Ever since discovering a perfect little island in Thailand with little to no tourists, genuinely friendly locals and isolated sandy beaches back in 2008, I’ve been convinced that there are loads more places like this – just off the beaten track a little bit. Yet it’s so hard to know whether you’re taking a turn into a tourist-free paradise or if you’ll end up somewhere that is so awful you realise just why no one bothers going there.
My then-partner and I had planned a two-week holiday to Phuket – paradise guaranteed, right? Except it wasn’t. It was awful. Noisy, smelly traffic along the seafront, street traders all trying to convince you that their knock-off watches are the best and women with size 11 feet coming out of every doorway. Oh, not to mention the hoards of Brits puking in the gutters and trying to find a wife.
So on our first morning we spoke to our hotel manager about our predicament: we came to Thailand for nature, scenery and Asian culture – where are they? He recommended we hire motorbikes and check out the other spots down the coast. So with a quick lesson in how to drive the bike (“Here’s how to turn it on – and don’t break it”) and one helmet between us, we set off.
We only got about 10 minutes into our journey when it all came to a sudden and bloody end. I’m not sure what happened, but it was something to do with loose gravel, sharp corners and a complete and utter lack of motorbike riding experience. So there we lay on the road, blood everywhere, the bike ruined. Finally a tuk tuk came along, chucked off its passengers and slung us in the back, speeding us to the hospital at 15 miles per hour.
Cue lots of crying, big injections, painful stitches, some stingy yellow lotion and a very large bill. Back at the hotel we sat in the lobby (couldn’t make the stairs) wondering how we could possibly endure another 10 days in this hellhole. We couldn’t walk, swim, drink – nothing. We were stuck. The locals very kindly went back for the bike, brought our bags down and patted our shoulders.
After hours of sitting in the small hotel lobby crying about the cost of the bike, the horrific pain and the premature end to our holiday, the hotel manager (the same one who recommended we get the bike, remember) reluctantly told us that we could stay at his house while he was in Phuket. “It’s on this island a few hours away from here. Just get a taxi to the port, get on the boat, get off at the second stop, and ask for a lady called J*. She will take you to my house.” What could we do? This guy could be sending us off to a torture chamber like in Hostel, or initiating us into a cult for all we knew. But we were desperate. So off we hobbled to the port, slung our bags onto a boat full of locals and awaited our inevitable deaths.
The boat ride was actually really lovely and we were so relieved to be out of Phuket. Eventually the boat pulled up on this small island and everyone got off. Feeling like crazy people, we started asking random tuk tuk drivers if they knew J. A tiny man with a wonky cap said he’d take us to her. Having no choice but to trust him, we climbed aboard.
The sights we saw were amazing. Perfect white-sand beaches with hammocks and shipwrecks, a thick forest interior punctuated with small wooden houses on stilts and friendly local kids waving at us as they played football. We could die now for all we cared, we’d seen paradise.
Eventually we stopped and a friendly-looking German lady hopped aboard. “Hi, I’m J.” You cannot imagine our relief. And then our amazement as we pulled up to the hotel manager’s house – a sprawling open-air villa on a rainforest hilltop, overlooking a sparkling turquoise ocean with limestone rocks jutting out of the water and wooden ships sailing in the distance (pictured above). We had absolutely no neighbours, no street vendors and – most importantly – no motorbikes. The soundtrack of our holiday quickly went from club music to the sounds of nature. J then admitted to us that we would have to pay to stay there – it is occasionally let out as a honeymoon retreat (though this isn’t advertised) for £200 per person per night. Our hearts sank. “But you can have it for £7 each a night – to cover the maid bills.” Amazing.
From then on our holiday consisted of daily trips to the local hospital (where cats lay on the floor feeding their kittens and communication between us and the nurses was done only by hand gestures), gazing at the view and eating delicious food prepared for us by the maid. Our tuk tuk driver from the first day came back to see us and offered to be our driver, since we were incapacitated. He took us to all the best restaurants (I can still taste that delicious 30p red Thai curry to this day), to the hospital, the shops, to locals’ shacks in the middle of the forest where they grew their own food and dried their clothes on a wringer – anywhere we wanted and more. And he waited for us wherever we went and never asked for a penny. In return, we taught him some English and gave our beach mat to his granddaughter.
It was a wonderful experience, and almost made us forget our pain. Of course the accident was a horrible thing and still haunts us – but there’s no way we’d have discovered such a perfect paradise.
*Real name not used in case she is bombarded by travellers in search of paradise…
My name’s Anna and I’m a travel writer. I write destination guides for lastminute.com and other travel sites.
In the past couple of years I have visited Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, the Canadian Rockies, Washington, California, Oregon, and Holland – many times in fact. Due to my constant travelling around the world, I’ve met a nice Dutch boy (In Canada). It’s going well, and means I get to travel at least once a month!
I hope you’ll follow me on my travels and include me in yours – I’d love to hear all your stories.