During the six years that I served in the Navy, I had the opportunity to travel to many far-away and exotic places, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, and Guam; however, none can compare to Thailand. In Thailand I found a delicate balance between chaos and serenity, combined with its spectacular cuisine, and breathtaking natural beauty, that set it apart as the most extraordinary place I have ever been.
Upon arriving in the bustling metropolis of Bangkok, it quickly became apparent that I was in a whole new world. As I shared a cab with two other weary travellers, we stared out the windows in disbelief as a massive swarm of tiny scooters weaved in and out between lanes of traffic. Many were carrying entire families of five and large quantities of supplies. It was a cacophony of horns as each driver attempted to make progress in the gridlock that engulfed the smog-filled city. I knew this was not the part of Thailand that I had travelled so far to experience. The following day, with a ticket for a puddle jumper in-hand, I hailed a Tuk-Tuk (a dodgy three wheeled chariot that’s powered by a miniscule motorbike, that’s piloted by an ostensible maniac) and held on for dear life as we made the dangerous journey through the gauntlet of traffic to the municipal airport. Following short plane, ferry, and shuttle rides I finally arrived at my final destination, the island of Koh Phan Ngan.
In short order, I was able to locate the perfect accommodations for this tropical vacation. The bungalow rented for $4/day, was constructed atop stilts, completely out of bamboo, and situated right on the beach. The “amenities” included: a double bed with mosquito net (most important), a sink, cold shower, a toilet, and a small balcony. I hooped in the shower for a quick rinse and then made my way to the eatery next door. The dining room was actually a large patio made from teakwood; small tables were situated across the floor and surrounded by embroidered silken pillows that served as seats. I placed an order for a red curry that was beyond comparison in flavor and in heat; tasting of lemongrass, coconut, and fire; along with a Chang beer. I met some fellow travellers who invited me to join them the following day in visiting Than Prapat falls on the far side of the island.
After a good nights’ sleep to the sound of waves lapping at the shore, I awoke and made my way back to the restaurant to meet my new friends. We ate a delicious breakfast of succulent fresh mangoes, pineapple, fluffy rice, and bold coffee while chatting with anticipation about the day that lie ahead. Once everyone was fully awake, we hopped onto our rented dirt bikes and headed north. We travelled along the most treacherous road I had ever seen; rutted out and ridiculously steep, there were several areas that forced us to maneuver the bikes upward…