The Blue Life of an Aquatic No­mad

Luxe Beat Magazine - - Contents - By Ken­neth Zak

For me, life is about wa­ter: pools, pud­dles, rain, lakes, rivers, and oceans. I have swum, surfed, and free-dived around the world. So, when a Thai Amer­i­can friend men­tioned two of her fa­vorite se­cret spots on a re­mote is­land in the Gulf of Thai­land, I was in­trigued. But when she guar­an­teed both the ul­ti­mate swim and seafood ex­pe­ri­ence in all of Thai­land, I was ab­so­lutely hooked.

The is­land is named Koh Kut, also spelled Koh Kood (Koh trans­lates in Thai to is­land). Even with two pre­vi­ous trips to Thai­land, I had never heard of the is­land. A lit­tle re­search re­vealed that while Koh Kut is the fourth largest (and east­ern­most) is­land in Thai­land. It is re­mark­ably un­de­vel­oped with vir­tu­ally no towns, banks, con­ve­nient stores, and ab­so­lutely no nightlife. But what Koh Kut promised was two idyl­lic, re­mote is­land re­sorts: Shan­taa and Bann Makok.

First I had to get there, which beck­oned the ques­tion, how re­mote is re­mote? In Bangkok I hired a pri­vate car and driver. Four hours later an air con­di­tioned BMW dropped me at a non­de­script,

but clean, ho­tel in Trat to spend the night be­fore the morn­ing boat left for Koh Kut. Trat is no tourist town. In­stead, it’s a gritty port city to the nearby is­lands. Still I was charmed by its au­then­tic night mar­ket and re­lieved that some fin­ger point­ing and a few smiles scored some de­cent fish curry.

Yet I was on a quest for the ul­ti­mate swim­ming and seafood ex­pe­ri­ence in all of Thai­land. I needed to re­mind my­self of this as I bounced on the wooden bench of a song thew the next morn­ing. Song thew trans­lates to pub­lic trans­porta­tion, but “pick-up truck with­out shock ab­sorbers” is prob­a­bly closer. That bumpy ride was fol­lowed by a 90-minute speed­boat ride. Once I ar­rived at Shan­taa Re­sort though, all was for­got­ten.

I was wel­comed to Shan­taa by a lovely re­cep­tion­ist who floated through an ex­quis­ite, open-air teak roofed restau­rant, and then led me along the hill­side path to one of only 20 pri­vate, free­stand­ing vil­las in the re­sort. The villa was an­chored by a Thai plat­form bed lead­ing out onto a deck over­look­ing the Gulf of Thai­land. Be­hind two sliding teak doors was a lush, open-air gar­den bath­room, fea­tur­ing an out­door shower, full tub, and all of the ameni­ties.

In a few min­utes I was swim­ming and div­ing in the warm gulf wa­ters, just steps from my villa. The wa­ter was so pris­tine that its depth was de­cep­tive. Shells seem­ingly just be­neath my feet were ac­tu­ally twenty to thirty feet be­low me. I was giddy; not just in that first mo­ment, but ev­ery time I sub­merged that week. Fish, crab, oc­to­pus, and tur­tles abounded. I even swam along­side a teal-striped eel one morn­ing. That abun­dance tran­si­tioned right onto the ta­ble.

Each meal at Shan­taa was like din­ing in a church of wor­ship­ping seafood­ies. Ev­ery dish had been caught that day, if not that hour, and was served along­side lo­cally har­vested greens pre­pared to Miche­lin Star stan­dards.

