7. Haad Yao
It was on the last night of the Mancunians that the unrest began to creep in. A particularly debauched evening, I’d begun to lose patience with the awful dance music that pervaded in and around the Drop In. Buckets of Joy had become a regular feature, despite everybody swearing off them every morning after their consumption. All it would take was for one person to return from the bar kitted out, a straw shoved towards your reluctant mouth, and then somebody else would figure they should return the favour, and before you knew it, oblivion.
And so it was on that last night, as it had been on our first night, and then B’s first night, and almost every night in-between – only the King’s Birthday was in any way dry – that I began to suffer mentally. I recall wandering off and spending some quality time alone outside the 7-Eleven. I liked it there – the sounds were a distant hum. Was all this the Devil’s work, I thought? What do the Thais think of us here, because for every S showering the local vendors with gifts there was bound to be many an aberrant Westerner behaving less appropriately? I hope they weren’t too corrupted, those Thais, by this invasion of atheists and unenquiring agnostics, hell-bent on intemperance of various forms.
Yet I was in no rush to leave. Haad Rin’s modest scale was unquestionably convenient. There was decent food to be had – the tuna sandwiches from Chicken Corner were capable of sorting me right out – there were interesting bars in which to hang, and our cosy little bungalows, with their hammocks and verandas, were no more than a hop, skip and a jump from the beach. The sheer glut of watering holes kept the price of drink very reasonable, which is of real benefit to the traveller on a budget.
When I got wind of where M and E planned to take us to next – our accedence permitting – I wasn’t so sure. But follow them we did, if only because I didn’t feel like I could handle leaving for Samui just yet.
07/12/02: The German Bakery for breakfast; Mancunians leave; check out and arrange transport to Haad Yao with my colleague, S, M and E; book into Ibiza Bungalows; lounge about on the beach, get bored and go for a drink at the Eagle with S. In the evening, persuade the rest to do the same.
08/12/02: Quiet day spent relaxing on the beach; eat big for tea before checking out cliff top bar with my colleague and S; relax by an open fire on our return – a rather quiet night.
09/12/02: J and H arrive quite unexpectedly; have drinks at the adjoining Ibiza Bar to celebrate; end up rather wasted at the Eagle, but in a mellow sort of way.
I wish I could compose a soundtrack for the people of Thailand to play whilst I am here. I have a tune for every moment, but it’s never played.
Moving north to Haad Yao, harmonically the situation slightly bettered. The laid back atmosphere here is anathema to the decadence of Haad Rin, and although electronica and Bob Marley are still the order of the day, the abominably named Eagle Pub will play Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd on request (well, it’s an improvement). The relaxed approach to life here is only slightly undermined by an air of snobbery that permeates throughout the older and, one presumes, more travelled clientele, who seem to have made this place their home – for now, at least.
Bungalow installation is intense in Haad Yao but there is an agreeable lack of bars and 7-Elevens, making it an appropriate place to stop off and recharge one’s batteries. When the sea presents the land with a gentle breeze the rustling palm trees sound much like rain. At night the squid trawlers imbue the beach with a bizarre and calming glow, the rocks adopt images of grotesque faces and the clouds varied animals and ghouls, all to the sound of the miscellany of creatures that favour a nocturnal existence.
10/12/02: Generally lounge about; green curry for tea; a few drinks and games of cards on M’s veranda.
11/12/02: Explore a neighbouring beach with J and S, hacking through vegetation to get there, and having a Chang top when we do. In the evening we all drink at Ibiza Bungalows and end up building a fire on the beach.
Haad Yao seems to have been designed with the intensity of Haad Rin in mind. Gone are the all-night parties, the huge bass bins coughing up their filthy beats until eight in the morning. This is a place to relax and, quite frankly, lacks much to concentrate the mind. By night there is only one bar of merit, but it is enough. You have to wonder how soon it will be before some enterprising businessman plunders this cove of its serenity. Geographical limitations could prove its saviour, though, as the shallow beach is not suited to the large gatherings of Haad Rin.
I spent a lot of time there doing nothing much in particular. This invariably led to boredom which in turn led to intoxication, but not of the frantic kind. I think it was at this juncture I began adulterating my beer. The 6.4% of Chang was starting to gnaw, so I would buy a bottle of Sprite or 7 Up, and make my lager a top. It still must have been about 4%, despite my interference.
One of the most pleasing aspects of Haad Yao was the feeling of being close to nature. I had observed this to a degree when we first arrived in Koh Phangan and I had wandered off down dusty roads in search of accommodation, very quickly finding myself surrounded by a whole host of alien noises competing for the aural domination of my psyche: frogs, insects, lizards… or all three?
And it was the same at Haad Yao, a resort with two shops and one internet repository, but the threat of a whole lot more. At night these strange chirps, bleeps and clicks could be heard wherever you went, because wherever you were you were never far from unkempt vegetation or outright forest. And in the morning, awaking to the sound of waves meeting with the shore… there isn’t a more agreeable resonance I can think of.
