30 May Making Local Friends In Koh Klang
As a traveler, I find that not many things are as rewarding as being able to go deeper than the faux-facade places usually put up for tourists, to keep digging until we reach that gold-mine of authentic culture, people, and moments. There’s nothing quite like really getting the place that you’re in.
Koh Klang is not a tourist destination. At all. And that’s a rare luxury in Thailand. We’d heard that we had to bring our own motorbike to the island since there are literally no tourist services there. We rented a motorbike in Krabi Town, named her Carmela, and drove to the Marina.
I don’t know what I was expecting of the “ferry” but the floating piece wood we were told to board wasn’t “it”. I’d never ridden a ferry with no seats before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything.
The captain drove the motorbikes onto the boat with such ease, a feat we’d never in a million years would’ve managed. The bizarre warning from the lady who rented us the bike, now finally made sense: “Please don’t throw the bike into the water”, she’d said. If we’d had to drive it ourselves onto the ferry, the bottom of the ocean would’ve been the only plausible fate for Carmela.
Three motorbikes, 6 people, and the captain, and we were tight. The trip was short, no more than ten minutes. And I know I said this with Pulau Ubin but stepping off in Koh Klang really was like traveling through time and space.
It’s a fisherman’s village, and predominantly Muslim. Right away I noticed the kindness of the people. Everyone smiled at us as we drove by their traditional bamboo cottages.
No one spoke English. Not even “hello”, but we found that it only added to the magic of the island. We felt special. Like we’d discovered this hidden treasure and were the only people on earth who knew about it. Most locals looked at us funny, as I’m sure we were looking at them.
They perhaps wondered, in silence, what our differences were, and what we had in common. We stopped to take pictures of the goats, the water buffaloes, the stores that sold food in plastic bags, and the locals laughed at us. I assume because they found it amusing that something so familiar to them, was so interesting to us.
We had no plans and there really is “nothing to do” in Koh Klang. We just drove and drove. We stopped when we felt like it, and we chatted with the locals-or at least tried to.
The island is unique. It’s not pretty, not particularly. It’s not your typical definition of fun, and the rocky and shallow beach is, quite frankly, horrible. And yet it’s still one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.
I snuck into the school, where goats and roosters just ran around on the grounds, as if that’s common in all schools. We watched a man as he took his water buffalos for a bath at the muddy pond, and heard the movement as people made their way to the mosque when the call to prayers began.
We drove past the mosque in the afternoon and a bunch of kids were playing soccer outside. We stopped to watch them for a while, but as soon as they saw Isaac, they surrounded him, asking him to play with them.
Isaac’s eyes lit up as much as the kids’ when he said yes. I stayed on the sidelines, watching them play. I would’ve ruined the kid’s game if I had attempted to even touch the ball.
The whole time, I was grinning like an idiot. Isaac was great with the kids, and I could tell he felt lucky for being able to experience that moment with them.
They didn’t understand a thing they were saying to each other, but it didn’t matter. You know how they say smiles are a universal language? Well, they are. Especially in Koh Klang. But what I found that day is that soccer is a universal language as well. And that sometimes a ball is all you need to make new friends.
I clicked and clicked and clicked away on the camera, wanting to capture each moment.
There were these two adorable kids who weren’t playing, who were watching just as I was, and they gave me a sheepish smile and tried to hide when they saw the camera.
Then Isaac went ahead and sprinted, taking his role a tad too seriously giving himself a nasty blister. The kids probably laughed at him. They’re so used to playing barefoot on the dirt, that Isaac may have seemed delicate to them, but they were really nice about it. I don’t know how word of his injury got out but not five minutes later a couple of older kids drove their motorbike down to us and gave him a bandaid.
These kind of gestures show you more about the quality of the people who make up a place than any words could. And after today I’ll never think of the people of Koh Klang as anything but genuinely good-hearted.
As we drove the motorbike back to the pier in silence, I kept thinking that I wanted to save this moment forever in my memory. I always want to remember not only what it looked like, but what it made me feel. Guess this kind of high is what we’re after when we explore new places. These unexpected snippets of trips change the way you feel about a place and of traveling as a whole. And today, I’m grateful that I was receptive enough to embrace them.
The kids of Koh Klang made me happy. I just hope we gave some of that happiness back to them.
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