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Lost In Koh Phangan, Thailand

The buzz of our motorbike engines settle to a low hum as Karen and I pull up to the fork in the road. Most roads look the same on Koh Phangan, a tiny island off the southern coast of Thailand; crumbling concrete which frequently disappears entirely into puddles of reddish mud. At this particular fork there were no local residents to ask or English signs to point the way. I removed my hat and wiped the sweat from my forehead.

"What do you think?" I asked Karen.

"Umm...I think it's right."

"Right? But I thought we had to follow the coast," I said. It was already our forth night on the island - we'd so far spent the time at a small hotel on a small northern beach. It was a nice place, good restaurant, friendly staff. We'd enjoyed the company of a few Americans on their way from Bali, spending late nights discussing Canadian bands and American politics. That morning we'd left the hotel behind in search of other pastures, (and larger beaches), on the idyllic West coast of the island. It was the notorious south-east beach of Haad Rin that attracted legions of backpackers to the monthly Full Moon Party, which is why we decided to avoid the area entirely.

A few Thai buzzed by us on their own scooters, followed by a pack of sunburned Westerners. Everyone got around on motorbikes here: men, women, even children packed four to a double seater. I lost count of how many families appeared to pack everything but the kitchen sink on their modest vehicle.

I revved the engine of my rented Honda scooter and peered both directions again. We were on a mission to find the perfect bungalows on the West coast - somewhere not too busy, but enough of an atmosphere to find lazy conversation on the beach. Suddenly another motorbike pulls up, the riders greeting us with wide smiles. Pasha and Marina, the Russian couple we'd met a day earlier on a snorkeling tour of the island.

"What a coincidence!" I tell them.

"Well," they shrug, "it's a small island." We laugh together.

Luckily, Pasha and Marina are heading back to their hotel on the West coast of the island, exactly the area we want to visit. We follow them, hugging the thin, winding road as it weaves along the coast, through rusted fishing huts, past sleepy eyed dogs, an innumerable amount of restaurants, and the occasional treachurous spider-webbed crack in the pavement. The unruly state of the roads is partially why Koh Phangan has escaped the heavy commercialization of it's larger neighbouring island, Koh Samui, and why it still feels like we're visitors among rural Thai villagers, instead of Western invaders armed with delusions of superiority. Finally, we crest a hill and the island shores stretch out before us like a postcard.

We descend into palm trees, bungalows, and Thai flags that flap in the wind. Pasha and Marina show us their accomodation, a white painted treehouse complete with hammock and piles of fruit on the adjacent table. Pasha offers us a bite from a pecular specimen, a large purple and white egg-shaped fruit that reveals uniform black pits when bitten into. The taste is sweet and bizarre. "Dragonfruit," he says.

All four of us wander the white sandy beach as the sun makes it's daily appearance before clouding over again. It's been this way since we arrived, hazy clouds that pour sheets of rain usually around lunch, before clearing up atdusk to allow for a warm sunset. We're told the weather isn't typical for this time of year - it should be crystal blue skies throughout. Yet the rain hasn't dampened our quickly acquired affection for the island, apparent in our desire to stick around a while longer.

Almost by accident, Karen and I found a hotel of bungalows built on the rocks of the southern shore, held up by sturdy stilts of wood. At $400 Baht a night (about $12) it's a hard bargain to resist. We spent the day on the beach and tossed the frisbee in the crystal clear waves. Back at our bungalow, as dusk settled over the restaurants on the sand below, Karen and I realized we'd found the Thailand from our dreams.