It was raining when I floated into Koh Tao. Moonlight slipped through holes in the clouds and illuminated the shore. A row of wooden long-tail boats rolled around in the shallows, nodding half-heartedly, as if to say, “Go on… I guess.”
The five minute trek from the ferry to my hostel was densely populated with small restaurants, boutiques, and diving facilities. Pennant strings hung over the main road, their flags whipping in the wind. I turned a corner and found myself standing at the entrance of the Taco Shack Hostel, my point of destination.
Once I was checked-in, my stomach led me to the communal area of the hostel where I ordered two tacos and a beer. Only moments after I sat down, tables were divided into teams for trivia night. I joined a Canadian couple and helped North America post a respectable second place behind a group of kiwis (lucky scoundrels). Well-fed and a smidge tipsy, I decided to do some more wandering.
Half a mile north of the hostel, at the Fishbowl Beach Bar, I met a Canadian named Royce, a winsome fellow who was celebrating his 26th birthday. We walked the beach for a while and explored a little more of the town before my eyes started getting heavy. For a farewell, I sang him Happy Birthday, and then I started the journey back to the hostel.
I glanced to my left. A Thai lady had pulled up beside me on a motorbike. “That would be great!” I said. “Can you take me to the Taco Shack?” She had to think about the location. “Taco Shack, yes!” she finally said.
As soon as I climbed on the bike, I could smell alcohol. “Where you live?” she asked. “USA. Alabama,” I said. “Alabama,” she repeated, letting the last syllable linger. Then she took a strange turn.
“I don’t think this is the way,” I said.
“You come home with me,” she answered, and then she pressed her back against me.
How do I get in these situations? I thought to myself. Half a year earlier, I had accidentally picked up a prostitute in my hometown, thinking that I was aiding a hitchhiker.
“No, I’m sorry. I’d like to go to my hostel.”
“I do good massage,” she said.
“That’s great! But I’m not interested. I’m sorry.”
She let out a frustrated huff, and then turned back to the road that ran parallel the beach.
“Do you have kids?” I asked, trying to lighten things up. “Yes,” she said. We talked about her family until we arrived at the hostel. I paid her 40 baht for her trouble and wished her well.
I spent the next day snorkeling and sight-seeing on an island tour.
Note: If you ever make it to Koh Tao, any of the hostels/hotels will book one of these tours for you. They’re only 600 baht ($17), and they include a hardy lunch.
Bright red and blue, the boat looked like something cut right out of a cartoon. It carried us around Koh Tao, across its teal waters, along its rocky landscapes. But the best spectacles were below sea level.
What strange and profound beauty dwells in the sea. Neon-colored fish, coral that spreads across the seabed like a forest of miniature, naked trees. I could see why Koh Tao is home to so many diving certification schools; its yard is Poseidon’s Playground.
Remember Fabienne, the Swiss girl I met in Krabi? She ended up in Koh Tao while I was still on the island. One night, she invited me back to her hostel where several musical instruments were available to guests. I grabbed an acoustic guitar and joined a group of about ten backpackers on the roof.
If my life were a movie, this would have been one of my favorite scenes. From the comforts of a beanbag, I strummed songs by request. We sang Free Falling and Wonderwall, Hallelujah (Cohen) and Love Yourself (Biebs… for the Canadians). It didn’t matter that we came from different places; music gave us a common language. We sang late into the night, our choir of varied accents serenading the streets of Koh Tao, until the beer ran dry and the clouds overhead threatened us with rain.