For the last week and a half, I’ve been living in a handmade mud house in the jungle on the beautiful island of Koh Lanta. It’s funny how when you know you’re going somewhere, you imagine what the journey will be like in your head. But when it’s really happening, it’s nothing like what you thought it was going to be.
I’m not sure what I was expecting out of the island life, but it’s been a very enlightening experience. Living at Asalanta is kind of like luxury camping. I sleep to the sounds of animals howling, and insects crawling. I’ve been startled by wild scorpions, monkeys and bats. And I’ve had the pleasure of observing how Mother Nature provides us with everything we need to fulfill our basic needs of survival — including shelter. All of the structures at Asalanta have been built by community members or volunteers. The ingredients we use to make these homes come from the earth. While it takes a few weeks — or even months — to build an entire house, I’ve had the opportunity to make a lot of mud bricks (maybe over 100). To create these we simply dig a pit in the ground, remove the clay, add water, straw — maybe sand — lay the brick, and let it dry for a few days. It’s pretty easy and, surprisingly, quite relaxing. The toughest part is bearing the heat; it’s between 90 and 100 degrees here everyday.
What has surprised me the most though is how simple it is to build a house. It doesn’t take much, and everything you need can be found in nature. It really puts into perspective how absurd it is that people pay thousands or even millions to buy a home.
It’s been nice to step outside my comfort zone and do activities that previously would have appeared to be too physically challenging for me. But hey, you really can surprise yourself!
I even used a machete to knock down a wall which was pretty cool. Here’s a pic:
Outside of the volunteer work — which we only have five days a week for three hours a day — I’ve been able to explore the island. Koh Lanta is known as one of the less-trafficked islands with a more relaxed vibe. It’s also pretty big with lots of hidden spots to explore. It’s still possible to find a beach with only a handful of people on it, as opposed to the more popular Thai islands like Koh Phi Phi. The sunsets here are pretty incredible, too.
I’ve also had a few adventurous nights, one where I went snorkeling with bioluminescent plankton. My friends and I were just hanging out on the beach, contemplating a night swim, when a herd of people appeared behind us. They quickly stripped off their clothes, and ran into the ocean. They lost a bet, and had to go skinny dipping. The upside? There were lots of plankton, and they had snorkeling gear.
We couldn’t just sit there and not join in on the fun, so we obliged without thinking too much about it. Swimming with the plankton at night was one of the coolest things I’ve done in Thailand so far. Every movement we made in the water created small bulbs of green and blue light right in front of us. As one of my friends said, it’s like swimming through underwater constellations. It was pretty magical.