The huts we slept in were even more basic than the ones at Haad Yao: wooden shacks with a concrete shell of an outhouse stuck on the back with a shower and a tap, no sink and a visiting cockroach present with every visit. If you had geckos, which you invariably did, you were glad of them because they kept the insects at bay. Unless you were my friend, S, who recoiled at every intrusion upon his life nature challenged him with. Rather ironically, it was he who was to find a foot long iguana-esque lizard hanging in the rafters after a heavy night down at The Eagle.
Then there were the dogs. There’s no getting away from dogs wherever you go in Thailand, but these feral creatures seemed even more so here. When we set off down the beach for a few jars at The Eagle the local canines would form an escort party. Then, when we reached a point roughly equidistant between our departure and arrival points, the pack of wild hounds that made their home on the south-side of the beach would rush towards us to confront our chaperons. After much barking and gnashing of teeth, our original retinue would retreat to leave the south-side contingent to escort us the rest of the way. When we arrived at The Eagle the dogs would sit down, job done, but always with one eye on the game should their north-side rivals seek recompense. On our walk home the same sequence would be played out in reverse. This would happen every time we traversed this particular route.
My companion is beginning to tire of me borrowing her sarong every time she takes a dip in the sea, whereupon I emerge from the shadows and into the sun, and sit myself upon it to read a few chapters of a book. I say sarong, but these gossamer-like sheets are probably intended for more general usage – everybody on the beach has one to lie on. Not being much of a beach kind of person, I have not hitherto established the need to acquire one for myself, but perhaps it is about time I did, if only as something to sleep upon (not having yet encountered bedbugs, I am reliably informed that they do get around).
Off to the local store I stroll. This is fast becoming the highlight of my day, unless a heavy storm is in the offing. I like the air-conditioning and the muzak there, and I like looking for new crisps and soft drinks to try.
My companion’s sarong is blue with small, lighter blue tie-dyed lizards crawling all over it. It is a pleasingly inoffensive sarong and I would like to find something similar. Alas, the sarongs on offer here are far more elaborate, covered in bizarre shapes and involving at least three colours apiece. The least gaudy example I can find still incorporates orange, dark green, black and white in its make up, but will suffice. For some reason, the cashier is not so sure. She seems to think this combination of colours raises doubts as to my sexuality, assuming, quite correctly, that I am of a heterosexual persuasion. I study the thing more closely but still can’t see it. The orange is a bit on the effulgent side I’ll accept, but I’ve never associated this colour with a predilection for people of one’s own gender.
There is another issue to factor in here: my ‘self-drying towel’. My self-drying towel is made from a fabric – or a weave – that is purportedly inured to the towel’s normal tendency to absorb moisture. This same quality, coupled with a reduction size, should make it the perfect travelling companion. Except the thing is about the size of a tea-towel and its dehumidifying properties have been seriously overstated. It pleads washing on a regular basis, therefore, lest it doesn’t start to kick up a mildewy-like fuss in my rucksack, and using it to wrap around one’s waste demands complete privacy. Because of this I’m thinking that the sarong will be a welcome addition to my ablutionary armoury. Its lightweight nature should guarantee rapid desiccation, whilst simultaneously having a minimal impact on my luggage capacity.
I buy this ambiguous shroud, despite whatever subliminal sexual messages my giggling Thai cashier thinks I am going to end up putting out there.
12/12/02: M & E leave, with the prospects of meeting up again very slim – a shame for it has been a pleasure having my old school chum with me these past 10 days.
Attempt internet communication but it’s not very well connected around these parts. Try 9000,000 Baht – a bar at the other end of the beach – with my companion, and down a few shandies (even the tops are starting to bite). Come evening, eat fish on the beach and make it an early one. Am aware of a heavy storm passing over during the night.
13/12/02: It was no illusion; thunder and heavy rainfall accompanies the morning and persists for much of the day – great stuff. By the evening it has a passed and we drink first with J and H on their veranda, and then with ‘Mel and Kath’ on theirs, two young newcomers who may or may not be potential friends. End up in The Eagle pub in a rather half-hearted manner.
It was fair to say that we’d exhausted whatever it was Haad Yao had to offer us, but I was glad M and E had brought me here. Mostly, I’d taken pleasure from both the music and the weather, and the coffee-flavoured milkshakes had been a revelation.
Dance music is alright – of a type – but I’m not sure if the beach is the ideal environment in which to fully appreciate it. When Haad Rin did let up on the Hard House, it normally fell back on Bob Marley, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or The Doors, only the latter capable of providing me with any aural stimulus. Haad Yao – or more specifically, The Eagle Pub – took a more open-minded approach to its playlist, which I suppose I was grateful for.
As for the weather, it had been a place of extremes. There were days in Haad Rin were it rained for hours on end, effectively wiping out whole swathes of time. Here, on the northwest of the island, the storms had been brutally swift, with prolonged periods of sunshine in-between: a win-win situation, in other words.
So farewell Haad Yao. Apparently, I will return in 2008, stay in the same complex of bungalows (since demolished and now made entirely of concrete) and make friends with a fabulous group of local lads who now run a new bar on the beach and refer to themselves as the Thai Bad Boy Company. The Eagle Pub will still be there, but almost a shadow of its former self. Other than that, the place will remain largely unaltered.