Ko Muk: escape, Explora, long-tail boats, ants, and ethanol.

January 15, 2022

This morning we woke up to a beautiful sunrise.  From our bed I could see the beach turning white, the sea slowly drifting south, the silhouette of a large canoe its anchor light fading, in the distance an island emerging from darkness and, behind, an arc of the sun.

Natalia discovered this place while reading the travel section of the Financial Times last weekend and promptly made reservations and booked two airplane tickets. Yesterday, less than two weeks after returning from Grenada, we escaped the city.

We left our temporary apartment in Bangkok around 8:30 am and arrived to the island just after 2pm.  It’s only a one hour flight to the closest airport but then you need to drive for 30 minutes to the “port” and transfer to a “long-tail” boat that takes you to Ko Muk — a 20 min trip.  The island in on the west coat of Thailand and while close to the continent it is pretty disconnected from civilization as we know it.

The real name of the boat (and the canoe I saw at anchor this morning) is “ruea hang yao” (see pic).  It is a hand-made wooden vessel with the shape of a canoe. The engine/outboard is attached to an inboard rotation device and the propeller is mounted onto the drive shaft which is a few meters long, protruding from the engine at the back of the boat.  It is a clever design for cruising in shallow waters as you can control the exact height of the propeller.  

There are no docks or marinas in the island.  The ruea hang yao lands on the beach and you have to take off your shoes and get your feet and ankles wet to make it ashore. The hotel or resort where we are staying is called “Explora.”  It is not a fancy, expensive place a la Four Seasons, far from it.  The foot print is kept to a minimum but the place has charm and personality. The bungalows and villas, built over piles, fade like chameleons in the jungle. The architects had the intention to minimize the aesthetic and physical disturbances on the the local flora and fauna.  Our villa is just by the beach surrounded by palms and other local species of plants and trees. It has wooden floors, columns, and beams and French doors that open into a terrace just a few meters from the sea.  There is a table where I can work and where I am writing this. 

The only problem so far is that the bar/restaurant is not well stocked in ethanol (unlike us in Bangkok, see below). They don’t have cava or any sparking wine and, more disconcerting, no gin or tonic water.  I was able to buy two small bottles of Gordons in a store at the village but they didn’t have tonic water.  I don’t use much tonic with my gin, less and less, but I still like to have some. Yesterday I had gin straight and with no ice or lemons/limes (that is as usual).  I am now doing the same. Who knows, after this trip I might quite tonic altogether.

After breakfast this morning we walked to the west-side of the island. First you walk south along the beach then turn west and walk across the village. It is a poor village, the Thai government hasn’t built much infrastructure here and the businesses that cater to tourists have floundered under COVID. Except on the west-side. There is a lovely, post-card-material, beach called Sabai where we swam, lounged under the sun and read as privileged, undeserving, homo-sapiens that we are.   I am half through Typhoon by J. Conrad.  Very appropriate as it takes place around this part of the planet.  There are two bars/huts perched on the hills and a restaurant built over a cliff where we had lunch. They didn’t have wine, but they had Gildbey’s gin (that is as low as I go) and tonic water (the last can of Shweppes in the island that I forgot to bring back to the hotel).

We like Ko Muk and are going to stay and work from here. We’ll leave on Monday the 24th.  On the 25th we need to be back because we are moving to our new apartment in Bangkok and receiving our furniture, which from customs went to storage and has been sitting there fore over a month.


The last two weeks in Bangkok, after our 24 hours quarantine, were uneventful.  I spent the days catching up with work. A couple of nights we went out including to a Russian restaurant that Natalia had discovered. Otherwise, we cooked, read, and watched a couple of movies.  I finished the World of Ants by O. Wilson. Amazing insects that I will never again kill even when they invade our house in Ecuador.  Each is more like a moving neuron in a social brain. Over 15,000 species have evolved representing the same bio-mass as humans.  I learned that, in fact, we don’t occupy much space on the planet.  If you arranged the 8 billion of us like logs, one on top of the other, we would only cover 1 square mile.  That’s not much volume. 

We also watched Don’t Look Up with Leonardo De Caprio.  Highly recommended.  It is supposed to be a satire but it sounded pretty real to me.  I just read that Webb Chiles also enjoyed the movie and has a post about it.  

The most important thing we did was to order ethanol duty free.  Thailand has an excise tax on ethanol of 60%. In DC or Beirut I can buy a bottle of gin Gordons for less than USD 15, here it costs USD 25.  Natalia through her work can get ethanol  tax-free but you can only place orders every three months, so one has to plan in advance.  Here is our order:

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