“Kristin! You bring the waves! Yesterday, no have. But you come, and today, they follow you”.
This is what Sam, the cheerful Thai owner of the bungalow I’m staying in (Smile Bungalows), informs me of as I settle down on the wooden deck for breakfast on Bottle Beach, Koh Phangan on Christmas Eve day.
I shrug and say, “Oh, sorry!” but in reality, I like it better this way. The placid waters of Cambodia and Koh Tao were quite nice, but, being from California, I naturally have quite an appreciation for waves as well.
I sit and watch them roll in and out all morning. This is such a nice contrast to the madness that Koh Tao turned out to be. I had hoped it might be somewhat like Koh Rong in Cambodia– a diver’s paradise. But in reality, it was an intense party scene with end of the world ragers, buckets, and aggressively intoxicated backpackers. I fear those days are ahead for Koh Rong as well, but I certainly hope not.
The next natural question is, then why would I head to Koh Phangan, of full moon party fame? I had heard a little gem of information from another traveler, as I always do when it comes to offbeat destinations, that there were laid-back hippie-vibe places on Koh Phangan. Feeling the need to move on immediately, I booked the next boat out.
Bottle Beach has not disappointed. It is on the opposite end of the island from the full-moon party, is naturally beautiful, has only 4 sets of bungalows dotting the beach, and is nestled in its own secluded cove.
I’m back to the cold shower, bamboo bungalow, mosquito net, lack of power during the day, no Wi-Fi zone that I have come to realize I absolutely adore and crave.
On the deck where I spend most of the day reading and reflecting, I meet an expat who has lived here for “nine years,” he says. Assuming he meant Thailand in general, I am impressed, but then he explains he has lived in the same bungalow, just like the one I am staying in, at this very guesthouse, for all of those nine years.
Yes, he showed up and liked it enough to have stayed, right here, on this teeny tiny beach, without power for most of the day (don’t even mention cell signal or internet) For. Nine. Years?!
He said something that resonated: sometimes, something happens that jolts you to reality. For him, it was his brother passing at only 35, leaving behind Porsches and Lotuses. What good did it do him to work his whole life, only to die before he could enjoy it? What worth did his earthly possessions have, if they could not follow him to the grave?
He believes most people who travel long term had a moment like this, a shock to the head, as he called it. A dose of true reality. I know I did.
He went all around the world looking for a new place to settle, and decided on Bottle Beach. He added, most of the people he sees here stay for a month, or they stay briefly, then they come back again and stay for a while. Most visitors have been here before, and wanted to return.
That, to me, says a lot about the place. Perhaps there is still a small corner of the Thai islands that is pure, unchanged, and can remain peaceful, far from buckets and mindless drunkards. I hope that’s in the cards for Bottle Beach.
Sometimes, something magical happens when you travel; you remember exactly why you’re doing it, and you’re so happy and present in that moment. Sometimes it’s the people you meet, sometimes it’s the places you’re at.
Sometimes, it’s both.
Getting there: Arrive at Thongsala on Koh Phangan via island ferry. You will need to get to Chaloklum next. Bypass the taxi touts at the ferry, they will always charge more. Walk around a bit and see if a motorbike taxi will take you for less than 200 baht (USD$6). Get to where you can then boat in for 150 baht. Make sure to ask, prior to taking the taxi to Chaloklum, if the waters are too rough for the boats, which they will often be during monsoon season. In that case, if you have prior accommodation booked, call the resort and they will most likely come get you. Otherwise, negotiate a taxi directly to Bottle Beach.