Sunday, February 27, 2011

Koh Phi Phi

We took a ferry from Phuket to Phi Phi the next day. Travelling had become a lot more difficult since we picked up that extra bag from Bobby in Bangkok. We were now travelling with 2 big back packs, 2 days packs and a duffel bag. We had way too much stuff but there was nothing we could do about it. We need most of it for Australia and New Zealand. We packed all our bags onto the ferry and were off. A couple of hours later we arrived in Koh Phi Phi. It was hot and the water was amazing, but still not as beautiful as the Similan Islands.

Koh Phi Phi is actually part of a national park and there are 2 islands there called Koh Phi Phi. The larger, and the populated one is called Koh Phi Phi Don (that is where we were staying) and the smaller one (the once containing Maya Beach from the movie “The Beach”) is called Koh Phi Phi Leh. Koh Phi Phi Leh is not populated at all and all developments are banned on that island. It’s a good thing too because if we didn’t have Koh Phi Phi Leh to go visit for day trips, there wouldn’t be too much to do on Koh Phi Phi.

The first thing I noticed as soon as we got off the boat was how densely populated Phi Phi is. There are not cars allowed on the island and all roads are pedestrian only and any space imaginable is occupied by either some sort of store (typically dive shop, café, restaurant or souvenir shop) or a hotel/hostel/guest house. I just couldn’t believe how tight and crowded it was. Since we had the 5 bags we had to carry, we dropped 3 of the off at a local dive shop and went in search of a guest house. We were worried about the prices we would find as anything we had found online or in the lonely planet guide book said it would be impossible to get anything under 1000 Baht per night (around $30). We managed to find a small cute guest house for 750 Baht per night ($25). Maaybe not a huge difference but it was still cheaper than anywhere else we were able to find. In addition to the price, we were also happy with the location. It was right in between the two beaches but far enough from each that you didn’t hear the loud music pumping all night long. The only downfall was that it was about a 15 minute walk from where we left our bags. We had to return to the dive shop, get our bags and bring them to the guest house. It was so hot outside and by the time we returned to the guest house we needed a shower! Of course a cold one because we didn’t have hot water.

We took a walk to the beach to explore the island a little bit, and then grabbed some food at a place that had wi-fi so we were able to synch our ipods. After that we went for a hike to the top of the mountain and had an amazing view of the island, and we were able to see both beaches. Unfortunately it was getting dark so the photos were not as great as we would have liked and the mosquitoes were out with a vengeance. We quickly went back down. We booked an all day snorkeling trip for the following day.

We left for snorkeling around 9am on a long tail boat and the first stop was shark point, and it was just at the end of the bay. We got in the water but were immediately disappointed because the visibility left a lot to be desired. We had 20 minutes to snorkel this site so we were swimming around but very quickly Andrew and I noticed the current and how quickly it was taking us away from the boat. We both decided it was best to start swimming back. It was a hard swim and we were quite tired after it but we made it back. Some people must have noticed the same thing because they were swimming back but one guy started calling for help. He had been taken out quite far. Our boat was collecting other swimmers but luckily another boat was nearby and they picked him up and brought him back to us. So our first snorkeling site ended up being just 10 minutes instead of 20. After the first site we went to another small island which was about a 30 minute boat ride away, called Bamboo Island. The boat dropped us off on the island and we had an hour and a half to relax. The water was stunning. It crystal clear and it was complemented by a soft powdery beach. It was true paradise. The island was small and uninhabited so the only people on the beach were visitors like us. There were plenty of visitors but it didn’t feel crowded at any time. We swam and tanned on the beach and then we were served our lunch. Fried rice. After Bamboo Island our next stop was Mosquito Island. On our way there however all of a sudden the engine made a funny noise and all of a sudden the boat stopped. The engine kept running but the boat was not moving. It turned out that the rotor had fallen off. We were in the middle of the ocean between two islands. All I kept thinking was, “why does this happen to me?” I don’t like boats to begin and you would think 1 adventure on a boat would be enough for our trip but it seems like fate is out to get me. Thankfully our “captains” cell phone still had reception so he called one of his boat buddies to come and get us. But we had at least 30 minutes to kill so our captain said “Snorkel!” So we all jumped in the water and went snorkeling. Since we were in between two islands and nowhere near any coral, there wasn’t much to see but it was better than sitting on the boat. After 30 minutes the other boat came and got us but it was full of other tourists so we had to squeeze in. They were not happy to share their boat with us. We received so many dirty looks, but there wasn’t much we could do. The other boat took us back to another part of Phi Phi, a beach called Monkey beach. You can probably guess why it’s called that but I’ll tell you anyway…it had monkeys on it. We spent about 40 minutes on this beach, but since we had been in Malaysia a few years back and had had our fill of monkeys we weren’t that excited. One things was the same though, the monkey were just as vicious as they were in Malaysia. From here we were separated into different boats. I’m not sure if it was because the other passengers complained or because the boat was too full. Either way Andrew and I were transferred to another boat while the others were also transferred to other boat.

