|I’m currently on a boat travelling from Krabi to Koh Tao where I’m spending the next few days and planning on completing my Open Water scuba diving qualification. I’ve wanted to do the qualification for a long time but given it takes 3 – 4 days to complete (depending on weather) it isn’t something I’ve wanted to do on a short trip as it takes quite a lot of time out of a week / 10 days holiday.
Last time I wrote I was just about to get the boat across from Tha Lane pier to Koh Yao Noi for a week at the yoga retreat (the boat which ultimately broke down half way there and resulted in us having to get a tow!)….what an incredible week I’ve had! I’m going to write this journal entry slightly differently to the others mainly because quite a lot of time has gone but also because the days at the retreat took the same structure, it was more what we did between the sessions that varied.
The set up each day was standard – 2 hours of yoga in the morning and an hour and a half in the afternoon. Morning sessions were always more energetic while the afternoon more meditative and calming for the evening. The retreat set up two classes, one for ‘beginners’ and one for ‘intermediate / advanced’, although I think I would be joined by others in saying that the beginners classes weren’t always all that easy! I spent the first few days in the beginners classes which were led by different teachers each time. There were five teachers in total, all with quite a different style of yoga, I liked this as it meant you could discover which one worked best for you and then, if you wanted to continue it back home, try and find a class in a similar style. My favouirte lady was definitely the one that concentrated more on the physical side of yoga rather than the meditative side which some of the others did. Her classes were pretty tough – on the last day I don’t think a single person came out of the class without desperately needing a shower before heading for breakfast!
Alongside the yoga the retreat also put on Taichi lessons on the beach overlooking some of the most beautiful sun rises I’ve ever seen…. Definitely worth the 6am get up!
The retreat was packed for the Xmas period, some people even staying elsewhere and coming in for the regular yoga practice. A real mix of people but I was befriended by a girl called Jasmine before my first yoga class on the afternoon I arrived who invited me for dinner with her and some of the girls she had met…. It was perfect – a fully formed group of fun people immediately. These were the main people I spent my week with – Jasmine, 27 Swiss American living in Bangkok, Crystal, 33 Australia living near Sydney, Stefanie, 43 German living in Berlin, Brittany, 34 American living in Portland, Oregon, Kalina, 29, Polish living in London and Michelle, 37 Costa Rican currently living in Chiang Mai. It was such a mixed and fun group – all up for exploring, going out on the water and all with their own story behind what made them head out to a random little yoga retreat on a quiet island in Thailand over this Xmas period. One of the girls particularly is one of the most inspirational girls I have ever met…. I hope she doesn’t mind me writing a bit about her in here but her story really moved me as she is such a gorgeous, positive person. Just last year she went into remission from cancer of her bones – she was told when she was diagnosed (in her early 30s) that she was most likely terminal and if anything had maybe 2% chance of surviving….. she’s still here now and is so unbelievably appreciative of the ‘second chance’ she’s had. The trip she was on was really a journey of healing and new beginnings for her after an unbelievably traumatic ordeal. Such an incredible woman, she really was taking it all in, so excited, positive, gracious and caring – just incredible. I, as well, told my story of us losing dad and how that has made me refocus myself on what is truly important and part of the reason for going on this trip. It is interesting because I can sometimes tell our story quite matter of factly and other times find myself overwhelmed with emotion as I talk about losing him. I found the latter when I spoke to these girls, I think probably because I felt entirely relaxed with them….it does show that even with time, there’s still always a pain there. We all got close over the week, talking about anything and everything and also had the most amount of fun. Having said this was the main group I spent time with everyone else was so friendly as well, from all over the world I chatted with any people over the course of the week.
Food made up a bit part of what we were doing while we were on the island, whether it be the amazing breakfast put on by the retreat after the morning yoga practice, the fresh sea food we would eat in a little restaurant by the water, the massive Christmas dinner we had on Xmas eve (more on that later), the fresh fruit sold by the pier, the ‘family dinner’ held at a local restaurant or the incredible ‘packed lunches’ we ate on the beach during our boat trips. Everything is so fresh and tasty, simple dishes of rice and vegetables are so beautifully done that I wasn’t shy of taking a second and third helping on a few occasions.
Much of the food and drink were grown or created by the locals on the islands, there were many rice farms around as well as various fruits and vegetable being grown throughout.
Naturally though not everything can be grown on the island and we did see some pretty sizeable deliveries coming in from the mainland on boats. One of the more bizarre things we drank was some ‘blue flower tea’, there wasn’t a huge amount to it in terms of taste but the colour really was a bright bright blue / purple, it didn’t look very natural at all but was apparently entirely natural.
The Christmas dinner was held on Xmas eve and it was out of this world – arranged and cooked by the people at the retreat there was enough food to feed an army – an incredible bbq with full crabs, shrimps, chicken, pork, corn, tofu and so much more. Alongside the long tables of every different type of thai food they could dream up and making specific dishes that wouldn’t normally be served in restaurants for westerners / tourists. All freshly made and just beautiful. Obviously I missed the traditional turkey and roasted veg but I look forward to a ‘faux’ Christmas with that when I’m home (wink wink mum ).
We had an absolute blast that evening. Most of the girls had gone on a kayaking trip during the day but I had decided not to and to have a bit of a meander around the island so I was given a challenge of finding some wine for us on the little Muslim island. I succeeded in a random little shop in town who sold anything and everything, including a secret little off license out at the back (although it was crazily expensive!) so we all enjoyed a glass of fizz and some wine over dinner too….
