Piña Coladas and Paradise

I found something as I sat on the beach with my best friend, night after night watching the sun melt into the sea, listening to the music, the waves kiss the shore, chatting with strangers and drinking cold, blended heaven. I found peace; Peace of mind, peace of heart. It’s where my soul was free.
I lost the chaos of the world and found myself again.

1:30am, December 26, 2015
I boarded my flight to Hong Kong exhausted, sad, and anxious. Exhausted because it was 1 in the morning, sad because I had to leave my family after such a short visit and  anxious because my flight was late and I could not miss the connector in Hong Kong.
After an airplane dinner at 3am, I went in and out of consciousness. watching movies, listening to music and trying to sleep. The girl beside me was out cold, I don’t know how she did it.
We were late getting into Hong Kong and we missed our connector. For anyone who doesn’t know me, i’m not a fan of things not going as planned. Sure ill be able to handle it, but not without a complete internal panic attack. But they got us on another flight to Bangkok, thank God. Unfortunately the chance of me making my flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui island and a ferry from Samui to Koh Tao was dwindling as each minute ticked by.
I rushed off the plane in Bangkok, got my backpack and searched and searched for the check-in desk for Bangkok Airways, not that it mattered, by the time I looked down at my phone I realized my flight had already left. So I sat on the floor with 30 other people waiting for a stand by opening to get me to the island. As people’s names were being called I started losing hope that mine would be next. But, as luck (or Lilee) would have it, as I was texting Arianna multiple expletives, my name rang out like a choir of angels. Holy shit I got on the flight.

I sat between two not-so-happy one and a half year old Russian twin girls and their family but I was still as happy as a clam because  I was one step closer to my final destination.

4:00pm December 27, 2015
After getting off the plane in Koh Samui, a shuttle took us from the tarmac to the terminal. I got my bag and went right to the ferry desk but there were no more ferries making the trip to Koh Tao until the morning. Luckily, I knew staying the night there was probable so during my torturous wait in BKK I had Arianna call a resort and make sure they had a room available. I walked out to the street, the hot sticky air welcomed me like a brick wall ( I loved every minute of it) and got in a cab with a driver who thought he was pulling one over on me by charging me way to much. But if i’m being honest, I knew it. I wasn’t completely sure, but after the *very* rough exchange in my head I was aware he was scamming me and I didn’t care. If he got me to where I wanted to go(without killing me… which at varioimg_7960us points of the drive I seriously doubted would happen) I would pay him whatever he asked for.
Thankfully, I reached the resort in one piece (it was in the middle of trees and brush and had limited signage), I bought two big Singha beers and checked in at the front desk. note* at that point those beers were almost as important as the bungalow I was about to rent.
Starving, tired, and relieved I wandered around my first row, ocean view bungalow that had a Cali king bed and an outdoor stone shower while sipping my ice cold beer then headed out to the beach to watch the sun set. I took a big swig and a big deep breath and all was right with the world.

After a beachfront romantic dinner with myself I went back to my room, showered and crawled into my bed, asleep before my head
hit the pillow.

7:00am December 28, 2015
I woke to the sound of the ocean crashing to shore. I woke with a smile. Only 2 more hours of travel and I would be in Koh Tao and the Loomprayah Ferry would be the vessel to take me there. That thing is an experience all on its own. My bag was tossed haphazardly on the front deck of the boat with everyone else’s bags that were headed to Koh Tao (Other than the terrifying cab ride it was my first experience of the nonexistent rules and regulations that govern Thailand).  As we started going, the high speed ferry boat lived up to it’s name and I wasn’t sure if I was going to lose my bag off the front of the boat or lose my breakfast over the side of it. After two hours of definitely not reading or doing anything that could induce nausea, me and the other turtle island bound were very VERY happy to disembark.
When I saw Arianna bomb up on her little scooter I could have cried. I couldn’t believe that after the longest trip ever, after sometimes thinking that I wasn’t actually going to make it, and after SEVEN whole months of not seeing her face, there she was standing right there welcoming me to this little slice of paradise.

