Day 264: My Happy Place, Koh Phangan
What lies on the other side of a 7-day detox can only be described by the very question – what do you most wish to create?
The story of a detox is just as much the story of the re..birth -- re-integrating back into the world with more of what’s good and healthy for the body, mind and soul. Sounds simple enough, yet the very act can take lifetimes to manifest if we stay stuck in our habitual fear-based brainy ways. You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you that my first moment of ‘re-birth’ clarity came to me in lotus pose that auspicious morning in yoga practice. It’s almost too cliché, but I would be lying to you if I told you it wasn’t one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had on the mat.
Sitting in lotus that morning, I downloaded the message loud and clear,
Put yourself out there, and see what happens. You have nothing to lose.
I had been ruminating for days how I could explore some kind of work exchange in Koh Phangan, a curiosity that had been brewing for some time. Inspired by the digital community Workexchange.com, I was interested in pursuing a creative project in exchange for free housing, food or something that could fulfill that “wallet detox” I mentioned in the last post. Not to mention, I was craving an experience to ground myself in a physical home and find a conscious community outside the hostel circuit. Only days earlier, I had somehow dodged the $29 yearly fee and found a potential opportunity through the website, though it was proving to be futile as the email exchange quickly faded. Mystically, I had also just joined the Koh Phangan Conscious Community page, which gave me the real sense that here was an actual facebook group that wanted to connect outside of facebook. The joy! Sitting in lotus that very morning, all the pieces of the puzzle came together so vividly:
Be myself, set that post free, and welcome it ALL. Trust in trust!
And trust I did. Within minutes of wrapping up savasana, I was all UP on that one post – a bit about me, excitement for Koh Phangan, a desire to find a work exchange, some skills I’d be happy to offer, and lots of love and gratitude for any and all interested connected people. I can’t tell you how much ALIVENESS that one post generated in just minutes – expats of all colors under the sun bound by the universal qualities of generosity, curiosity and pure intention to connect.
The comments, PM’s and tags kept rolling in that afternoon and evening. I was overcome by sheer amazement and no lie, some choice paralysis as my ferry to Koh Phangan was fast approaching, and a decision would soon need to be made. And kid you not, lotus pose in yoga practice that next morning brought me that next burst of clarity I needed in that moment – get on a Skype call with Nancy, feel out her vibe, and go with your gut.
You will hear ALL about Nancy in a bit, but long story short, she was one of the many lovely Koh Phangan-ers who reached out about the exchange. All I knew at the time was she had a gorgeous jungle home, three dogs, and a desire to work with someone who could help her write parts of her website. She was an energy healer of sorts and as my Skype call revealed soon enough, a bubbly German lady who was new to the whole world of ‘work exchange.’ Her tangible vibe of nourishing chill goddess mixed with get-it-done energy (one of the many German and Asian similarities?) resonated with me on so many levels that within an hour, the decision was made. Nancy would pick me up that next morning at Thongsala pier in Koh Phangan, and we would be housemates for the next 2 weeks? ALL happeninggggggggg!
Fast forward two weeks later to present day, and I am still amazed at how much transformation I have and still AM experiencing. The waves of transformation and re-birthing are very much alive. I’d be crazy not to dive into all this here, but first, a quick nod to my last night on the magical island where I shared farewell dinner at Orion Healing Center with Nancy, her dog Lilly, Wylie and new friends. Ask any raw vegan dessert aficionado on the island and they’ll likely rank Orion top 1 or 2 on their list, hence the pick. It dawned on me that here I was, in a detox center on my last night reminiscing about the good ole colema days (in all seriousness, I HAVE missed colemas and half-joked I need to get one asap) with an Israeli lady who was knee deep in her detox journey. She was freshly present in that clarifying state of being, which mirrored the very same experience I had felt only two weeks earlier. I had arrived and was now departing Koh Phangan in a detoxed state of mind – that place of clearing and cleansing what no longer serves to make room for abundance and limitless possibility. Everything was coming full circle.
So, what actually happened in these two weeks? Firsts and rebirths. The most blissed out blossomed version of self came alive – that mindset of everything in its right place. Every moment as a perfect gift of opportunity.
