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Natalie Grace first came to Koh Phangan in 2014 and did the typical "full moon party 5-day bender," and left with the crowds off to tour Cambodia with some friends she met on her travels.
“To be completely honest, I really wasn't a massive fan of the island at first as I had done what so many other tourists do and only saw Haad Rin, didn't like the cheesy Full Moon Party vibe, got absolutely blackout drunk, lost a bunch of money and other belongings, and then left for Koh Tao”.
After spending a good few months on Koh Rong, Cambodia and then trying to settle down in Phnom Penh as an English teacher, Natalie knew something wasn't right and needed to get out of the city and back to the beaches. She heard about a job with the then relatively new tour company, Tru Travels and pounced at the opportunity.
“They hired me as a tour guide leading their backpacking groups around Thailand and Cambodia. The one stipulation was that I had to move to Koh Phangan as that's where they were based. I can't believe it now, but I actually thought that was the one downside to the job but decided to take a risk and give it a go anyway”.
After Joe, Luke, Holly and the Tru crew showed her around the real Koh Phangan, Nat was instantly hooked. She didn't even last very long as a tour guide because all she wanted to do was get back to Koh Phangan every time she left it.
“Needless to say, I quit tru travels and decided to stay on Koh Phangan full time and make a proper go at living there forever. The rest is history. I met the love of my life here, started a business, made the most incredible memories... And then sadly it was all stolen out from under our feet when George fell ill in the fall of 2018”.
How does it feel to be back?
Being back has been the most overwhelming thing. I have cried almost every single day for the last 3 years, and since I stepped foot off that boat, it's been nothing but smiles. I've certainly had a moment here and there when I bubble up and choke, but even then there is this sense of joy and gratitude behind it because I actually fucking made it back here and I know how proud George is of me right now.
I'm back to plant George's ashes under a tree and complete his final wishes, but I never want to leave again. Nowhere in the world feels like home. Nowhere else I have been can fill my soul the way Koh Phangan does. This is George's and my family, our community, our island, our home, and I never want to lose that again.
Why did you decide to raise money for the charities here?
When George got sick back in 2018 the entire island banded together to raise money for us to help pay for his medical bills and ongoing treatments. Our friends were standing in the streets with collection buckets and flyers, dozens of businesses donated prizes, venues, food, and entertainment for free and they managed to raise thousands of dollars for us. Our friends even auctioned themselves off as dates to help raise money for us. I could never ever repay everybody for what they have done. It sends shivers down my spine every time I think about it. I am forever humbled and indebted to every single one of you.
Now that the tables have turned, and things have gotten really tough here, I just want to take all of my pain and turn it into something positive. The world is a pretty fucked up place right now, and I feel like we should all be looking out for one another a lot more. The more I can help others, the more it helps me deal with my grief.
Why did you choose the charities PACS and Island Aid?
I chose PACs and Island Aid because they are two established charities on the island that have made such a big difference in the lives of both people and animals here. They both are in desperate need of donations right now, as the pandemic has made it very difficult for them to sustain the ever-growing need for assistance on the island.
George and I have always had a very close relationship with the PACs team, so that was a no brainer. Island aid is a bit newer so George never worked with them, but it was organized by some women I really admire and respect, and I know they will do their absolute best to get this money into the hands of those who need it most.
Where will you walk?
I guess I'll be walking pretty much everywhere! We started some steps down in Haad Rin the other day, but I will be ramping things up a bit in the coming days and doing the hike to bottle beach, Khao raa, and Phang waterfall, just to name a few. I want to walk every beach, see every waterfall, walk down every street, climb every viewpoint, and really just take in every little thing that Phangan has to offer. After I've been gone for so long, I just want to re-experience it all.
There really is no place like this anywhere else on earth. I want to honour the island and share its beauty around the world. Once I am finally settled and complete all the "admin" tasks I have to accomplish to say I am fully moved in, the steps will start. I would like to welcome anybody that wants to join me on my journeys, as it takes a village to make a change, and I would be honoured to have you all walk with me as a tribute to our beautiful home.
How can people help?
The single biggest help I could receive right now would just be to have people spread the word. Sharing the fundraiser to get as much reach as absolutely possible, so this is a great start speaking with you today. Thank you so much for reaching out! I think everybody across the world is struggling right now so finding donations can be a bit tricky. However, there are plenty of people out there that love Koh Phangan and would want to help so it's just a matter of gaining the exposure and having this fundraiser land in as many hands as possible.
If you would like to support the cause then you can find the Gofundme page here.