Permanently, I came for living in Thailand a half a year ago and it was a rather unexpected decision. Been traveling extensively around Thailand for the last year, I’ve learned a lot about this country. Therefore Thai islands have some certain attraction and charm for me. Last year I’ve been living in Koh Samui for 4 months, but in the beginning of this year I explored more of Ko Phangan and it made my mind up to settle down here. The difference is the same as between a big city and the countryside. By my perception, Koh Samui is like a city: crowded, full of tourists, good infrastructure and has its own airport what makes a good accessibility from the mainland. Ko Phangan is like a village: no shopping centers, no big international hotels, bad roads, no airport that makes complicated to get here. But it has its own beauty.
Basically, Ko Phangan is divided into Southern and Northern parts. The Southern part is more famous for Full Moon parties and it attracts younger generation. The Northern part is for any kind of ages and has a mixture of spiritual people who come to explore yoga, detox programs, and various spiritual growth workshops, as well as for long-term living westerners, who come to settle down here. Unexpectedly, I found myself from one of them.
Ko Phangan is a hilly island. Even with the highest point of the island is 627 meters only, the mountainous interior is generally inaccessible. More than half the island designated as national park and Ko Phangan has more than 80 km2 of a relatively unspoiled rain forest with diverse flora and fauna. Due to this topography, the population hugs the coastline with most people living on the western side.
One of the main tourist attractions on Ko Phangan are the beaches. There are certain things that characterize a Thai beach experience—clear waters, white sand, and the iconic longtail boats that dot the shore. On Ko Phangan, beaches are not as long as on Bali, but they are cozy, not crowded and have a room for both, sun and shade lovers. The water is calm and a bit shallow on the western side, but deep with good waves on the eastern one. Eastern beaches are spectacular and beautiful, but some of them are accessible by boats only.
The second attraction is the weather. What could be better than relaxing on the sun while is a cold winter in Europe? The temperature never goes below +25 degrees and if it’s so, we put the long pants and t-shirts with the long sleeves on. Thai winter!🙂 Though, the tropical weather has its own fluctuations. In between of mid-October and mid-December, there is a monsoon season. It is not necessarily that it’s raining all the time, but this year it was the case. It was a heavy nonstop raining for many days and it caused by floods. Small bamboo huts were destroyed by the streams of water and even a police station was reached by floods.
I like a mentality of Thai people, they can always find the extraordinary ways to turn flooding crisis into opportunity: fishing on the flooded roads or creative approach of keeping the motorbikes out of the water by hanging on the tree.
Talking about Thai people, they exude dignity and proud. They stand for their truth. Maybe that’s why Thailand is the only one country in SE Asia that never been colonized? They hardly bargain to compare with other Asian and Middle East countries. It just reminded me a story about a man who’s been sliced the ear off during a fight with a fish market vendor in Patong. The fight was due to a dispute over correct change at the Marine fresh market. Witnesses said that a man punched the vendor, who responded by throwing a knife at him, slicing off his ear and slashing his right eye. The moral is don’t make local people get irritated and to make the situation unnecessary complicated🙂
The social structure in Thailand is built up in a way to restrict Western influence to local labor and property markets. They welcome investors, the Thai economy is the 20th largest in the world, it became a newly industrialized country and a major exporter, but still, a foreigner is not allowed to own more than 49% shares of the property or business. Other 51% should be owned by Thai person. According to Thai law, an employer should hire 4 local people for each foreign employee.
Coming to live on Ko Phangan, I started to learn the Thai language which sooo different from any other languages! Thai has 44 consonants, 32 vowels and 5 different tones of speaking. Same words saying with different intonation can have totally different meaning. For example, a word ‘Maa’ saying with different tones can have the meanings of ‘dog’, ‘horse’ and ‘to come’ at the same time.
And this is not the only odd things of Thai language we didn’t get used to. In Thai there is no commas, dots or any question marks. They don’t have any space between the words unless the sentence is finished. All words are written one after another in the sentence and if it’s needed to ask, the word ‘mai’ can be used as an indication of a question.
There are 10 classmates in our group from different European countries. We have a great teacher Kru Kay (Kru means teacher in Thai) who makes every lesson interesting, informative and enjoyable. She is not only teaching us the language itself, but she also gets involve us deeper into Thai culture and traditions.
One of the most important Thai festival is Loy Krathong, it takes place on the evening of the full moon of November. In Thai ‘Loy’ means ‘to float’ and ‘Krathong’ means ‘a circular floating object’. Usually Krathong is made of a slice of the trunk of a banana tree with decoration of banana leaves, flowers, a candle and incense sticks. In one of our Thai classes, Kru Kay showed us how to make krathongs by ourselves.
The history behind the festival is complex, and Thais celebrate it for many reasons. The main rice harvest season has ended and it’s time to thank the Water Goddess for a year’s worth of her abundant supply, as well as an apology for polluting the waters. Some believe that this is the time to symbolically ‘float away’ all the anger and grudges you have been holding onto. Often they include a fingernail or a lock of hair is seen as a way of letting go of the dark side of yourself, to start a new free of negative feelings. A small coin is sometimes added as an offering to the river spirits. If your candle stays alight until your Krathong disappears out of sight, it means a year of good luck. Krathong will disintegrate after a few days and can be eaten by fish.
