Koh Panyee: On The Water

By Trisikh Sanguanbun

Editor's note: As waves crash against the shore, water circles beneath the surface, and the resulting swirl evokes the rhythm and momentum of a finely-tuned performance on the field. It's fitting, as above the water, locals and weary travelers convene in the centre circle of one of the world's most unique football pitches—one nestled against a ferry pier, in a city built on stilts.

Koh Panyee was first settled by Malay fisherman more than 200 years ago, and in the intervening years, the small village has grown from a tiny hamlet into a must-see destination in the picturesque heart of Thailand's Phang Nga province, always sitting just above the water line.

Trisikh Sanguanbun went to the island in search of a game. This is what he found.

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My siblings and I were visiting our parents back in Thailand, and we took a little trip to see our dad's side of the family on the island of Phuket. We spent one of the days island hopping around the province of Phang Nga, with Koh Panyee being our stop for a late lunch break. During the meal, my dad mentioned that a floating football pitch was somewhere on the island. Knowing the size of the village was perfect for post-lunch exploration, we went hunting. Our parents knew that this stroll would inevitably turn into a small pick-up game. 

 

Once we got to the pier overlooking the floating pitch, we were in awe of the panoramic views from the small field in the water, with limestone formations in the distance. Our company consisted of five football enthusiasts, and upon our arrival here, our thoughts all simultaneously turned to kicking a ball around: "It shouldn't be too difficult to find one around here, right? Or ... is it?"

 

One of our party took off and returned within minutes with not only a ball, but four local children, who couldn't have been more than 8 years old. It wasn't quite enough for five-a-side, but 4-v-4 would do just fine. 

The rules? The same as any other game, except handballs were to be allowed if—and only if—the ball was heading for the water.
 

The game was fast-paced, but only because the surface was burning hot, the afternoon sun baking the floating pitch. The game itself wasn't too competitive, as we were all trying to maintain a careful sense of balance — balancing the ball to keep it away from the edge, balancing our strides to avoid burning our feet should they stay in one place for too long, and literally balancing ourselves. How, you ask? Well, we were playing football on a large raft in wavy water.

 

The main structure of the floating football pitch is made up of a wooden platform pieced together in sections. The perimeter of the platform is comprised of green, modular polyethylene buoys, while the top of the surface we played on was the standard plastic seen on non-hardwood indoor pitches.

As a result, the field offered up its own quirks. For example, as we all flocked to the ball in one corner of the pitch, the sphere would pick up speed — acceleration that didn't always work in favour of the attack and could throw dribblers off their rhythm. One had to pay attention to these details to be successful, but, personally, I was more distracted with the gorgeous backdrop than making much of an effort to defend my goal.

 

After 10 minutes, we had our first miss; the ball flew off the pitch and into the water. We all hesitated for a while. I suggested we ask one of the fishermen on his nearby boat to help us, but then one of us put the question to the local boys: "How do you usually deal with the situation?"

 

One quickly said, "We usually jump in."

 

So, two boys did, and so ended our 'Handball Rule'. From this point on, we went all out; there was to be no attempt to gently corral the ball and try to keep it from falling off the platform.

 

Instead, there was shot after shot being ripped — and even our team began volunteering to jump in after the ball; after all, the surface wasn't going to cool down in the afternoon sun.

 

When it was all said and done, we had experienced Koh Panyee's famous floating pitch — and met it on its own terms. This little pickup game was one of the most memorable footballing experiences I've ever had.

 

Mountains, beaches, clear skies, seafood and a little football...what more could we have asked for from this tiny fishing village?

 

Words and photos by Where Is Football guest contributor Trisikh Sanguanbun, whose incredible search for the game across the globe — alongside his brother Tri — can be followed on Instagram.

If you have a story to share, you can reach us @whereisfootball or send an email to here@whereisfootball.com.

 

Words and photos by Trisikh Sanguanbun. See his beautiful photos on Instagram.