Dragons & Coyotes in Koh Phagnan

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Our private bungalow here on Hat Ban Tai is a coconuts’ toss from the Pacific. It’s a place where the water sits calmly and shallow a mile off shore; white sand giving the glowing turquoise water a milky white flavor. We haven’t been here long, but we already prefer it to Koh Samui. Koh Phagnan is much less developed and more beautiful. Koh Samui is a beautiful place, but it’s got all the noise, smells and hawking Bangkok’s got. Not to mention new development everywhere. On our first day here in Koh Phagnan, the place was double booked or something, so they sent us somewhere else for one night, but threw in a free motorcycle. The freedom to explore this island for $1 in gas was a good trade.

We set off south down the coast. My Lonely Planet guide spoke of places only reachable by boat and no roads were printed on the eastern side of the map, but there were beaches with names, so I had a feeling there were actually roads. Before we reached the southern tip of the Island, we came to a Y in the road and took the less likely direction. A neighborhood came upon us and locals were in their yards, burning piles of coconuts, playing with dogs and hanging laundry. It was quieter there. The road was a poorly built link of white cement squares; its condition deteriorating as we zipped deeper into the thick jungle hills.

First the squares buckled and dipped at their seams, then potholes and crumbled edges started to appear. We turned a corner and I swerved to avoid what looked like overgrowth. As I passed by I saw the patch of dirt was actually a massive hole. The entire left lane had fallen about 10 feet into the ground and the extent of re-growth told the story of maintenance here. We kept onward, now cruising slower around turns and over hills. Before the road turned to dirt we came to a place where the entire, in-use road had been washed away leaving a dangerous unmarked cliff across both lanes. It reminded me of a place wile-e-coyote blew up the road attempting to catch the roadrunner. Cars couldn’t pass, but there was just enough dirt for our bike to make it safely across. We did and kept on focused, so focused it wasn’t until inches away that we saw the ten foot dragon sitting in the road. I know when is say dragon, you think I mean lizard. But this was a real dragon. They have those here. We both screamed, I skidded the bike from its 5mph pace to a halt and the stupid giant lizard scurried its fat grey body off the road. After a breather, we back moving again along cement which faded to dirt and turned to mud. We kept a lookout for a waterfall in the area and after some time of debating turning around signs written in English appeared.

They were official government printed signs along a road that probably hasn’t been visited by anyone important in at least ten years. At the peak of our climb, we parked at a shack where an old Thai man sat smiling with bags of potato chips and cans of Lipton Iced Tea for sale. Next to his tin roofed hut, stood a faded scratched sign reading “WATERFALL”. He pointed down a well worn path marked “100 meters” and so we walked. Sure enough the waterfall was there. We had just seen a bigger, more dramatic waterfall in Koh Samui, so we didn’t end up spending much time there, but it was pretty beautiful. The highlight was going back up the hill and drinking the old man’s Lipton Iced Tea and watching him in wonder if his wide stretched smile would ever fade or if his cheeks ever got sore.

I broke a sweat when the bike wouldn’t start. The ignition did nothing. The kick start did nothing. The man just smiled and kept asking “Gas for you?” I thought about the one hour drive and the horrible road and the lack of power lines overhead and the pending darkness and didn’t have a solution. A lonely backpacker rolled up on a shiny purring motorcycle. We sent him down the 100 meter walk for a worthwhile view and he left his key in the ignition. I thought seriously about stealing his bike and was confident the old man would only smile as we pulled away, leaving the poor French kid with a dinner of Lipton Iced Tea and potato chips. Then out of a habit for playing with things that make noise, I pushed our bike’s horn. The free, mud covered bike squeaked loudly and I realized the battery wasn’t dead; I must be doing something wrong. I squeezed the brake, then pushed the ignition and we all jumped to a start. Then with a wave and smiles all around, we continued on to see where else this road would lead us.

At the bottom the first hill was another official signed marked “THAN SADET WATERFALL”. Upon seeing it, I understood the old man’s smile. Unknowing visitors on this broken road would see his sign first and not think twice about hiking 100 meters downhill to the falls they had come so far to see. After the hike back uphill and in the heat, of course they needed a drink and maybe even a snack. His plan works well and of course he can’t stop smiling. Now I was smiling too.

The tops of the hills started to separate, a sign we were reaching the coast. Sure enough, beyond a tight turn a florescent ocean exploded through the thick greenery. There was a small resort here. But instead of rising foreign from the earth like most western architecture, very Thai in character it sat well with the surroundings. The bay was beautiful and hidden from everyone not arriving by boat or a daring wheeled adventure. The vibe was secretive and I felt it when I pulled out my camera out to catch the last of the evening light. Once the sun dipped behind distant clouds, we hurried back. Besides some challenging climbs for our little one speed and having to keep the throttle at half so the headlight would stay on, the ride back was familiar and easy.

We ate, we napped and then we woke up for the must-go “Half Moon Party”. There is a section of this island called Hat Rin that is slammed with tons backpackers and on the half, new and mostly the full moon, they all gather in the middle of the jungle for an all night techno rave. Not my scene, nor Stacey’s, but nevertheless a thing to see and do. The taxi pickup was at 11pm and we joined a group of English kids carrying sticks and covered in blacklight tribal paint. After a couple hours of waiting for the cheap beer to loosen things up, we were among 100’s of Europeans dancing in flip flops. If it weren’t for the looming palm trees and heavy midnight heat, we may as well been in Germany. I ended up high on caffeine with a fluorescent orange mustache and we danced to the monotonous BOOM HISS BOOM HISS BOOM HISS until our day caught up with us.

Yesterday we relaxed, I wrote, Stacey read and we both got massages. She disappeared into the spa for the entire afternoon, breaking the bank a mere $20 and I got the best Thai massage yet. The girl cracked pushed and twisted me all sorts of ways and she giggled when I moaned from the pain. Today we snorkeled and ate, rested and read. Tonight we’ll check out the action in the backpacker hangout Hat Rin. Tomorrow more massages and back to Bangkok too soon.

3 Thoughts on “Dragons & Coyotes in Koh Phagnan”

  1. gert Says:

    ah yes the boom hiss

  2. Jealous UT Says:

    Nice article. The place sounds fantastic. Any pix of the Dragon?

  3. Luke Says:

    “How did John catch that star? I think it’s one of his magic tricks.”
    Awesome!!! Love, Luke

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