When it’s your first time to get away on a ‘postcard’ island, you might think that is the place you want to move to, maybe for a while. You got yourself an entire sabbatical year for traveling, but you have just a few cash in your pocket. Or in your bank account. You realize that you don’t want to run out of finances at 10.000 km away from home and finish your trip with 10 months earlier than you previously planned to. Now, that is the moment when you start to look for a job there. At least, this was my case…
It was back in the summer of 2008, when after the second trip to India, I and Francois continued our Asian trip by going to Thailand. Yes, the Indian curry was great, so as the chapati was, but we were also curious to try a tom yam soup with coconut milk, or a traditional Isan style kai yang. And, yes, that antique Bullet Enfield 500cc motorcycle that I learned to drive on, in one of the most hectic traffic in the world, among Indian crazy bus drivers, was quite a unique experience. But who needs them in Thailand where even on a small scooter one can go all the way through the rainforest valleys to the Golden Triangle?
So after a few weeks of travelling in the hustle and bustle city of Bangkok, around the traditional north of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and in the ancient Sukhothai, we decided to hit the beaches of the Andaman Sea. Kho Lanta, Kho Yao, Railey, Ao Nang, Tonsai, we saw them all (not as well the very touristic Phuket area), before arriving in the famous Kho Phi Phi.
I have to mention this happened in the low season, around July, when the island was pretty much empty and peaceful, quite different than it was in high season, a few months later. At that time, we didn’t connect anymore with the island’s vibe and eventually we left.
That very day I had the revelation I should move in there, so I approached Francois.
“Say, what you think about having a travel break, let’s say for a few months, and see how life on an island can be? ”
“I had the same thought after diving, yesterday. I’m considering taking a master diving course and becoming an instructor. But what plans do you have?”
“Well, I’ve nothing on my list yet, but I’m sure I can get a job in here”.
Said and done! The next day, I had already scheduled an interview. It would be the first time I would wear a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals to a job interview. More so, the interview would take place on the beach and would involve having beers with my interviewer.
Yes, that was an application for a beach bar’s bartender job, a bar which was playing Pink Floyd’s tracks and had stunning sunset views over Loh Dalum Bay. But no matter how epic those sequences were, I decided to try more and I went for another option.
Having spent already a few days in there, and as the mango shake and padthai became an important part of our daily routine, we got ourselves two local friends – Pi Moss, the owner of the coziest bar on the island and Song, the best padthai cooker on the island. No over reaction about that! When Song heard me talking about a job interview, immediately she hands me a Buddhist necklace. “Now, my brother, I hope Buddha with you. Good luck, na!” Francois got one as well.
Even today, when I look back at that moment, I get heartwarming and I feel my luck was truly brought by Song’s gesture and Pi Moss’s prayers. Because, the first hotel job interview I went for, I got it (never had work before in hospitality or anything related to). And so did Francois, who started working in a scuba diving centre every day, for the next 6 months.
Song and Pi Moss, our newly adopted family, were cheerful to see us doing our first steps in becoming citizens of the island. Song even called her husband to bring me new shirts, nice ones from Bangkok, when he returned on Phi Phi, as the only fashion shops on the island were having funky design clothes. Khun Pansak, the hotel’s manager, told me: Mr. Oud, (Thais never managed to pronounce my name) you did pass the interview. However, please go and buy yourself some decent clothes before you start working in here”.
And so our Phi Phi experience begun. I worked as a Customer Relations Officer in a hotel where I was the only farang among more than 200 local employees. The hotel has one of the most stunning views possible (some rooms had two sides with two sea views, from different beaches), in one of the world’s most exotic islands. Apart from the office work, some of my daily tasks included going on boat trips with the hotel’s clients in the surroundings of Maya Bay (the place where Leo Di Caprio played in “The Beach”), or having business dinner with Lonely Planet’s authors. Needless to say, my working experience and satisfaction went beyond my expectations.
The time we spent there remains unrivaled to the day. I remember how, every day, around noon I would go in front of the hotel, light up my cigarette and wait for Francois. The loudspeaker on his boat, playing the same old song- For seasons in one day, by Crowded House -was always a giveaway.
He would always pass by my hotel, to see me, with a wide smile on his face and a diving kite on his back.
“Have you seen any whale sharks today?”
“No, but I spotted a black tip shark and some cute Nemo-like fish. Anyway, did you break the news to our folks? Did you tell them we’re moving here?”
“Yes, I did. And to be honest, I think they were more worried we would move back home.”
“Well, in all fairness, they do have a good reason to think that, now don’t they?!”