I couldn’t believe it when we saw a pair of legs through a crack in the cave on a secluded Koh Samui Beach.
TEXT BY JACKSON GROVES // IMAGES BY JACKSON GROVES
Koh Samui is as weird as it is wonderful. I decided to stay away from the popular area of Chaweng and other touristy locations and was luckily enough to find a couch-surfing accommodation in Taling Ngam, a secluded region in mild jungle towards the south of the island.
On my second day on Koh Samui, I drove along the west coast of the island with my host and eventually ended up on the northern end of the west coast. Exploring along the shore we stumbled upon what appeared to be a cave. Outside of the cave were a number of oddities including an arrangement of rocks that could have been a burial site and several ornaments and small figures of monks and animals sat on the cliff.
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I wasn’t sure exactly what would transpire next but I always convince myself to go a little further, knowing that I usually never return to many of the places I am exploring. I would’ve found it hard to go to sleep wondering what was around the corner or inside the cave.
I ventured a little further and a little further until I saw, in the darkness of the cave, a pair of legs hanging, barely touching the ground. As I bent down and arched my neck I discovered that the pair of legs were sitting on a chair and belonged to a monk, who I would later find out was a very friendly man called Jee Kong who happened to be living on this Koh Samui Beach.
Asking if we could enter the cave the monk replied that it was okay to pass. It was then that we discovered the monk’s hideaway from society. He was living within the walls of this oceanside cave, sleeping on an uncomfortably thin straw mat. Kong was brewing a pot of coffee over a burning log, close to the wall of the cave, safe from the strong coastal wind.
He explained to us it was unsafe to continue along the coast as landslides and rocks often tumble down the side of the cliff. We heeded his advice and wandered in close proximity to his cave. Around the corner from Kong’s sleeping quarters was another cave, home to a shrine.
A collection of mats formed stepping stones leading down into the shrine, where beautiful artifacts and statues were sprawled throughout the walls of the cave. A small donation box, holding a few small notes sat on a table.
We returned to talk to Kong about his life and his home. His story was quite interesting and to most westerners would seem outrageously bizarre, however I seemed to resonate on a few key ideals about his simple way of life. My host asked Chee Kong most of the questions I had as the monk spoke only a little English. This is what he told us about his life and his home.
He had lived on Phang An, a small island in Thailand and had travelled to the cave on Koh Samui for peace and quiet. According to Kong, Phang An still has a diverse wildlife ecosystem and hasn’t been overrun by tourists yet. However, it is still too loud for him and he came to this Koh Samui Beach to pray, meditate and maintain the cave and the shrine. He will stay for 17 days in solace, despite the occasional visit from curious explorers to this secluded Koh Samui Beach similar to ourselves or from friendly locals who donate food and goods.
Kong was very quiet and only raised his voice ever so slightly with a sense of dismay when he discussed the changing environment and the constant noise created by industry and tourists. He smiled often and seemed open to our conversation despite our unexpected visit and offered us some coffee.
While I don’t think I am quite at the level of retreating from society for 17 days to a cave and having uninterrupted contemplation, meditation and a chance to let the mind wander, I found Kong and his lifestyle fascinating. I began to think about the polar opposite. I imagined a busy man in a suit carrying a briefcase, talking on the phone while rushing to his job, discussing an important business deal. Isn’t it interesting how many different ways there are to live our lives.
None are right, none are wrong – just different.