One airplane, four buses, one mini bus and one ferry later I arrived on the island of Koh Phi Phi. I left Hanoi at five in the morning and got to the Thai island eleven in the morning the following day. The best part of it was skipping through Bangkok with only enough time to eat at my favourite restaurant before jumping on another bus!
Koh Phi Phi is on the Andaman coast, it is often ranked among the most beautiful islands in the world. It certainly is striking. A large land mass of limestone cliffs covered in trees. Secluded beaches hide amongst the rocks. It has a downside as so many places seem to in Thailand and that it is the development that has shot back up since the tsunami. Fortunately the shape of the island has made sure that it can only go so far leaving most of the island untouched. Busy yes, but with clear turquoise waters and enclosed by the cliffs it was a beautiful site. Walk a few minutes out of town and it becomes rugged, a different world and yet everything you could want to make your life easy is within reaching distance.
It’s possible to walk around the island but I have to admit I didn’t do very well. Signposts were not at the best and whilst I found myself on a couple of lovely beaches a lot of the island was out of bounds to me. The best day that I spent was heading out on a morning boat trip. I had enquired when booking my ticket why an old fashioned long tail boat was cheaper than a larger ferry like boat. The long tail was far more preferable in my book but it’s normally the case that the bigger the mode of transport the cheaper it is. I didn’t get a clear answer and left none the wiser.
Ten minutes on the long tail and I found out why. As calm and still as the sea is around the beaches, in open water it’s a different game altogether. Our boat was thrown all over the place by the waves. At one point it even gained a hole and water flowed in needing a very urgent repair job! Luckily we made it to the island, home to Maya bay safely. The bay itself is revered not only in Thailand but around the world. Why? Because Leonardo Di Caprio swam to it in Danny Boyle’s film ‘the beach.’ He went there after being told that it was the closest thing to paradise that you could get. I watched the film in Goa along with Tom, Alex and Nick. We almost died of laughter and declared it as the worst film any of us had ever watched. Meeting up with others later on in the evening we were mystified to see many of them utterly convinced it was brilliant. It’s a film that polarizes opinion. After my visit I think the island does too.
First stop was a little cove hidden away between jaw dropping cliffs towering above. It was Thailand of the postcards. The seas colour was the clearest I have ever seen it. We swam and enjoyed the warm waters. Second stop was a coral reef which we snorkeled. I’ve never swam across a coral reef before but will certainly be doing it many more times.
From there we sailed to the poor mans entrance to Maya bay. It was one of the more dangerous entrances to a tourist attraction I have done. After swimming to the rocks you had to cling onto two poorly tied ropes as the waves pull you out and then throw you into the cliffs. A number of people had to be taken back to the boats injured. I managed a couple of cuts, but by other peoples standards I came out pretty well. As for the beach itself? Well it’s gone a little astray. A national park, the sheer popularity of it has meant that every man and his dog are on the bay at the same time as you are. I had expected that so it didn’t bother me too much. Back on the boat we paid a visit to monkey island, an island with monkeys on it. I got off the boat and then promptly got back on again. I’ve seen enough monkeys. I’ve grown to love them so it hurt to see them being paraded in the way that they were. They are very fat with the amount of food thrown at them. Tourists tease them for the perfect photo and then get angry when the monkey retaliates. For some reason it has also become a dumping ground for rubbish. I saw a monkey fending off another over a medicine bottle. A very sad sight showing how Thailand often puts the idea of what a tourist wants ahead of what is best for its own country.
That said it didn’t detract too much from the overall trip. After the first two stops, I was more than happy with what the tour had given. In the evening I went out with the people on the boat for a night out on Phi Phi’s party beach. Fire dancers, live DJ’s, acrobats, it was all there and capped off a great day.
Phi Phi has restored my faith that Thailand can deliver as a good tourist destination. Sure it’s built up beyond belief but there is a reason for that. It’s called unrestricted building permits with the help of an odd bribe. Oh and also the place is outstandingly beautiful.