On Losing Yourself While Traveling

I hadn’t originally planned to go to Koh Lanta during my two-week trek through Thailand, but my decision was heavily influenced by the fact that I made the mistake of visiting Phuket.

Don’t get me wrong—the beaches there are beautiful, as is everywhere in the south of Thailand. And sure it’s very tourist-y, but so is Chiang Mai, so why be so hypocritical about it? It’s tough to say what exactly about it sat the wrong way with me, but I believe it was strongly linked to the type of tourists one finds in Phuket as compared to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai felt like the global epicenter of zen young people chilling with each other, and while I’m not absurdly zen at least I’m young and could pretend to blend in once I bought some elephant merch and let my hair be all wild and free. But Phuket felt like the center of fat sunburned middle-aged Russians who have no interest in actually being in Thailand. I found it difficult in Phuket to find either other tourists in their 20s or Thai food, and since Thai food is pretty much the best food, Phuket was a no from me.

But Koh Lanta was undoubtedly the strangest leg of my trip, and I blame it on the quirkiness of my hostel. It was built haphazardly with creaking pieces of wood above the water, with a prime view of all the boats coming in and out at the pier. The walls were decked out with all kinds of abstract art, and a few large hammocks in view of the ocean provided a spot to dream the day away. It was also what some might call “rustic”—there was no hot water, no flush toilets, and an overabundance of mosquitoes. But that simply added to the feeling of being far away from everything, as well as the feeling that none of it really mattered after all.

The hostel was so peaceful that it barely seemed worth it to leave and see the rest of the island. So I became obstinately unmotivated. For the most part, I sat around doing pure nothing, apart from having lazy conversations with my bunk mates (which was everyone, because the dorm had 18 beds). Our normal schedule involved sitting in hammocks looking out at the ocean for hours on end, only getting up to get another beer or eat dinner. The things I ended up seeing in Koh Lanta were the street the hostel was on, one beach, and the ferry pier where I both arrived and left. My memories of the place exist in about a 100-foot radius, with the rest of the island left as a big question mark.

My personality type is interesting because I’ve learned over time that much of it depends on context. In many situations I can be diligent, competitive, and determined, ready to make a real impact on the world around me. Alternatively, I can be lazy and apathetic, opting to ignore my responsibilities, choosing to care about nothing at all rather than pin my hopes high on things I’ll probably never get anyways. I had discovered at the beginning of my trip that Hong Kong brings out the former qualities in me, the qualities I love about myself—my passion, and drive, and vitality—and now I was discovering that Koh Lanta brought out the less fun bits, the aimlessness, the uncertainty, the fear of commitment, these seemingly contradictory traits which are still a very real part of who I am.

The others at the hostel may have helped to highlight these qualities because they were travelers of the directionless variety themselves. They were mainly the type of wanderers who have been out on the road for months if not years, the type who have some intense stories to tell, the type who are pretty rough around the edges. I was here on a two-week vacation—these people were running from breakups, addictions, unemployment (most of them didn’t have real jobs), or just plain fear of mediocrity. We became close over the few nights I hung around in Koh Lanta, staying up late with nothing but candlelight and talking over our deepest fears and worst memories.

As I saw on the island, there is a part of me that will always be an aimless wanderer, with only the fragility of external circumstance tying me to who I really am. But maybe that’s not just me; maybe it’s everyone, and maybe I shouldn’t separate myself from others so much anyways. In a lot of ways travel makes you stop caring so much about who you are and who “they” are. In a place like Koh Lanta, you just exist, letting your preconceptions fall into the ocean and be cast out with the tides.

My identity became blurrier the longer I stayed there, as I began to lose myself in the peace and stillness of the place. If I hadn’t already bought a ferry ticket to go to Krabi a few days later, I’m not entirely positive I would have even made it out. Maybe I would have opted to let my identity fade away entirely, existing in the present with no past or future.

Luckily, by the end of my brief stay in Krabi I had recovered enough fragments of myself to recall the rest of my existence, and I set on home to Shenzhen to continue my status quo life, pulled along by a thread of insincere certainty.

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