Sometimes we see beauty for different reasons. In my case, I found the most beautiful place on two different beaches, thousands of miles apart.

It had been a long day of snorkeling. We finished dinner then filled up our rum buckets to sit around the fire. There were only about 12 of us on the entire island. Some Danes, some Germans, a few British, a Ukrainian couple, and us three Americans. For that night we made “The Beach” our home. The same one on which Leonardo DiCaprio (circa 2000) took part in an utopian society and consequently enticed our young minds with the island paradises of Thailand.

Rum buckets empty, Coco beckoned us to come in the water. Swimming…now? It was pitch black and I was scared to get into the dark water. We watched as he ran over and dove in.  Instantaneously, the sea ignited into an electric blue. I squinted to see clearer, making out a bright blue path being made in the water. With our bathing suits still on from the earlier activities, we stripped our outer clothing, threw it on the beach, and ran over to jump in. We moved around mesmerized. Every step of a foot or sway of an arm transformed the water for a quick second, until it was black again. We laughed in disbelief, splashing each other with what was bio-luminescent plankton.

I walked off on my own, looking down at the fluorescent path I was making. I stopped, and decided to float on my back. I moved my arms side to side, witnessing it create a blue snow angel in the water. The chatter of the others went from loud to muted, with every rise and fall of the water around my ears. Above me, white stars pierced the dark blanket of sky. Framing the scene were the towering limestone cliffs that surround Maya Bay.

This may be the most beautiful place I’ve seen, but it isn’t the most beautiful place I’ve been.

It was last February. The weather was just warm enough for only a light sweater, but the sand was cold enough to numb the pads of your feet. Shanel and I walked under the pier, and took a few pictures as the water rose and fell from our toes. The water was cold; I made sure it didn’t have the chance to splash above my ankles. We continued walking north. The palm trees swayed on the cliffs, and some seagulls squawked above us, trying to stay stationary in the breeze. Not many people were still on the sand, but a few surfers dotted the waves in the distance. We continued taking pictures, each one different, as the sun began to set and transform the sky from blue, to pink, then purple to orange. We looked like tourists, and felt like tourists, but that didn’t bother us. Shanel and I took a seat to watch the rest of the sunset on a life guard tower. After a few pictures of each other, we sat in silence. We didn’t need to talk. We had been friends for over 13 years by then. Just being together, back home, was enough. Both of us were savoring that time on that beach. We knew we would be off other places within a few weeks. I would be going back to Korea and she would be going back to Northern California.

It was here, after such a long stint away, that I felt this was the most beautiful place I’d been. Home. San Diego. The place where I went to high school, then chose to stay for college. All the while leaving for other trips here and there. Studying abroad, interning abroad, backpacking trips. I always returned, and I always left. This time I had a completely fresh vision of my hometown. I realized how beautiful everything was to me. It wasn’t Thailand. There were no limestone cliffs covered in thick jungle. No plankton making special effects in the waves. But it didn’t matter. It was equally as beautiful.

Sometimes we see the world for the physical beauty it is. Other times, it’s our sentiments and emotions that influence our perceptions. So if you ask me where the most beautiful place in the world is, trouble is, you’ll get two different answers.

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the author

Jessica Wray started traveling young, and doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon. She spent kindergarten in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where her dad worked in construction. During college, she studied in Argentina and had an internship in Ecuador. Today, she resides in Seoul, South Korea, where she teaches English at an elementary school. When she isn't embarrassingly stumbling through Korean, or working to save money for the next big trip, she is blogging at CuriosityTravels.org.

  • http://twitter.com/PatchworkTravel PatchworkTravel

    Great piece, you instantly transported me to both beaches!