On our first night in Bailan Bay, Tay and I are taken in by a group of souls with whom our friendship immediately transcends the shallow and obvious bond of backpackers. It happens like this: as we enter Ms. Naughtyâ€™s almost-empty restaurant, sitting cross-legged on the wood planks — under the stars, over the tide — greetings are shouted from a pair of men in the corner and, after friendly pleasantries are thrown across the low tables, one of them walks over, squats beside us and, in a calm, quiet voice, invites us to join them so we donâ€™t have to shout. We do.
The squatter is Hans from Belgium. Not only is his demeanor exceedingly monkish, but his head is shaved and he dresses in flowing, bright yellow pants. Hans consumes more books than alcohol during the week, but not this first night which, we find, is the tail end of a 10-hour beer binge, to which we try in vain to catch up.
Hansâ€™ drinking partner is Alaska, a lean-cut, hyperactive German from Cologne whoâ€™s chest bears a tattoo in arched gothic letters that read, â€œDOMINATOR,â€ and who lists his professional adult careers like this: â€œFirst I vas Punk, zen I vas Raver, now I am Hacker.â€ There is some mention of being a â€œdishwasherâ€ as well, which he says with a wink, but I never find out what he means. We learn that his hacking career also involves four hours a day of computer gaming. He is here with his tall, straight-banged wife of 10 years, who he calls â€œMaus,â€ and who has a red-and-black tattoo on her left breast. â€œZis tattoo on my wifeâ€™s tit â€“ ven zey ask on ze beach vat is it, she says, â€˜zatâ€™s my man.â€™â€ Alaska is very proud of this, but Tay shoots me a glance that says, â€œDonâ€™t even think about it.â€
Then thereâ€™s Tom and Sunny, buddies from Brighton who have traveled to Ko Chang, overland. Yes, thatâ€™s right, overland from England to Thailand, by rail mostly, across northern Europe, Siberia, down through Mongolia and China. Tom is a sincere, curly-headed, pink-cheeked chap, who spends his days studying texts and playing with Justin the poodle (while the cats congregate in my corner). When he removes his nose from his books, Tom is a master party-maker, occasionally transporting our little scene from Ms. Naughtyâ€™s pier to the porch of his raised bungalow, where he provides refreshments and blasts Johnny Cash out of mini-speakers.
Sunny, true to her name, is a bright-eyed lass, blond hair flowing out from under a straw cowboy hat; she tells us a few stories from their journey together, one featuring a drunken, blacked-out Tom urinating in a Russian cash point booth and then running through the Siberian night pursued by a couple of police bruisers. â€œHe narrowly escaped a beating,â€ she reports.
Bailan Bay does not have much of a beach. The huts are poor and filled with creatures of the jungle. We do not go trekking in the interior, by foot or by elephant, nor do we explore the various islands or underwater worlds; no snorkeling, no diving, no fishing, no kayaking. We wish we had more time for all of this, but itâ€™s difficult to complain, and we need the paycheck that will only come if I make my deadline. Instead, we spend time at Ms. Naughtyâ€™s, I spend time writing, and we spend time with our new friends.
Hans, Alaska, Maus, Tom, Sunny, Tay, and me. This is our crew for the week. Weâ€™re all roughly the same age (thirty-something), not interested in free Red Bulls and vodka, and genuinely happy to see each other each day. There is much direct and sustained eye contact within this crew, a good sign.
On our last night on Ko Chang, we know we probably wonâ€™t see the others again, despite frenzied copying of emails (except for Hans who â€œdoesnâ€™t do the computer thingâ€). So we raise our glasses, allude to our special bond no more than we need to, and under a blustery full-moon-shining-silver-from-behind-the-clouds, we say goodbye, and move on. Back to Bangkok where we must meet up with someone very special at the airport.