Nov 19, 2005
The recent novel, “Thai Girl” by Andrew Hicks is a literary first for two reasons, because it’s set in part on Koh Chang and because British backpacker, Ben fails to get the tasty Thai girl he’s fallen for. Fon, who works as a beach masseuse on Koh Samet, is independent and traditional and tells him to bugger off, so Ben buggers off to cool his heels on Koh Chang.
Andrew tells me he chose Koh Chang because some years ago he had a great time here and has since returned many times. Reflecting his own experiences, Ben meets many crazy characters on Koh Chang. He debates the big issues of the day with them in a foggy haze while eating world class green curries at The Pleasure Dome, a restaurant run by Odin, an androgynous Thai goddess.
Koh Chang proves good for Ben’s battered psyche, and so does cute Australian, Penny. He takes a day trip to Koh Wai and Koh Rang.
‘Sitting on the roof as the boat wallowed back through the swell with the mountains of Koh Chang sprawled across the ocean before him, he decided this must be one of the most beautiful places in the world and that he should not be too heartbroken for long.’ (For the visuals, see the Picture Gallery on www.thaigirl2004.com.)
As the book suggests, broken hearts do mend, but when Ben first arrived on Koh Chang, he was not a happy bunny.
‘The massive bulk of Koh Chang, elephant island, the second largest in Thailand, reared up out of the sea as the smoky little ferryboat drew closer. From his seat in the bow, Ben could make out the coconut and banana plantations which ran from the shore up into the jungle-clad mountains behind.
A row of pick-ups standing on the dark laterite of the vehicle park, their drivers touting for fares, greeted the arriving travelers. The first ones quickly filled up with passengers and left and when Ben found himself about to be crammed inside the last to go, he decided instead to ride shotgun on the wide metal step at the back. The step was heaped with sacks of fresh fish and ice, but he could just find a foothold.
The overloaded pick-up moved off and began to career wildly along the narrow concrete road at the foot of the mountains. With the wind in his face and clinging on precariously, he began to feel life was worth living again. New perspectives appeared around each corner. Plantations followed scrub and jungle, then a village and a Chinese temple, and to his right the sea and the distant hills of the mainland.
Soon the pick-up was beginning to climb, to struggle and slow, its exhaust farting and burbling beneath his feet. Grinding down through the gears, the driver swerved through the potholes and round hairpin bends, threatening to throw him under the wheels of the more powerful truck that snarled impatiently behind.
He stared up at the mountains as they climbed to where the narrow ribbon of road cut into the vertical side of the rock face. Then as the road reached its highest point, he caught his first glimpse along the island, a chain of bays, headlands and peaks, softened by a gentle evening light that merged the colours together in a warm glow. All this and the rush of hot air, richly scented of earth and foliage, the tallest trees and densest jungle he had ever seen and the sweat and exertion of not quite falling off the back of the pick-up brought his usual optimism flooding back.
Now as the pick-up began to wind down through the mountains towards White Sand Beach, he was beginning to feel more positive. The excitement of moving on and the beauty of his surroundings were doing him good.
The island was a National Park and as tourism had arrived decades later than on other islands, he was hoping Koh Chang would be pristine and unspoiled. But as the pick-up reached the bottom of the hill and cruised along through the coconut palms behind the beach, he was dismayed by the messy developments on either side of the road. There were huts and bungalows everywhere, mini-marts, noodle stalls, obtrusive signs, motorbikes for hire and all the disorder of Thailand in pursuit of the tourist dollar.’
So does Ben go back to Koh Samet and carry off his Thai girl, Fon? Well, you’ll have to pick up a copy and read to the very last page, or just flick to the last page whilst browsing in any better-than-average bookshop in Thailand.
Since publication in mid 2004, it’s proved to be an instant hit among backpackers and others looking for Thailand based reading material that isn’t set in a Bangkok or Pattaya beer bar. As of early 2007, over 15,000 copies have been sold. Not bad for an unknown author without the backing of a major publishing house. The glossy monthly travel guide, ‘Untamed Travel said this about it:
“Credited with opening a window on Thai culture and interactions between Thais and farang… â€˜Thai Girl’ has been one of the biggest-selling English language novels ever published in Thailand.”