Come along, and I’ll show you Koh Phangan <3
Moment of Arrival:
I’m sure I’m not the first person to admit that first impression moment of Koh Phangan feels like love at first sight. Mix that in with the fear//excitement blend of teetering on the edge of a magnificent seaside cliff. Or just close your eyes and picture the most beautifully photoshopped image of the tropical island of your dreams, and step inside that 360 reality. Feel the gentle crunch of crystal and rose quartz beneath your feet, and inhale all the greenery through your five senses. Something like 90% of the land is unspoiled and undeveloped, meaning more jungle for you, me and those crazy looking spider-tarantula hybrids that inhabit all sandy corners, curves and curlicues of this magical island.
This island will swallow you whole with her beauty within seconds of arriving. What’s silly is that I arrived as a bundle of anxious nerves as the ferry rolled into the pier fashionably 45 minutes late, getting me quickly acquainted with the concepts of island time and zero control in the situation. In the absence of wifi and communication with Nancy, I found her in a cute colorful yoga getup with open arms (no shoes) and also a sense of urgency to get home. She was soon to give a private reiki treatment, and needed to get a move on. While profusely apologizing, I realized I would need to mount the back of her hot pink leopard bike with my giant ass backpack on my back, which was missing that crucial upper chest strap to keep it closely secured to my body. Little did I know about the dramatic rolling hills that would soon test my core strength and ability to stay extremely calm and balanced in an otherwise terrifying bike ride back to Nancy’s house.
As we braced rolling hills, the force of gravity did her thing as I tried with all my might to resist her and the imminent danger of tumbling backwards to my death. Meanwhile, I was chatting it up with Nancy as she told me about the king cobra that decided to pop in her front yard that morning and swallow two frogs whole, prompting the appropriate call to an animal rescue ranger. Ummmm casual cobra attack? Somehow it slipped my mind to ask about the realities of jungle living during our Skype call. I thought roaches were a deal breaker, but apparently Koh Phangan had other slightly bigger problems. She sensed my all too obvious fear, and told me that in the two years of living in this jungle house, this was her first encounter with a king cobra. Well the universe threw THAT lesson at my pretty quickly. Welcome to the jungle, ALL of nature at her finest – tarantulas, cobras, oversized rats, vipers, cockroach colonies, and all. This ain’t no “glamping” experience.
Nothing short of exhilaration on that bike ride, that was for certain. I’m happy to report that I survived the bike ride and gained some seriously sculpted ab definition along the way :)
We rode up to the north of the island, a sleepy jungle town high up in the Koh Phangan hills only minutes away from the nearest fishing town. The whole of the northern tip is called Chaloklum and gathers the best of jungle palm trees with the bluest ocean views as you bike your way up, down and around windy steep concrete hills. Soon enough, we were pulling into a narrow driveway of uneven dirt road mixed with the aromatic stench of cashew fruits that were strewn across the path. Amongst the jungle vegetation were families of pineapple and cashew trees, elevating the pristine fragrance of this little tropical nook. Three dogs appeared from the distance barking a little welcome serenade, and the fuzzy backdrop of a house soon revealed itself in all her colorful and rustic glory.
My eyes jumped out of their sockets in absolute house envy. I learned that this home was designed and constructed by a woman from the UK who through the grapevine, found Nancy as a temporary tenant while she returned to the motherland to take care of personal matters. Nancy landed a goldmine, hands down. My eyes were racing, trying to take in all the beauty at once -- two stories tall with a ground façade coated in beautiful mural art reminiscent of fairy tale forests and magical sorcery, and upper level with open space as walls. Nancy showed me to my room, which though fairly small compared to the rest of the house, embodied beauty in simplicity with a private bathroom whose windows opened straight out into the jungle. Out of both corners of my eye, insect life was buzzing about me.
I got the full house tour, and holy nizzzzzzzle, I could barely catch my breath. The kitchen was huge with more counter space than I would ever know what to do with, lined with ayurvedic herbs and condiments and two machines that would transform the quality of my breakfasts forever: a proper juicer and blender. If this wasn’t the post-detoxer’s dream house, I don’t know what is. The first floor tour continued into Nancy’s room which was a whole tour in and of itself. A custom made bed centered smack dab in the middle of the room, creating a feng shui flow that brought movement and energy just by walking through it. I noticed a djeme drum chilling in the corner and a pinterest-worthy swing couch suspended from the ceiling. Her bathroom boasted a shower and sink that could have easily come out of a Snow White film set. And we hadn’t even made it to floor TWO yet. What was happening?
