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Deb and I follow the wooden walkway into a dark café. We walk through the dim interior towards the tables out back. Out of the gloom, the sheer expanse of aquamarine water and sky hits us square in the face. Deb says she can't remember the last time she felt truly awestruck.
The scooter Deb has rented for us was handed over on an empty tank. There are old petrol pumps all over Koh Lanta, but most of them don't work. Instead, in the remotest corners of the island, you can find wooden stands with bottles of green, or orange or crystal clear fuel for sale. We empty two bottles into our scooter's tank, but soon discover it's a petrol guzzler. It needs feeding after every drive. Only when we take a day-trip to the north of the island and fill up at a large petrol station do we discover that on unadulterated fuel, our bike runs for days.
We spread a sarong out on the sandy beach of the Mu Ko Lanta National Park. A macaque paces towards us and settles near the edge of the cloth. It eyes my backpack keenly and yawns, revealing an intimidating set of teeth. We pack up slowly and back away. The macaque follows us at a distance until we leave the beach. On the way back to the scooter Deb and I discuss misogyny and the way even monkeys don't treat women like alphas.
The chef at Pad Thai Rock 'n' Roll wears a bandana and has tattoos on his arms. On the walls of the restaurant is a poster of his old rock band. Apparently they were legendary back in the day. There are also a few old sepia photographs hung on the walls. One, which I imagine is of his father or grandfather, shows a man sitting in a suit, legs crossed at the knee. He's holding an accousitc guitar. It reminds me of my father and his father. The tables of the restaurant were built using old Singer sewing machines and you can gently pump the foot pedal while waiting for your Pad See Ew Blues.
The Buddhist temple in Old Town is closed for repairs, but there is a spot in the deep emerald shade of the trees where concrete squares have been placed at even intervals in front of a golden statue. It looks like a mossy chess board, and I picture a monk on every square sitting in bright orange robes, silent in a morning meditation.
Under the supervision of older monks, young men in orange robes work to maintain the temple grounds, sweating in the humidity. I point at my camera and give a questioning thumbs up. The monk nods and resumes his work.
Back in Bangkok I bought a little offering at the temple of Wat Pho. It included incense, thin yellow candles and a little piece of paper. When I unwrapped it, I found a tiny square of gold leaf inside. It was delicate and sticky.
"Follow the red and gold to the edge of the sea. Make a wish, but no one must see." The Chinese Temple in Old Town is the third stop on The Great Koh Lanta Treasure Hunt.
There is nothing as quietly sad as a song bird in a cage.
Behind the unassuming shop fronts in Old Town we discover wooden walkways over water leading into houses and cafés. Living over water was the sea gypsies' way of staying close to their boats. They arrived on the island about 500 years ago. In the time it takes me to frame and adjust this shot, Deb has enough time to crack a joke on her Insta stories about what a slow photographer I am.
Sometimes Thailand feels frozen in time - like Cuba, or Zimbabwe.
On our last day in Koh Lanta, Deb reveals that, after some googling, it turns out the secret Thai ingredient in our presumedly healthy smoothies was in fact condensed milk all along.
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