Spent three days in Koh Lanta and was looking forward to bluer, less rocky waters in the coveted island paradise of Koh Phi Phi. Unfortunately, the transit between islands took a lot longer than expected. Although we could have taken an hour boat directly from Koh Lanta to Phi Phi, our travel agency booked a more complicated path to probably cut some costs. Long story short, it took about seven hours and too many transfers to travel the 20 km between islands.
When we arrived, it was pouring rain. Despite the grim weather, the pier was surrounded by pristine turquoise water and the trashy facades of the little resorts that lined the shore were concealed with tall palm trees. Right off the boat, it was clear that someone let the cat out of the bag long ago about this island’s gorgeousness. We were told to wait next to the pier for our hotel transport and stood in a crowded maze of hundreds of youngish, bumbling tourists buzzing around us – shouting in every language imaginable and tugging dripping luggage in a confused frenzy.
A smiling, small Thai guy with a shirt that donned our hotel’s name came up to us. After a few minutes of non-communicative waiting, he took our luggage and fastened it on a wheelbarrow with some others. There was a group of about ten checking in at the same place and we all followed the fast-moving wheelbarrow down the labyrinthine alleyways that make up the multitude of dive shops, restaurants, bars, travel agencies, massage parlors, minimarts, and stands selling fruit, seafood, snacks, and booze next to the beach. On the way through the island’s hub, there’s an army of sideliners – both Thai and permanent expat vacationers – shouting promos for anything from tour packages and tuk tuk rides to tattoos, clothing, and clubs. It was a dizzying introduction after several hours of travel limbo on the way from Koh Lanta.
We got up to the hotel bungalow, which was about 600 meters from the pier. However, about half of that distance was a sharp incline. The stairs up to the bungalow were steep as well and they were no friendly reminder about the past year I’ve spent successfully avoiding the gym. The bungalow was up on a mountain (if you didn’t gather that already) and had a certain rustic charm. Ah, nature. Learning point one: frogs can be extremely loud. Learning point two: test footing before ambling on a patio made of bamboo. Ghetto features aside, it was a great stay in an interesting part of the island.
First night we ate Mexican food where a lady-boy waitress meowed loudly after dropping a few plates all over the floor. Place was also across the street from a curtain-less hospital clinic administering an impromptu, bloody foot operation on some white guy. We had a few drinks there and wandered around the beach, which was lined with absurdly drunk expats of all color and stages of inebriation. We stopped in one place that was giving out free “buckets” of some mysterious alcohol concoction. Needless to say, it tasted free. We talked to two Swedish 20-year old guys at the place for a while before heading back to the bungalow to turn in.
The weather cleared up the next day and we thought we’d take advantage of it and booked a relatively cheap boat snorkeling tour to hit some key places around the island the next day. I woke up the next morning to a small leak in our room spattering droplets on my face from the pouring rain outside. We ate breakfast staring at the dismal situation splashing down around us on our adventurous tour day. We checked into the tour office and they offered to refund us the money or reschedule the tour for the next day. We were heading out off the island the next day, so it was now or never. Standing beside a few disappointed tourists getting bills back for cancellation, we bought a few bright-colored ponchos and decided to go on it anyway.
We followed our tour guide down to the dock, whose general friendliness didn’t entirely conceal a certain air of dashed anticipation for a possible rainy day off of work. We waited a while as he went to gather the other crazies still willing to take the tour. The others came and from their language’s unmistakable intonation, they were ironically a group of six Koreans. I tried to make some conversation, asked them what part of Korea they were from and mentioned that we had spent a year there. However, the only guy in the group who attempted English wasn’t too talkative beyond boasting somewhat obnoxiously about how many times he’d been to Thailand and his job as some sort of expert tour guide or whatever.
After the awk intros, we were off. We took a long boat, which although is 600 baht cheaper than a fancy speedboat, turned out to be a lot more jarring than anticipated. After about 15 minutes of rocking on our way, both Grant and I matched each other in our nauseated, sea-leg-less expressions. The group of Korean ladies didn’t seem as affected by seasickness, but they did let out a collective, high-pitched scream whenever we hit a wave… which was about every five minutes. Every. Five. Minutes.
Our first stop was a snorkeling point. Grant and I dived in, happy to be off the boat. We peeped around for about 20 minutes, swimming with an assortment of colorful fishies and minimal sharp coral (learned my lesson in Vietnam). The Korean gals, however, did not make it very far snorkeling and continued wailing away while terrifyingly clutching the side of the boat. The guy with them made a point however to do a swan dive repeatedly off the side of the boat, relishing in his hotshot ability to … snorkel? After boarding on the boat, the guy expressed an awkward, tense pissed off disappointment to his less ocean-savvy companions for the next ten minutes.
Next, we stopped and ate at Bamboo Island – beautiful place with scarce tourists. Next, we passed by Viking Cave, which is a little cove etched in the side of a towering cliff that juts out of the sea. There were a few spots to snorkel again along the way, but the first time only left me with a headache and a little colder, so I decided to opt out. Finally, as we approached Maya Bay, the weather started clearing up and the sun began to peek around the clouds. We came up to Maya Beach, a gorgeous site nestled between high cliffs. The clearing sky, the lightening water, and the land ahead to lounge on for an hour was a welcoming sight to see. We hopped out and walked around a bit.
This beach can be described as nothing short of perfect. The clear water fades gracefully into the sand and the vegetation and cascading high-rise cliffs are absolutely something to shout home about. It is, however, a small little beach and as lonely planet suggested, it did feel like we were sharing it with every speedo in the world. We were only on it for an hour, but it was good to relax and recup from the rocking boat.
Last stop was called Monkey Island and I was skeptical that we would see any monkeys with such an ambitious name. Lucky us, we did. We saw three right next to the shore taking watermelon from cooing tourists. We watched a little one get pissed at a boisterous German guy beside us, but no action besides a few challenging scowls from the monkey.
We docked back to Ko Phi Phi and I practically ran to the shower, relieved to be both warm and on land again. We washed up, ate dinner, and wandered around a bit that night. We talked to an English gal getting a tattoo of a rather stupid, but painful looking floral design around her ankle. To each it’s own. I talked to her husband for a few minutes, while Grant talked to a young guy also getting a foot tattoo whose fav band was Blink 182. Judge how you may. We roamed around, watched another fire dancing show, danced like idiots for a little on the beach at a bar, and headed back.
The next day, we headed off of Koh Phi Phi and up towards Ayuttaya. After another hour on a boat, 12 hours on a sleeper train (which was a strange and long experience that I don’t care to explain), two more hours on a different train, a five minute ride by tuk tuk, and a long nap, I’m sitting in a bed munching on chicken-flavored peanuts in an air conditioned guesthouse in Ayuttaya. I feel I’m getting used to the travel time a bit, although those long hours are still indescribably surreal.
Tomorrow, we’ll rent bikes and visit some of the temples in the area. Looking forward to unwinding a little out of the beach sun and the at-times intense party-hardy circus down south.
Oh yes, and the somewhat sporadic updates on this thing are all dependent on the free-or-not internet situation in the area. Rest assured, I’m still alive.
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