As I run along a narrow concrete road cutting through shady rubber plantations, I emerge to a view that always makes me smile. On my left flourishes dense jungle thicket. On my right a clearing of grasses is flanked by towering stands of bamboo and lofty coconut palms bordering a sandy beach. Between the trees a solitary limestone karst island rises abruptly out of the cerulean waters, jutting against the skyline.
As this view greets me, a monkey races across in front of me, disappearing into the jungle. I startle lithe squirrels in the treetops and large prehistoric-looking monitor lizards that hastily scuttle away into the tangle of undergrowth. One day I almost ran into a slender green snake in the middle of the road. Alerted by its rearing head I took a few steps back while it slithered away into the greenery.
The road abruptly peters out into a rutted dirt trail, narrowing to a tiny path worn through the grass and ending at a secluded jungle-encroached beach. I look out to a magnificent archipelago of islets and limestone karsts adorning the sun-flecked waters of Phang Nga Bay in southern Thailand.
In the bright, early morning sunshine, I sit on the damp sand to take it all in. Gazing out at the pristine view and caressed by a steamy, briny breeze, I appreciate my good fortune to be surrounded by such natural beauty.
A flock of hornbills, birds that looked like they belong in primeval times, forage in the treetops while sea eagles glide on the coastal thermals above. Behind me, the jungle emits a cacophony of shrill cicadas, calls, rustles, and exotic birdsong. Gentle waves lap the seashore, the receding tide slowly unveiling rocks as the faint putter of long-tail boats echoes offshore.
I’m staying on Ko Yao Noi (Small Long Island) in picturesque Phang Nga Bay in the Andaman Sea, between the popular tourist destinations of Phuket island and Krabi on the mainland. Ko Yao Noi and its adjacent sister Ko Yao Yai (Big Long Island) retain their charm and traditional way of life, and, as they still only receive a smattering of travelers, they remain untouched by mass tourism.
Some mornings I practice yoga on the sea balcony, an elevated wooden deck hanging above the shoreline in front of my wooden stilt house with sea views. After my morning exercise, if high tide waves are slapping the sea wall below me and rising up the steps leading down to the beach, I jump into the balmy water for a swim and wallow in the shallows.
Back on the shaded open-sided veranda of my little cabin looking out over the sound to the shores of Ko Yao Yai, I relish a cool, freshly blended watermelon shake. I then relax in the hammock strung across the sea balcony, swaddled by the salty air and the scent of tropical blooms.
Some days I tour on my motorbike. With my camera slung over my shoulder I venture along bumpy dirt trails in my mission to discover every hidden beach and cove. I ride past tracts of robust mangroves clinging to the brackish shoreline and herds of water buffalo grazing on bare rice paddies. I wander along peaceful, palm-fringed beaches where the ebb and flow of tides reveal contrasting characters. High water flaunts picture-postcard scenes, while low tide exposes expanses of sand, rocks, and a marshland haven for wading egrets.
Originally I came to the island to stay with an American friend recovering from a broken arm. We’d met several years ago when we were both living in Phuket. Amongst her many talents, Lisa is an experienced acupuncturist. She now lives part-time in a wooden stilt house in a tiny fishing village spilling onto the shore. I instantly fell in love with the tranquil isle, so when Lisa found me my little house further around the bay, I was hooked.We load up the motorbike with fresh produce.Lisa and I take regular shopping forays together on my motorbike to the island’s main village, about 10 minutes’ ride away. We load up the motorbike with fresh produce and grilled fish from a cluster of stores and market stalls selling fruit, veggies, and seafood. Often, we treat ourselves to kanom jeen (a rice noodle dish with spicy fish curry) and pa thong ko (miniature donuts served with a green pandan custard or sweet condensed milk).
Sometimes we eat lunch at our favorite beachside restaurant, feasting on som tam (spicy green papaya salad) and sticky rice washed down with a cold beer. Dining with bare feet in the sand and shaded by coconut palms, we gaze at turquoise water lapping golden shores, long-tail boats bobbing on the tide, and spectacular limestone cliffs dominating the horizon.
We often dine together either on my veranda with sea views or on Lisa’s wooden deck perched on the seashore with the waves lapping below. As we eat, we watch the sun gently greet the horizon as it casts a golden glow on stilt houses, fishing boats, and a medley of prowling seaside cats. The cicadas start their evening chorus while the local mosque calls the faithful to prayer. It’s a perfect ending to another day in paradise.