I adore Thailand, everything about it. The world-class beaches, lush jungles, exotic animals, friendly people and mouthwatering cuisine all combine to make it one of the greatest destinations on the planet.
I’ve had some incredible experiences on my several trips to the country, but the one that really stands out to me above the rest was the time that I got caught on a tiny open boat trying to reach a remote part of an island in southern Thailand.
How did it happen?
The whole trip was based around spending some time as a volunteer in Thailand, and I’d spent 3 excellent weeks working as a teacher in the north of the country.
I’d come from almost 2 years of traveling the world through various countries and continents, so I thought I had this whole traveling game down to a tee.
In my ignorant complacency, I’d make the classic mistake of assuming I was now a super backpacker who could handle anything, so I did absolutely zero research and preparation before I got to Thailand. I had completely missed the fact that I was visiting during the height of rainy season.
Now, this wouldn’t usually be a big issue, were it not for the fact that this was one of the worst rainy seasons in years, and the islands in particular were hit very hard.
How did I end up on a boat in the middle of a monsoon?
In short – because I’m an idiot…
After my volunteer placement, I wanted to spend a few extra weeks going round the country, hitting up some beaches, seeing some sights and cutting loose before returning home.
Up until the last week I’d actually been very lucky with the weather. I’d heard people talking about how bad the weather was down south, and that everyone was leaving, but the stupid part of my brain just said ‘how bad can it be!?’.
So I laughed off their wise words of advice, bought a 10 baht plastic poncho and jumped on a bus down south. The fact that there were only 3 people on the bus down from Bangkok should probably have served as a bit of a warning…
Anyway, I got to the south, and hopped on the ferry to the island. This was a surprisingly calm crossing, as the worst of the weather hadn’t set in yet. It was rocky, and people were throwing up from sea-sickness, but all in all it wasn’t too bad.
Once on the island, I planned to head over to another, quieter part of the island where some friends would meet me after I’d spent a few days there on my own. This part of the island has no roads connecting it due to thick jungle, so the only way to reach it is by paying a local to take you on a longtail boat. Again, this would normally be fine – pleasant even – normally. But with a mighty storm brewing, it was probably not the best idea I’ve ever had.
As the wind and rain rapidly built and the night drew in, I was stuck walking around the tiny harbor that my tuk tuk driver had dropped me at, trying to convince somebody to help me make the crossing.
Time after time the locals refused my generous offers of cash, generally pointing at the sky – which was gradually beginning to resemble some sort of biblical imagining of hell – and shouting ‘no!’ before running indoors.
Eventually, after over an hour of trying and once it was almost pitch black, I found my man.
I’m not sure if he had a deathwish, or was just some sort of crazed adrenaline junkie who liked the thrill of danger, but he agreed to take me across (for a hugely inflated price, of course). So off we went into the abyss.
Within about 30 seconds I realized I’d made a terrible mistake. Just getting through the breaking waves was easily one of the most intense experiences of my life. The boat was hitting the whitewater with such force that the the hull was jumping a good 10 feet out of the water before crashing back down.
I screamed out that we should probably head back, but my skipper seemed to think this was OK, or he didn’t understand English. Either way, we kept going.
After about 20 minutes of awfulness, we got to within sight of the beach. We hit the breaking waves again and as they started hitting the back of the boat, we started getting physically thrown in the air like we weighed nothing.
After a particularly big bounce, I landed awkwardly on one side, which almost broke my foot, and just as I was nursing it better another huge wave hit out of nowhere. This time I was thrown even higher. I flailed like a ragdoll through the air for what felt like an eternity, then landed heavily and cracked my head on the side of the boat, and everything went black.
It all turned out OK in the end
The next thing I remember is coming to my senses on the beach with my deranged captain/guardian angel smiling down at me with a maniacal grin, laughing.
The bump on the head had knocked me out cold, and he must have steered to boat to shore before carrying me out onto the beach and waiting for me to wake up.
He stayed with me for a few minutes until I was able to limp over to the beach huts. After I gave him what was probably the biggest tip of his life, he simply hopped back into the boat and went full pelt into the surf again. I’m sure I could hear his crazed laugh cut through the sound of breaking waves as he disappeared into the darkness.
What I learnt from it all
I’m an idiot
Some Thai people are crazier than me
For some reason, it made me love Thailand even more
Nicoleta is the resident content blogger for uVolunteer, www.uvolunteer.net. Nicoleta is an avid linguist, speaks fluent English, Chinese, French, Spanish and native Romanian. She spent a decade working in China in the education sector and working with major international development institutions and currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. She is passionate about volunteering, sustainable travel and has a soft spot for foreign food.