On Koh Yao Yai, I couldn’t feel farther from home. It was the best kind of peaceful disconnection. Empty beaches, empty roads. The largely undeveloped and predominantly Muslim island was yet another welcome dose of culture shock following our treks through Bangkok and Phuket. We didn’t see any gaudy souvenir shops or rowdy bars… just open fields dotted with farm animals, workers building homes, and rubber plantations with trees aligned in perfect rows.
I asked a woman at our hotel’s front desk for directions to find the local taxi company. She instructed us to, “Walk down the beach five minutes to the road. Walk down the road two minutes to the taxi company.” Her time estimates were both remarkably accurate and incredibly helpful. There were no signs or markers on the beach to point to the road hiding beyond the trees. And there certainly weren’t any neon signs pointing to the taxi company, which was housed under a simple open-air pavilion set up next to a family’s home.
OK, to be fair, we strayed from the instructions and walked past the taxi company because it was so unassuming. But that’s what I love about this island. France and I said to each other, “We’ve been walking for longer than two minutes.” We turned around and a couple of friendly shopkeepers helped point us in the right direction.
My Thai language skills were lacking, but I had done my homework to learn the correct pronunciation for our destination, Chong Lad Pier. The cabbie handed me a pen and paper to write down our room number and pick-up time for the next day. He didn’t bother to ask for our hotel’s name, but it very well could have been the only one around.
Heading back to the hotel, I noticed a young couple taking photos together on the beach. The woman, dressed conservatively in a full skirt, long sleeves and hijab, stood in the water facing away from the beach. She extended one arm backwards to hold the man’s hand and he snapped a couple photos before showing her the results. I watched them huddle together to review the shots on the back of the camera before she gave an approving nod.
It was the classic formula for the #followmeto photo series on Instagram: beautiful scenery, a couple hand in hand, a woman leading the way. I loved that series. And here, this couple that shared a deserted beach with us in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, they must have loved it too.
The world suddenly felt so small.