This morning, I woke up to the sound of wild birds crying out around me, swaying from side to side as the floating hut I was currently staying in shifted back and forth, the lighting subtle. I opened my eyes, stumbled to my feet and walked outside to the rickety platform atop the water and took in my surroundings. Khoa Sok, Thailand!
It was the crack of dawn and nature filled my auditory senses. A basic hut, with a hard double bed of which the occasional hoard of ants scattered across, was my home for two days. My hut lay afloat in the middle of the vast Ratchaprapha lake. Surrounded by nothing but mountains and forest and electricity only between 6pm and 12am, this was peace in it’s purest form. I fell in love in that moment. I sat on the rickety platform that made up the base between hut and water, dangled my feet into the lake and watched as one of the boatmen stepped into his old long tail boat and began to start the motor. I sat for a while, watching sunlight fully begin to spread and take over the sky, my head slightly dazed from drinking the night before. As voices in the distant background started to become audible, I stood up, took a deep breath and dove into the water – the cold water consumed me completely.
The day before, I had arrived at the small airport in Krabi, the early morning sun beating down heavily on me as I struggled to walk steadily under the pressure of a backpack almost as big as I was. I was exhausted. I had been in Bangkok the night before, Hong Kong the day before that and Dubai the day before that. Hoards of people were scrambling for buses and taxis as I looked around trying to decide where my next destination should be. While deciding, I saw a picture of a gorgeous lake and above it read Khao Sok national park. Not quite sure what was there but the picture assured me that it was the right place to go. I looked around for a bus to Khao Sok still struggling with the load on my back and eventually saw a taxi.
After 2 ½ hrs, I arrived at a busy harbor, packed with traditional and non-traditional modes of transport, market stalls, a small restaurant, bathroom and an information point with no one present. I walked around the harbor trying to decide my next move. I saw rows of old longtail boats docked and the boatmen talking amongst themselves joyously, some arriving, some departing. I approached a lone longtail boat owner as he sat by the engine looking over the water. He spoke basic English but told me about some huts further into the lake, it would take an hour to reach and he could take me there for a few hundred thai baht, after haggling to half the initial price, he told me he was waiting for a friend and then could take me. I was to wait in the vicinity or I could have some food at the restaurant. When he mentioned food, I suddenly remembered how hungry I was. I rushed to the small restaurant, sat at a table where a picture menu was brought to me, swatting ants off the pages as I thumbed through the menu I settled on a spicy papaya salad. I practically inhaled the whole meal and gulped down an icy bottle of cold water. As I did so the boatman appeared and told me to gather my stuff. I paid, left a small tip, grabbed all my possessions and then ran behind the boatman as he hurried to his boat. By now the boat was loaded with supplies, bottles of water, bags of meat and staple foods. Sitting inside was an older looking white man, he turned to me and helped me load my belongings into the boat. Finally it was time to head out.
I sat alongside the man and once he began talking I gathered he was an American. Through our discussions I learned that he had been in Thailand for the past 15 years living in a floating hut on the lake where he also taught yoga. I was amazed, a floating hut and yoga in the middle of nowhere, it sounded perfect. He told me his life story, the conversation punctuated with moments of silence as we were both captivated by the sights around us. There was a brief moment where the sound instantly changed, almost at once there was nothing except the sound of the old boat motor and instantly the boatman switched off his motor as if he knew in this precise moment mother natured deserved our full attention. We sat there in stunned silence at the sight of the mountains, the trees, the sheer vastness of our surroundings, after a few moments he switched on the motor and carried on. The American casually turned to me and asked if I was in Thailand alone, “Yes” I replied, he looked at me for a moment, then replied “You’re a brave girl” then simply turned away. I smiled it off and carried on taking in the beauty which had engulfed me. In the distance I could see a row of small huts, “That’s your stop” the American said to me with his gaze still fixed ahead. As we approached I saw a row of simple huts floating atop the water, some newer looking than others. As we got closer I saw two bigger platformed areas one with tables and chairs, I assumed this was the eating area and the other I later would find out housed the shared cold water showers. Shutting off his engine, the boatman let the boat glide into the docking position alongside other longtail boats, he secured the boat, I picked up my belongings and climbed out onto the dock, the boatman spoke with a Thai man who seemed to be the owner and he summoned me to a young Thai woman who then showed me to my hut, my home for the night.
