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The Beach

I left the delights of Northern Thailand for the coastal pleasures of the south. Unfortunately I left amid rumors of tropical storms and terrible weather. I flew from Chiang Mai to Phuket where I was meeting a friend from Australia who was heading over for the last 2 weeks of my trip to enjoy some sun, so these rumors were not good for him. If I wasn’t coming to meet with him I probably would have just stayed in the north another week hoping it would blow over. He arrived a day before me so I was meeting him at his accommodation in Phuket, which turned out to be some fancy resort on one of the beaches on the other side of the island to Phuket Town. Since I arrived at the airport at midnight, this meant the only option to get there was a Taxi for 1000 Baht. Aghast at what was essentially my daily budget being blown on a taxi I haggled like crazy and ended up getting it down to 500 Baht, still not great but the best I could do. My friend, Matt, turned out to be staying in a ridiculous 4 star resort, which probably cost the same amount per night as I paid per month in my usual guesthouses and hostels. That said the buffet breakfast the following morning was amazing, and free for me. I ate my body weight in bacon, eggs, pancakes and fresh fruit.

The view of the two main beaches of Koh Phi Phi from the top of the Viewpoint.

Filled with food we headed to Koh Phi Phi where we had to trek halfway up the mountain to the bungalow Matt had booked from back in Australia. Thankfully there was a guy with a trolley to carry our bags. On the way we passed some signs pointing to a view point, and since we were already halfway up the mountain we figured it couldn’t be much further to the top. We were wrong. The climb was a killer, mostly due to the heat and humidity, doubly killing to Matt who hadn’t acclimatised to the Asian weather yet. The view was worth it though, and it was lucky we came up then because the weather deteriorated over the next two days.

A fire dancer at Hippy Bar.

Back in Phi Phi town we decided to book a snorkel trip for the following day, get some dinner, and then see what the Phi Phi nightlife was all about. It was mostly about the buckets. Walking through the warren of streets that make up the tourist town we were handed flyer after flyer from backpackers turned touts for the various bars on the islands. Some of these promised free buckets at various bars, but only if you were there at a very specific 10 minute window. If you timed it right you could essentially drink for free as each bucket had a about a third a bottle of spirits in it, and you could get 3 or 4 if you really wanted. For our first night we started at the Hippie Bar to watch a fire show. There were numerous beach bars, each doing the exact same fireshow, but this one happened to be the one we were passing when it started. Watching the Thai people twirl around flaming sticks and strings was mesmerizing.

Matt and a stash of buckets a group of us accumulated one night.

After the show we got our first free bucket and started drinking. We spent the rest of the night on the beach dancing at the various bars and meeting all manner of party people. I even ran into Northern Andy who I had last seen in Sihanoukville. Me and Owen had joked that we would probably find him down on the islands when next one of us saw him. Andy had just come across from Koh Phangang and said that the place had been ravaged with storms. He got stuck there because the ferry’s were canceled and was bored out of his mind because there was nothing to do in the rain, hardly any people there, and frequent blackouts. He had also heard that Koh Samui had been flooded so bad that tourists were being evacuated from the island by the army.

The entrance to Maya Bay aka The Beach. From this angle you can't quite see all the tourists.

The next day was our Snorkel tour around Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Leh. Phi Phi Don is the proper name of the main island where everyone stays, Phi Phi Leh is the smaller nearby island which is a national park. It is most famous for it’s sheltered beach Maya Bay, which was where Danny Boyle’s take on Alex Garland’s book The Beach was filmed. This place could have been “the perfect beach”, if only it wasn’t for tourism. This is ironic as tourism destroying paradise and in particular ruining Thailand’s beaches is the underlying theme of the book. Maya bay itself was crawling with tourists and its bay bursting with boats of all sizes from little long tails to bloated cruise boats. Every tour boat seems to show up at the same time. It was all a little disgusting, and even though I had known it would be bad, I still hadn’t thought it would be this bad.

One of the beaches we stopped at on our boat trip.

The rest of the tour was quite good even with the bad weather that had blown in today. The day was completely overcast with light rain in patches, but once you had your head under the water with a snorkel on it was all good. At our first snorkel stop the boat drivers were throwing bread into the water to encourage fish to come over, and as I swam in I was shocked at the number of fish I saw. There were hundreds of the thing swimming in huge schools, so many that they were literally bouncing off my goggles as I swam through. The next couple of snorkeling spots were equally good on the fish front. One of them had some nice corral as well, but the visibility wasn’t as great for viewing the ocean floor. You had to dive down and stick your face right into it to get a good look.

