don’t judge a beach by its tourists

Thailand likes its long weekends. Now that I’m teaching full time (more than full time, really – I’m at school almost ten hours some days, and I recently have taken on private lessons on Saturdays), I LIVE for those weekends. For July’s long weekend, I headed to Koh Larn with two of my buds from my first teaching job, Domonique and Phil. At first I was hesitant – I wanted to do something active, a trek or something, and I turned my nose up at the fact that Koh Larn was off the coast of Pattaya. I stayed in Pattaya once for a rugby tournament…lots of adjectives to describe it, but we’ll leave it at trashy. Big with Russians and the various sex tourist, the Pattaya crowd that could possibly be taking the 45 minute ferry out to Koh Larn worried me. But – I love Dom and Phil and I knew that going with them would end up being more fun that doing something alone. Our plan was to leave on Friday, but I think hangovers (PHIL) and errands and general laziness kept us in Bangkok. (This is actually the night that Dinnerdance night, a now-weekly staple, was born – I went to John’s to cook chicken tacos and introduced him to The Opposites, a Dutch rap group…a dance-off ensued…but I digress.)

Saturday morning I met Phil and Dom at Victory Monument to grab our minibus to Pattaya. Protip: don’t be afraid to bum rush that van when they open the door. No one seems to respect any sort of queue here, and you really gotta get those front seats, or face being squished into the back. We learned our lesson the hard way.

A trend that is developing during my travels lately seems to be not booking a place to stay until I arrive. Risky, but so far it’s paid off – although Koh Larn almost upset my streak. We got to Koh Larn, grabbed some smoothies and some free Wifi, and then started wandering the island in search of a place to lay our heads. We figured since supposedly most of the tourists leave the island and head back to Pattaya in the early evening, we’d find a room easily. However, it took us nearly ten attempts until we found a place with any vacancy. The girls who showed us to our room immediately asked us if we wanted to go with them on their friend’s banana boat. Phil and I agreed (duh), although not without reservations. Only one of the girls spoke a bit of basic English, and as we loaded into the back of a songtow with ten more young Thais and their beers, we had this feeling that maybe we should have found out where we were going first and left that information with Dom…

We crossed the island and as soon as we disembarked the truck, I felt every eye on Phil and I. We were the only two farang on this side of the island, and my frizzy mane of blond didn’t really help us blend in. As the sun was setting over the cloudy turquoise water, the group took turns racing around on the banana boat pulled behind an old school jetski. It actually turned out to be one of my favorite experiences since moving here. That is the kind of thing I love to happen while traveling – unexpected, maybe a little sketchy at first, but it throws you right into the throngs of local life and is ultimately totally worth it.

As Phil and I were floating around with our new buds, I spotted a tiny temple at the very top of the highest point of the island. A chance to get some exercise and an amazing view – I knew had to find out how to get to this little temple and made a mental note to figure that out when I got home. On the way back, the vibe wasn’t as positive…I noticed our group formed a circle around Phil and I as we walked back to the truck in the dark. I remember whispering to Phil (maybe too excitedly), “Are we being flanked right now??” Nothing to report, however. I can hear my mother’s sigh from here.

The next day we spent simply lazing around on the beach. Dom slept a lot. I swam out as far as I could. Phil and I tried to “surf” on and jump off the big plastic jugs they had tied up to designate the swimming area. We snacked on grilled chicken and beer from our beach chairs. I walked out along a deserted wooden boardwalk to a secluded area of the beach to watch the sun set. I wrestled with beach dogs. Basically, an ideal beach day.

The last morning, I finally was able to rouse the others out of bed at a decent time to head to the beach I was told to go to to find the path to the temple. I knew it was wrong before we got there. It was nice to see a new side of the island, but I was restless and determined. I left Phil and Dom there – they were happy just to lay around and relax – and I started walking to see if I could find the route I was supposed to take. Bad idea. As soon as I lost sight of the water, the temperature spiked. A little motorbike gang of teenage Thais kept driving by me and hitting me on the back. I don’t think they were being malicious, just bored. They stopped after I gave them a thumbs up and did a weird little jig… A few motorcycle taxis stopped and asked if I wanted a ride, but I was being stingy and continued to sweat it out. I finally accepted an offer from a nice couple, and they dropped me off at our little guesthouse. I grabbed the motorbike they had offered me (should have been Plan A) and got better directions. They still weren’t that great, because I ended up driving back and forth over the hills in the middle of the island, with the temple in sight but no road to get to it. Honestly, I didn’t mind. I was zooming around on that little bike with the biggest smile on my face. It was getting close to the time I told Phil and Dom I’d meet them to get ready to go, so I tried one more route…spotted a sign that read, “NO SHORTS” – clearly a temple clue – and nearly fist pumped as I finally turned down the right road. Ok, I definitely fist pumped. Success felt good…and those 360 degree views of the island and blue waters were well worth my efforts.

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