Kho Samui – My Island of Silence

I’m sitting on my wooden balcony that overhangs the frangipani garden. The leaves whisper with movement as the ocean breeze swirls up from the beach. My washing hangs on the thick wooden railing, draped in a dali-esque fashion dripping in rhythm with scorching Thailand sun.

I’m at Lamai Wanta Beach Resort in Kho Samui. I finally arrived at lunchtime yesterday after a 17 hour door-to-door journey from Bangkok. Bangkok, as always, impressed me as it does again and again. I wandered her Grand Palace and Wat Pho temples as the high walls held out the Bangkok chaos and allowed me some quiet. I wandered the serene temple grounds as their peaked roofs twinkled in the midday sun refracted by the thousands of golden mosaic tiles. The breeze blew gently and the small bells hanging from the temples swayed and chimed with glee as they rung out across grounds. Below are my photos from the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and (from serene to chaos) Khoasan Road.

My journey to Kho Samui started with a Tuk Tuk from Khaosan Road for 150 Baht. I know I could have bargained to get it cheaper but wheeling my backpack along the hot intense street, I really didn’t have the energy to argue. So I fell in to the back of his tuk tuk, nursing my bags like a mother does her child as we sped through Bangkok streets to Hua Lamphong Train station. I’ve been here once before, 14 years ago in 2001 and the place has not changed at all. Its giant arched roof dwarfs you as you enter and the exhaust from the old diesel engines lifts and forms a dirty, misty cloud under the enclosed roof generating a haze along the stations platforms.

Hua Lamphong's main terminal building with its old diesel engines.

Hua Lamphong’s main terminal building with its old diesel engines.

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I’m too early and still have an hour to kill, so I leave the station and cross the busy road to a street side restaurant where I’m quickly ushered to a table “Hello Sir, Swasdee Ka, Welcome, table for one ka?”. There’s street side dining and then there’s dining on the street. My table is inches away from the buzzing tuk tuks, motorbikes and traffic navigating the intersection outside the station. I order Fish Cakes, Pad Thai and a beer. As always in Thailand – you can’t go wrong – the food is sensational. I sit, eat, drink and watch the orange Siam sun fall down behind the giant station arch in the haze of the beginning of a long Bangkok evening.

Eating in the street opposite the train station

Eating in the street opposite the train station

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I board the train and, like the station, it also has not changed in 14 years. I’m travelling 2nd class. The configuration starts as two wide seats facing each other, which the train attendant later converts to double bunks. I have to say it’s remarkably comfortable and as long as you get a seat in the middle of the train carriage (not at either end) you will get a decent sleep. I crawl up my tiny ladder designed for small Thai feet and awkwardly clamber in to my upper bunk before sliding closed my curtain and manage a great sleep only waking when the train stops and the carriages, as if half asleep themselves, bang in to each other trying to squeal and hiss to a halt. The top bunk is smoother, but has no window so take the bottom bunk if you want to see the scenery! Although on an overnight train, there’s not much to see. You can decide this when booking and your ticket will show ‘upper’ or ‘lower’.

I wake to the sound of vendors making their way through the train shouting Thai food names interspersed with “orange juice”, “coffee”. Before long the train rattles in to Surat Thani station, the gateway to the southern islands in the bay of Thailand. I get off the train with many others bound for Kho Samui, Kho Phangan and Kho Thao. I’m greeted by someone in uniform and asked the common question “where you go?” I pull out my ticket for the boat to Kho Samui and he points towards one of the big buses waiting outside the station. My wheeled backpack fights me as I drag across the dusty uneven road and several other people come up to me asking “where you go?” Each time I show them my ticket just to make sure I get the right bus. The pier I’m going to is about 90km from Surat Thani so I need to get on a bus to get to the boat.

The bus is uneventful and finally we pull in to a pier. Not so much pull in, the bus literally drives along the pier out over the ocean. Either side of us is bright blue water and the horizon is dotted with islands. We wait a short while before boarding a large boat, complete with reclined seats, aircon and even a few TVs showing some movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger. A woman is making her way through the boat with a map selling tickets for something. Travelling Asia, you get to become wary of people carrying maps as the experience is always that they are trying to sell some tour that you’re not interested in. She finally gets to me and I realise its tickets for the minibus so I buy one. After some conversation it turns out this woman is the owner of a beach resort I stayed at on my first overseas trip when I came here back in 2001… Small world! The boat arrives at Narthon Pier which is the opposite side of the island from the tourist spots of Chaweng and Lamai beach. I’m going to Lamai.

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Obligatory selfie at the pier, before boarding for Kho Samui

2015-05-19 09.22.09 2015-05-19 11.39.19After docking and some confusion over who’s going where, the woman gets behind the wheel and the van lurches forward. The scenery is very tropical. Palms, deep green pastures, dirt roads interspersed with resorts, 7/11 convenience stores, bar and restaurants. After 14 years, Kho Samui has changed.

The resort is beautiful and is right on Lamai beach. It has an infinity pool where you can swim, staring out at the bright blue horizon that seems to never end, before having an amazing Gang Kiew Wan Gai (Thai Green Chicken Curry) at the restaurant.

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Lamai Wanta Beach Resort

But!… I can’t forget why I’m here. I’m not here for Samui’s famous night life with its pulsing bars that line every street with cheap spinning disco lights and neon. I’m not even here for its pristine beaches or island hopping tours in the Bay of Thailand with its myriad of tropical sea life. I’m here for a meditation retreat at ‘Dipabhāvan Meditation Retreat’ set high up in the jungle on one of Samui’s mountains. I’ve been fascinated with meditation, watched many documentaries and even studied psychology where you learn how meditation can improve the brain physically by increasing grey matter. I long for a world free from my mind-chatter. I long for silence and to just be in the moment without experiencing life through a detached bias lens of mental noise. I long to see the world fresh and anew again, free from labels and judgements of likes and dislikes. I long to stop projecting happiness in to the future or be haunted by the past…

So I start tonight. For 7 days, no talking, no electronic devices, vegetarian food only and lots of mediation. I’ve never not spoken to anyone for seven days. I’ve never been alone with my own thoughts (or hopefully lack thereof) for 7 days. I’ve also never been very good at meditating or getting up at 4.30am to the sound of the monastery bell. Below is the schedule I’ll be following:

DAILY SCHEDULE

04.30 Wake up
05.00 Morning Reading
05.15 Sitting meditation
05.45 Yoga / Exercise
07.00 Sitting meditation
07.30 Breakfast & Chores
09.30 Dhamma talk
10.30 Walking or standing meditation
11.00 Sitting meditation
11.30 Lunch & chores
14.00 Meditation instruction & Sitting meditation
15.00 Walking or standing meditation
15.30 Sitting meditation
16.00 Walking or standing meditation
16.30 Chanting & Loving Kindness meditation
17.30 Tea
19.30 Sitting meditation
20.00 Group walking meditation
20.30 Sitting meditation
21.00 Bedtime
21.30 LIGHTS OUT

So as I sit here, reading over this again, I’m beginning to panic a little. I can go without sleep and eat vegetarian food, but I think what I’m most worried about is the lack of communication with the outside world. Personally, I’ve never been very good company on my own and I think we’ve become so dependent on frequent and easy communication that, to have that taken from us is hard.

So, ‘T Minus 2 hours’ and I’ll be taken up the mountain and hidden away from the world while I explore my inner world. Wish me luck, I hope I make it through. Stay tuned to hear about it, and I’ll see you on the other side!

Ben

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My photos from 2 days in Bangkok

 

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