The highlight of the trip was to be Maya Bay. I couldn’t wait to get there because it looked so amazing in the movie. But before we could go there we stopped at another bay which was surrounded by karsts and we could go swimming. Unfortunately it was getting late in the day and it wasn’t as warm in the shade created by the karsts as it was in the sun so we didn’t stay there too long. From there we went to Maya bay and I was utterly disappointed to see it was all in shade. Although the sun hadn’t set yet, the karsts surrounding the beach cast a big shadow so the magical effect I was waiting for did not happen. The 1 million other boats and tourists also killed the moment. We walked around the beach and sat around waiting for the hour of sightseeing to be over. During this time we were entertained by an obviously rich guy who was photographing his girlfriend. I say obviously rich because he had a top of the line camera which apparently costs $40,000 (source: Andrew) but I’m not sure what type of camera it was. The entertaining part however were the poses she was making. It was almost as if she was posing for an 80’s photo shoot. It’s almost as if no one had told her the 80’s were over. Add to this another young guy who obviously had a brand new camera (again I say obviously because it was the same camera that I bought for Andrew with the same lens that comes as part of a kit) and he was trying to make his girlfriend pose for his photos too but she just wasn’t as into it as he was, but he kept running around trying to find the “perfect” spot. It was especially entertaining for me because it was like I was seeing Andrew 5 years ago: completely engrossed in his camera and completely oblivious to everything else around him.

We left Maya bay and parked the boat in between the two islands to watch the sun set. It was beautiful but not as romantic as you would think since there were 10 other people on the boat with us. We returned to the island after sunset, grabbed some food and headed for the beach. Although the party scene is strong on Phi Phi we were watching our budget so we bought some beers at the 7/11 and sat on the beach. We received the same entertainment watching the fire shows as those in the bars but at a ¼ of the price.

The next day we went for the diving trip we had booked the night before. We booked only 2 dives as I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to dive or not. This time I wasn’t leaving anything to chance and took 1 decongestant pill as soon as I woke up and then 2 more right before the dive. When I went under I felt fantastic. I finally felt as if I was back to normal. We were swimming around and we saw a leopard shark (it swam right by us!) and near the end of the dive we also saw a few black tip sharks. It was probably the best dive I had ever had (in terms of the different marine life we had seen). Unfortunately I started having problems with equalizing near the middle of the dive. At first I didn’t think too much of it but by the end of the dive I had a pounding headache. I thought it would go away once I surface but it didn’t. It was so bad that I had sit with my eyes closed and I didn’t want to talk to anyone or eat anything. There was no way I was going for the next dive. Andrew went by himself. As soon as they left I lay down and went to sleep. By the time they surfaced I was feeling a little better but not much. As soon as we got back to our guest house I just went right to sleep. When I woke up a few hours later I was feeling much better but still woozy. By the next morning I was completely fine. I have to admit that it did scare me a little because I hadn’t experienced anything like that before.

Since I didn’t dive one of the dives the day before, the dive shop offered Andrew a discount to dive with them again so he went for another 2 dives. I was thrilled because I had a few hours to myself. I actually spent most of it in a café with an internet connection updating the blog. Once Andrew came back we went swimming at the beach but found the water to be very murky and a bunch of things (algae? Waste from the “waste garden”?) so we went to the other side where the water was clean but we were surrounded by boats. We just couldn’t win. I would say that although Phi Phi is beautiful, because it’s so commercialized and the party scene is so strong, it’s not really a good spot to relax. One side of the island is almost like a large boat yard, while the other side is full of beach bars and the beach is not maintained as well as it could be.

The following day we were catching a ferry to Railay but because the ferry didn’t leave until 3:30pm and we had to check out of our guest house by 11am we again left our bags at the dive shop and spent the day at the café with the wi-fi connection updating our blog. We then grabbed some food and hopped on to the ferry.

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