My Southeast Asia travelogue is running a good couple of weeks behind the travels that inspire it, thanks in part to spotty internet connections in some of the remote locations in which I have found myself staying. Arriving back in Bangkok for a few days after my week or so visiting author Colin Cotterill, I ran into a German couple, Otto and Ann, who regaled me with stories of an “uncharted desert isle”, to lift a phrase from the theme song to the old TV show Gilligan’s Island. “No cars, electricity for only a few hours each day, a grass-roofed hut less than ten meters from the high tide line, and all for about $10 a day,” Otto continued. Then he pulled out his Canon G-12, coincidentally the same camera I have been using to record this trip, and showed me some of the finest travel photos I have ever seen. Otto, you see, is an exceptionally talented professional photographer, and I can fairly well guarantee that he could take pictures of Barstow, California that would make you want book a seat on the first available flight. If you have ever passed through Barstow (and you would have only passed through, for nobody would ever deliberately go there as a final destination), you will understand just what a compliment that is. My plans, loose at the best of times, took a right angle turn; my proposed visit to Myanmar took a back seat (I did get there, but not until weeks later), and I booked the series of bus, minivan, taxi, and boat
trips that would take me to this Robinson Crusoe retreat.
I will say at the front end that I haven’t any intention of divulging the location of this tiny idyllic island, which a determined hiker could walk around in a day, other than to say that it is reachable within twenty-four hours from Bangkok, schedules and weather permitting. Somehow, it has escaped the commercialization of similar enclaves throughout SE Asia, and I don’t want to be the one to change that. Even Lonely Planet barely mentions it, thereby essentially excluding the hordes of budget travelers who might otherwise overwhelm the place. There are tourists, to be sure, but the place survives just fine on fishing, rubber plantations, cashew groves, and the like, and it seems the locals like it that way just fine. There is an exceptionally fine French bakery, a handful of restaurants featuring local cuisine, and a couple more capable of rustling up a fair imitation of Euro favorites. In fact, the whole time I was there, I never had a meal that was less than excellent, and some were truly sublime. On the downside, name-brand razor blades cannot be found (and the off-brand ones on offer do the job about as well as, say, a fork with needle-sharp tines). Internet is slow and unreliable, in the few places where it is available at all. Transport is largely by foot, although if you are willing
to chance the roads in the company of tourists totally unfamiliar with the workings of two-wheeled conveyances, you can rent a scooter quite reasonably. Twenty bucks a day should see you through, including room, food and scooter rental. Beer would be extra, but not enough to break the bank.
There are probably dozens of other similar places up and down the Southeast Asian coastlines, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate; if the following pictures hold some earthy appeal for you, this would be the time to act on the impulse.