Mai Pen Rai: It means no worries
MANILA, Philippines - “Play some music.”
“I don’t know, man. I’m kinda digging the nature sounds right now.”
It was just after sunset on Than Sadet Beach, Koh Phangan, Thailand. There were none of the synthetic sounds that usually filled the air of over populated, developed and congested areas that city dwellers like myself were accustomed to.
Instead, there were the soft crash of the surf; the gentle crescendo of crickets hiding in the surrounding foliage; the giddy laughter and splashing of children playing on the rocks by the shore; and the occasional growl of the island dog pacing up and the down the cove reminding us that we were the visitors.
My friends and I were in paradise.
The road to paradise was unexpected, and if it wasn’t for a 45-minute drive into the jungles of Koh Phangan, we may never have reached it.
Stumbling into Eden
Knowing only our resort’s name but not its exact location, we were an easy target for the swarm of drivers eagerly awaiting to profit from the boat’s latest deliveries: eager — and in our case, lost — tourists.
With our backpacks firmly strapped on, we hopped on the back of a pick-up truck (our jeepney’s Thai relative) that drove away from the paved roads and downtown areas, and up through the mountainous dirt roads of the less populated part of the island.
As a thick layer of dust accumulated on the lenses of my aviators, I silently panicked and had the urge to turn around back towards civilization.
When we finally reached our destination, dusted ourselves off from the ride and walked on to the stretch of cove in front of us, I knew we had stumbled into a hidden gem. We were far away from the tourist-ridden beaches of the island, protected by the surrounding jungle and boulders that sandwiched the stretch of beach like mighty granite bookends.
Mai Pen Rai
We walked our way through the stretch of beach past a quiet row of restaurants and beach huts, and found the reception area and restaurant of our resort, Mai Pen Rai (the Thai expression equivalent to "hakuna matata"). We were met by owner Fiona, who hailed from Scotland but — like many travelers before her — found her own slice of paradise to forever call her home.
Her husband, Teep, and his family owned the land surrounding the beach. It is one of the oldest resorts on the island, founded by Teep more than 25 years ago. For an island that has attracted a large amount of tourists known for its jungles, beaches and nightlife popularized by the Full Moon parties (held all year round together with the Black Moon and Half Moon Parties), it is rare to find a place like Mai Pen Rai that remains unfazed by the rapidly developing world around it.
Tired from the day’s travel and aching to get all 12 kg of belongings off my back, I could not wait to unwind in the bungalow, put on my bikini and jump into the cool, emerald waters. Fiona told us that we booked one of the best bungalows on the rocks with a spectacular view of the sunrise from our window.
There was a catch however, as there always is with things too good to be true: no electricity.
The beach remains to be one of few places on the island left without electricity. The resort runs on a generator, which provides power from 11am to 4pm and again at 6pm to 4am.
Coming from the Philippines where air conditioning is a daily necessity, this caused me to worry a little; but something about the place and the easy going, welcoming smile of Fiona made my worries subside. I gazed out into the ocean and thought to myself, "Mai pen rai, right?"
After walking through a pathway that had us climbing over and under boulders to get to our bungalow, it became clear that on Than Sadet Beach, nature was the star.
The simple and rustic interiors of the bungalows may be a turn-off to travellers who opt for plush, air-conditioned villas, but the slightly bohemian feel and clear attempt of the architecture to work with nature rather than against it seemed to make more sense.
After doing a quick survey of the bungalow and seeing to it that all our basic needs were met — clean bathroom, sheets, mosquito nets and electric fan — I tossed my luggage aside and made a beeline for the hammock on our balcony.
There I was, swaying on my hammock in a bungalow on the rocks with a killer view of the open waters of the Gulf of Thailand and Than Sadet Beach below me, and a few of my closest friends to share the experience — I knew this was it.
There may not have been any electricity; there may not have been a flat screen TV or mini bar; there may not have been any goose feather pillows or 500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets — but in that little bungalow on the rocks, I had everything I needed and it was more than enough.
Feeling like locals
My friends and I stayed only a total of 4 days on Than Sadet (spontaneously extending a planned 3-day stay before moving on to Koh Tao, another island in the Surat Thani Province) but, oddly enough, we almost felt like locals.
During those 4 days, we explored the jungle-rich surroundings and made friends with the families and few other guests that stayed on the beach. There were times when we were the only ones on the beach and the sight of other human beings seemed almost foreign.
Than Sadet Beach is home to the famous Than Sadet River and Waterfall, a favorite spot of King Chulalongkorn who visited the waterfall a reported 16 times. The waterfall originates from a stream running down the mountain and empties out onto the river that runs along the resort’s restaurant and empties out into the sea.
Whether you would rather spend your time lazing around the beach, sunbathing with a cold Sangsom (local Thai rum) coke at hand, or indulging in more adventurous activities like kayaking to nearby beaches, hiking the up the jungle trails, or fishing atop the boulders further out to sea, Mai Pen Rai reminds you that despite living in a world focused on competition, success, achievement and development, at the end of the day, all we have left is how we feel and the relationships we build with others.
When we are stripped of our modern comforts, our daily status updates and news feeds, we are forced to slow down and reconnect with the time when we didn’t over complicate our lives with technology: survival in its most basic and unaltered form.
Today, I am back in my reality. The hustle and bustle of city life — which I also love — consumes my day-to-day routine. I go to work, I go home, I meet my friends out for a night on the town, I spend the weekends with my family and life goes on as usual.
But when the buzz of the city gets overbearing, it makes me smile to think that a place like Mai Pen Rai still exists and that I may return again someday.
A place where nature is left sacred and untouched by over development and pollution; a place where this fast-paced life can be brought to a stand still — more than the memory of its beautiful surroundings, Mai Pen Rai has left with me a feeling which I will forever hold on to:
That life is at its most beautiful when it is stripped down to its bare essentials. - Rappler.com