I’m tossing and turning in bed, my groans of pain keeping my unfortunate bunkmate awake. My legs are covered in second degree burns, the unfortunate result of forgetting to apply sunscreen to them before scouting the island in my rented kayak. But in a few days they will heal, and it will all be worth it, when we explore the abandoned resort I found on my journey to the isolated bay.
It’s a few days later, my legs have healed, and I’m slathered head to toe in SPF 100 sunscreen. I’m in a sea kayak, my arms and back wishing I had joined crew in college instead of the boardgame club, but I’ve rounded the bay and am getting past the breakers and the stony beach is in site. The road to the abandoned resort has long since been reclaimed by the jungle, so any footpath would be even more difficult than the ocean voyage I’m attempting with the two friends I made a few days ago on the ship to the island of Koh Tao off the east coast of Thailand.
As I’m in the kayak, convincing my straining muscles to keep rowing, my mind wanders to just what I hope to get out of this. There’s no hook in particular, nobody told me I had to go here (I certainly didn’t read about it in the Lonely Planet), there’s doubtful any treasure at the end of it. At this point in my life I haven’t done much urban exploring. So what draws me to it? I can’t rightly say for certain, for what man knows the inner workings of his own heart, but I can say that there is an ineffable pull that I felt upon spotting the ruined buildings from afar. There’s something intimate about walking through a place that you know someone built, and has since abandoned. It draws up all sorts of questions. Who made it? Why did they abandon it? Did they plan on returning? If so, what stopped them? I rarely find answers to these questions, but it’s a fun mystery, and trying to piece together a picture of what the place must have looked like in its heyday is a puzzle that intrigues me.
We make land on the beach, pull our kayaks up out of the reach of the tide, and start to explore. It’s clear the whole complex has been abandoned for years, though how many is anyone’s guess. Anything of value has long since disappeared, leaving empty rooms, strangely devoid even of any graffiti, with only the occasional mildew covered mattress, lone flip-flop, or shattered mirror remaining. If it weren’t so sunny out, the place might seem eerie, but with the sun streaming in through the broken windows and the sounds of the ocean mixing with the sounds of the jungle birds and the occasional EHH-OHH of a friendly gecko, it’s hard to see the place as anything but peaceful. It’s a pleasant temperature, the cool ocean breeze cutting the hot sun and humid air.
We finish examining the main building and split up to explore the bungalows, standing off to their own. We start with the ones closest to the main building, connected by a stone footpath that is only mostly overgrown. They each look the same, save for one that has a large mirror shattered on the floor, reflecting a myriad angles of the huge pile of animal dung in the center of it. It looks like a strange, bestial altar, and is the first thing on the island to really unnerve me.
More than the closer bungalows, though, I’m after the one I spotted the day before: standing alone on a tall stone outcropping, reachable only by a wooden bridge, it was clearly the presidential suite of the hotel, and I’m sure the view from it remains just as impressive as when it was commanding visitors. I start the climb up to the top of the hill where the bridge connects, scrambling over the rocks, and eventually find myself at the top of it, looking down over the bay.
The view is more treacherous than I expected. The fall is easily 30 feet, likely more – and below are sharp rocks and the dashing surf. But the bridge looks sturdy enough, so I start across it.
I was wrong. The bridge is very much not sturdy enough. I’m barely a third of the way across when a slat collapses out from under me, and I fall through. To this day I’m not sure how, at this moment, I have the reflexes to catch myself on the board in front of me, and I don’t know what I did to be deserve being lucky enough that it doesn’t collapse as well, but it doesn’t, and so there I am, legs dangling beneath the bridge, arms gripping the board in front of me hard enough that my knuckles turn white, adrenaline pumping so powerfully that I don’t even notice the splinters I’m getting in my hands, and I wouldn’t care if I did. The board that collapsed hits the rocks below and cracks again, then disappears beneath the pounding waves.
I brace my foot against the closest column on the bridge and pull myself upwards. I abandon the idea of going to the bungalow, focusing entirely on getting back to a safe location. I leap back to where the bridge meets the land, not daring to step on any of the wooden beams, even the ones that had supported me before. In a blind scramble I make my way back to the beach and the main building of the abandoned hotel, where my compatriots are already waiting.
They’ve rigged up a spear that they used to knock coconuts out of the palm trees surrounding us, and have cracked a few open on a rock. With sweat pouring down my face and my heart hammering in my chest, I gulp down the milk inside, never having tasted anything sweeter. I share my story, and count myself lucky to be alive.
My experiences on this island would shape my goals and forge my passions for the rest of my life. Well, so far, anyway. This awakened a thirst for a specific type of adventure, exploring the forgotten ruins of mankind’s creations, that can never be fully sated. But like the coconut, nothing else tastes as sweet as when it’s flavored with this particular form of adrenaline. Though I’ll try to cut down on the falling through bridges part of it.
Photos are by me. The resort is on Koh Tao, Thailand, on the eastern side, just north of Tanote Bay, where you can rent a kayak. I’d only recommend this one to physically fit explorers; the sea can be treacherous, even sticking close to shore, and I for one wouldn’t want to have to climb back on those rocks if I got knocked out of my kayak. Since it’s on the east coast, you’re getting the full force of the Pacific waves, with thousands of miles of ocean coming at you. Don’t try it in stormy weather.