The ubiquitous monkeys of Thailand, seen again on my snorkel trip.

On the tour I met an English guy, James, who was a bit of a Rah but a nice  guy. Me and Matt went out for dinner with him that night after we got back, and then got ready for round two of parties. This night we decided to start somewhere else other than the beach, and checked out the Reggae bar (I told you there was one in every tourist town in SE Asia) where they had Muay Thai fighting on. We didn’t stay for long though because the fighting looked more like wrestling in that it was quite fake and heavily choreographed. We ended up back on the beach, this time till all the dancing bars closed and we ended up sitting on the beach near the Stoned Bar. Here I met some dutch people who had come over from one of the other private beaches on the island and were stranded till the morning when they could get a water taxi back. We sat around until the early hours exchanging stories and building sand castles. Matt was there with us at the start, but at some point he just got up and vanished without saying anything, turned up again 30 minutes later, and then disappeared a second time never to be seen again. At around 4am I decided to call it in and headed back to the bungalow. Walking through the quiet backstreets the only things opened were the more dodgy massage places where calls of “I give you happy ending!” chased me home. I found Matt back at the bungalow passed out and cocooned in the mosquito net.

Two women fishing at low tide.

The following day the weather stayed bad, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do on the island. Matt was really starting to feel the hurt of jumping in the deep end of the backpacker lifestyle. I don’t think he had drunk on consecutive nights in years, add to that the Asian food playing with his stomach, and the humidity and he was looking pretty rough. He just sort of drifted through the streets in slow motion with clammy skin hiding behind his sunglasses and generally looking very shady indeed. I gave him some of my stash of travelers antibiotics to take to help sort him out, but there could be no slowing down, this was Koh Phi Phi, and it was impossible to not party on the beach every night. That day we changed bungalows to somewhere a little cheaper and little closer to the main town and then wandered around taking photos, reading books, and generally just chilling out. While walking  down to the beach a large lady boy masseuse called out “Ohh sexy hair you want massage?”. When I walked past shaking my head she shouted after me “I want to eat you!”. Scary. The beaches on the island were very underwhelming, and though I used the title Paradise Lost to describe Vang Vieng in Laos, it is so much more appropriate for describing the islands of Southern Thailand. Tourism here has literally smothered most of the natural beauty that this island once head, and every square inch is covered with a bar or bungaloo leaving a few paltry meters of dirty sand between the bars and the water at high tide.

Two boats docked at Koh Phi Phi.

While the beaches might not have lived up to my images of a tropical Thai paradise, the nightlife here certainly did live up to expectation, and our third and last night here was much like the first two, which is to say a lot of fun and involving a lot of buckets. To mix things up we started in an Irish bar and actually paid for some buckets instead of trawling the free ones at the beach bars. The bar had Connect Four and I started challenging everyone to games. The first guy I schooled was a Polish fellow by the name of Rob, then a blind drunk English guy who was working at the bar and in between dropping the coins into the board he was having a shouting match with a scary Thai lady behind the bar about free drinks and not working hard enough. When I beat him I thought he was going to punch me in the face, but after staring angrily for a second, he grinned, gave me a hug and ran off. After him the next challengers were two girls from Manchester, Michelle and Olivia. After a few games of wins and loses Matt and I decided to bail and head to the beach with them for the usual Koh Phi Phi beach party. The funniest part of the night was when Matt and Olivia got into an old school dance off, busting out classics like The Lawn Mower, The Sprinkler, The Bus Driver, The Shopping Trolley etc etc. It went on for awhile, and while Olivia was convinced she was the victor, Matt was totally the old school dance move king.

The beach on Koh Phi Phi was a little better once the sun showed up.

For our last day in Koh Phi Phi the sun decided to come out, so Matt and I chilled on the beach while killing time till our ferry to Railay Beach, our next destination. Matt decided to pay $5 to use a sun chair for an hour, I laughed at the suggestion and set up my tiny microfiber travel towel just in front of him on the sand and read my book. The beach was nicer with the sun out, but still nothing compared to home. The water was a lovely turquoise green, but you had to swim between docked long tail boats, and the sand small amount of sand between the beach and bars was completely covered by bronzed or burning backpacker bodies. After three nights of bucket fueled beach partying in a row I can’t say I was sad to say goodbye to Koh Phi Phi. It had been fun, but it was time to move on!

Not your usual seagull you find at the beach.