Rather long awaited perhaps, but lots has been happening and wanted to complete it as a package (pictures, videos, storyline).
For at least a decade or two I had an increasingly burning ambition to land on some paradise beach, with perfect weather year round, stay there for two years until I got bored of the perfect lifestyle and move on. The island of Koh Phangan, Thailand, was the perfect choice, and I knew it as soon as I stumbled on the first beach while looking for a bungalow. A magical island sitting on an ancient bed of special crystal, a constant vortex of healing energy flowing up from the earth and attracting all sorts of heavily tatooed eccentrics, yogis, healers, and the usual drunkards like myself. Most famous for the Full Moon Party (which locals refer to as the Fool Moon Party), mostly young kids painted up flourescent and swaggering once a month back and forth along its long beach, but since it was innocently started so many decades ago by a birthday party with fire by the ocean, many much better places sprung up, like the Black Moon, Half Moon Festival, Waterfall Party, Jungle Party, and Moonset Party, attracting quality DJs from all over the world and vying for a meagre income to warrant their stay in this paradise.
Drugs abounded, no longer is it a problem for me to walk around barefoot and shirtless with beer in hand, as is highly frowned upon in much of conservative Thailand.
My workstation overlooking private beach is utterly idyllic (video), but as per schedule, after two years I feel the creaky bones of stagnation seeping in, not to mention that for the past year I sense a growing tension in the atmosphere, leaving the island after 2.5 years shortly before another military coup takes over the government and a curfew is set into place.
Since the moment I hit the island I felt like I was struggling through a blob of jello and it took me a full year before I could get motivated to work close to my usual productive pace. The dance scene on what I call the secret Ibiza of Asia is great, while at one or more venues could be found where to jam music every day of the week, which has given me ample opportunity to develop my viola skills while here. A small, handy instrument for traveling but which attracts a lot of attention and opens many social gateways (girls included!). I also exchanged my web skill with a Reiki and crystal healer, picking up Theta healing along the way, so that could eventually open some interesting doors as well.
But it feels great to be on the move again and at once I felt refreshed leaving, exploring new adventures.
The drive down south was uneventful, passing one usual dirty and undeveloped Thai village after another, but the looks get nastier as I try in vain to find a place selling beer in this increasingly Muslim population.
I cross the river by cute little ferry to Malaysia, only to discover that my bike papers are not entirely in order, and that I must remain with it within a 2km radius. Takes me two weeks before I find a place selling beer, but the miles of pristine beach make a pleasant afternoon jog, one of my few pleasures here.
At first, being the ONLY foreigner in these parts, I suffered many hostile glares, but over time the locals warmed up to me, perhaps after much effort to hold a smile and after they learned I was helping the hotel bring in business.
But I got tired of waiting for the bike papers to get sorted and looked for somewhere else to venture. Through helpx.net I found a hotel in Sandakan, Borneo, willing to host me in exchange for web and other computer work.
The owner is Indian and it doesn’t take me long to realise she hopes to milk my skills to death in exchange for her crappiest room with malfunctioning airconditioning. She dangles a carrot of 60% profits to run the place, so that she can go back to her family in Kuala Lumpur, but I see through her tall tales and settle for transferring her domain to my account so that I can make her a better website and draw 20% commission per booking.
Meanwhile, a good friend from Bulgaria decides to visit me, with hopes of a free place to stay in exchange for his construction skills. Soon enough she is offering him the same 60% of profits, but he too quickly realises what her game is and, after staying there for two months, we dart off to explore more interesting pasture. But not before seeing some of the rainforest and wildlife.
We both see how horribly she runs her operations, holding onto it like a baby while not giving us any real reigns, but it has given me the taste and we decide to start our own resort, somewhere. My three month visa for Malaysia is rapidly approaching expiry, so I propose we fly over to Bali, Indonesia, for a month, before flying back to Kuala Lumpur, where they automatically give you another three months.
Before that we decide to explore the northern tip of Borneo (roadtrip video), which is very natural and just north of our flight off this third largest island in the world. We brainstorm a website Off the White Monkey Road, “white monkeys” coined by a Thai person referring to the ghastly tourists wandering the shopping streets and red light districts, fat British men holding hands with 14 year olds adorned with extra high heal shoes, their height discrepancy sickly still obvious. Our plan is to create a network of remote resorts in nature, hopefully intersprinkled with our own projects.
