Hidden Treasures: Rooms with a View around the World (II)

Joel Carillet's picture


In my last post on "rooms with a view", we ended on a moving train in northern Vietnam. Now we pick up this second installment on another moving abode: a ferry in the Gulf of Thailand. Employed to cart budget travelers and locals from the Thai mainland to the island of Ko Phangan, it makes the 6-8 hour journey through the night. In addition to sleeping with scores of other people, one is wise to sleep with his or her valuables close to one's body.  As the swells rock you into a blissful sleep, it's important to remember that thieves sometimes make passage on this ferry as well.  It is also important to take a gander at the sky ablaze with stars (unless, of course, it is raining).


The ferry to Ko Phangan


Upon arrival in Ko Phangan, the traveler will immediately begin a search for another room with a view.  There are many such rooms, so this will not be too much of a chore. This particular room is located at Haad Khom, on the north side of the island, and will set you back about two dollars per night. Among the things to do from the room: watch the outgoing tide.



With patience, and perhaps with a book in your lap as you lay in the hammock strung across the porch, you can also watch the slow filling of the bay as the tide then rises.  It is quite the rhythm, this tide-going-out and tide-coming-back-in, but someone has to watch it.  After sunset however, unless there is a moon out, one can no longer watch the changing tide.  At this point, since there is no electricity in the room, you will light the small lantern on your windowsill, perhaps to watch the rhythm of some novel. 


As is want to happen from time to time (or perhaps all the time in monsoon season), you will see water falling from the heavens when you open your door or window.  This is the view from my door in Chau Doc, Vietnam.  Too bad smell cannot be replicated with words, for the smell of a tropical downpour is as exquisite as the taste of a Parisian eclair or a Papa John's pepperoni pizza.


Because of monsoon rains (and structurally daring building practices), you may step onto your porch to notice what happens to rain drops after they hit the ground and clump together. This Thai guesthouse four hours northwest of Bangkok had bungalows built out over a stream, which on this day was swollen with rain. This view might fill you with awe at the inspiring power of nature. It might also give you flashbacks to Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, where you once stayed months after a flash flood killed scores of residents and swept homes away.


Nature can flow by your room not only in the form of water but also in the form of a langur monkey.  This fellow, photographed while I was sitting on my bed (I was delirious with fever at the time, in Pushkar, India) was plucking weeds from the drain.  Earlier in the day he and some cohorts were making love on an adjacent wall, and flinging themselves from tree to tree with fantastic agility.  Shortly after I took this picture I settled in for a nap.  The beast, seeing my fading awareness, crept into my room several minutes later.  I came fully alert just before my backpack was successfully pillaged.


Sometimes the view from a room is not pleasing to the resident. Here in Jenin Refugee Camp, in the West Bank, half the livingroom wall is missing, a reminder of a deadly, destructive battle that had been waged in the community days earlier.  Not only is the wall missing, but the view provided by the damage reveals completely demolished houses across the street.  Unlike the fragrant smell of rain in Vietnam, the smell on this block was of concrete dust and, on occasion, the terrible whiff of human remains.


And speaking of destruction and war, this was my hotel in Hasankeyf, Turkey.  The Tigris River is visible on the left (though my room had a balcony overlooking the river, I sadly forgot to take a picture). I stayed here in 2004, imagining what it would be like to follow the river down. Iraq was not that many miles downstream, and eventually the river would pass through Baghdad. This was a strange sensation, to sit on my balcony seeing a peaceful stretch of river, looking at flowing water that later in the week would skirt through Baghdad, where a terrible conflict was very much underway.



Joel Carillet, chief editor of Wandering Educators, is a freelance writer and photographer based in Tennessee. He is the author of 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia. To learn more about him, follow his weekly photoblog, or purchase prints, visit www.joelcarillet.com.




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