Don’t EVEN get me started with floor two. The moment you walk up, you feel an overwhelming sense of enchantment. I can’t even remember the last time I used that word. In place of walls, a wraparound wooden porch railing hugs the space which can best be described as a reiki treatment nook meets chill out lounge meets yoga/meditation shala hall meets Nancy’s humongous walk-in closet. From a bird’s eye view, imagine a sacred space in the middle with linen curtains and some wind chimes as enclosure inside which is a beautiful altar, Buddha busts, incense sticks, portraits of all the major spiritual leaders of the world, and yoga mats galore. Then, picture the perimeter around this enclosure which includes everything else I mentioned with extra emphasis on soft comfortable colorful surfaces, and of course, the mandatory hammock. In case it wasn’t clear the first time, this would be my HOME for the next TWO WEEKS :D
All fears of cobras eating me alive were a thing of the past…kind of.
Nature and I?
As someone who grew up in the suburbs with only a few summer camp experiences under my belt, I am very well aware that my connection to nature could use some work, and by nature, I mean BUGS. I can handle butterflies and moths, but hand me mosquitos and multi-legged, multi-appendaged creatures and that’s the end of all joy and happiness.
Walking into this beautiful jungle home of my dreams was not all rainbows and smiles. I’m almost sure Nancy cackled at me when I walked into the bathroom for the first time at night. I stood basically paralyzed as I saw National Geographic buzzing and crawling around me. I was outnumbered by Nature in all her sights, sounds, smells and feels. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I sat on the toilet seat in amazement at my new reality; that is, until I saw HER from the corner of my eye. Sitting in the light bulb, casting a very stark silhouette of her eight-legged body was a spider the size of my entire palm. She was very much alive, as were the mosquitos and moths that seemed to be laughing at me in all my fear and hopelessness. In that moment, it hit me – I am a visitor in THEIR home, we are coexisting out here in the jungle together, which means this is just as much their home as it is mine. Pat on the back – make that two -- for such deep reflective empathic thoughts on day ONE. My intention was to make baby steps progress, as impossible as that seemed.
And progress, I made.
Each day, the trip to the bathroom was just that, a proper field trip filled with new surprise guests. The one creature that seemed to be more resident than guest was that gnarly looking eight-legged spider I told you about. Turns out she really liked to move around and take up lots of space (I thought spiders hung out in webs, aka: predictable and visible all the time). But this spider was different. Her favorite spots ran the gamut of: under the toilet seat, on the hand towel, on the floor by the shower, even behind the shower curtain to keep things real spicy. So, where’s the progress?
I decided to start talking to the spider, as I do when I’m in good company with dogs, cats, and even geckos – wild, domesticated, and everything else in between.
That is until that fateful morning. As I walked into the bathroom expecting to say my ritualistic “good morning spider,” I noticed she was nowhere to be found. Instead, I look up and see a MASSIVE gecko of a totally different breed than I’m used to – talking huge pupils, red and blue textured spots, and some SERIOUS side eye.
In that very eerie moment, I welcome the gecko with a semi-sadistic hope that she had taken care of some business, aka the spider. And I’m NOT even kidding, within a minute of scoping out the bathroom, I see the resident spider lying flat on her back, legs up and completely DECAPITATED. My eyes met the eyes of the gecko, and through some unspoken side eye connection, she convinces me that she had my back this whole time. Never thought I could feel such elation after witnessing such horror.
And to bring it back to progress, I’ll close with this. That evening, I walked into the bathroom to wash up and brush my teeth. While brushing, I couldn’t even believe my eyes – another BIGGER spider had taken over, marking its territory on my (excuse me…our) bathroom for prime hunting grounds. Four words: the Circle of Life.
Work Exchange is My New Jam
The concept of a salaried job – company mandated job in exchange for money – seems really foreign and distant especially after a year of splitting ways with Sub Rosa. Someone once put it this way: do you wish to live a life where you create your own structure or default to one where you basically give 5 days and get 2 days of your own, each and EVERY week? Unless you absolutely love your job and wish to gift 5 days, I see no reason to continue, and EVERY reason to create/co-create a new model that works for everyone.