We rent a bike and set out for the famous music festival on the northern tip, but veer off the wrong track and end in another, local festival, us the only foreigners in sight. Still a nice visit and we hook up with two other bikers to journey a fantastic roadtrip (video link above), tenting on the remotest of isolated beaches.
Our flight is rapidly approaching, but not before I find another helpx joint in Bali, where we can both offer our skills in exchange for crash space. Manana our highlight and we found a few potential spots for our future resort, while the Indian woman back in Sandakan has finally clued into the fact that I now control her domain and will, through commissions, extract the $100 a day we agreed upon for my services, take it ten years or more.
Camp of messy hairs.
We land in Bali and saunter into a group of what I like to call “camp of messy hairs”, dreadlock flowing from beautiful and eco-conscious youngsters helping this budding permaculture project. During our month long stay here, I finally learn to surf (video) and we round up a crew of adventurous seven to cruise another fantastic roadtrip (video) around the island, again to sleep under the stars on secluded beach, the highlight of which is White Sands, a magical beach of flourescent creatures speckling the bobbing waves under star and moonlit sky. $1 a night to sleep in paradise on cushioned lawnchairs, a fantastic meal, a gram of local mushrooms each for $5 and a fridge stocked with beers until the morning. Our hippie crowd connects us to the island’s music scene, I further my viola skills by campfire and different venues, and soon enough we part our ways so that I can head back to the Thai border to see what’s up with my bike.
I get back to the police station where I parked it and left my keys to find the tires totally flat, the tank dead dry of fuel, and once I get it running again, find the engine on the verge of total destruction. Seems like some bobbies might have had a few joy rides. I express my discontent and make it back to the beach resort, only to find out that my bike papers have not made any progress whatsoever.
Invasion of Redang Island, Malaysia.
In frustration I seek another paradise retreat to escape to and catch the next boat to Redang Island (above video). But the accommodation is very expensive and the island full of Chinese families. I wait one more night in the hopes of jamming with the only music scene, to see three young Chinese members singing “who wong tong” amidst children running around with balloons, and decide it is not the scene for me. I hear the neighbouring island might be more to my liking and make it to Perhentian, now within my budget, but beers still $3.3 for a small can of Tiger.
The crowd here mostly westerners, I stay a glorious three weeks and find the perfect beach for my resort, now a solo act after determining that my visiting construction friend is not partner material. Many musicians passing through, more jamming on the beach and at the Monkey Bar, almost the same name as the Three Monkeys Bar (video), one of my favourite places to jam back in Koh Phangan, Thailand. I explore the island on foot and surrounding islands by kayak (below video), eventually making it back to the border to struggle further with the bike.
Kayak trip around Perhentian Islands, Malaysia.
By now the owner has honed in on my skills and has asked me to make his website and handle all his online bookings for my usual 20% commission. Even if I do not start my own resort, I now see that this is a great way to travel cheap, an opportunity to network more with locals, with a possible of future source of earnings. As I set up the system and website for the next hotel, it all becomes easier as I simply Save As the wordpress platform to a new domain. I learn about channel managers, which automate the process of updating hundred or thousands of online booking agents, such as agoda or booking.com.
Meanwhile, the owner, sparkled with new interest, mentions he’d like to start a resort in the jungle, next to a village the chief of which is his good friend and the leader of the indigenous population of all of Malaysia.
On invitation I head out to document possibilities by pictures and video, and where they send me even further into the jungle, to a village running off solar and where the locals entertain each other in person rather than faces glued to the TV or facebook. They invite me to their entertainment hut to partake in their tribal chants and dances, I record, and explore the surrounding caves during the daytime. Excellent eco-resort potential indeed, and so refreshing to connect back to our roots before this latest onslaught of technology.
I even learn how to pan for gold, abundant in the area and which the resort owner hopes to use as a source to fund the expansion of his existing resort and the huts he plans to build in the jungle. He is also interested in partnering/funding my dream project on the Perhentians, while I continue to manage his online bookings for his growing resorts, not far away.
A rather busy and interesting few months since I left the paradise island back in Thailand, but that is what keeps things crisp and why I prefer to keep moving forward than to fall sedate into comfort.
Between the viola by my side, the offer of web and online marketing work for crash space and other opportunities that sprout up as one moves to a new place, I am finding that my life is only getting better as I continue to explore this beautiful planet of ours.