was checking out from their rooms, it was a busy morning for the hotel staff, so I sat there waiting for hours before they gave me a room, it had no air-conditioning, it had a smell of an old room that hadn’t been opened for ages, the water was yellow, “Damn it, I should’ve gone to the resort” I thought. I had already given back my bike and paid 5000 baht for the little scratches. Since then, I’d tell anyone I meet wanting to rent a bike in the island to pick a shop where they have used bikes with old scratches. at the time, there was only one in the whole island. The hotel where I was working was just a few minutes walk from the beach. Knowing I will get paid made me at ease and I finally could enjoy my time without the constant self deprecating.
After a long sleepless night due to the steamy room, I arose the morning feeling sticky, so I took a cold shower yet not only the water looked dirty, it smelled dirty too, “this better change very soon or I’m leaving this place” I said to myself. Off to a bad start, but as the day went by, I realized the good thing about my current position, the hotel was empty, there was barely any customers I assisted that day which left me plenty of time doing what I wanted, writing and editing my videos or posting new pictures.
Since then the days started to blend in, I started sneaking in unocuppied guestrooms to spend the night and shower like a human being. I’d have instant coffee and cookies for breakfast, and I’d spend about 8 to 10 hours in front of my computer either on a couch or on a desk, split by a lunch break, where I eat with the rest of the staff, not always in the same table, and not always the same food -I don’t eat Pork- However, I always had brutally spicy food, so spicy, I’d turn red and tear up sometimes.
There were more teenagers working than adults, The hotel was huge, and very successful a few years ago, but because the owner wasn’t looking over his buisness, Drop In Hotel went downhill until it became a disaster. I felt sorry for guests everytime I had to get money from them knowing they would be staying in probably the worst place in Haadrin. My nights would be spent at the beach, boucing to dancing music, and watching new travelers come and go, I’d meet different girls, but I could never invite them back to my crappy hotel, One night, one girl made me try the gaz balloon, probably the funniest couple minutes I’ve ever felt. Another time a girl came up to me and called me Jesus. Yet most of the time, I was by myself, I could feel I was becoming like a local, Only I didn’t speak any thai besides greeting and thank you’s. One scene that entertained me many times was seeing guys going after girls not knowing they’re prostitutes. these half a dozen girls would always be dancing in different groups like normal girls, only they were easier and they let guys feel like they won them over, until they ask them for money.
One night while watching the fire shows and games, I spotted a somewhat familiar face in the crowd, When I went over I spoke to him in Arabic, his shock was beyond imagination, he was my older brother’s friend, what a small world!
We met the following nights, and I learned about his lifestyle, he traveled a lot because he only worked on contracts, so after every contract he’d spend all of his saved money on a new trip, “Mexico is way more fun than here “he said, the guy missed the full moon Party by a only couple of days, the island looked totally different that you can barely see any tourists.
I hate routine, routine was the first reason I quit my job 4 months ago, and for almost a month I saw days and nights repeat themselves before my eyes. Sure, some days were more productive than others, some lonelier than others, but I was lacking that sense of the unknown, adventure and exploring that gave me my fix. I could sense I’m passed the midpoint of my backpacking trip and the thought of going back home sickened me, it made me lazy to look for new things to do. Money running low wasn’t encouraging either, I asked my boss to give me a couple of days off and so I decided to try scubadiving for the first time, it was for one day, two dives, On an early morning, I got picked up from my hotel and jumped in the back of a pickup truck, where I met an uruguayan group of friends. I learned so much about their country, their food and about the nice places to see there.
Once at the boat, we were advised to lay on the second floor to avoid feeling dizzy, at the diving location and as soon as our ferry stopped, I could feel an easiness in my stomach. It wasn’t serious until I put on my scuba suit. I was the only one who got sea sick, I took off my suit and emptied my stomach vomiting. I felt better and happy it passed me but as soon as the weight of my scuba pressed my shoulders, I’d feel sick again.
This cycle repeated itself a few times and our team’s instructor had left to assist the other divers. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the experience.
I realized that the shaking boat was the reason of my sickness so I jumped in the waters halfway to vomiting again but as soon as my body hit the water, I felt so fresh, so free, and from there it was all beautiful corals and colorful fish.
I knew I’d be doing more of this in the near future.
To break routine, I also tried gunshooting, another thing I croseds off my bucket list. I think it’s vital to have such a list, because when times get dull, and you feel lost in life, your list will be there for you, it will guide you to chase those forgotten dreams.
After one month since I first set foot in Drop In Hotel, it was time for a new Full moon. From days when only two, three guests checked in, to a day when hunderds of people were coming in. However, the hotel wouldn’t be fully booked if it weren’t for a guided tour offered by life before work travel, who obviously took advantage of young unexprienced travelers and made them stay in such poor conditions. The group was all Canadian. Every hotel in the island had a minimum 4 day stay, the last night would be the full moon night, at first, my boss, unashamedly asked me to work that night, I had to agree since I haven’t got paid yet, but thankfully he came to his senses later and I got to Enjoy a second Full moon.
The next day, I asked my boss to pay me, he made up some bullshit to get me out of his sight. the next day, I tried again, he gave me 1000 baht instead of 10000 baht saying that was all he could give at the moment. I wasn’t mad, because voluntering in exchange for accomodation was my original plan, and if someone can’t keep his word, it is his fault, and something he will live with for the rest of his life. I was reading The backpacker by John Harris at the time, his troubles were far more critical than mine, the interesting thing was a big chunk of the story happened in Haadrin beach, Koh phangan. This book grew to be my best friend in my trip.
A photo posted by Yassine Laaroussi (@larrozzi) on
“Let me tell you what I think messes up the mind the most: doing less than you can. It causes all kinds of psychic damage. Being less than you can be–trying less than you can try–somehow damages your mind, your self-image, life is worthwhile when you try, when the final book on you is written let it see your wins and your loses but don’t let it show you didnt play how would you explain that” – Jim Rohn