I’m not advocating that life can be lived simply with non-monetary exchanges (or can it?), but the idea of experimenting with living this way appealed to me in Koh Phangan. And mystically enough, as Nancy soon revealed days after meeting, she had been received a clear message to find a work exchange only FIVE DAYS before I posted on the Koh Phangan facebook page. Our stars were aligned, and paths had to cross. Law of attraction couldn’t have been more obvious in this situation. Not to mention, Nancy is a Reiki Master working primarily with her energy and intuition, so all the energetic math adds up. No?
Though I’ve been skeptical of Reiki for most of my adult life, I thought it would be a meaningful, fun and exciting project to give full expression to Nancy’s work on her soon to launch website through storytelling, copywriting, and photography. In a way, my whole fascination around expats who have radically changed their lives by uprooting and moving abroad (inspiration for ‘Experiments with Living’) was coming full circle. Here was Nancy, a perfect candidate for the documentary, bringing me into the fold to help give life to her vision and story. Through all the sharing and creative processing that made such an exchange possible, I deepened my own conviction that such radical transformation and redesign is attainable.
Here’s to Nancy and her Experiments with Living.
Ingredients of the Good Life: Ritual, Community and Sunsets
Work hard, play hard. This phrase took on completely different meaning during this creative work exchange, which if you think about it, takes some discipline and expectation setting from the getgo, all in the name of having all the freedom in the world during ‘off’ hours. For the first time though, I felt the work to be creative and meaningful, worthy of my time and energy and not to be looked at in the same serious way as pre-trip, work-life imbalanced days.
I began to look at this thing called time in a new way, by experimenting with structure and rituals where needed and desired. I found the morning chunk of time to be most significant in setting the tone (nothing new here, as that’s been the trend on this trip) for the rest of the day. But unlike the rest of the trip, I finally had my own BIG ASS kitchen with more counter space, condiments, appliances and feng shui breeze than I think I’ve ever had in all my previous New York City kitchens combined. Morning ashtanga yoga, morning pages, and chanting (in varying combination depending on when the upstairs space was available) followed by a hearty breakfast was the ultimate winning combo and sequence. Having just come off a detox, Wylie and I put some serious attention and intention to designing the optimal daily breakfast, which was never short of a veggie-fruit smoothie and delicious 2-3 egg omelets (occasionally boasting avocado smashed layers and a dash of zesty lime). I’ve seriously never been so adamant about photographing breakfast, which we enjoyed in the company of delicious jungle morning views upstairs with Lilly and Sinbad.
With the presence of grounding morning ritual and a more planned schedule overall for the work exchange, I was pushed – in the best of ways – to be more present with my free time. In the earliest moments of tasting careless abandon in Koh Phangan, I found myself riding my motorbike one late afternoon after spending way too many hours of screen time, ready to change up my environment in a radical way. Without any real sense of clarity or direction, I turned an intuitive left onto a dirt road that led me through rocky terrain into jungle brush, eventually opening out onto the sea. I parked my bike and walked left onto the strip of beach ahead, making out abstract shapes of naked bodies in the distance. Hm….
And before I knew it, I was walking through Koh Phangan’s little well known nude beach! The vibe was super chill and unassuming, which only brought my attention to the elephant in the room, aka ME(!) as I waltzed right in wearing a full on getup – t-shirt, shorts, fanny pack and backpack filled to the brim with a laptop and other necessary gadgets as I tend to do. I had never felt so uncomfortable wearing so many clothes in my life! Private parts of all shapes, colors and sizes burst onto the scene, and one small Israeli man even waved to me thinking I was another short tan Asian girl he knew. The eye contact was strong, and the smiles were even friendlier. Definitely felt a sense of community in this brief stroll through the beach, despite my incongruent wardrobe, and knew it would not be my last. As I continued my gallivant up the beach, I noticed the bodies took on more swimwear by the second, which signaled to me that perhaps this was a different beach? Guessed right.
Meet, Zen Beach – the mother of all beaches. The beach with the hands down the most epic sunset views on ALL the island, and dare I say….the world. That fateful day I stumbled on this beach was the day I decided I needed more sunsets in my life, and thus begun the start of my favorite ritual in Koh Phangan – sunsets on Zen Beach. What rock had I been hiding under?
