July 4th, 2010
I arrive on Koh Phi Phi after thirty six hours of exhaustive travel from Tioman ready to revel in the serenity that is beach life once again. Much to my dismay, Koh Phi Phi did not a relaxing beach experience make. For every beauty the island offers, there are as many wasted travelers to destroy it. I wander the crowded walking paths, strangely well-maintained for such a poor country and lined with nothing but tourist stands hustling cheap t-shirts and the local Thai favorite: 7-11. Struggling to find a cheap guest house I eventually give in to 200 baht a night for a double bed with a fan. At 150 baht for the dorm I felt like it was worth the extra two dollars. Immediately I throw my pack down, and find my way to the beach.
Tossing my towel and bag on the sand with thoughtless abandon I strip off my dress with the same gusto and head straight into the crowded water to escape the abusive heat. But instead of being greeted by the refreshment of a cooling ocean, the shallow bay is warmer than the air outside and I settle for the bath-warm water to drown the stresses of the last few days. After swimming far enough out to escape the boisterous crowds close to shore, I toss myself back on the sand to dry in the warmth of my own freedom.
For all the relief that sand and ocean will forever offer me, that peace is easily swallowed by the strange sensation of utter isolation in this overwhelmingly crowded place. I have been so many places on my own and met so many people, but on this island I feel unwanted, surrounded by large groups of kids on holiday who care not to meet anyone other than to sleep with. After an hour or so on the busy beach I make my way up to the bar to indulge in a few cocktails and hopefully meet some fascinating strangers.
But as the beers turn into hours and the sun begins to set spectacularly against the teal seas, I am still alone. Writing carefully and contemplatively in my journal, large groups of people partying and drinking surround me, but none approach. And not once do I feel as though I would be welcome to approach them. I can’t tell if this is my doing or theirs. Perhaps I am in a mood of isolation, my stare a thousand miles, paper the only one with whom to share my thoughts. Perhaps I put myself on this island.
Despite this more than passing thought, for the most part I believe Thailand is just different. That these twenty-four hour party islands attract a far different traveler than the remote reaches of Cambodia or Laos. That most of these people are here only to get drunk in a beautiful place and that sharing an experience other than a one-night stand with a fellow traveler isn’t high on anyone’s list but mine.
As the night wears on I eventually start drinking with a couple young British boys who are happy to find a female to flirt with. And perhaps I am drunk enough at this point not to care what kind of company I am keeping. Tonight on Koh Phi Phi is their monthly Half Moon Party, a sorry answer to Koh Phangan’s globally infamous Full Moon Party. With acrobats, tightrope walkers and poi dancers, there is no shortage of visual entertainment on Hat Hin Khom beach. But after several buckets (yes, buckets) of cheap local whiskey there is only one thing I will ever want to do: escape into the ocean for some reckless drunken night swimming.
Leaving the lights and the vibrations of the house music behind me I wander as far down the beach as I can, searching for a single gasp of the isolation that strangely fulfills me. In a dark corner of the beach I enter the blackened midnight of the once vibrant ocean and let the great darkness envelope me. Frolicking around underwater for a few minutes, and then floating in solitude, only the distant thumping of the bass belies the serenity of the empty sea.
I finish my swim, refueled with life and desire, and head back to the shore, only to wonder where my clothes and bag have gone. Did I swim back to the wrong part of the beach? Surely no one came to steal not just my belongings but all my clothes as well? Perhaps it’s some kind of prank? Frantic, I begin combing the sand from the pulsating party back to the depths of darkness. There is nothing. No bag, no clothes. Usually on a night out I would bring with me a minimal amount of cash and a pack of cigarettes at the most. But this night I had not thought. I had come straight to the beach and my bag had not only five thousand baht, but my glasses, my whole wallet, my debit card, my room key, my brand new iPod, and most importantly, my beloved journal. Did I remember to take my passport out? I had no idea. Too accustomed to the trustworthiness of life on Tioman I had committed the ultimate carelessness and let myself get robbed in a country I knew I was not to trust.
The two boys I had been casually entertaining at the bar find me helplessly scouring the sand in the impossible darkness and kindly offer to help. But despite a flashlight and all our best efforts, there is no hope. Back at the bars in nothing but my bikini I let the alcohol assuage every modicum of fear or worry in me. I tell myself it will be alright because it has to be. Perhaps someone found it and is going to turn it in. Perhaps the tide had gone out and my stuff is further up the beach than I thought. I know it isn’t true but I think it anyway.
Clinging to foolish hope and my uncanny ability to disregard the obvious, I refuse to admit the inevitable truth that I have lost almost everything I own. Instead I dive straight into the bottle as if I might find my bag at the bottom. Everything today, the bitter isolation coupled with the strange yearning to be even more alone, evaporates. I have lost everything at once but feel nothing. I am voracious for everything. I am drunk and ravenous and blind.
I let the earnest young Brit buy me buckets of vodka until every last faculty disappears into a sweaty haze of drink and dance. I feel anything but lonely. I smile as careless and suggestive as stripping for a skinny dip. I use him shamelessly and without regret. He tells me I’m beautiful but I already know. His eyes swim with naive wonder and I let him kiss me. I know exactly what I’m doing. I have no idea what I’m doing. Without a room key or any identification to get back to my bed, I tumble gracelessly into his and hope upon hope that by letting it all go, I may just get some back.