I’m no photographer, but I do like taking photos, especially at the golden hour–that hour around sunrise and then again at sunset. The light at these times of day makes everything look good, and photos of people are especially lovely, as faces glow warmly. One of my favorite photos from the trip so far is one I didn’t take, at the sunset golden hour, but the memory is suffused with warmth all the same.
I really didn’t do anything in Khao Lak. It’s a popular place to go diving, but as we know that scares me. It’s a popular place to launch snorkeling trips out by the Similan Islands, but I wasn’t feeling up for a lot of action. Happily for me, it’s also a popular place to sit on your butt and do nothing all day, and mayyyybe drag yourself to a beach bar at night. That’s what I was looking for.
I stayed at Khao Lak Green Beach Resort, which has about 30 bungalows, a restaurant, and a massage hut, all on the beach. My bungalow had a fan, A/C, a mosquito net I never used, a bathroom, a porch, and a fridge. No TV, but yes wifi. It was sheltered by some palms and larger trees I didn’t recognize, and a bush out front bloomed yellow flowers every day.
Each day I’d go down to the beach and sit on the beach chairs, which were in the shade. This resort is popular with Swedish retirees and German families with young children, so I was surrounded by nearly naked children and stout Swedes in bikinis. All the children were discovering the joys of digging in sand with various implements, and all the adults were reading books and drinking Chang beers. It was very restful.
I floated in the ocean, ate at a few restaurants along the beach, got a foot scrub and Thai massage, and drank my body weight in water to counteract the jetlag and tropical heat that was giving me a fairly constant headache. And that’s about it, for four glorious days.
On my last day in town, I went down to the water just about an hour before sunset. The tide was out, so the rocks that line the coast were sticking up out of the water and discouraging me from swimming. I perched on a rock and gazed out to sea, and in my peripheral vision, admired a small Thai girl frolicking in the water. I smiled at her and she smiled shyly back, then jumped away and continued splashing about.
I went back to the beach and found a large, perfectly formed conch shell. I held it up to my ear for that rushing sound, and when I looked down, I saw the girl standing a little closer to me, smiling. I held the shell out to her but she shook her head and laughed, and splashed away again. I started strolling along the water line, looking at the many colored rocks and shells and occasionally picking up ones that struck me as particularly lovely. Soon, I glimpsed the girl again, and this time she was following me and picking up her own shells.
I saw her parents–a Thai woman and a German man–walking small dogs, and they kept an eye on me but didn’t seem worried. So the girl and I wandered back and forth along the beach for about thirty minutes, picking up and showing off shells and bits of coral, and sometimes solemnly giving each other the treasures we found. I saw a green shell, which I don’t think I ever have before, so I determined to collect a rainbow. Once I had it, I arranged it on the table next to my things up by the beach chair, and the girl helped with placement, and then we took a photo of the display.
Now we were definitely friends. She beckoned for me to follow her, and we went into the water and paddled around for a little while. We exchanged names, and hers sounded like “Seden,” which is a German name, but I could be wrong about that. She pronounced my name not merely as two syllables, but as two tones, high to low: “Lee-sah.” She’d say “Lee-sah” and point farther out in the ocean, and off we’d swim. Then she’d say it again and point up to the rocks, and off she’d scramble. Several times, she and her mom back on shore had a conversation, and I was pretty sure she was supposed to go back in, but when I said “go back?” she’d shake her head and smile mischievously, and we’d swim some more.
I learned that she was six, and that she knew how to catch the tiny crabs that scuttle along the sand. She knew I talked a lot and said “wow” every time I saw a shell I liked. That’s pretty much all we knew about each other, and all we needed to know. I love playing with kids, and Seden was great fun. She was enthusiastic about showing off her swimming and fish-finding skills, but she was also just as happy climbing on the rocks I wouldn’t, and generally being independent and unself-conscious.
Just as the sun was sinking fast, her parents came along and we went to shore. I was going to ask her parents if I could take a photo with Seden (I think that’s the ethical way to photograph children, if you’re not taking a group shot or a photo that doesn’t show their face). But I asked her first if she wanted to, and she shook her head no. I asked again, and she was firm. All right, then! A good reminder to respect a person’s individual desires, no matter what their age.
So I don’t have a photo of Seden and me, grinning into the golden light and showing off our rainbow collection. But I do have the memory of sharing an hour of exploration and fun, and of her skipping ahead of her parents as they disappeared around a curve in the beach. Like I said, it’s a memory as lovely as the phantom photo it illuminates.