One of the many benefits of living and working in Thailand is having the opportunity to explore the country’s many beautiful places. My love of travel certainly isn’t the only reason I wanted to pursue service with Peace Corps, but it definitely helped make the decision! The word “bpai-tiao” means “travel” or “visit” in Thai, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite words to hear and use, simply because it means seeing and experiencing new places.
The first weekend in May was highly anticipated by many of Thailand’s PCVs because it marked the annual, unofficial PCV tradition of Maycation. For those in group 129, including myself, Maycation was a good way to see the friends we’ve been deprived from seeing since moving to site. It was also a great opportunity for members of groups 128 and 129 to finally meet face-to-face instead of just via Facebook, as most of us had been limited to.
This year’s Maycation was held on a small island, Koh Mak, off the coast of Trat, the farthest east province on the Gulf of Thailand. It was a heck of a journey to get to the island – 21 hours of travel, to be specific – but I’m glad I ventured there at least once. To make the way there, I took a 12-hour night bus from Chiang Rai with two other volunteers from my province. We ended up in Bangkok around 7:30am, where we caught an 8:30am van to the province of Trat, a drive which takes about five hours. Once we arrived in Trat province, we took a 20km song tao ride to the pier where we caught a speedboat to the island. After the 45-minute boat ride, we were finally on the island!
Thankfully, the 21 hours of travel were relatively uneventful and, thanks to the 128ers from Chiang Rai, I was kept company throughout the journey. Perhaps the most interesting part of my journey happened when I found myself in the back seat of our van during the trip leg from Bangkok to Trat. Initially I thought I was sitting next to people’s luggage and packages, which included two large boxes with blankets draped over them. About half and hour into our trip, the boxes made a ruffling noise and I soon realized I was among something of the living, breathing sort. The scuffling sounds continued to occur during the five-hour van ride and left me constantly wondering what might be in said boxes. Initially I thought it was chickens, but we soon decided chickens would be louder than our boxes were. I thought maybe a cat, but again, we decided cats would be meowing or purring. Finally, about an hour from our final destination, we pulled up to a bus station in neighboring Chanthaburi and the driver unloaded the boxes to reveal about 100 baby rabbits. Awww so cute! Yeah, I wasn’t as amused as another passenger may have been, but I was weirdly relieved to find out they weren’t chickens or something even more gross. I don’t know the final fate of said rabbits, but I’m just thankful they all stayed safely inside their boxes during our shared journey.
Upon arriving on the island, I instantly changed my clothes and headed out to find long-lost friends. I’m not generally a hugger, but in this instance, I was more than willing to hug so many familiar faces! We spent most of our first day on the island catching up, swapping site stories, and enjoying the hotel’s awkwardly warm swimming pool. Pool heaters aren’t necessary in Thailand, but I’m thinking a pool cooler might not be a bad idea.
Most of the weekend was spent enjoying each other’s company, over-indulging in a nearby hotel’s American breakfast menu, and soaking in sunshine. The tiny island is only about 7.5km wide, but transportation proved to be more complicated than I anticipated, especially because PCVs aren’t allowed to drive or ride motorbikes. Once again, my own two feet were the best method of movement, so my exploring was a bit more limited than I would have liked, but I still felt like beach walking offered a good taste of what the island had to offer.
My friend, Sarah, and I opted to escape the madness of our large group on Saturday and enjoyed an afternoon kayak together. For roughly $6.00 each, we rented a double kayak for four hours and set off to explore a nearby island. Once on shore of the neighboring island, we realized we’d have to pay to stay there so we quickly turned around and set off in another direction.
Amidst the waves and heartfelt conversations, we enjoyed the simplistic beauty our island, Koh Mak, had to offer from the water. The sea water was an indescribable shade of turquoise that, until then, I had never had the opportunity to truly enjoy. We were able to see all the way to the bottom, which was decorated with shells, rocks, coral, and sea urchins. Being from the Midwest, I was terrified of said sea urchins (mostly because I had never seen one in person) until Sarah pointed one out and explained that they, in fact, were not able to move and swim. Who knew?!
After our arms were sufficiently sore and our legs sufficiently sunburned, we decided to return the kayak and swap it for a well-deserved margarita. While strolling back along the beach, we happened upon most of the 128s and ended up spending the rest of the evening with them. Together, we enjoyed a 2-for-1 happy hour at a local hotel bar and watched the sunset. It was one of the more incredible sights I’ve experienced in a very long time; one of those “pictures don’t do it justice” kind of nights.
Sunday morning brought a very early departure from the island, as it was a race against the clock to make it back to Bangkok. As is the norm with my favorite mornings, I managed to sneak in a quick cup of java (thanks to Starbucks vias, which are always welcome in care packages!) and enjoy a last bit of paradise from our hotel room’s balcony.
Travel to Bangkok took longer than expected, which meant missing the flight I booked back to Chiang Rai. I managed to book myself on an overnight bus from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, which actually stoped right in my town before continuing on the city of Chiang Rai. I was beyond proud of myself for problem solving the transportation and communication hurdles associated with the change of plans, and all turned out okay in the end. All in all, it was a great weekend away, but I think the next time I want an island vacation, I might try to find one that’s a bit easier to get to.