Despite being trapped inbetween two superlatives, this enchanted island, Koh Yo, manages to mind its own business in the most untroubled manner.
The first superlative: Songkhla Lake, the largest natural lake in Thailand, covering an area of 1,000 square kilometers. Technically speaking, the lake is not a lake, but a complex of lagoons where the freshwater coming from the mountains mixes with the salty ones entering from the Gulf of Thailand.
The second superlative: Tinsulanonda bridges built in the ’80s by the former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, a native of Songkhla. The two structures, totaling 2.6 kilometers, form the longest bridge across the water in Thailand. If it was not for his initiative, I would not have made it on the island riding Unirea and surely would haved missed the freedom to move around. Thank you for this.
Once I put my first wheel on the island, I had the first visual shock: a 30 meters long sleeping Buddha statue (reclining Buddha, as they officially call it) was bathing in the morning sun two steps away from Laemphor Phranom temple. A first warning that the island had much to offer.
It was terribly hot, and after a quarter of an hour photo shooting, I felt dizzy and exhausted. I left the temple in search for some cold water. I found a restaurant on the shore and the curious and amused glances welcomed me once more: look farang man! The menu was in Thai, the staff was Thai, so I had water and coffee, unwilling to take any risks that might have risen from ordering food. Swirling around my eyes, I noticed a plate of fruits on the next table. They looked sensational. I asked the waitress to bring me some. The taste was as extraordinary as the look: a juicy combination of apricot and melon. The investigations on the spot revealed the local name of madziku fruit, and some subsequent internet search indicated this is a sapodilla variety found only on Koh Yo. Local pride that is.
The jack-fruit is another local pride of the island. As I left the restaurant, I came across an old lady selling it. I took a photo, and she offered me a slice. Whoever said jack-fruit tastes bad should try this one and think again about such assertion.
Moving on. I surrounded the island 10 times and each time I discovered new things in old places. Fishermen returning from the lake honored the local whiskey and the buffalo soup. I was invited to join, but I never eat buffalo soup while driving.
I came across Wat Kok Pew, where they have a school for monks. The kids, all between 10 and 14 years old, were manufacturing firecrackers out of bamboo sticks. I did not quite understand the technique, but the cracking stuff surely was loud.
I found accommodation as well. The rooms were rather big, very clean and overlooking the lake. The price was 150 thb per night.
I stopped in the backyard of another temple, Wat Thai Yo and while taking out my camera, I noticed a stairway leading straight to the sky. At its base, a man who seemed a little disturbed, the lunatic-of-the-village type, was encouraging me to climb the stairs. He grabbed my arm and walked with me a few steps, then returned to his place. I suppose he was waiting for the next disoriented passer-by to force him into climbing up to heaven.
I remember an old Chinese movie about a Shaolin school. The novices were trained by climbing and descending stairs while carrying two full yokes on their shoulders. I felt I was one of those Shaolin students while climbing the stone stairs up to the hill. Where I was expected by – again like in the movies – a lone chedi, wrapped in silence, mystery and dead leaves. Awesome moment, brilliant revelation.
I admit I felt slightly guilty for spending a whole day on Koh Yo while ignoring so many other destinations I had on the list. Ten laps of the island, an eight hours chaotic spin around the bush and here I was where I first started. Nobody spoke English; I was unable to document anything for adding up some value to the poor information I had found on the internet. All in all I was wasting time – the fact being confirmed by the critical attitude of a group of goats I met.
I searched for a flat terrain to park my motorbike and have a cigarette, while meditating on my nothingness. I stopped next to a fisherman’s hut not much wider than the mattress it probably had inside. The smallest hut of all, with a jetty and a white and green boat. Is this why I troubled myself to come all the way? I went deeper into my melancholic state of mind. Then, on the wall facing the street I noticed an inscription. I approached, trying to discern the hidden message written in flaking paint.
And, my friends, on the wooden wall of the old fishing hut on the island of Koh Yo, on Songkla Lake which is connected to the mainland by the two Tinsulanonda bridges, someone had left this message written in English:
Success is the journey, not the destination.