December 28-January 7
The weather was hot, the ocean was salty and the drinks were cold. No one wears shoes, most places you have to take them off at the door anyway and people are friendly, for the most part. There was no judgement of the drunk, sober, loud, quiet. There was conversation, and laughter and unacknowledged automatic acceptance. People are friendly. I’m not the type to just go sit at a bar and start talking to a stranger. Like what do you say? “Hey… hows.. stuff?” But there, it’s alwimageays “How long have you been here?” or “how long are you here for?” then you get into where someone is from, where they have been, where they are going next and do they dive, (Koh Tao is a diving mecca, especially with the very rare chance of seeing the majestic whale shark). Then conversation flows as freely as the alcohol. I brought that home with me, the “who cares” notion. the “whats the worst that could happen” frame of mind when out meeting new people. Arianna taught me that, along with one, very important piece of advice. “Walk in like you own the place” (i’ll get to that later..).
Every day around 5pm we would make our way back down to the beach for sunset( that is, if we had actually left it). Short tables and bean bag chairs lined the sand and with a pina colada in hand we let the rhythmic music, the sky exploding with colour and the warm sun lull us into a state of pure, blissful calm.
When the sun went down, let’s just say the night life is never lacking. Whether its live music, fire spinning or watching all the people doing pub crawl, there was always something to see or do. New Year’s eve was no exception. Although we were wise enough not to imageparticipate in the flaming jump rope, or the fiery limbo, the beach was shoulder to shoulder packed with people; It was incredible. About half an hour before 2015 was officially over, we walked down the beach, somehow found a quiet spot next to the rhythmic waves and we sent a lantern up to our girl.
I have had three New Year’s eves since Lilee has been gone. Three.
The first one I stayed home, obviously.
The second one was here in Banff, and was so much fun until the inevitable “another year further from her, another year of living without her” hit, and then I ended up in my underground parking wondering if I had the strength to see the sun rise.
So needless to say I wasn’t really looking forward to the night. I was so incredibly happy to be where I was and who I was with, but it didn’t change the depressing reality that Life. Moves. Forward. It goes on, even when you don’t want it to. Even when you would do anything to STOP and live in a single moment for the rest of eternity. Time doesn’t listen. It ticks forward with reckless abandon and doesn’t give a fuck about you. But as we lit that lantern I felt pieces of my walls crumble. I felt this disconnect that I have built between me and the people I love start to dissolve. So Arianna and I watched the lantern rise higher and higher, and we told her we love her, and we hugged, and we cried.
We counted down till midnight, we danced and then we left, ending our night with snacks (toasties to be specific-I don’t know if these exist anywhere else in the world but DAMN. they are good) and Netflix in bed. I can honestly say it was the best new years eve start-to-finish that I have had in a really long time. And although my heart broke on that beach, as it does every year, I started this new one with someone I love, snuggled in bed, after a night of moderation and not with the chaos that New Year’s Eve is so infamous for.
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Our days continued like that. We hiked to freedom beach, and took a longtail boat over to the island Nang Yuan where we hiked up to a ridiculously busy view point to snap a few pictures. We tanned on the soft white sand, snorkeled with the fishes, had our breakfasts by the water and our dinners at one of the many amazing restaurants that Koh Tao had to offer. We drank Vodka manaos and Honey Jack and of course we found some wine. We talked and laughed and danced with all the new people I had met and Arianna had already come to know. We enjoyed every minute of it, and at the end of every day, we made our way down timageo the beach for sunset, reminding us of how lucky we were to be on that island and in that moment.

 

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Leaving sucked, but we knew that leaving would always suck. Even if we stayed for 3 more weeks, leaving would still suck. That’s why people have lived there for 3, 5, 10 years. Because leaving a place like that just sucks.
But after one ferry ride, an interesting bus ride and a short flight we were checking into The Rembrandt Hotel in Bangkok. Unfortunately, Arianna wasn’t there to stay as she was flying out that night to Amsterdam to pick up her bags and ceremoniously finish her year in the Netherlands saying good bye to the incredible people that she had come to love there.
We had one last drink in my ritzy hotel lounge and then said our goodbyes.
So what does one do, staying in a gorgeous hotel, in the lap of luxury, all by her self?
1. A HOT shower (which we didn’t have at all in Koh Tao… though that was probably a good thing considering the amount of sun my poor skin got)
2.Hotel Robe, mini bar and room service.
8:00am, January 8, 2016
I woke up iimagen my suite, which, by the way was a free upgrade, walked down the streets of Bangkok to the most expensive mall on the planet (not actually but it felt like it) then back to my hotel. I was hell bent on seeing one of the monumental temples that Bangkok is famous for, so I changed into something appropriate (long pants, sleeved shirts and closed shoes) and asked the concierge to hail me a cab. I jumped in the cab and said “The Grand Palace please!” feeling pretty proud of myself for taking on Bangkok alone. But my pride was short lived when my cab driver decided that taking me to his friends boat tour company (that would take me to the grand palace) was better than just taking me directly there. At the port they tried their best to sell me on a tour for WAY more money than I was willing to spend and after getting insulted and ridiculed I put my foot down and finally got a river water taxi for way too much money directly to The Grand Palace. I wasn’t impressed that I had been taken advantage of. Not impressed at all. So instead of taking my time to see if I could actually get into The Grand Palace, completely flustered, I walked into the first temple I saw. Fortunately for me it was one of Thailand’s oldest temples named  Wat Pho, “the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.” but at that time I literally didn’t care. I had such a knot in my nickers about the whole cab thing that I just wanted to see some shit then get the hell out. Once I was in side the compound, however, I fell completely in love with it. Even though it was crawling with tourists, I was completely unaware of anyone but myself and my surroundings.  Wat Pho is  the earliest center for public education in Thailand, it houses the 15m high and 46m long Reclining Buddha, which represents his transition into Nirvana after all reincarnations. It holds ashes of King Rama I, and 108 bronze bowls representing the 108 characters of Buddha that you walk along and place a coin in each both as a donation to the wat as well as to receive good fortune (i’ll let you know how that works out).
I took my time and wandered around, snapping pictures, and sometimes just not. Sometimes I just stopped in front of something older, greater and much more important than myself and without contemplation or wandering thoughts I appreciated what grandly stood before me.