Shan­taa in Hindi means tran­quil­ity, but the terms oa­sis, nir­vana, nec­tar, and divine splen­dor equally de­scribe Shan­taa. My expectations had al­ready been sur­passed. Next stop: Bann Makok. Bann Makok is about 30 min­utes away from Shan­taa by speed­boat and tucked up a lan­guid canal on Koh Kut. Even be­fore step­ping off the boat I could tell this would be a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. Bann Makok is built on low wooden poled plat­forms above the wa­ter and nes­tled into a bank of man­grove trees. Eight gue­strooms con­nect via wooden paths. Sev­eral have out­door ter­races. All have out­door show­ers. The dé­cor is color­ful and funky with a Dwell Mag­a­zine-wor­thy quirky aes­thetic. Bann Makok had been de­scribed to me as a place where Thais go to get away (and it is in fact known as “The Get­away”). The food was won­der­ful – still very sea-in­spired, but with more cur­ries and au­then­tic dishes to be ex­pected of the re­gion. I was still hov­er­ing in foodie heaven, upon a par­tic­u­larly Thai cloud.

Ev­ery meal at Bann Makok was served on a two-tiered deck over­look­ing the canal. Just off that very deck is where I also had the most mag­i­cal swim of my life. Ex­cept for the deck lights, once the sun goes down the area is pitch black with a sea of stars over­head. One night I asked the man­ager to shut off all the deck lights. I climbed down the dock’s wooden lad­der and slipped

into the canal’s warm wa­ter. Thou­sands of light­ning bursts flashed around my ev­ery stroke, cre­at­ing a spec­tac­u­larly il­lu­mi­nated aquatic aura around my body. I was swim­ming amidst sea­sonal lu­mi­nes­cent plank­ton. Flip­ping on my back I gazed up at the stars, laughed out loud, and swam on in bliss.

The eu­pho­ria of th­ese blue ad­ven­tures got me think­ing. I had trav­eled and feasted in the wa­ters of our world. Be­yond the Gulf of Thai­land, I had surfed in the In­dian Ocean, swam in the Mediter­ranean, and dived in the blue Aegean of the Greek Is­lands. I wanted to pre­serve such ex­pe­ri­ences, so in ad­di­tion to work­ing with lo­cal char­i­ties when I trav­eled, years ago I also joined the Surfrider Foun­da­tion, and last year af­fil­i­ated my pub­lish­ing com­pany, Penju Pub­lish­ing, with 1% For the Planet.

Surfrider is a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion started 30 years ago by a group of Cal­i­for­nia surfers try­ing to pre­serve their fa­vorite surf spot. It has since grown to over 250,000 mem­bers who work to pro­mote beach ac­cess, clean wa­ter, coastal preser­va­tion, and ocean pro­tec­tion. In Cal­i­for­nia, Surfrider has helped stop the build­ing of a toll road that would have de­stroyed our Socal coast­line, com­bat­ted plas­tic pol­lu­tion, and worked to­ward im­ple­ment­ing OFGS (Ocean Free Gar­dens), which is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant given the Cal­i­for­nia drought. Mo­ti­vated by Surfrider’s ef­forts, I de­signed a wa­ter­fall-bam­boo gut­ter sys­tem, rain bar­rel, and out­door shower at my San Diego home to re­cy­cle grey­wa­ter for gar­den use.

Started over a decade ago, 1% For the Planet is a global move­ment of com­pa­nies who ded­i­cate 1% of their sales to en­vi­ron­men­tal and sus­tain­abil­ity char­i­ties across the globe, in­clud­ing the Love Blue ini­tia­tive. To date, 1% For the Planet has more than 1,200 mem­bers in 48 coun­tries that have do­nated over $100 mil­lion dol­lars to over 3,300 non-prof­its.

Thus, in ad­di­tion to Penju Pub­lish­ing’s 1% For the Planet com­mit­ment, I will do­nate $1 to Surfrider for ev­ery sale of my up­com­ing novel, The Poet’s Se­cret. My book is in­spired by my blue trav­els and is a love song to our seas and the crea­tures that call them home, in­clud­ing yours truly. I hope to do more than sim­ply enjoy the won­ders of a blue life – I want to share and pre­serve them. I’ll see you out there in the blue.

Ken­neth Zak’s de­but novel, The Poet’s Se­cret, is avail­able Oc­to­ber 2015 from Penju Pub­lish­ing. Un­til then, the au­thor and poet will be in the wa­ters off of Southern Cal­i­for­nia, France, Kauai, and the Mal­dives.

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