Ko Phi Phi & Ko Lipe, Thailand – Maybe it was the heat or just the length of time we had been traveling, or most likely a little bit of both, but we hit a serious wall in Bangkok and were really looking forward to the Islands for some much needed R&R.
The Thai islands had reached an almost mystical status in my mind, and I had come to expect near perfection from the tropical beaches that awaited.
It was just a matter of picking which one. We interviewed numerous other travelers who had been to the islands and found it nearly impossible to pick between them all; but we finally settled on Ko Phi Phi.
I came to Ko Phi Phi expecting paradise. And what I saw when we arrived at four in the afternoon after another overnight train, two hour bus trip and three hours on a ferry, was anything but. It was pouring, the beach was junked up with boats, the town was crowded and dirty, the streets were flooded with an inch of water and in some parts you cold smell the distinct odor of sewage.
To top it off, we quickly realized that the endless stories we’ve heard from other tourists about near-free accommodation on the islands was just a fable, a myth, the kind of stories that circulate between travelers, but stories that never hold true.
So in the middle of the downpour we had no choice but to book ourselves into an overpriced dump of a bungalow. While walking around to said bungalow, a local porter ran over my foot with his heavy cart. It was enough to cause me to have a breakdown and send Stuart off to dinner on his own with a German couple we had met on the ferry, while I stayed in the bungalow to wallow in my self pity.
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The next day was brighter, and I felt like a fool for getting so upset the night before. I was feeling better about Ko Phi Phi now that the sun was shining and we moved ourselves into a nice hotel with a pool. Pools always make things better.
We walked over to Long Beach, which is a 30 minute hike from the main part of Ko Phi Phi and a world of difference. THIS was the beach I was looking for. A long stretch of white sand, with only a few boats, and practically deserted in the mornings and afternoon. Oh, and there were a few girls sunbathing topless – score! So much for respecting the local culture…
After enjoying our morning of lounging and swimming we sat out the daily rain storm at a restaurant for lunch and then checked out a few options for staying on Long Beach. We decided we’d spend a couple days on the main beach so we could take advantage of the restaurants and tours and then move over to Long Beach for some peace and quite.
In the afternoon, after enjoying more lounging, swimming and snorkeling we hiked back to our hotel and made use of the pool and then had a delicious dinner at the Tom Yum restaurant, where we ended up eating nearly all of our meals while in town because the food was so delicious.
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The next morning we hiked up the hill in the middle of the island, which also happens to be the tsunami evacuation route, and got great views of both sides of the isthmus that connects the to two islands that make up Ko Phi Phi. Then we hit up the pool in order to cool down after our hike and spent most of the afternoon in our room waiting out a storm that lasted the rest of the day.
After returning to our room after dinner it seemed that our hotel, which is a series of bungalows on stilts with wood walkways, came alive with what sounded like mooing. It was unlike any sound we had heard before and we had to ask the people at reception what it was. Apparently it was frogs. The loudest, weirdest, funniest sounding frogs (listen) we had ever heard. They were so loud it was actually hard to sleep and I would have spent the night cursing them if it wasn’t so funny.
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Our next adventure was a snorkeling trip around Ko Phi Phi’s sister island, Ko Phi Phi Leh. The island is a national park, uninhabited, but highly visited. We stopped at a couple places around the island to swim and snorkel before reaching the highlight, Maya beach.
Even if you have never heard of Maya beach, you probably have seen it. Maya beach is The Beach from the movie of the same name starting Leonardo DiCaprio. While being heavily touristic, it remains a spectacular, beautiful beach with soft white sand, warm crystal clear blue water, and stunning scenery – if you can manage to spot any of it through all the people and boats that flock there every day.
Our last stop on our snorkel trip was Monkey Beach, where a gang of monkeys hang out to be fed and harassed by tourists. The monkeys are so used to tourists that they eat right out of their hands, board tourist boats in order to steal food and even know how to hold water bottles, drink from them, and toss them aside when they are done. I couldn’t help but think what a horrible impact this would have on the monkey’s self sufficiency when I saw a tourist feeding baby monkeys Pepsi.
After getting our fill of the ‘big city’ we moved over to Long Beach via a long boat. We spent a glorious two days getting the relaxation we had been waiting for. We spent our time lying on the beach, and in hammocks, swimming, snorkeling, eating, drinking fruit shakes, reading and doing little else.
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On the first day of the day of Songkron, the Thai New Year, we decided to visit Ko Lipe – another island that was more quite and more remote. It took us nearly a day to get to there on a speed boat and ferry via the islands of Ko Lanta, and Hat Yai.
When we arrived at Ko Lipe, or rather 20 feet off shore from Ko Lipe, the ferry stopped and we were made to get on small long boats with our luggage. Then the driver of the boat refused to move until everyone paid him 50 Baht.
We raised a bit of a fuss. Had we not paid for a ticket to Ko Lipe, not 20 feet offshore from Ko Lipe? But we really had no option but to pay. The guy driving the long boat had nothing to do with the ferry company, he’s just trying to earn a living. It was really the fault of the guy who sold us the ticket, or the guys running the ferry but they were long gone.
We’ve encountered this type of thing so many times on this trip that we are used to it, but it still makes me angry. You buy the ticket from one guy, your handed off to another guy and then another guy and by the time you get screwed you are so far from the the guy you bought the ticket from, that you can’t do anything about it. So you just have to accept it as part of traveling in Asia. My only real retaliation in these situation is to state loudly that “you’re not in Asia unless you’re getting ripped off.” Being angry makes me do stupid things.
We soon discovered that our quiet island would be anything but because every Thai and their mother was there celebrating the holidays. We spent hours along with a couple we met from Spain trying to find a place to stay as almost everything was sold out. Stuart finally found us a bamboo bungalow that was double the price, but not too bad. And the neighboring restaurant was fabulous – we ate at little candlelit tables right on the beach.
It was kind of fun to be in Ko Lipe with the vacationing Thais, but not relaxing at all. They partied hard and loud and a family near us even brought their own karaoke machine that they enjoyed well into the night making it difficult to sleep. If we had gone to Ko Lipe at any other time we probably would have found it a paradise, but it was lost to the celebrations. It was hard to get upset about it though – we were in their country after all.
We managed to enjoy ourselves despite the crowds and lack of sleep. The Thais arrived in the afternoon, partied all night, then would leave the next morning – leaving the island pretty quiet in the middle of the day – until the next tide, or Thaide?, came ashore that evening. The beaches and swimming were pretty good and according the Stuart the snorkeling was fantastic. But it was pretty much lost on me because I forget to bring a pair of contacts.