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I hailed another cab, bartered a price (this guy was super nice too and we gave his wife a ride home-she snored the whole way) and went back to the fancy little bubble that was my hotel. I ordered food and a drink poolside, tanned for a little while, swam, then went up to my r oom and mentally and physically prepared myself for item #2 on my two item Bangkok check list; The Night Market.
This is where my oh-so-wise friend’s advice came into play “Walk in like you own the place.” So I made my way down the street, walking with my head high, not daring to whip my phone out and take pictures of all the things I was seeing for the first time. I didn’t walk too brisk, you know, like a scared tourist would do, but I didn’t walk to slow, like a curious one. I had one hand in my pocket and the other was holding onto my purse. I didn’t really feel unsafe there (except for the cab ride to the boat I didn’t want to take) but I had come to know how tourists were taken advantage of so I did my best impersonation of someone who knew where they were going and what they were doing. When I got to the part of the street where the night market was to be, everyone was just starting to set up. I was kind of pissed off still because of the whole cab debacle ( I truly didn’t understand how a human could do that to another human in a country they OBVIOUSLY weren’t from. I didn’t like how I asked to go one place and he took me somewhere else. I didn’t like that I didn’t know the language and that lack of knowledge was used against me. I didn’t like feeling like I was out of control) and now the market wasn’t even open. Shit, I thought, now what? I just kept walking. I probably walked at least 4km down the street before finding a not awkward place to turn around and go back. I just hoped that I had given them enough time to set up or else I was going to say screw it and head back to my safe place. Sure enough, booths were set and merch was out. I bartered my way from booth to booth finding the best stuff at the best price. But I did it my way. I smiled, I complimented, I joked, I laughed. I was pleasant and I only bought from the people who were pleasant back to me. It wasn’t easy, I’m the type of person who gives you more than you ask for, a “keep the change” kinda girl even if its double what it should be. But I played their game, I tried to get a deal, sticky with sweat from the over crowded market, so hungry I could have eaten an entire cow and so desperate for a good glass of wine. So after I was done fighting my way through the crowds and schmoozing my way to cheaper prices, I did what I do best; I found the wine.
I was proud of myself. I went completely out of my comfort zone in a country across the world from the farthest place I had ever traveled. And as I neared the hotel I realized how wrong I wimageas to be mad. This is their country, these are their customs. This is the way these people live their lives and support themselves. Was it cool of that cab driver to just take me to the boat without my permission? No. Was is good form for people to try and over charge me for something just to see if they could make a little extra? Not really. But it’s what they do, and what they EXPECT you to do is not let them. So I didn’t, but I found a way to do it where I didn’t have to screw people over to get what I wanted without letting people screw me over just so that I wouldn’t feel bad about getting what I wanted. The lesson I learned is that there is a very important in between, not just at night markets but in life and I found it on a crowded street in Bangkok.
I did get a little cocky and ordered some street food that was questionable(and by questionable I mean I was questioning what kind of meat/seafood/alien was in it), so I tossed it, went back to the hotel, snuggled on my bed with a glass *cough-bottle* of my fave wine and ordered Pad Thai from room service… I substituted the street meat for chicken. One step at a time.

 

I found my calm (and my wanderlust) on a tiny island in the gulf of Thailand
and I found a little extra fortitude on the streets of Bangkok.

Before I knew it I was home with some gifts, two backpacks, a few stories, a heart full of memories and a head full of lessons, and, of course, a really great tan.

It was an adventure, to say the least, and I wish I was back at Bar Next 2, watching the sun set, drinking pina coladas and not wearing shoes(and sometimes not pants either) instead of sitting at a desk, freezing and wearing socks and boots, completely sober and not with my best friend. But I am also happy to be back here with a different frame of mind, a slightly new vision for my future and a whole bunch of motivation to get there.

what a wonder it is to wander…

Chelsey xo

 

 

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