BY EMILY PLEASANCE
Eighteen years old and just finishing high school, Kim left her family home in Australia to travel the world. She hadn’t a clue what path to take in university, so she gave up academics as her source of education in order to learn through the experiences of life.
Searching for her passion, Kim, a blonde, tattooed hippie, travelled all over the United Kingdom, Holland, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Vietnam and Cambodia, only to end up in Thailand. After three years of travelling she was now 20 years old and working in the Phi Phi Islands as a snorkel guide. Although being a snorkel guide wasn’t filling her pocket it was most definitely filling her heart and soul. Kim had found her calling.
“It was the first time in all my years of travelling that I found something where I thought to myself this is it, this is my calling. I want to do this for the rest of my life.”
Kim by no means comes from a “well off” family, thus most of her travelling was funded from her own pocket. Now back at her family home in Australia, Kim sat slumped into the cushions of her couch with her hair back in a bun and her thoughts back in Thailand. She assured me that being broke while travelling was what made it interesting and fun.
“Living out of my backpack and being poor as fuck was the way to go. It was always an adventure to find food, accommodation, even a job. Many times I would be on my way to a new country not having a clue about how I was going to support myself. It was exhausting, but it would always make a great story. Hopefully I’ll be able to look back at this experience as just another story, but right now I’m angry.”
“Tell me about Phi Phi,” I asked her.
“I loved Phi Phi. I was living in a dream world. You know the movie The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio? It has that beautiful bay with the private area and the crystal clear water? I used to go there every single day for my snorkel tours. The island is called Phi Phi Lee and it had a wall where loads of sea turtles lived. When we would go out with a tour it was my job to swim ahead of the group and point out every turtle I could find. Then we would head to another part of the island and swim with some sharks and maybe after enjoy the coral. Sometimes we would go to the actual beach and just hang out. I’d make it up as I went. There was no planned route; I would just see where the day took me. That was my life and it was awesome. Being out in the water for eight hours a day was helping me heal. Swimming in clear blue water with exotic animals, I was doing what I loved. That’s where I should be right now.”
“So tell me, what exactly happened?”
“It all happened on New Years eve,” Kim began. “My roommate Tahlia and I wanted to grab some chips at the end of the night before heading home. The island doesn’t have any roads or cars so everyone either walks or has a bike. It can get pretty dark and quiet at times. The shops in the town are built like stalls with no walls on the front and are completely open. A lot of them are tattoo shops. The island clearly doesn’t need 14 tattoo shops so it’s understood that they are drug rings run by the Thai mafia. It’s a massive party island with tons of crazy people, but everyone knows not to go near those places. It is not a safe situation to put yourself in even if you did want to buy some drugs. Over here there is only one rule of thumb: Whatever you do, don’t fuck with the Thai. Don’t get me wrong; as soon as you are friends with them they are the most gentle and loving people in the world. It’s when you get on their bad side that they are the type of people who will smash in your windows and burn your house down.
When Tahlia and I reached the chippy truck, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t know who the man was or what he did, but this backpacker was drunk and he had clearly pissed someone off. In the tattoo parlor that was near us I saw two men approach the backpacker. One of them hit him across the face with a bottle that shattered everywhere. He started crawling through the glass trying to get away, but they didn’t let him go. They threw him up against a wall where he sat hunched over. He was hardly moving. That’s when they began to kick him in the face. They kicked him in the face until he had no face. There was no jaw left. No nose. You couldn’t recognize a face if you tried. The entire beating only lasted for two minutes but it felt like forever. We couldn’t look away; we were frozen. A policeman showed up and started speaking to the two guys and that’s when we left.
We only told a couple people about what happened that night. It was three days later when one of my friends pulled me aside to tell me that the man never made it to the hospital and that he died. All of a sudden it went from a beating to a murder. We had witnessed a murder. The beating itself was horrific but knowing that he died is when it really started to mess with us. Days went by and nothing was said on the news. Everything was just swept under the rug. Witnesses to mafia incidents have been known to disappear around here.”
“Is that why you left Phi Phi?” I asked.
“It was never my choice to leave Phi Phi. Why would I leave to come here? My friends, my job, and my life were in Phi Phi. I was working towards things and building a future. Despite all the post traumatic stress and the nightmares I was having, deep down I felt like I was safe. We were too far away for the men to have seen us clearly. Yes, I still had to deal with the stresses that come with witnessing a murder but I would have eventually been okay. Tearing me away from my life like my parents have done has by far been the most traumatic part of this situation. I didn’t get to say goodbye to anybody and there was no closure.”
“Why do you think your parents thought that this was the best decision?”
“The first problem was that my mother decided to Google “Thai Mafia”. I mean, who does that? That’s like Googling “what’s this lump on my skin?” and expecting to get anything other than “you are going to die” as an answer. It was just stupid. My entire family was pressuring me to come back home. I had literally just witnessed a murder and was dealing with PTS. I couldn’t think straight, let alone think about relocating my life.
Tahlia still lives in Phi Phi and is dealing with it herself. Her parents are even going to visit her. Tahlia’s parents have travelled and they understand what the world is like. My parents just heard the word “mafia” and wigged out because they have never left the house before. You know what? I think that is the fundamental difference, ignorance. When someone doesn’t understand other cultures, other places and other people they usually live in fear. Fear of not understanding, fear of the unknown.”
“So after everything that has happened, what are your plans now that you are back in Australia?”
“To get the hell out of here and go travel,” Kim explained. “I want to complete all my diving qualifications so that I can do this for the rest of my life. I’m thinking of South America, the Philippines, or maybe Egypt. I am just so grateful to have found the one thing that inspires me. I will always be grateful to Phi Phi for that.”
“Any last words?”
“Go travelling. It’s the best thing you can do to find yourself. Also, don’t fuck with the Thai.”