And it’s not just the elements of soft sand, pristine ocean and God-like sunset that makes Zen so perfectly unique. In that magic hour beginning around 6pm, Zen Beach (aptly named) gathers all of the most beautiful souls on the island that you immediately want to be friends with, least exchange a smile with. The djembe beats start rolling in drum circle fashion, while half naked kids and wild dogs run around like the free-spirited creatures they are. The resident vocalist starts belting and scatting, while the yogis and peace loving expats and expat-wannabes (um hello) plop down on the sand to take in all the good vibes. You can make out the soft twirling silhouettes of hoola hooping goddesses doing their dance in the distance. Even if you didn’t care for sunsets, the quality of people watching is just TOP notch. So basically, what I’m saying is, everyone needs some more ZEN in their life :D
Like a moth to a flame, I found myself thinking about Zen or at Zen most days in Koh Phangan. That following evening, I was back again, naturally, and this time with the intention to connect with some of these cool humans. They clearly shared my affinity for sunset magic, and I had to know who they were. In mid-journal, I caught the glimpse of a girl waving me over to give her and this guy a hand. Looked like they were setting up a slackline and needed some extra muscle to tighten things up. One thing led to another, and within minutes, I was trying my not so successful hand at slacklining, yet experiencing that very beautiful connection I had wished for only minutes earlier. Paula, the Finnish goddess in white, invited me to come sit with her group of friends as they were having an ecstatic dance pre-game on the beach. OKAY, hold the phone! Days earlier, I had asked the universe to point my way to a movement/dance community in Koh Phangn, and now…THIS!
I couldn’t even believe what was manifesting before my eyes. This was no ordinary pre-game. In place of alcohol and some version of junk food, you saw kombucha drinks being passed around by a wonderful man named Webb (who was also gifting free chakra balancing fork tunings) and girls and guys alike giving and receiving BIODEGRADABLE glitter treatments, aka face painting natural glitter on each other’s faces (aka the ecstatic dance facial treatment). I don’t think I met one person who wasn’t already considering moving to Koh Phangan, or already living there either permanently or seasonally.
Most introductions went something like “Hey, I’m Tiff, Day FOUR and LOVING it…when are you moving here?” followed by the mother of all hugs. After getting my mandatory glitter treatment, Webb had me lie down while he performed chakra healing on my third eye and heart. “Trust in trust,” he said. Was this my life right now?
It just seemed so obvious in that moment, and in every interaction thereafter. The connection to Koh Phangan was undeniable, and those who felt her calling, felt it STRONGLY. We were all on the spectrum of Experimenting with Living, and somehow, finding ourselves in the company of others who wish to live more consciously, creatively, openly and in love everyday. The community and culture of openness can be so tangibly felt, as is the symbiotic connection with Nature all around us. Those already living on the island seemed to understand perfectly what I was going through as I opened up to the possibility of living a life like this (the joke is literally: when is she moving here?). Who knew this island was that place?
There are too many to count, but as I walk down memory lane, I can’t help but smile HARD at
…That day I did 5 yoga classes back to back at Agama's International Yoga Day festival, and scored the most incredible prizes ever ….
…That time I met my bestie on the island, Jess (the other small tan Asian girl on the island who the Israeli nudist on the beach had mistaken me for). She accompanied me on an incredible adventure that went something like: Inner Dance workshop > Thongsala grubs > Motorbike to Wai Nam with cool friends > danced under the stars to tribal beats while stomping on crystal and rose quartz textures
…That time Wylie turned another birthday year and we went on a magical hike with beautiful friends, surviving the perfect storm and perfect birthday :)
Koh Phangan, I’ll Be Back
I stopped saying “goodbye” to friends I make on the road, especially if I meet them under the pretense of I know I’ve met you in another lifetime. Those moments are rare, but have been showing up a lot. And as such, I trust in trust that I’ll see them again very soon.
I chose not to say goodbye to Koh Phangan for that very same reason. In just two weeks, I grounded myself in a real home (away from home) with all the life-giving ingredients of my happy place – the most open of communities, belly laughter and radiant smiles, culture of supported consciousness and creativity, coconuts perpetually in season, motorbike living, vegan and veggie food galore, hammocks everywhere, and MOTHER NATURE.
Abundance in simplicity.
Thank you beautiful Koh Phangan. Until August <3