Koh Phangan is like the Bermuda Triangle of New Age Spirituality.
It seems to hold travelers and drifters as though they are ships in the Bermuda Triangle, but this little slice of heaven makes me wonder why anyone would want to leave?
And yet I am.
It’s time to get back to dry land.
To understand the strange place that is Koh Phangan, you need to first forget that is in Thailand.
This island only vaguely resembles Thailand. There’s Thai food and some Thai people but the fabric of the culture of Thailand is not prominent here. This place is overrun with drunk backpackers during the full moon and hippies and expats the rest of the month.
It’s similar to how sometimes Chinatowns in different cities only vaguely resemble the country they are in and instead feel more like China itself.
Koh Phangan, for good or bad, is an island for the odds and ends of society.
The part of the island I stayed on was like a vortex for new age spirituality.
Yoga, vegan cafés, and hostels in Koh Phangan
When I was in middle school, I read my first book on Buddhism. In it, there was a theory presented that there are certain planes of energy running through the earth and where they intersect, they create locations that are especially fertile for fostering certain energies. Think of places that have an unusual amount of universities, or where the people all seem to be extraordinarily musical. Those places would be at energy intersections.
I think Koh Phangan is one where strong spiritual energy is at work.
I know that sounds crazy, but here’s what I’ve found from extensive travel. There are locations that spiritual communities thrive and prosper.
It’s as though there is something special in that place in the world that both attracts and fosters communities of healers and spiritual seekers. I’ve seen them in the middle of Peru or India or in my current location, Thailand.
In Koh Phangan, you are more likely to spend your morning in yoga and your evening at a Tantra course or dancing around a campfire than you are to ever watch a tv show.
Life is not standard here.
Remember that line in Shrek, where Shrek is trying to explain to Donkey how ogres are and he says, “For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.Ogres, are like onions.”
Donkey replies with a string of irrelevant and annoyingly misguided questions to which Shrek eventually yells, “No! Layers! Onions have layers! Ogres have layers!”
Cartoons are so much wiser than films geared towards adults.
People have layers and being here, in this atmosphere, has allowed me shed a layer.
First went the makeup, the hairspray, the protective layer of societal glamour.
Then went everything else and just being free. By free, I mean, embracing the weird.
It was liberating. There wasn’t small talk for formalities, it was just people being people and not giving a damn who saw.
And after you got used to it all, it was really nice.
There is, however, a casualty of all this free-spirited living, and it’s evident when talking to people on the island. Most come here for a short time, and stay until the money runs out, sometimes even longer.
There are two questions that get asked of you constantly as a traveler, “When did you get here?” and “Where are you going next.” These questions are usually easy enough to answer, but not on Koh Phangan. If you ask them here, you will get perplexed looks of people trying to remember how long they’ve been here. And they never answer definitively, it’s always with a question mark.
“I don’t know, three, four weeks?”
“Three years now?”
The same goes for when are you leaving. Dates are not important, ranges of time are more commonly the answer, but again, the answer is in question.
“I think, maybe in April?”
“I’m going to stay a month. So, that makes it, late February? Is that right?”
“No, it’s March now.”
“Oh okay, then I’ll probably leave in March.”
And that’s the magic of this island. It’s not about plans and dates and what your job back home is or what you drive. It’s about who you are and the moment you are in.
The miraculous thing is, being in the moment, means a force greater than the schedule in my head was able to take over. Cool little coincidences started popping up around every corner. Need a cab after being lost on jungle roads for two hours? One air-conditioned cab happens to be waiting for you at a corner you have never seen cabs before.
Hear about a new theory on life you are curious about? There is an expert sitting next to you at dinner.
Accidentally book a hostel for two weeks and then decide you want to leave? It was raided the night before and is now closed. You get a full refund.
This island is a world away from my home, yet it’s the first place I’ve had community in more than a decade. If you haven’t seen someone for a few days, go to the beach for sunset, chances are you’ll run into them there. I walked to 7-11 for ice cream nearly every day and it became a social outing for me because I never walked there and back without running into friends.
Ice cream would turn into sunsets with friends, then dinner then walks back to my bungalow under the stars.
I’ve made friends here and had more real, meaningful conversations in the past month than I did in the past year.
Waiting for a boat back to reality.
There’s a point where this little piece of paradise encourages us to go back to the real world where nothing stops for the sunset and we are all too busy to walk to the grocery store every day for ice cream.
And maybe the second part is a good thing.
But it’s important to bring little slices of paradise back with us, because we all need more sunsets and real conversations.
So, I’m going to take what I’ve learned. I want to keep space for these moments. They’re what I’ve been looking for a long time.
With that, it is time for me to leave the island.
I knew it when I woke up this morning. As I write this, I’m on a ferry back to the mainland.
I’m sad in a way, but it feels right.
There is no way to go but forward.