Majority of Thai people are the Buddhists and there are loads of old and newly built Buddhist temples and monasteries around the country. Wat Kow Tham monastery on Ko Phangan is one of them and translates as Mountain Cave Monastery. It includes an International Meditation Center, a relatively small one, but it was established more than hundred years ago. There are usually about four or five monks in residence, along with a few lay people, including the resident meditation teacher Anthony who is running 10-day silent Vipassana retreats, based on Mindfulness meditation. I participated in September retreat.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness Meditation was derived from a 2,500 year old Buddhist practice called Vipassana or Insight Meditation. It is a form of meditation designed to develop the skill of paying attention to our inner and outer experiences with acceptance, patience, and compassion. Mindfulness is the awareness that is not thinking but which is aware of thinking, as well as aware of each of other ways we experience the world: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling through the body. Mindfulness meditation is practiced sitting with eyes closed. Attention is put on the awareness of the breath as it goes in and out the nostrils. If one becomes distracted from the breath, one passively notices one’s mind has wandered, but in an accepting, non-judgmental way and one returns to focusing on breathing.
It was an interesting experience. We’ve been waken up every day at 4 am for sitting meditation, followed up by yoga after. The day was divided by small courses of 45 minutes of sitting and walking meditations with Dharma talks at a midday in between. In total, it was about 6 hours of sitting. We had 2 vegetarian meals per day, at 8 am and 11 am, as well as tea at 5 pm. According to Buddhist traditions, the food shouldn’t be eaten after noon. Surprisingly, it was enough food for the day and there was no any hunger to eat later.
We were not allowed to talk for 9 days, all mobile devices have been kept in the safe at the monastery. It was a deep process of being connected to myself with no any external distraction and ways to escape from whatever’s happening inside. And something was really happening inside! Few people out of 40 from the group have dropped the course before it was finished. It was an intense process.
I’m grateful for this experience to those lovely people like Tookata who are running this place. I still used to come to help them as a volunteer with almost every monthly start of retreat.
For the people who’s been living on Ko Phangan island for a while, the parties and hedonistic lifestyle, the yoga and spirituality are just not enough, thus the project of Converge forum was incepted showing the intellectual side of Ko Phangan. This event is held regularly at Moonlight Cinema inviting interesting speakers to discuss relevant, compelling, and academic ideas with Koh Phangan’s growing community.The topic of the last one was about failure. It takes a certain mindset to achieve a peaceful and sustainable lifestyle, especially on Phangan with all its ambiguity. It’s not easy to make money on the island as well as to feel the same level of security as back home. This type of environment creates uncertainty and this event spoke about how to turn it into opportunity through set backs considered by most as failures.
I was invited there as a translator for a Russian speaker Nikolay. That was a real challenge for me as I’ve never spoken in front of the public before and was scared to death. But finally it went on well!
Everyone knows how delicious Thai food is and it’s famous by Tom Yam soup, padthai and curries. My favorite ones are green curry and panang curry. Unfortunately, recently I found out that Thai food is not so healthy as it is as they often add MSG (Monosodium glutamate) which is used in the food industry as a flavor enhancer. It’s a toxic substance. Ingesting their toxin can cause diabetes, adrenal gland malfunction, seizures, high blood pressure, excessive weight gain, stroke and other health problems. Eating in the local restaurants, just ask not to put MSG in the food to avoid any risks. Another option is to have a nice homemade dinner in the friends circle.
Even living on the tropical island looks like a paradise, it’s not always a case. Especially for the stray dogs and cats. There are a lot of dangers for them – they can be bitten by snakes, dying from a tick fever, suffering from hunger and thirst as well as they often got poisoned by people in case of if pets are chasing the chicken or just simply too much barking. I was wondering how it conforms with Buddhist religion, not to kill the animals? I’ve got a tricky answer, as this is a dog’s responsibility whether to take the poisoned piece of meat or not… Anyway, there is a huge amount of stray dogs and cats on the island. Luckily, PACS (Phangan Animal Care), non-profit organization was opened in 2001. It exists on donation basis and treat, care, as well as neutering stray animals. People bring injured and sick animals from any parts of the island to treat them, but due to the lack of space, they go to the streets after treatment again. PACs is doing a great jobs saving lots of lives of stray animals as well as finding the new homes for them. I used to go there sometimes to bring the food for the pets. Friends, can I ask you to support PACs by donating at least 10 euro each (or more if you can)? It can make life of our 4 leg friends a bit easier. Here is their official page – http://www.pacsthailand.com.
A very good friend of mine, my Vietnamese brother Frank, mentioned once on his post on Facebook: If you have a chance to give something to someone else please do it! So if everyone around us do the same I ‘m pretty sure we will make life better…! I think it’s the great words as it often happens that either we take everything good for granted or just forget that we are part of this world and we should contribute in it as well.
Looking at this natural wonder, I thought, everything can be possible in this life…