It’s never fun to admit failure, but it’s true that I threw in my fins and quit scuba school.
In doing a little soul searching in the wake of dropping out of my (non-refundable) open-water scuba training, I can take the unpleasant admissions one step further: I just didn’t fit in on the island of Koh Tao.
It’s possible that I was just adjusting to island life, since Koh Tao was the first of the Thailand islands that I visited. By the time that I left the islands for the mountains of northern Thailand, my sunburned skin was bronzed, my makeup bag was forgotten, and I had entirely embraced the fact that my thick hair would never be fully dry (I have yet to find a working hair dryer).
In those early days on Koh Tao, my wetsuit irritated my constant sunburn, I was still trying to use a credit card in an entirely cash economy, and I hadn’t learned to take my shoes off before entering a store, or to throw tissue in the bin instead of the toilet. Shoot, I hadn’t even been on a scooter yet.
Even so, looking back at all of the places that I have visited across Thailand, Koh Tao remains the one place that I walked away from without making a friend.
Part of it is that I will never be a proper beach bum, and Koh Tao is a surfing, diving, snorkeling mecca that attracts the type of people who somehow look good in wetsuits and who have the kind of hair that dries into natural, sun-kissed waves about the shoulders.
Part of it is that, for the first time in the eight months of wandering the world solo, I felt truly alone on that island.
The Buddy System
It started with Day One of the classroom lessons of the PADI Open-Water Course at Crystal Dive Koh Tao. We learned the importance of always having your “buddy,” your dive partner, in your sight. I looked around in horror, was anybody else in that room alone?
The answer: No.
So, I was paired up the next day with a group of five young friends who walked over to the resort each day from their hostel on the other side of the island. My buddy was a quick study and a water lover. My nervous approach to the whole endeavor was like a lead weight to his buoyant enthusiasm.
After a day of feeling like a floundering idiot, I decided to drop out. And, as I consoled myself with a beer on the beach, I had to admit that it wasn’t just that I didn’t fit in on Koh Tao, or with my scuba group.
No, it was the fact that my buddy in life wasn’t there to ease my fears.
While I believe that Jeff always has me – and all those he loved – in his sight, cheering me on from wherever his spiritual journey has taken him, it doesn’t change the fact that I needed his physical presence in order to finish that course.
Finding Zen on Thailand’s Islands
I left Koh Tao for its neighboring island of Koh Phangan and found an entirely different vibe that was much more my style. Though I was walking into another experience that I was nervous about, I immediately met like-minded friends with whom I danced until dawn at the legendary Full-Moon Party.
Post party, I had a sweeter admission to make: I would have never gone to the Full-Moon Party before I met Jeff (who would have relished the chance to dress up in all neon and dance the night away). I would have missed out on an experience that I’ll always remember fondly.
I also had to admit that I needed a detox. So, I hopped into a songthaew and headed for the remote hills, into a yoga and healing center surrounded by woods and waterfalls.
Now this experience I knew how to handle.
The Wonderland Healing Center was exactly what I needed. Between yoga classes, meditation sessions, mango smoothies, and hammock naps, I met people from all over the world, and of all ages, with whom it was easy to share a laugh and a life story.
It was a peaceful experience that even taught me to love island life a little.
(Though, in full disclosure, I did struggle with the vegan detox and may have escaped on the back of a friend’s scooter to share a cheese pizza – only to end up with a 24-hour bout of food poisoning. They call that Karma, I think.)
Traveling to Thailand? Save for Later!