🪷 Walking Meditation

An island, and monks.

Koh Phayam monks

First photo on the series was suggested by the person who inspired the whole thing. It’s a photo I really like too, and I’m lucky David picked this one, since I’ve written about it before.

I don’t have to rely so much on my memory, since the original text was written not too long after the photo was taken.

That is how we can still know the nickname of the main character, Phra Thongkup Pansit. He was also known as Mook, and I would never remember that.

Moving on, it’s a long one.

2015, I was vacationing in Thailand. After a few weeks going around, it was time to move to an island.

Thailand has a million islands, and picking one can be a daunting task. Trying to get away from the usual ones, with their high-rise hotels, and thousands of tourists, Koh Phayam felt like a good bet.

Smooth sleeper train from Chiang Mai straight to Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, flight over to Ranong, a mini-van to the pier, and a speed boat to Koh Phayam. Done.

The moto-taxis are waiting for you at Koh Phayam pier, backpack is prompty loaded in the front, you just hang on to the driver in the back. It’s was a quick ride to the guesthouse, but something caught my attention on the way there.

Monks, a lot of them. With tents set up along the beach, close to their temple, appropriately called Wat Phayam. They would play an important role over the next week but I wouldn’t know that for a couple of hours.

Got to the guesthouse, and went out for a walk on the beach. It was low tide, the beach gets a bit muddy and has a ton of rocks. A quick dive turned into a cut on my feet. Not a big one, mind you, but it was bleeding a bit, and stung like hell with the sea water. Coral is a bitch! I kept on walking, though, and soon found myself at the monk’s camp.

I couldn’t help it, and started taking some photos. That’s when I met Mook, one of the monks. He saw the camera, and had a camera of his own that wouldn’t turn on. He went to pick it up, and I tried to help. But sand inside a camera is never easy to fix on the spot. We started talking, his English spotless. He was a former art director, turned monk by a series of personal events that led him to the monastery.

He also took care of the injury on my foot, and then I left. But not before he invited me to see the meditation walk, and I should feel free to take photos.

What more could we ask for on the first day on the island? Blue skies, fluffy white clouds and orange robed monks? Perfect match.

The walk would be happening in a short while, so I limped (no, not really) back to the bungalow for a few minutes, and was soon at the monk’s beach again, ready to shoot.

The monks formed a line, and walked. Silently. I was moving around them, ahead of them, behind them, trying to get as many photos as I could, while disturbing as little as possible.

They were calm, meditative (that was the whole point), and my own mind was racing, thrilled to be allowed access. I was in full work mode, a state I love.

After maybe 15 minutes, I had enough, no need to bother them any further. I stopped and saw them move away from me.

So far, these were the coolest photos I had managed to shoot while in Thailand. I liked the feeling of getting something decent while on vacation.

The island is small, and I had a scooter, and a routine: get up, get on the bike, ride around, swim, drink, eat.

Every day there’s a couple of ferries that dock on the pier, carrying the supplies for the island. It was, at least for me, one of the highlights of island living. I would ride there and watch the hustle. Tourists boarding the speed boats while cases of beer (and other less essential supplies) were being unloaded by the locals. There was always a photo to be made, and it was great fun trying to interact with them.

On most of the days, when getting back to our bungalow, I would stop by the monks and have a chat with Mook. Most of the times I couldn’t even spot him straight away, but he would always see me. I’d get off the bike, stay with him for a while, and be on my way. Things couldn’t get much better than this.

They were there for ten days of the year, in a retreat, and I had five of those on the island. How lucky can one get ? They were leaving on the same day as I was too. I asked him at what time they’d be leaving, the photos of a hundred orange clad monks in that pier already dancing on my mind. I had arrived by speed boat, as most tourists do, and was considering doing the same thing to get back to Ranong, but plans quickly changed and decided to take the slower ferry, the one they would take. This would be the perfect way to end the week there. Riding a slow ferry through the archipelago, in a monk filled ferry. Perfect.

Mook told me the ferry gets pretty crowded with them alone, but he also said we should be ok, there’s always place for one more. No worries.

When the day came, I made my way to the pier well before the set time. A bunch of tourists were already getting on their fast boats. As usual Mook was the one that would spot me. Soon we boarded the monk boat, with over a hundred of them, and maybe ten of us foreigners.

I moved to the front of the boat, and rode there all the way to Ranong. It was a much nicer experience, and would do it again, even with no monks on board. Getting out of the island on a speed boat was just not the way to end a week there.

It felt much more appropriate to move at a slower pace, taking the views. Some time was needed to deal with the sadness of leaving the island and the slow ferry allowed for that.

The monks made it all even more special, as they had done during my stay there, and they had my back all the way to the city.

Their time on the island had come to an end, and so had mine. I would miss Koh Phayam, and I would surely miss them.