Imagine, if you will, a border crossing between two countries that in many ways do not get along. There are bouts of violence between ethnic groups in Malaysia and Thailand, and the Foreign Office recommend that people do not travel across land borders here. I gave myself a free pass given I’ve moved from Ecuador to Colombia so everything that comes after that is easy. Nevertheless, there’s always an easier (and classier) way to do things and so I took a boat to Thailand. 200 horsepower jetted us from Langkawi to the southern island of Koh Lipe, preserve of honeymooners and young families. This is not a backpacker classic, but it was on the way north and by all accounts a beautiful place. Passport control was a dread-locked Thai-Rasta (a staple of southern Thailand) who took all our documents behind the cafe that served as immigration and after ten minutes sunning ourselves on a white sand beach, cooling our toes in the Andaman sea, we were all stamped and ready to go. Heathrow could learn a thing or two about convenience.
Koh Lipe is a tiny rock, not even five km across, that fate has ordained to be a popular place to lay a hotel, and so it has become a darling among the tourists who want somewhere quiet and calm. The only vehicles here are taxi bikes and a handful of the hotels’ utility vehicles. Everything comes and goes via the water and alas, everything is at a bit of a premium from accommodation to food. The beaches are free however (as they have to be: they are all owned by The King) so no matter the swankiness of the hotel, the beach is yours. The sea is as clean as you can imagine with coral reefs in good condition stretching from barely 30 metres from the shore. Seeing clown fish from the shore is as simple as wading out with a snorkel mask and sticking your face in the water. Within a half hour of splashing around, I’d followed a banded sea krait (which I have subsequently discovered has venom “ten times stronger than a cobra”), parrot fish, angel fish, soft corals and half the usual suspects that most SCUBA dives will reveal.
A private bungalow within 30 metres of the sea, everything within walking distance? Sounds great, right? Well yes. Undeniably it is great, and for five days I enjoyed this relaxing environment but there is precious little to occupy the mind and more to the point, no one to talk to. Now I am well aware that the weather back home is terrible, and the very idea of complaining about a literal tropical paradise is sacrilegious at best but while I am happy with my own company for a short time, after a few days the solitude does begin to grate. Anyone who has travelled for long periods of time before will hopefully agree (or perhaps hopefully for their sake, they won’t): loneliness does make the most impressive situations bitter sweet. It’s not that you need someone to share the moment with (although sometimes this can be nice) but rather that the most beautiful places are beautiful places during the day (and God knows that Koh Lipe is achingly beautiful), but there’s nothing to see once the sun goes down. And if you don’t have someone to share a beer, your meal and the evening with, it can start to weigh heavily.
But not to worry: it gets better! Reading voraciously for days is a pleasant way to spend time for me to be honest, and a half dozen days of this was not too much trouble. I decided to skip the other quiet Trang Islands to the north and hop to Koh Lanta, a long island that I thought would provide a more typical southern Thai experience. Whatever that means.