There are rumors of a beautiful, isolated beach on Koh Yao Noi that lies down a poorly marked rough dirt road. We rent motorbikes with this beach in mind. We ride our motorbikes around the west side of the island first where the rice paddies glimmer in the bright sun. Brahma cows graze peacefully as we ride by. We round a bend and the trees open up to reveal jungly mountains. Puffy white clouds float lazily above them.
Eventually, the paved road gives way to gravel and then to pitted dirt. Through the brush we can see the ocean crashing. The road soon becomes impassable with fallen trees. We turn back. We pass a few fellow motorbike riders. They all wave to us. I can feel my skin beginning to crisp under the relenting sun.
A cluster of stores and stalls signals the center of the island. We stop at a café and order fruit smoothies. As we sit, the formerly blue sky begins to darken and soon rain begins to pour. The droplets are huge and warm. The streets flood with rivulets of water running down to pool somewhere else. Then, as quickly as it started, the rain stops.
We tentatively duck our heads out of the café. A little bit of rain will not deter us. We brush the water off of our seats, grip the wet handlebars, and choose a road that leads into the center of the island. The road glistens, slick and wet, in the sun.
A dirt road splinters off to the right with a wooden sign that simply says ‘beach.’ We turn. This could be it. We pass bicyclists that have stopped to take photos of a Brahma. The hard-packed dirt road, which is little more than a path, turns muddy. We are going slowly now. I hit a puddle and feel the motorbike beneath me begin to slip. I try to course correct, but it’s too late.
I screech as the motorbike pulls me over. The fall happens in stuttering slow motion. I throw out my right hand to break my fall. It slips in the mud and I land on my side. I notice as an aside that in front of me Kelly has stopped and turned around to watch me fall with a look of horror plastered on her face.
I pause for a moment and take stock of my situation. My baby blue motorbike is lying on top of me. I am lying in the mud. My hand is bleeding and the leg the bike is resting on hurts. There is a cow off to my left. I gracelessly scramble from underneath the now-motionless motorbike.
By now, Kelly is at my side. “Are you okay?” she asks. Panic tinges her words.
I use a nearby tree to pull myself up. I am shaking with adrenaline but seem relatively unhurt. My polka dot skirt hangs from my waist damp and muddy. There is already a purple bruise blooming on my thigh. I wipe my hands on my ruined skirt and notice a rip from the fall.
I begin to laugh. I can’t stop.
Everything is hilarious. I shouldn’t be riding a motorbike on a muddy path, but I am because it’s Thailand. The bike is covered in Japanese cartoon cats. That cow over there looks so upset by the commotion. The new bruise on my thigh looks like a fried chicken drumstick. I ruined my favorite skirt by falling off a cat bike. A. Cartoon. Cat. Bike.
I pull myself together and pull the bike upright. It is not even scratched. As far as crashing a motorbike on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere on a remote island, things could have been much worse.
There is no other way out of this situation, except to ride the bike back. Abandoning our mission, we get off the muddy path as quickly as possible and follow the paved road around to the east side of the island. It’s obvious now we are not going to find the secluded beach and decide together that the beach in front of our bungalow is fine.
We pull our bikes off onto the side of the road. I run down the cement steps to the sand and peel off my ruined clothes, throw off my flip-flops, and dash into the water. The sticky red mud begins to wash off my skin.
I turn around to see Kelly splashing into the water. I float back. My hand stings from the salt water and my thigh is throbbing, but I am happy. Limestone karsts loom in front of us. There is white sand and palm trees. There are long tail boats noisily sailing by.
I am floating in the ocean in Thailand, a place where I could have just died. I’m still here and this beach it still a beach.
It is not what I had planned, but it is enough.