Happy Friday, everyone! It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over here in the States. Kids are already starting to go back to school, and it will be autumn before we know it!
While I love fall as much as any white, female millennial, I’m not quite ready to give up my flip-flops just yet. Thus, to help prolong that summer feeling, today’s Flashback Friday features one of the most peaceful and secluded beaches I’ve visited. (It probably could have been included on my list of favorite beaches had stunning Ao Phra Nang not taken Thailand‘s top spot.) Funnily enough, this beach happened to be on an island whose name is practically synonymous with wild parties and all-night drunken ragers. Somehow, however, we stumbled upon this little piece of paradise and fell so in love that it took a lot of effort to force ourselves to leave.
The Thai island of Koh Pha Ngan is most famous (or perhaps infamous) for its raucous, hedonistic full moon parties. Every month when the moon is at its fullest, thousands of revelers gather on the beach for a massive, drunken party full of music, dancing, fire-eaters, fireworks, and a neverending supply of Southeast Asia‘s famous “buckets”: small plastic pails that you fill with a mixer and entirely too much alcohol.
When my friends, Katie and Kyle, and I arrived in Koh Pha Ngan, we were neither on time for the full moon party nor overly interested in attending one of the smaller parties that happen during the rest of the month. (Smaller being a relative term; at least at that time, any stage of the lunar cycle was reason enough to throw a serious rager.) All we wanted was a pretty beach and a chance to relax. We found both on the eastern side of the island at a place called Treehouse.
I guess you could call Treehouse a resort; it was a group of rustic wooden bungalows centered around a beach with a restaurant and lounge nearby. Getting there was a bit of an adventure, as the pickup truck taxi we hired was unable to take us the full distance due to the remoteness of the property. As I wrote in my journal:
“Just as we loaded up the taxi it began to rain, the first earnest downpour we’ve seen since arriving in Asia, so we had to rescue our bags from the roof. It didn’t take long to leave civilization behind, but then came the issue of muddy roads. After careening around corners and up and down hills through the jungle, we crested a hill where a pickup was pulling another truck up toward us. Our driver got worried because his truck wasn’t 4WD and stopped to smoke a joint and ask passing vehicles if he could pass us off. After having no success, he drove us a couple more kilometers before giving up.
Thankfully, he found a truck willing to take us. I was put in the backseat with our smaller backpacks while Kyle and Katie rode in the bed with our large packs and a dead chicken.
As it was, the pickup could only take us so far. We came to a fork in the road, with the left route continuing on over the same gullied and pitted dirt road we’d been traveling and the right descending over rocks and deeper pits toward a little stream. There was no passable way to drive over the stream and up the steep hill beyond, so we had to walk. Foam flowers guided our way, and eventually we found ourselves among bungalows.”
We arrived at the reception area and restaurant/lounge, which was a multi-level wooden structure with colorful mats, pillows, and lanterns clustered around low tables. It felt like it was built into the treetops – thus the name of the resort – and gave us a great vacation vibe right away. Everything was bright and colorful, and we soon discovered that Treehouse had a decidedly hippie ambiance and clientele. The restaurant’s menu was full of vegan options, and we saw more than our fair share of white people with dreadlocks and bare feet.
After checking in – thank goodness there were rooms available after our ordeal getting there! – we were given our pick of two available bungalows. One was perched on some boulders, but we chose the other, which had a view of the ocean through the palm trees.
Our bungalow wasn’t exactly luxurious; it was a wooden structure up on stilts, with a double bed in the tiny living area for Katie and me to share and a lumpy mattress on the floor for Kyle. Electricity was only available for a couple of hours each evening, and the few lights in our bungalow bathed the whole place in a yellowish glow.
Whoever built the bungalows and buildings at Treehouse was very intentional about incorporating the natural landscape as much as possible, as evidenced by the fact that our bathroom – which was even bigger than the main room/sleeping area – featured several large boulders. The showerhead was drilled right into the largest one, and gave you the impression that you might get squished by a falling rock while rinsing out your shampoo.
The bathroom also featured the occasional enormous spider (the size of my hand with my fingers spread), so I showered with one eye open anyway.
By this point in our backpacking trip across Southeast Asia, however, we were used to rough accommodations, and we hadn’t come all the way to Treehouse to hang out indoors. Any shortcomings in our lodgings were more than made up for by our outdoor surroundings. There was a hammock on the front porch that was perfect for whiling away the warm afternoon hours while listening to the surf below. Our bungalow was surrounded by palm trees and lush vegetation, and a few steps brought you to a beautiful beach with the softest white sand we’d felt yet.
A little beach bar sat back off the sand, though we never saw it staffed, and the other bungalows added pops of color to the mass of green vegetation.
We were elated with our find, and so glad that we had gone through the effort of making it all the way out to this corner of the island. As I wrote in my journal that first night,
“Now it’s dark… [and] I’m lying in a hammock on our front porch listening to the insects singing and the crash of the surf on the beach just below. From where I sit, I can see down the hill through the trees to the sand. There are a couple of funky lanterns down there, but otherwise, it’s dark and quiet.
Could there possibly be anything better?”
We ended up passing three full days at Treehouse, longer than we’d stayed at most other locations during our trip. The place was so insular and so beautiful that it was easy to lose track of time and forget that there was a world outside the property. Our bungalow cost $5.50 per person per night, the food was great (if pricey), and the beach was so delightful that it was hard to find a reason to move on to our next destination.
We spent our days lying on the sand, swimming in the crystal clear sea, relaxing with books and journals at the lounge, napping in the hammock, and going to bed soon after sundown.
It was paradise.
My journal entries from those blissful days are short and sweet because we didn’t do much apart from relaxing and enjoying the beach. After nearly two months on the road, it was nice to take a break from all the stressors of budget travel. Our only worries at Treehouse were what we would order from the menu at each meal and whether or not a giant spider was awaiting us in the shower. (Ok, so that last one is a bit less than paradisaical.)
Eventually, however, it was time to move on. Looking back over our time at Treehouse on our last night, I wrote:
“It will be sad to leave the beach behind, with its perfectly clear water through which you can see your toes even when it’s up to your neck, and the general seclusion is wonderful and welcome. I will, however, be happy to get back to a proper, spiderless bathroom and away from such expensive food and the intense multitude of hippies.”
The next day, we caught a shuttle (ie we rode in the back of a pickup truck arranged by the resort) back to the port to await a ferry back to the mainland. Our next few destinations – Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Krabi – were some of the most legendarily gorgeous places in southern Thailand, but when we looked back on our weeks in that country, our time at Treehouse shone just as brightly.
Note: While Treehouse was closed within a couple of years after we left Thailand, it appears that the property has been reopened and expanded under the name Mai Pen Rai Bungalows. A slightly more upscale place called Plaa’s Thansadet Resort is also nearby. I obviously can’t speak firsthand to the quality of either place, but the reviews are promising, and if you’re looking for somewhere to get away from it all on Koh Pha Ngan it could be worth a visit!
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