Hellos and Goodbyes
30.01.2015 - 03.02.2015 33 °C
There’s not a lot to do on Sukorn (in Thai, Pig Island, strange given that they are all Muslim), which is exactly why people like it. At 10.00am on our first morning we were congratulating ourselves that we had performed the Sukorn morning ritual of a brisk walk from one end of the beach to the other, eaten breakfast, blown up our trusty lilos, and were bobbing along in the water aboard said lilos.
Empty beach at Koh Sukorn!
By contrast with Bangkok, it was scorching hot and by midday everyone retreats into the shade of the trees or, in our case, our umbrella because each of the beachfront cottages has its own carefully planted brolly. The shady open air restaurant, surrounded by trees and shrubs provides a welcome refuge from the heat and an informal meeting place for the guests. We are the only native English speakers at the resort, there are Swiss, Norwegian, Dutch, French and German but all speak English to communicate. It can be quite amusing listening to the Thai staff and the foreign visitors both conversing in broken English…. this way often confusion lies. Many of the guests, like us, are repeat visitors and we are all a little concerned about the future of the resort. A new resort has been built on the land adjacent and its owners have now bought Sukorn Beach Bungalows intending to combine the two. At the moment it’s pretty much the same as always, if rather more lackadaisical, undoubtedly because Dick and Dee, the previous efficient and ever present owners have gone. Two helpful Swedish ladies told us that Dick and Dee have had a splendid new house built, just down the road which we must visit.
Our beachfront cottage (lilos on veranda)
I happened to see, on the big notice board in reception, that an island hopping trip was due in the next day. ‘Will that be Thup bringing them?’ I asked, ‘Mr Thup, the boatman?’ ‘Mr Thup? No,’ said the receptionist casually, ‘He dead already.’ What? Surely not. Thup, our charismatic, larger than life, first and only boatman, consummate professional, inveterate practical joker, incorrigible flirt, ever smiling and full of energy. How could this be? Suddenly, despite all the sunshine that day, the world was a darker place.
We spent the afternoon swimming and sunbathing, Keith had a massage in the little beach side sala and by bedtime we had resolved to go and visit Mrs Mon, Thup’s widow.
On Saturday morning, I tried to ask the staff if Mon still worked in the kitchen sometimes. A phone call was made (any respectable Thai is never far from their mobile phone) and I was told that Mon would be here in 10 minutes. We felt guilty, we hadn’t intended to summon the poor woman, so we hightailed it back to our cottage to put on sensible clothes rather than swimwear. As soon as she saw us, Mon recognised us immediately and with the help of one of her friends who spoke better English, we expressed our condolences. Much hugging and many tears later, Mon decided to go home and fetch her little grandsons to see us. I walked her to the gate and as she climbed aboard her motorbike (the only form of transport on Sukorn) she patted the pillion and said, ‘Come’.
Diane with Mrs Mon outside her house
We breezed along the concrete path, so much better than the dusty track of our earlier visits, up the hill and round the corner to Baan Thup, the conglomeration of houses and shacks where, Thup and Mon, Thup’s mother, Thup’s daughter and her family plus all of Thup’s brothers and their families live in front of the family rubber plantation. Mon’s daughter was cooking fresh caught crabs in a pot over an open fire, the crab nets were spread out to dry. The two grandsons and assorted cousins were playing in the dusty garden and other relatives were stomping and rolling rubber into bathmat sized sheets.
Latex rubber mats, drying in the sun
Mon produced her photo albums. So many pictures of Thup, some we’d taken and emailed back. There was a photograph of me and Mon, outside her house, when we were both younger and thinner and another of Mat, Thom, Thup and me on our second island hopping trip. Now both Mat and Thup are dead and Thom has given up the trips to return to Libong, to his family, earning his living fishing.
We went to see Thup’s grave. Climbing up the hill, Mon leading me by the hand, behind the houses, in amongst the rubber trees we came to a small walled plot with a gate. Inside is the family graveyard, the newest being Thup’s, a simple mound of earth with a wooden marker at each end. The two little grandsons Om and Aam squatted down, brushing the sand and dust from the wooden markers, Mon sat at the side gently patting the earth and the markers, she encouraged me to do the same. We both wept, she had spent over 20 years with this man, I had spent barely ten days but he was special to us both.
Thup's young cousin proudly displays his toy kite
Mon and little Om took me back to the resort where Keith was waiting. She managed to explain that Thup had cancer of the head… a brain tumour and he just wasted away, two months from diagnosis to death. Mon and Thup worked hard to give their two daughters the best possible start, their older daughter is a doctor, but no medicine could save Thup.
The next day, we hired a motorbike for half a day from the resort… 300Baht because it was an automatic, manual is cheaper, and went to do our visiting. Dick and Dee’s new bungalow is just behind the resort, a very splendid edifice with shiny sliding gates emblazoned with a silver D and D. They are indulging themselves with fancy gardens and fish ponds but no sea view… I’d have built the house on stilts, Thai style, to get the view. Dick looks healthier and younger than we’ve ever seen him before, he told us that they are both very happy. They invited us to their ‘house opening party’ on Tuesday night, but sadly, Tuesday morning is when we leave.
Travelling around the island on the bike is cool and pleasant but it’s easy to get sunburned, I developed a technique of holding on to Keith’s hat as we whizzed along. Sukorn is a prosperous island with some pretty villages and nice houses although, since the tsunami, many of the traditional teak houses have been replaced by breezeblock and concrete bungalows.
Diane enjoying Mrs Mon's freshly cooked crabs...
We had lunch at Mon’s, she’d cooked us a handsome feast of fresh cooked crabs, little fried snappers, stir fried vegetables and rice with watermelon and jackfruit to follow. We met Thup’s mother, a sprightly lady who lives in the nicest house and Keith also visited Thup’s grave. We said our goodbyes to Mon and the family and wished Thup ‘rahdree sawat’ ‘sweet dreams’ in his peaceful woodland resting place.
Diane, Mrs Mon and two of the chidren at Thup's grave
Monday was our full last day, we pottered up and down the beach, sunbathed and swam, amused that the waters were a little more choppy than usual we joked about being swept away to Koh Laoliang on our lilos. In the afternoon, a longtail delivered us new neighbours. Joachim from Berlin and Thomas from Zürich, who moved into the next door cottage with their furry travelling companions. Li’l Monkey was very pleased and eager to make friends. After dinner we spent a pleasant evening with them, swapping traveller’s tales.
Li'l Monkey & his new friends
Whilst eating our final breakfast on Sukorn, it was explained to us that it was too windy and the sea too rough for our longtail transfer to Koh Ngai. Instead they planned to take us by longtail the much shorter trip back to Tasae, then drive us to Pak Meng where we could get a ferry to Koh Ngai. This was safer and cheaper they said….. I suspected ulterior motives as the sea looked calm enough to me but who cares, we’d get there sooner or later.
Waved-off from Koh Sukorn...
Our bags were loaded onto the longtail and Thomas, Joachim and furry Paul kindly came to wave us off. As the boat pulled away and the figures on the beach receded into the distance, it was like old times being seen off by Dick and Dee.