Three nights planned for Koh Phi Phi. Despite being a rather small sized country, when compared to Canada or China, Thailand has challenges for getting from place to place. We flew out of Chiang Rai to Phuket, paid an exorbitant fare to get to the ‘old city’ (why are there so many old cities in Thailand?) where we would be staying overnight before catching a ferry to Koh Phi Phi. One goal of my daughter was to visit another cat cafe before we left – it was closed for that one day. Closures of places seem to be at the discretion of owners right now. A bit of hit and miss when looking for a meal, or, in my case thread and needles. I did find both.
Other than dinner, a walk around the block, in the rain, then soup needles for breakfast, most of my recollection of Phuket is a blur – perhaps the rain washed everything out. At 12:50 (in other words late) we were picked up to transfer to the ferry. A rather miserable trip over choppy waters – I took Gravol before we even left, my daughter finally gave in and took one before we were out twenty minutes. TIP! Take the bloody Gravol if it appears even a little rough. There were less fortunate passengers.
My first impression of Phi Phi Don was one of horror. Horror at how commercial it is, how many tourists there are, then how expensive everything is. It is an island after all so prices are fixed accordingly. Once we were checked in, bags dropped, stomachs less queasy and had more water (basically always have water nearby) we were ready to explore.
My first day I dabbled my toes in the ocean, there is a beach maybe three minutes down the path from us, we took the requisite photos of sand, water and rocky hills in the background then headed towards the busier, hustle section via the sandy beach. We are fortunate to have two directions from our room, the quiet path to a very quiet beach or, after the Muslim Prayer Room, (not a mosque – that is elsewhere) to the area where the hustling begins to encourage tourists to go on boat cruises before hitting little shops selling basically the same clothing, then restaurants, tattoo parlours, (I was only a little tempted) massage parlours and diving touts.
The latter includes foreigners who, for whatever reason, have decided to make a Koh Phi Phi a temporary residence. Population statistics are most likely skewed. According to Wikipedia and Wikitravel, as of 2013 the population was 2500-3000. 80% are Muslim. It is difficult to believe that the infrastructure of Phi Phi Don (the only populated island, other than park wardens at the National parks, of the six) was basically destroyed by the December 2004 tsunami.
The only way to see the stunning beauty of the islands is to go one of the tours. These range from long boat, 20 passenger speed boats, larger vessels and possibly even sailboats. The cost also varies depending on where you want to go, when you want to go, what you want to do. It was not until my daughter send me a message,from the pier, asking if I wanted to join her on a ‘booze cruise’ that I decided the only way I would see anything other than more people, was to jump at the invitation.
Not cheap, a slight discount for not drinking though, and I was most likely the oldest person aboard. There was one other woman who might have been around my age, and we are practically neighbours in Victoria! I think we were both wondering what we had got ourselves into, I wonder if alcohol makes it easier to do perilous activities.
What did we see and do? Monkey Island, wild monkeys, hungry monkeys, swimming monkeys, jumping from cliffs monkeys. Passengers were expected to don life jackets and jump into this madness. I am afraid of monkeys so stayed aboard and took some photos instead. Everyone survived. The cruise director (a very loose term) told us that there had been a ban placed on feeding the monkeys but three years later it appeared the poor creatures were starving. I never did figure out if there is still a ban and authorities just turn the other way or if caught the cruise companies pay a minor fine. Perhaps a little of both.
Scuba diving, no life jackets unless desired, mask and breathing apparatus, no flippers. I started to worry I was becoming a curmudgeon – stayed aboard again. I know my limitations and being sober I wanted to ensure they would not be crossed. It was still relatively early into the ties so too soon for any major drunkenness. I was also beginning to not feel too great – I live on an island but get seasick. They had medication for that. Soon after my daughter and some others were also taking the pills. Worked like a charm.
I cannot recall the name of our next stop, it was a lagoon of some sort, a dormant volcano far off in the distance, turquoise and blue water beneath us, soft wind, warm but not searing sun. Time to put on life jackets, this time like bulky, oversized diapers, and jump in. There were already about five boatloads of people bobbing up and down in the water although our group seemed to be the only one having beers tossed in or drinks provided via paddle board. Did I go in? Of course! I think by that time everyone was positive I would remain dry the whole trip. No bathing suit, just my skort and blouse.
The salt water helps to stay afloat, as does the diaper life jacket although it took some getting used to when my swimming memory wanted me to try swimming to stay above the water. Eventually I allowed my legs to remain vertical, arm ready to adjust direction if I felt I was drifting too far. Eventually two paddle boards were brought out, my daughter and one other passenger took over one and every once in a while I would hang onto the side or end of it. Idyllic hour.
Only once did I have trouble, a slight leg cramp, then I had to get back onto the boat – I was high-fived for success and the cramp worked itself away. It helped that there were crew members always ready to help! I finally told those who were concerned that I did know how to swim and had done so for many years when younger.
Then onto Maya Bay, where ‘The Beach'(Leonardo DiCaprio) was filmed. I had never heard of the movie. We entered from the far side lagoon (at this writing still had not found the name) where anyone crazy enough, and wanting to trek to the beach, would have to jump in the choppy water, swim to a rope net, climb said net, then scramble up to the platform.
To my utter horror I saw my, still seasick, daughter, jump in! I had not seen a crew member go with her and was frantically trying to find her bobbing up and down in the ocean. She was wearing a life vest. To my relief she was with someone – they let her go early because she was sick, except the information did not quite get to a couple of other crew members so they were also quite horrified. Then we were all donning our lifejackets, saying our prayers or whatever, and taking the plunge.
It is important to remember that even with a life vest on that first hit to the water means going under. Then pop up, roll onto your back and do a frog stroke while maintaining some form of eye and ear contact with others. I am not saying it was easy. However, I made it, only had difficulty once I reached the rope as it was slimy under the water and I had not expected it to be suddenly underfoot.
We gathered our troops and headed to the beach. An hour of frolicking in the sun kissed, turquoise water, walking along the beach, and admiring the cliffs before we had to head back to the boat. It was a beautiful end to an adventurous afternoon. With one more ahead of us to get back to the boat. With a change of the tide we were able to go through the tunnel, or cave as some called it, not as easy as it sounded but, for me, less torturous than the rope net.
Careful placement of feet and hands, a bit of a careful slide down one section (just try doing a careful slide!) then step over a few ropes anchoring the net and pull oneself along the line back to the boat. Except I had the rather good looking Sebastian (French crew member) grab my life vest to pull me to the boat. Perhaps I was looking fatigued? Who am I to complain when a handsome young man wants to rescue me.