Sep 1, 2020
A FEW WEEKS AGO, intending to turn my lockdown daydreams into reality, I booked a solo escape out of Bangkok’s concrete jungle to the actual jungle on Koh Phangan. With dozens of little enclaves with pristine beaches and Jurassic Park-worthy forests (not to mention the absence of the island’s most infamous wildlife: Full-Moon party-goers), the island is exactly the opposite of my postage-stamp-sized apartment in the capital and exactly the destination I’ve been dying to visit since lockdown.
Except, when I landed on Koh Samui and headed towards the pier to catch a boat to Koh Phangan, the skies had turned the color of a gnarly bruise. Winds were too strong so all ferry services had been canceled. “The storm is going to last all week,” said the woman at the ticketing office shutting the sliding window between us and turning back to her phone. Getting stranded is never the most auspicious start.
The next morning, with the island still shrouded in a gloomy mist, I got news that passenger ferries were still not running. I was beginning to despair that I should just turn around and go home, until I managed to find a spot on a bigger, much slower cargo ship. By midday, we were pulling into Phangan’s main port (yay!), but the ship came into the dock at the wrong angle and got stuck (I should have known), pulling forward and backward like a pinball stuck in one of those ricochet cycles. We didn’t get off the boat until an hour later—but at least we got off the boat.
Were the higher powers trying to tell me something? Dismayed yet determined, I pushed on. I was going to live out my overly romanticized post-lockdown vacation whether they liked it or not.
The first part of the plan was a few days doing yoga and detoxing (drinking my weight in water with bentonite clay and psyllium husk) at a wellness center. My visions of daybreak sun salutations weren’t as Eat, Pray, Love as I had hoped, given that I had no evidence the sun was even in the sky anymore, but luckily some forms of self-care even torrential downpours can’t match.
When you’ve been stuck in a studio apartment for the greater portion of the year, horror-movie-thick cloud coverage and ocean horizons murky with sheets of rain can only do so much to ruin a trip. I didn’t want to resort to platitudes here, but all the recent ones about travel—that it will never be the same or that the pandemic will change the way you see the world—are true, at least they were to me. The situation fundamentally changed the meaning of leaving home for me, and this trip revealed a newfound sense of thoughtfulness and the realization that travel is a privilege, not a right.
Koi aplenty at Anantara Rasananda.
A jungly walk to my villa at Anantara Rasananda.
So, I embraced my rain-lashed holiday instead of rueing my misfortune (or, tbh, my inability to check the weather forecast before booking). And if I ever hit a moment when I wasn’t sure I could power through my fast, I just reminded myself of the second part of the plan: Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan Villas, one of the only all-out luxury hotels on the island, where my private Villa Host, Sanh, promised to stock my minifridge with copious amounts of San Pelligrino–but also remove the tempting Snickers bars. If I were arriving at the hotel straight from the airport on Koh Samui, Sanh would have greeted me at arrivals and escorted me to Koh Phangan on Anantara’s private speedboat. But he was still the first person I met after a windy trip across the island to the foliage-shrouded resort. In proper chilled-out Koh Phangan style, the entrance isn’t opulent—there isn’t even much giveaway that you’ve reached the hotel aside from the line of friendly-faced Anantara staff waving you into the open-aired lobby.
“Sorry about the weather,” Sanh lamented, before navigating me along the narrow wooden bridges, which hovered over waterways teeming with koi, to my villa. I politely waited until he left before doing a solo happy dance. No sun? No problem, I had my own pool that looked out to the beach that was literally a step from my doorway.
There was a couple strolling the shore hand-in-hand, a family playing water frisbee, even a bikini-clad lady lounging with a book under an umbrella to shield its pages from the drizzle. Like me, everyone was happy to be out of their homes and into the world again.
For the rest of my time on Koh Phangan I didn’t consider the rain again. I dined on freshly caught fish outside with my toes in the sand and made friends with Anantara Rasanada’s tour guide, Sam, who took me on a tour of the island pointing out fancy cliff-side villas and eerily quiet areas that are usually bustling with tourists.
I wondered if experiencing the island at its most unflattering would have been a nonissue to me pre-pandemic. It’s likely I would have come home lamenting my wasted vacation days and not-tanned skin. I decided the rain was a test to see if all of the patience and compassion I learned over lockdown had stuck.
Riding away from Anantara Rasanada towards Samui to head home, I felt a belly-deep sense of satisfaction. Off of the horizon, a patch of the ocean began to glimmer, and, as if telling me that I passed the test, a sliver of blue sky opened up.
Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan Villas (anantara.com/rasananda-koh-phangan; doubles from Bt4,200) offers transfers from Samui to the hotel on their speedboat from Bt1,700 per person round-trip or Bt1,000 one-way. For stays on Samui, Anantara Bophut Koh Samut Resort (anantara.com/bophut-koh-samui; doubles from Bt4,000) taps into the same tropical-island feel as Anantara Rasanada with lush gardens, a palm-shaded sea-front pool, and a spa that is spread over a lotus pond.