Walking over broken wooden platforms which swayed above the water, I maneuvered myself behind the light footed Thai lady, she pushed open the door of a small one windowed hut with an electric fan and a double bed. Perfect! Throwing my bags to the ground I walked outside and simply sat on the platform separating me from the water below and just stared. Never have I felt so small and so insignificant in the most beautiful manner. That afternoon I sat simply in awe of everything around me, occasionally distracted by the splash of someone jumping into the lake or the arrival or departure of one of the longtail boats. I watched as the sun set beyond the mountains , I watched the lake as the occasional fish movement below would ripple the surface, I watched and watched. The sound of the generators kicked in and the splattering of lights alongside the porches switched on, I realized I had sat frozen in awe and gratitude of what I was witnessing for at least 4 hours. The floating hut only had electricity for a few hours a day, my phone was dead, I didn’t care, I had nothing else electrical with me. I didn’t miss it.
As the sun set and the moonlight glistened above helping to highlight the immediate area, I decided to take one of the canoes that had been resting against the side of the platform and head out. Settling into the tiny canoe, I used the paddle and pushed myself out into the lake, I paddled slowly, further and further out till I could no longer hear the hum of the generators and the lights of the huts were now subtle blurs behind me. I put the paddle down, lay back and stared up at the sky, I surrendered the canoe to the currents and drifted off. This was pure, this was perfection. As the waves caressed the canoe, I remember humming Billie holiday’s ‘Summertime’, a moment in all its perfection. After a while I sat up and although the moonlight shone heavily, I could barely make out the light from the huts, it was time to head back. Paddling towards the light I felt a complete release of life’s stresses , my soul was lighter. I must admit I had started this journey heavy hearted, but in this moment, my heart softened and an intense feeling of freedom washed over me. As I reached the hut I could hear the hustle and bustle of the cooks dishing out food, the few others guests sitting down to dinner, laughing amongst themselves. I was a lone traveler, but at no point did I feel alone here. One of the boatmen saw me approaching the dock and rushed round to help me out and secure the boat, he then ushered me to a lone table, it was time to feast.
Dinner was an abundance of food, I sat at the table as mounds of food were placed in front of me. Freshly grilled fish, green chicken curry, salads, a mound of white rice, a large assortment of fresh fruit, a huge egg omelet and a large bottle of ice cold water. The colours were rich, the smells intoxicating. I looked around confused. All this for one person? Now, I’m 5’9 (1.77m) and weigh 9 stone (56 kg) I am aware that I am medically classed as underweight, I’m used to people trying to overfeed me, I’m often told that I look like I’m in need of a good meal, so I couldn’t help but wonder whether the locals had taken pity on me and decided to take it upon themselves to feed me and feed me they did! The food was amazing, with each mouthful I tasted freshness, spices, flavours that I had never had even at Thai restaurants back home. I would go on to consume as much as my body would allow and then some.
After dinner I sat stuffed at the table and looked onto the lake, struggling to make out the shapes of the nothingness in front of me. I excused myself as they began to clear the table and decided I’d go sit outside my hut and read by the flickering porch lights. Instead I lay on the surface just outside the hut, swaying with the water. I closed my eyes and just listened, the generators going, the sound of the solitary canoe bumping against the dock, laughter and conversation from the dining platform. I fell happily into a calm state. Distracted by a voice above me I opened my eyes, there were two guys standing and asking why I was alone and if I wanted to join their group for a drink, being the shy person I am, I initially declined, then one of them stated “You can’t be in a place like this and be alone, at least one drink.” Reasonable argument, I stood up and followed them to the area which we had dinner earlier, there were a large group of people already present, a couple from Italy, Switzerland, a mother and daughter from Australia and we were later joined by two Americans, a guy from Finland, two Thai locals and some others. Now a full swell of foreigners came together and the bottles of Thai alcohol came out, I am no lightweight, but this was some serious liquor.
We drank, what seemed and probably was, bottles and bottles of Thai alcohol mixed with a light drizzle of Coca Cola. The mood more than merry, loud laughter and visible happiness unified under various languages. During the discussions and getting to know each other, the fact that it was my birthday in two days came up and a group of people who were strangers a mere few hours ago now joyously sung a premature happy birthday, congratulating me in their native tongues. I felt so humbled and loved by people I had only met hours earlier.
It’s often the case that lone travelers are in search of something, answers, adventure, experiences or are trying to escape. Escape reality, escape routine, escape the idea that life is what is in front of us. Along the way we meet other travelers who are searching and escaping and it is during these meetings that we find ourselves, we find new questions, we find answers and so much more. We find the escape we need.
This story was curated by Eve Anthony