One of the few times I’ve had a real ‘party’ on this trip, it was a lot of fun. By the end of the evening Crystal (who is a musician and music teach in Sydney) had her ukulele out and we were singing xmas songs amongst other songs late into the evening. We even did a rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ in memory of dad and raised a glass to him, everyone really was so lovely.
The festivities meant that yoga on Xmas day itself was probably one of the more challenging!
After opening some lovely little gifts from mum, Rachel, Sarah and Ian we spent the day on scooters.
Crystal and I treated ourselves to an Xmas day massage by the ocean which was amazingly relaxing but a little strange as they finished it off my braiding our hair!?
We enjoyed an Italian lunch by the sea and after evening yoga and a long chat with the family, had a beautiful dinner in a tiny restaurant just next door to the retreat (after a spectacular thunder storm!). In the evening Kalina (the Polish girl) told us that she was actually 30 in a couple of days and she was going to be in transit back to London on the day so she wondered how we would feel about having an early celebration with her the day after…. We didn’t take much persuading and the plans then quickly unveiled – at 9.30pm we made the decision to book a private long tail boat the next day and have a trip around the islands, such a luxury to be able to do such impromptu things….more on the trip later.
Christmas really was incredible -considering on my build up to this trip it was one of the things I had really stressed about and with the original plans of heading home to the UK I really had hoped it was good and I wasn’t disappointed. If I wasn’t able to be with my family I really couldn’t have asked for a nicer group of people and place to be. There were times when I would just look at the sea or sit sailing through the ocean and pinch myself that this is life at the moment – I felt / feel so lucky to have been able to have these experiences and genuinely feel like I’m growing as a result.
The island itself was so beautiful – it is a less known Thai island which means tourism isn’t such a big thing here, it’s small, calm and so so pretty. (Much to mum’s worry) we would take scooters most days and explore the quiet roads around the island, taking ourselves up to Cocobella beach, where an Italian man had opened a gorgeous little café / restaurant with butterfly bushes, hammocks by the sea and seriously good food. The scenery was incredible, clear blue sea, incredible rocks / islands in the distance and jungle terrain on the land. Unfortunately when I took myself off on my own after breakfast on xmas eve, after a lovely drink, chill and some food at Cocobella the nice Italian man asked me if I liked walking / trekking – he advised me to trek ‘just up that path for 40 minutes and you’ll find a lovely bay’…. It was during this adventure that I properly lost my cool with myself for the first time on the trip. I found myself in some pretty deep jungle terrain without much water, on my own, without the right footware and pretty unsure of where I was going. When I finally saw a giant (and I mean…. About half the size of me when lying down) gecco (or whatever the technical name is for it!) I completely freaked out and made my way back as fast as I could out of there. I have never been so relieved to get to the end of a walk and genuinely not been that scared about what could come out of the surroundings in my life. I was pretty annoyed with myself for doing all the things I would absolutely advise anyone else against…. Trekking alone, with inappropriate footwear, through dense jungle without much water. Anyway…. I was ok but definitely pleased to be out and not something I will do again.
Despite that little encounter however, the island was beautiful and so calm, I loved it and would recommend anyone to go there. It’s not in many guide books which makes it quieter and definitely my sort of place!
The boat trip
Probably the highlight of my week was the day we chartered a long tail boat for Kalina’s birthday – just 6 of us on there – Kalina, Crystal, Brittany, Michelle, Stefanie and myself. Unfortunately Jasmine had left us on Xmas eve as she was heading up to Cambodia to spend xmas with her family who live up there.
The first challenge was finding some prosecco…. We couldn’t let Kalina;s birthday go without a toast so after making the decision on Xmas evening to charter a boat Crystal and I set out to find some…. We were successfully in finding a bar up the road that sold it.
In the morning Kalina had arranged for Ning (the owner of the restaurant at the retreat) to pull us toegther a packed lunch and we headed out with lunch, water prosecco in hand to the boats.
We had a wonderful day – out captain was called ‘Captain Head’ (I’m pretty sure this was a name he give us westerners!) and he took us to some much more remote islands in the area….
We made it pretty clear that we didn’t want to go where there were hundreds of boats and lots of other people.
We sailed, swam, sang (tributes to George Michael who we had learnt had sadly passed the day before; Happy Birthday to Rachel, Xmas songs and a few others!), laughed, chatted, cried a bit, ate, drank and generally had one of the best days of my trip so far – it was such a lovely, relaxed and fun day.
‘Captain Head’ took us to one island that was completely inhabited by monkeys – watching them explore from the boat we threw some bananas at them and saw them running, playing and looking after their young. One of the female monkeys had a tiny baby attached to her front and was obviously being very protected by the father who was watching anyone who went close to them. At another island we saw a huge jelly fish, bright pink in the water – they obviously have some nutrience for fish as the fish were swarming it.
The day I left:
After an absolutely fantastic week it was finally time to move on…. As I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, I am heading to Koa Tao to do a few days of diving. Yesterday I made my way to Krabi on the mainland where a I spent one night before getting the transfer out to the island on the east. Krabi itself was something in nothing – really a launching pad for the Thai island – I had a bit of a wander – found the office I needed to meet at for my transfer the next day, walked down the river, ate some streetfood, picked up a nice new (and slightly more robust!) bikini for my diving course, spent the afternoon having a bit of an admin day (finances, writing to mum about Vietnam and generally catching up), had a lovely chat with Martin and Veronika on facetime and gave myself an early night ahead of the early start the next morning!
So here I am - heading to my next stop - let’s see what Koh Tao and New Year have in store!