As getaways go, our small island off the coast of Thailand was nearly perfect–a long stretch of white sandy beach, calm, crystal clear and warm water for swimming, rock formations close to shore for snorkling.
And it was a quiet little paradise, unlike just about every other island along the Thai coast in the Andaman Sea, where, we were told repeatedly by fellow travelers, the partying never stops, and the sound systems keep the 4/4 beats and breaks going until the wee hours of every morning.
True, we were staying at what was called an island “resort,” but that designation didn’t mean a swimming pool with floating bar, or lounge chairs, or any of the other luxuries we’d normally associate with the word.
Instead, we had a comfy bungalow–one of eleven on a property surrounded by dense tropical forest–towels, a fan, and a common dining area. It was a five-minute walk along a narrow path to the beach.
We’d arrived from the mainland via a precarious mid-sea transfer from a ferry to a longtail boat, juggling our luggage and ourselves as we maneuvered gingerly between the two mismatched vessels. When we landed on the island’s beach and waded into the water we were met onshore not by a smiling hotel employee with a welcome drink, but by a plain sign pointing to the hotel. It was mid-afternoon, and there were only a few people on the beach. Perfect!
The island had no town and only another three or four resorts, each with a restaurant to feed its guests. There was one mini-mart with only the barest selection of goods for sale. Also perfect!
And there was virtually no piped music, save for the low-volume playlists at the restaurants. We could talk at will and without having to shout to each other and our fellow flashpackers and backpackers.
Some of whom told us about the party vibe that seems to have engulfed the archipelago’s other islands. Yes, one could find places on those islands where there was relative peace and quiet, but those were said to be rare pockets of tranquility among the constant din. Places like Phuket, which my wife remembers as once being an island of total tranquility, are now non-stop party destinations for a mostly young, hedonistic crowd.
Which left our little island as the one place that Thai and foreign entrpreneurs had not yet managed to despoil. Maybe that was because at least a good chunk, if not all, of the island is a national park, which, in theory, should prevent over-development. Or maybe it was just because they hadn’t yet gotten around to our island.
But already there were signs that this little paradise was on the development radar. By late morning, we watched the day trippers (foreigners and Thais) arrive in speedboats, old wooden ferries and longboats, the crews setting up tables for food and drink and the guests crowding between the vessels to swim and sprawling on the beach to broil under the relentless Thai sun. By early afternoon they’d depart but, unfortunately, not with all the plastic bottles they’d brought with them, left strewn about the sand.
And our hotel? The owner was busy pouring cement into holes along the five-minute walk to the beach to support lamps to illuminate the path. On our next visit, we won’t be able to stop as we did at night and look up to see the stars in the sky; street lights are about to block the view. The hotel is also about to upgrade its Internet service, so that more than one user at any one time can access email and the Web. I can already envision all the guests staring into their portable devices instead of striking up a conversation with strangers.
In the end, it seems unstoppable. Our little last paradise seems destined to become just one more paradise lost.